MBS (Marketing Black Swan) and ZMOT

Published: August 22, 2013


Confusion is when everyone can sense something is happening though no one can make sense of what is happening.

On web, one will find endless commentaries surrounding and augmenting this confusion. So where does the clutter end and message emerge.

With this “ZMOT Thought‐Paper” I am juxtaposing the currently visible pieces to give you a broad sense of the emerging marketing landscape with special emphasis on search marketing. Whoever needs to be “First to Future” will have to start looking beyond the horizon to anticipate “down the road scenery”.

So in this attempt to presage the future, perforce, I will be painting the scenery with broad brush strokes. We will fill in the fine details, with time, as they become more visible.

So what the heck is happening?

In marketing world, what we are up to, is what Nicholas Nassim Taleb Calls a Black Swan (BS) event. A black swan event is a statistician’s nightmare for it is a global event and changes the long term averages of the attributes, unpredictably. The scenario after the black swan is dramatically different than the circumstances leading to it. A statistician is happy with his world schema of bell curves, mean and standard deviation and a prediction based on those and then comes an unpredictable massive black swan, which turns this whole model upside down.

Examples of black swan (BS) events in other domains are: Asteroid hitting earth 66m years ago (biological evolution BS), printing press invention in 1439 by Gutenberg (human cultural evolution BS), New York stock market crash of 1929 ( commercial BS), terrorist attacks of 9/11in New York ( warfare and homeland security BS) . As you will notice some BS are immediate while some are temporally stretched.

Marketing World seems to be pregnant with its own Black Swan.

It is anybody’s’ guess how long will the pregnancy last before the BS delivery finally happens. My guess is that it should take anywhere between 2‐4 years for the entire sequence of events to play out and the marketing black swan to land.

So what is this MBS (Marketing Black Swan)?

Let’s start talking about the MBS with a small tale. I am a great fan of Mughal King Akbar’s court jester, Birbal, for his wit and his practical wisdom.   So as the episode goes, this once, Akbar challenged his courtiers, to make a line drawn on ground smaller, without erasing it. Everybody was stumped. If you have to make a line smaller you obviously have to temper it. Birbal thought for a while and then simply drew a bigger line next to the smaller one. So given the context, the existing line became smaller.

I think with search marketing, that bigger line is getting drawn. Search is finding its context in the overall marketing universe. It is integrating with other marketing activities that a company does.

This convergence will have major implications for both search as well as traditional advertising/marketing for most companies. Nothing hereafter will exist in silos. It will be one big joint convergent reality. Search will have to integrate with conventional marketing, as traditional marketers will have to absorb search. The yin will become the yang as yang will flip back to being the yin. What will emerge out of this elemental convergence is a new reality which marketers have yet not planned for. That new reality will be the Marketing Black Swan (MBS).

Much like a chemical reaction, where two elements catalyze each other to produce an entirely new compound (Na +2 Cl = NaCl2) , the new marketing equation looks like (Brand + Search + Sales+ CRM = Convergent Marketing). This integrated marketing will be a unique beast with elements of all four of its genetic parents.

To belabour this point, NaCl or common salt is a unique compound (with its unique taste and properties) and is not separable into its constituents, Na and Cl. Likewise, an individual is a person with unique attributes and is not reducible into his fathers or mothers genetic code. He is an emergent whole not separable into his constituent parts. Similarly the new convergence marketing will not be separable into search or brand or sales constituents. It will be a unique integrated effort. Let’s just call it ZMOT ( zero moment of truth ) Marketing.

So the counter for this MBS of Marketing elemental convergence is ZMOT marketing. I will be putting out separate white papers on what exactly is ZMOT and the strategies for winning the ZMOT marketing game from various perspectives, however the thrust of this thought paper is how will search be effected by the MBS of convergence.

So how are the market constituents reacting to this MBS?

Every fact in its infancy is a gossip. Matt Cutts says: think of new SEO as search experience optimization. I couldn’t agree more. What he doesn’t say, given Google’s typical equivocation and poor confession record, is to think of new SEO as just one of the options (though important) of reaching to your potential customers. He would of course not openly agree to Google’s monopoly on marketing being challenged by the change in overall marketing ecology.

Likewise most of the marketers do not yet understand or are under‐estimating, how majorly Search Marketing and for that matter traditional marketing is shifting. They sense the convergence without being able to map the pollination process. They are confused and hence totally oblivious to this unfolding Black Swan.

When the MBS finally lands completely, it will be then that most marketers and marketing companies will be running to re‐define their presence and procedures. To my mind most of the traditional search marketing companies as well as PR and brand marketing companies, will face very strong adaptation pressures. They will be forced to choose between reengineering or death. It is just a matter of time.

The writing is on the wall. People are just not literate yet. Hey lets take it one step at a time. What is the next turn for search? If I was to consult my crystal ball for 2013,.what do I see for search marketing as a part of this cataclysmic ecological change. I would say that, the eye of the SEO storm, which was kicked up in 2012, is yet to find a landfall. The winds last year were strong but they have still not reached their climax. Their intensity and impact on how new SEO is to be done will reach its climax somewhere in mid or late 2013 when Google would have rolled out 2‐3 additional and major updates. It is then that the true picture of new SEO or its reincarnated Avatar “ZMOT marketing” will emerge. It is then that the black swan will start to cause maximum adaptation pressure and when people will need maximum guidance on the new reality.

Though the big picture of search is being put together in Google/Facebook labs, yet the smaller pieces are unmistakably there and are revealing clues of signs of times to come.

Now let’s talk about some of the specific changes that I see happening in this year. I have categorized the changes into two parts: the first order changes are those, which have immediate and ready visibility. The second order changes are diffused and derived. I will be covering the first order changes in some detail here and will hint at the others for a future coverage.

Search Marketing (1st Order Changes)

  • The overall direction of Google algo shift that is semantic is accelerating. Google is internally trying to execute schemas around concepts and entities. It is trying to organize its database into categories and ontologies so that it can answer the queries not on exact word matches but user intent. In plain English it is trying to move from keyword search to concept search. The algo is becoming intelligent and not blindly following machine based rules.
  • An apt analogy for semantic search is how a small child learns language usage properly. Initially he gets only the literal meaning of the words. When you tell him/her one cannot “close your eyes” to change, he will think it means physically closing your eyes to a change. Only when he becomes intelligent about linguistics and symbolic processing does he realize that closing your eyes represents a concept. It means not taking stock of the change or being blind to the change. So as a mark of intelligence he has moved from words to their meaning. Cognitively he has moved from a keyword match to a concept match. Google is doing a similar migration. It is trying to map its results to user meanings and not to their used keywords. Though it does not have a full schema (they call it the knowledge graph) to map all words to their meanings however they have it in some domains (details of existing schema categories with Google are available on www.freebase.com ). However a full semantic search looks like to be about 5 years away.
  • Google algorithm is getting increasingly fragmented. There are clearly multiple algorithms handling multiple categories of search queries. Where they can, they are using schema or semantic search (intelligent algo), otherwise they are doing global search (based on site authority) or local search ( based on geographical relevance)
  • The 200+ ranking signals are getting redefined to include social, sales and brand signals apart from the traditional content and citation signals. Overall the 200+ signals are getting broad based to cover your entire sales funnel. A tentative breakup of the signals might look like:
  • 30 variables from your branding efforts
  • 50 variables from your social engagement efforts and CRM experience of people
  • 20 variables from your geography and other local efforts
  • 50 variables from your content authority
  • 25 variables from your dissemination authority
  • 25 variables from your site analytics and technical features.

This is Google’s’ algorithmic version of the oncoming convergence or the marketing black swan. Lets pause to examine some of the implications of this for businesses who employ search marketing:

  • You will not be good in search marketing if you are not good in your brand engagement efforts (positioning, brand loyalty) for you are un‐optimized on 30 variables.
  • You will be un‐optimized for 50 variables if your social media marketing does not engage or attract, reviews, likes, followers.
  • You will not rank for non‐branded keywords if you are not good with your overall sales. They are factoring in the site bounce rate, shopping cart abandonment, as some of the ranking signals as your 25 variables based on site analytics. These are clearly down‐line sales funnel signals and suggest entire online sales funnel integration into the ranking metric.
  • Apart from getting a wider footprint, with the 200+ ranking variables, these variables are also getting interlinked (Correlated) in new ways. This new inter‐relations will make them qualitatively better as ranking signals and hence difficult to spam. What this means is that these variables are no longer stand alone variables but will exist in sets. You cannot optimize them individually but you will have to optimize the entire set.

For example one set might have five signals from one algo category(content), two from another algo category(citation), seven from another algo category( social media). Now there are hundreds of ways of defining these sets and also there can be hundreds of sets. Think 200 C n ( as was taught in college probability class) as a possibility.

These sets are not static but will be generated on the fly. The particular dynamic set permutations that will be run will depend on which part of fragmented algo is running for which query. A semantic algo will create different set-topology from these 200+ variables than the set selection of a local search query. So the same data of 200+variables will be analyzed in different ways depending on the context.

Some of the new emerging co‐relates in this scenario are

  • Content quality is being linked to author reputation.
  • Citation score (off page) is getting co‐related between link pop and buzz pop.
  • Keyword focus (in url, anchor, navigation) is being linked to spam.

So points 3& 4 put together suggest that overall, the 200+ ranking variables are getting re‐jigged both for their wider coverage and for their deeper inter‐relation.

Global Marketing Convergence( 2nd Order)

Impact on Buyers and Consumers:

  • Globally user behavior is shifting. People are ZMOTing more before buying. I see this trend to continue and escalate with mobile devices becoming the preferred means of web access.
  • People are increasingly able to do what they do in real world. Ask other people. So they are relying on that (Social) than just asking a machine algorithm (Google) about their needs. Facebook had to come up with a social search to congeal this trend. It has.

Impact On Traditional Marketers:

  • Offline Brands will need to create similar brand experience for users online if they are to survive in the physical world. Physical world and web world are converging for brand marketers.
  • Search Is getting a ZMOT fitment. Its importance is getting redefined in the overall marketing portfolio. It is becoming 1 of the resources being referenced in the 10 resource reference of ZMOT cycle.
  • Point of sales marketers will have to contend with ZMOT impact as ZMOT and FMOT are converging.
  • A business’ CRMs is also becoming a part of its marketing portfolio. So the SMOT is also converging with the ZMOT. This convergence means that anything that the company does in the entire brand lifecycle will be a part of the ZMOT.


All this means that the divide between search companies and traditional marketing companies will disappear in future and their activities will converge. Every marketing company will have to make a play for the ZMOT. The early bird prize for ZMOT marketing is however still available. In ZMOT marketing, unlike social get together, you would actually want to be the first person who reaches the party.

As for the business and their marketers, the black swan of convergence means, that each marketing piece of their business, be it brand, search, social, POS, CRM is getting tied up with one string and will get subsumed into one emergent reality at the ZMOT. That’s their defining moment of truth.

How to win the ZMOT is a billion dollar question for businesses and marketers. Only, openness to learning, crafting smart strategies and time will answer that for us.