Google’s ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ (ZMOT) – Buzz or Bust in 2014?

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During my time looking through the speaker notes from SES London 2014 I came across Matt Roberts‘ (VP of Product at Linkdex) mention of Google’s Zero Moment of Truth (or ZMOT) theory. This has been doing the rounds since its release in 2011 but interestingly seems to be popping up across the recent web and social sphere. So I thought I would re-visit it for those who aren’t familiar and shed light on the theories relevance in 2014.

The Research

The concept of consumer Moments Of Truth concept was first coined by A.G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor & Gamble in 2005. He claimed the “First Moment of Truth” or (FMOT) occurred at the store shelf, when a consumer decides whether to buy one brand or another.  This was the start to uncovering the consumer buying cycle and influences.

Google commissioned a study by Shopper Sciences back in 2011 to learn how shoppers are actually influenced to make specific choices. The study involved 5,000 shoppers across 12 industry categories from groceries (Americanism) to financial services. This video goes on to describe the ZMOT theory in a little more detail:

The Findings & Theory

Google’s study found the following about consumers behaviour before buying:

  • 50% of shoppers used a search engine to get more information on a product or brand
  • 38% comparison shopped online
  • 36% checked out the brand/manufacturer’s website
  • 31% read online endorsements, reviews or recommendations

Jim Lecinski, Google’s then Managing Director of U.S. Sales & Service used this research findings to publish an e-book named “Zero Moment of Truth”. In the book Lecinski starts by talking over an example ZMOT customer journey which I’ve paraphrased below:

  • Step 1: I need to get a new 3D LED TV
  • Step 2: What springs to mind when I think of brands to shortlist?
  • Step 3: Do some research to create a shortlist of brands and features
  • Step 4: Open a new browser tab and search for recommendations by experts or commentators
  • Step 5: Open a new browser tab, and search for “[brand or model name] review” and repeat for all options, evaluate the general feeling
  • Step 6: Ten minutes later – find the best price for the product vs trust of the retailer, buy 3D LED TV.

Lecinski claims that the ZMOT takes place during steps 3-5.  Lecinski  quite rightly points out that people don’t make decisions based on the opinions of strangers. They make decisions based on the opinions of people like themselves and they find these influencers at ZMOT. He also makes some fairly bold claims about the ZMOT theory, including that it brings ‘the death of the traditional sales funnel’. Of course this is not the case as the ZMOT concept is a complex variation of the traditional sales funnel. The overarching theory is a step in the right direction for anyone wanting to sell something online.

ZMOT Theory

ZMOT In 2014’s Digital Arena

It isn’t difficult to spot examples of Google’s ZMOT theory happening around us every day. Here are some I prepared earlier:

  • A couple sitting in a coffee shop scanning hotel reviews on their laptop for their up and coming trip to Venice.
  • A student in the local bookstore checking Amazon reviews on his mobile phone for the books he is interested in possibly purchasing.
  • A film buff requesting reviews of films on Twitter before booking his tickets at the local ODEON.
  • A busy mum looking and comparing information and pricing on flu medication on her iPad (or Android device) while waiting to pick up her kids up.
  • A man searching Google Maps for information on decent local Italian restaurants before his blind date with later that night.

Google found online shoppers in 2010 use 5.3 decision sources increasing to 10.4 by 2011. I personally would love to see the 2014 data in today’s multi channel, multi screen social media driven world. But how can we “Win” the ZMOT  and apply these learnings to our digital marketing strategy and activity? I have put some lessons and potential applications below:

Every Shopper is Unique

Marketers love to find out these new theories or studies then generalise the application of them to the wider public. If you takeaway anything from today’s shopping cycle it should be that consumers have and always will be individuals so try and connect with them as such. Think about emotional triggers and personalise as much as possible. with as much data as you can collect (not illegally like Google). Create a PPC campaign that contains as many niche targeting metrics ads as possible . Land those clicks on a page that’s tailored for the user in that moment and drive them to a conversion. After the purchase connect with that shopper on one of the many channels that they use and turn them into an influencer for your other users.

Shoppers Are Multi-Channel and Multi Screen Users

multi channel

Today’s shopper sits in-front of the TV with smart phone by their side and tablet on their lap (well I do). We expose ourselves (giggles) to thousands of media advertisements each day and block 80%. Engaging with your target consumer in the right way on the right device platform has created a mountain. Thought out contextual consistent marketing is imperative. Stop interrupting them and instead be there when the shopper needs you on the right device with the right message. Use focus groups and customer research questionnaires to establish how your customer uses, browses and watches.

Advertising Is No Longer The Primary Effective Tool

Advertising cannot buy you out of problems like high cart abandonment, high bounce rates and complaints reaching out across the web. You must therefore earn the attention at every step of the customer’s journey and especially when they’re on your site ready to buy. User Experience Testing, Remarketing and Conversion Rate Optimisation are two great ways of ensuring when that moment comes you lose as little as possible.

Showing Up Is More Than Half The Battle

You need to be present the moment an online shopper looks to solve their challenge using your product. Whether that is through social media advertising, organically for specific searches or using remarketing. Miss that moment and lose out to someone else.

Embrace Pre-Shopping As Part Of Buying

Brands can no longer sit back and hope that their one point USP is good enough to compete and be found by the consumer. Shoppers embrace pre-shopping for everything from a drinking bottle to a house and you must embrace it along with them. Pull your previous customers into the process with reviews, testimonials and rewards for social influencers. Use Search and Content Marketing to produce tips and guides on your products that rank when for pre-shopping keywords.

Serve Shoppers, Or Your Competition Will

People are searching for and interacting with brands every single day and the brand that fails to response to an email, tweet or phone call are the ones that fail. Whether it is answering FAQ’s or providing an online chat platform for your site, be there the moment your customer needs served. Our attention spans are shorter than ever and the internet has created competition in every niche. Dont ever let your marketing or your site become complacent or stand still .

Information Is King

If capitalising on the ZMOT is all about being at present at this new decision making moment then information is key. Ensure your website has features, benefits, specifications, reviews, videos, case studies and any other information that users may go “off site” to look for. Price or feature comparison tables are a great way to show your USP versus the competition and reduce the need for a visitor to pogo stick around other brands site’s.

Google list a number of examples of brands successfully applying the ZMOT theory over on their dedicated ZMOT website.

All the ZMOT ebooks are available for free download at:, including a brand new updated version with new data for Asian markets at:

And no, sadly I didn’t get paid by the big Goog for talking about their research…

If you have any examples uses of Google’s ZMOT theory in digital marketing please pop a comment below:

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On February 18, 2014