Winning the Zero Moment of Truth

ZMOT Book CoverWinning The Zero Moment of Truth is a new e-book that has recently been published by Google Executive Jim Lecinski.

I’m not usually one for writing book reviews – in fact the last time I did was probably back at school when sitting my English Literature exam – but having sat down and read this in a little over an hour, I felt compelled to write something and to spread the word so to speak.

So the best place to start in this so-called book review is by probably answering the question ‘What is the Zero Moment of Truth’ – or ZMOT for short. Well to answer that we should first look at what historically has been the mental model of marketing. What is the mental model of marketing I hear you ask. Well mental models are the ways humans know, perceive, make decisions, and construct behaviour in a variety of environments. So when it comes to marketing it is the process that someone goes through from initial awareness of a product or service, through the decision-making process of which product to choose and then finally to purchase. For the last decade, marketers have been familiar with the terms FMOT (First Moment of Truth) and SMOT (Second Moment of Truth), acronyms created by Proctor and Gamble to define the two key points in the user purchase journey, which they believed were the moments during the shopping cycle where they had to stand out, the moments where they had the chance to delight consumers.

Marketing Mental Model

So what does a typical buying process look like, in the eyes of a marketer. Well historically it has been:

1: Stimulus/Awareness – This is when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product or a competitor’s product or even just a product category. Maybe they were watching TV, listing to the radio, talking to a friend. Wherever the awareness came from, their desire and interest has been piqued.

2: The First Moment of Truth – Store/Shelf – This is when your potential customer is in a store about to make a purchase decision and is presented with a range of products from various brands. Maybe a selection of digital cameras in their local electronics store. In the past, this moment was considered one of the most important marketing opportunities for a brand, as many believed that shoppers made up their mind about a product in the first few seconds after they had encountered that product for the first time.

3: The Second Moment of Truth – The Experience – This is when a customer uses or experiences the product. Not just the first time but each and every time thereafter. If the product breaks on the 3rd time of using, then the experience is a poor one. As Proctor and Gamble’s FMOT Director was quoted as saying: “The second moment of truth happens each time a customer uses the product.  So for P&G, each time somebody feeds their dog Iams, or brushes their teeth with Crest, it is another marketing opportunity. This second moment of truth occurs two billion times a day when consumers use P&G brands. Every usage experience is our chance to delight consumers.

Where does ZMOT fit in?
ZMOT Marketing Mental Model Image

ZMOT Marketing Mental Model

Today’s shopping experience has changed. The Internet has seen to that. Today’s shoppers are all digital explorers, exhaustively searching for information about products long before they enter the store or reach the point of purchase. Whether that be through social media channels, online review and ratings sites, product videos or peer recommendations, today’s shoppers are now swimming in information. In fact according to data from Shopper Sciences the average shopper in 2011 uses 10.4 sources of information to make a decision, up from 5.3 sources in 2010. That’s doubled in just one year and just shows how much harder it is for brands to get that all important cut through with consumers.

So how important is this information gathering stage. Well data from the same study showed that 84% of shoppers confirmed this point in the cycle as one that shapes their buying decisions. It is this point in the shopping cycle, this online-decision making moment, that Google has defined as the Zero Moment of Truth.

Clearly ZMOT is now just as important as the stimulus and the FMOT stages in moving customers from undecided to decided. Not only that, but the time spent by consumers during the ZMOT process is much longer than the time they’ll spend in store at the shelf, so brands who engage and join the conversation at the ZMOT moment will have a much better chance of influencing customers before they even reach the store. Indeed, IRI’s 2009 study on shopper loyalty shows that 83% of shoppers make their purchase decisions prior to even entering a store.

What makes a Zero Moment of Truth and where does it start?

Well in today’s connected world, it typically happens online. The rise of full internet adoption and increased search engine use means that consumers have easy access to information, any time, any place. Whether it’s on a laptop or a mobile phone, these ZMOT decision-making moments are taking place hundreds of millions of times a day. It starts when a consumer visits a search engine or sees a post on their Facebook wall from a friend who’s just bought a product they’re interested in and it’s this moment where marketing happens or should I say, should happen.

As Lecinski attests, “..there are no barriers to access research and information. Today’s shoppers carry access in their pockets. They create their own consumer guides a million times a minute with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network posts and videos for products of all kinds“.

What does ZMOT mean for marketers?

Well, consumer shopping behaviour has clearly evolved and modern marketing strategies have to evolve with the changing shape of shopping. It’s no longer enough for brands to stand back and let the conversations happen. If they want to influence decision-making, they need to engage with potential customers, be part of that conversation, ensure that a consumer has a consistent and positive experience throughout, and provide the information that consumers are looking for.

It means that brands need to make sure that they are with the consumer during every stage of the shopping cycle, from the Zero Moment of Truth to the point of purchase and beyond. Because as the ZMOT mental model above shows us, winning at at every stage is self-perpetuating. Consumers who have a consistent and positive experience throughout will happily feed back their experiences for others to find, when they are in the ZMOT moment.

One thing that is clear from the book is that if a brand is able to change their approach to marketing to include ZMOT, they will stand to gain a very big competitive advantage as they’ll be reaching and engaging with those 70% of people who according to studies say they now look at product reviews before making a purchase.

And if as a marketer working for a brand you read this and find yourself saying, ‘well this probably doesn’t apply to us as our products are impulse purchases not high value ones’ well you’d be wrong. According to the recent Wall Street Journal article ‘In-Store Sales Begin At Home‘, it may be well-known that consumers research expensive products online, but now coming out of recession consumers are more prepared to research their everyday essentials as well. A survey by consulting firm Booz & Co. showed that 62% of shoppers search for deals online before at least half of their shopping trips.

How to embrace ZMOT

For many consumers, the single most powerful motivation to buy is someone else’s endoresement. Not a brand telling them how great their product is but a friend or colleague in their social circle giving them a referral or someone on a review site leaving an impartial comment. Indeed Google’s ZMOT study found that 37% of shoppers find online social sources to be an influential driver when making decisions. And to put that in context, that’s nearly doubled since 2010 when the figure was just 19%. Google are so convinced about this that they’ve created the +1 button, which lets anyone recommend products, services and websites to friends with a single click.

For many businesses though, it’s still a leap of faith to a degree. So many business owners and marketers that I talk to still find the idea of opening up their sites for customers to write reviews, which are then out in the open and plain for everyone to see, just plain unsettling. The reason? They’re worried about the possibility of negative reviews. Interestingly though and perhaps not that surprisingly, according to Brett Hurt the CEO of Bazaarvoice, 80% of reviews on the site of a given retailer are written by the top 20% of their customers by lifetime value. And the worldwide average for product reviews? 4.3/5.0. It’s in our nature. People like to talk about good news and about the products they love most.

And what if there are bad reviews? Well as Sam Decker, former CMO at Baazarvoice points out, negative reviews are a gift. In his article he goes on to say, ‘…there are numerous case studies that show negative reviews, at least when mixed with positive ones, are a clear driver of sales.’ Why? Well for starters they add authenticity. Not only that, but they also offer a brand a perfect opportunity to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one and to turn a brand detractor into a brand promoter. If you need further convincing then just refer to how Naked Wines dealt with a customer issue they were faced with when out in the open for all to see.

Brands need to put their worries aside and realise that with our without them the conversation is already going on, whether they are part of it or not. They can’t stop it, so the only sensible thing is join in. So as a business owner, take the time to increase your digital footprint.  It’s imperative that your products and services can be found in multiple places – on your website, on review sites and across the breadth of social media channels available. You need to empower people to share their opinions about your products. Ultimately, you need to ensure that you have an active presence wherever your customers are searching during their ZMOT.

Conclusions

So where do you go from here? The answer is pretty simple really. If you’ve got people in place working to win at the stimulus, FMOT and SMOT stages – which we can assume most brands will – it’s now time to get someone in place to help you win at the Zero Moment of Truth as well. Go out and hire a Director of ZMOT as the book tells us. If you don’t then you are going to miss out on what is clearly now a vital step in the sales and marketing process. In fact your efforts at the FMOT and SMOT stages might be completely wasted as you might not even be part of a consumer’s consideration set by the time they get to those points. It’s not enough to hope that people find you and find the answers they are looking for, because we all know how the old adage goes, ‘Hope is not a strategy’.

Oh and one last little tip. If you’re now compelled to go out and read the book, get the ZMOT extended Kindle version which includes audio and video excerpts and greatly enhances the reading experience!

Social Media’s Impact on Search and why SMO strategy is important

Social Media ServicesAs most people who are involved in the Search Marketing industry will know, SEOmoz have just released the results of their latest search ranking factors survey. It will come as no surprise that social metrics are reported to play such a significant role in the determination of the overall ranking of a page. Indeed, their impact will only increase as social media continues to play an increasing role in the way users choose to spend their time on the Internet.

As the detailed explanations of the social metrics ranking data show, Twitter is identified as the most important social signal, but not unsurprisingly the data also shows a correlation between Facebook metrics such as shares and comments with high-ranking sites.

SEOmoz run this survey once every two years and when comparing this latest data to their last survey in 2009, there have been some slight changes particularly concerning social metrics.

SEOmoz 2011 SEO Ranking Factors

Overview - SEOmoz 2011 SEO Ranking Factors

Although there is no concrete rule book that defines all the factors that Google or Bing make use of in their search engine algorithms – in fact  Google claims to have more than 200 parts to its algorithm (which of course they don’t share) – there are still however many good resources out there that provide insights into which factors are important. SEOmoz’s survey being one and SEJ have also written a good article that is worth reading.

Much can be determined however from testing, testing, testing, and of course listening when the search engines do come out and make public statements. In his interview 6 months ago with both companies, Danny Sullivan managed to get confirmation and some answers around how and which social signals impact organic search listings.

This is really just an extension of how search has being working for a while: authority. One of Google’s primary metrics is PageRank, a factor which categorises the authority of a particular page. If a web page has a number of backlinks pointing to it from authoritative pages (i.e. ones with a high PageRank) then this is one of the many factors – and in fact one of the most important as we can see in the chart – that helps determine ranking.

That’s Web Authority. The use of social metrics brings into play human authority. If many people ‘like’ a page or tweet a URL, it shows in some fashion that the page is popular.

After all, the ultimate goal for a search engine is to show a user the most relevant results based on the search they make. So what better way is there to determine relevancy for users than to measure and assess how, and how many other users, are rating and voting a page.

As of the end of last year, Bing (in the US) started to incorporate Facebook ‘like’ information directly into their search results. If a user is logged in to Facebook or has linked their Facebook account to Bing then they might see personalised results based on what the friends in their network have liked. Given Bing’s (aka Microsoft) close relationship with Facebook, Google have decided to launch their own social rating service in the form of Google +1. In a similar fashion to Facebook ‘liking’, anyone with a Google profile can +1 a page essentially voting for that site or article which will then impact both their, and the people in their contact network’s, search results.

Facebook plugins (to facilitate commenting, sharing, likes etc) and the Google +1 button can be added to sites by webmasters, so given their obvious impact on potential search traffic and indeed other benefits such as visibility in Facebook News Feeds, it’s a given that marketers and site owners should be looking at the best ways to incorporate sharing functionality into their content.

Search Personalisation

Lets take some time here to look at things from an end-user’s point of view. How else are social factors being incorporated into our searches? Well, the people and networks that you are connected to have an impact on the search results you see. As mentioned above, Bing’s tie up with Facebook means that it may now offer search results that include page results that have been ‘liked’ by people in your social graph. Google also gets data from Facebook and Twitter but almost certainly in the case of the Facebook data, in a much less timely/useable fashion – insert your own appropriate word here that implies it’s far easier for Bing, given Microsoft’s investment in Facebook.

Google +1 ButtonAnd now, as of a couple of months ago we have the Google +1 button, Google’s attempt to create a Facebook ‘like’ equivalent and provide users with their own social share metric. Where the Google +1 button is more useful is that not only will a user see pages that their friends have found useful but Google will also use the information to learn what a user does and doesn’t like and then provide more relevant, personalised search results.

How to engage Consumers and get Content Shared

So the million $ question. How does a brand/site owner get their content shared or liked within the social media-scape. What is the motivation for a user to interact with your content and share it with their network of friends and contacts? Well the old maxims still apply here. Users are going to share content if something’s interesting, unique, entertaining or just plain useful.

Blendtec’s ‘Will It Blend?’ viral campaign is a great example of marketing for what is essentially an everyday boring household item. What they’ve managed to do is create a cult following around the demonstration of Blendtec’s line of blenders.

On the Will It Blend site, Tom Dickson, Blendtec’s founder, can be seen in various infomercials blending all sorts of different gadgetry with the aim of showing off the power of the Blendtec blenders.

What’s particularly amazing is that this campaign first aired at the end of 2006, and now in its 5th year, has amassed over 100 different infomercials to date, which together have collected over 161 million views on YouTube!

So did it work? Well apparently so. Econsultancy reported that after only a year, traffic to the company’s website had increased by 650% and sales to the tune of 500%, all apparently started with a mere $50 marketing budget. Pretty staggering.

Determining Social Media ROI

ROI and being able to determine it, has always been one of the major benefits of digital marketing when compared to other traditional marketing channels such as TV, Radio or Press. With the rise in social media activity of the last few years, initially it was just a race to get involved and catch the speeding train, then it became more about understanding how to use it properly and now in 2011 it’s about justifying its existence within a brand’s marketing strategy. Indeed , two recent reports, one from the Altimeter Group and one from eMarketer indicate that developing ROI measurements will be a primary focus for businesses this year.

Unlike Search which is far more intent driven, social media activity is more interest driven and might not drive a conversion on the first interaction. However that does not mean the benefits of the activity are not there, it just means they are not necessarily readily identifiable. Given the standard setup of most analytics platforms of last click attribution, social activity will rarely get the full credit it might deserve.

However, help is at hand. Google Analytics’s new Multi-Channel Funnel reports (although still only in limited release) will allow marketers to identify all the channel interactions a visitor has with a site leading up to a conversion or purchase. So no more simple last click attribution, these reports will now help marketers identify all the different interactions that lead to the conversion.

Google Analytics has its standard channels, Paid Search, Organic, Campaigns, Referrals etc but these new reports will allow site owners to create custom channels. As Nathan Linnell explains: ‘You could create a custom channel that combines all social referred visits that aren’t directly attributed to your efforts; another that combines all the visits that can be attributed directly to your non-paid social efforts; and yet another that combines the visits from your paid social campaigns.’

Then with the Top Conversion Path report a site owner will be able to see the complete path a user has taken prior to converting and thus see how their social activity might be supporting other channels. As Nathan points out at the end of his article, although these reports are a very nice addition, they won’t quite give the full picture. Unless, a user comes to a site via one of the social channels i.e. clicks on a link in a tweet, you won’t be able to tell what the impact of their interaction with your brand has been if they simply follow you on Twitter or watch a video you’ve posted on YouTube and then at some other point in time choose to search for you and click-through on a paid or organic search listing. In that case all the credit would go to your Paid or SEO activity. Some further nifty customisations of your e-commerce tracking code would be required to get that as well. One little postscript to this: Google has recently purchased PostRank, an aggregation platform that will allow a publisher or site owner to measure and track all social engagement with a brand across multiple social channels. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

When struggling to justify a social media budgetary allocation it’s always worth keeping in mind that there are many other benefits of social media that may not directly impact your bottom line. For example, Branding, PR and Customer Service  – something which I addressed in an early article.

Why a Social Media Strategy is Important

Since the term ‘Social Media Optimisation’ (SMO) was first coined back in 2006 by internet strategist Rohit Bhargava in his blog post ‘The 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization’, we have seen huge growth in this area of the Internet. With more and more people using social media sites and services than ever before, marketers have a prime opportunity to reach their target audiences through effective social media marketing strategies.

Search engines are no longer the only large traffic drivers, with social media channels clearly offering huge opportunities for site owners to achieve increases in traffic and reach new customers.

One thing is clear however, SMO and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) are complimentary. SMO does not replace SEO but significantly enhances it. A well planned and executed SMO strategy will not only provide increased opportunities for a business to be discovered but also the benefit of improved rankings in search engine results.

As with SEO, social media initiatives need to be integrated into an organisation’s digital marketing strategy so that they become part of its processes and best practices. SMO should not be silo-ed or marginalised but clearly deserves investment and should be welcomed as part of both a holistic SEO strategy and as a major component of overall marketing strategy.

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