ZMOT, or the “Zero Moment of Truth” was a novel concept first coined by Google in the beginning of the last decade in 2011. In the early 2000s, Google became the most popular Search Engine by far and beat out other competitors like Yahoo. This was in large part due to their user-based orientation and almost clockwork changes to their search engine algorithms in order to best suit user intent. Google realized very early on that their key to success was the value they would provide to their users rather than simply being an ad platform for the highest bidder. Combine this with wise investments like the acquisition of YouTube in 2006, and the introduction of the Chrome browser in 2008, and you can see that Google as a company only became stronger. It rode the waves of both the Tech Bubble of 2001-2002 and the Wall Street Crash of 2008, in a sense Google was what Nissim Nicholas Taleb (who coined the term Black Swan) would call Antifragile. It became stronger as weaklings of the tech world continued to crash around it, throughout a tumultuous decade.
Now having defined the Search Engine game in the 2000s, the 2010s was the time for the introduction of ZMOT. Marketing is a game where besides creativity, thinking outside the box is a must. Winners and losers in marketing have often been defined by those that can easily understand the best marketing channels available to them. However, up until ZMOT was defined, customers were often being taken for a ride. Just as Google redefined value addition in the Search world, it was to redefine the whole world of marketing in the 2010s.
Why ZMOT is revolutionary?
Do you remember how old TV advertisements could get away with making the most fake claims and still get away ? These were in some ways the heydays of marketing without consequences. Unfortunately before consumer awareness caught up with them, many products had already made a whole generation addicted. In the 1960s, Coca-cola claimed to help you stay thin (something we can never imagine in today’s health conscious world) and slowly became the drink of choice for most Americans. Obviously, they have historically run one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns ever in history. The entirety of its 13 decades plus history is undeniably filled with utilization of the best of every advertising medium available. You find similar examples with 7 up ads showing babies. It has been thankfully proven just how bad soft drinks are for health of babies.
Now, you can debate the adverse ill-effects of fizzy drinks, but medical evidence is almost unanimous on cigarettes being harmful and carcinogenic. However, not that long ago doctors were recommending cigarettes and touting its “benefits” and it could be seen everywhere from print ads to television.
The 90s saw a major change in advertisements and it started to become more sophisticated. Terms such as marketing services business started to become popularized. Advertisements started to be curated into segments, demographics and for a wide consumer base spanning the globe, as American capitalism and mass consumerism became the norm internationally. However, it was a period where only big brands could seek to dominate, as they had the capital and the resources to beat out their competitors.
As the internet spread however, and as Search Engines became sophisticated, the age of information took on a new meaning. Smartphones catapulted this to a whole new level, and information was easily accessible to everyone. It wasn’t long after that product reviews, blog posts and influencers on Social Media started to enlighten people about the true claim of products and services of companies. Sure, big marketing companies still have the edge as they can often pay big sums to Social Media influencers and other Ad Platforms, but the availability of information about any product or service online, has changed marketing forever. This is ZMOT in action.
In 2005, right around the time YouTube (one of the most popular mediums of video communication today) started, A.G. Lafley Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble coined two “Moments of Truth”. They were:
- First Moment of Truth (FMOT): This is the potential customer’s first point of interaction with a company’s product or service. This is where traditional TV advertisements made their first impression on you.
- Second Moment of Truth (SMOT): This refers to the consumer’s experience with the brand. This is where the consumer compares whether the brand holds up to its promise or not. A consumer could go through multiple second moments of truth. Before the internet age, it would be almost impossible to gauge true consumer views on a product or service.
Later, a Third Moment of Truth (also called User Moment of Truth -UMOT) was popularized as the feedback that a consumer gives about the brand, and determines whether the person himself will help spread the good word to other consumers.
With the ZMOT theory, Google rightfully predicted that customer decisions are often made before they have even interacted with a particular brand. It is driven entirely by the moment (the zero moment to be precise) where a consumer feels the need for a particular product or service to solve their problems. The decisions are more autonomous and less driven by the brands themselves. For example, instead of a customer taking action on an advertised offer for a car, they would do a research (often on multiple websites where they will often compare the brands available) and go for the most desired vehicle based on their own needs of fuel efficiency, speed, off road capabilities etc.
Similarly, ZMOT can be said to have a big impact on movies, music and travel and tourism industries. These are industries with a wide variety of choice and some of the pickiest customers. And especially in the case of movies, customers can see the reviews and even decide if they want to spend money at the theater or wait for the movie to be torrented for free. Same with music videos and albums. Not that piracy should ever be promoted, but this is how powerful Search has become. It can literally disrupt industries. People can literally watch hours of YouTube footage of people travelling various parts of the world, and know almost everything about a tourist destination before they take the risk of going to an unknown vacation hotspot.
ZMOT in 2020
As the 2020s approach and we are in the midst of another Black Swan event called the corona virus epidemic. In any case, those that go by Nissim Nicholas Taleb’s theory of Anti-fragility, will know that those that will come out of this crisis will be those that can utilize the chaos best to their advantage. It is clear that things like mobile marketing have become so important that Google has changed its algorithm to better cater to smartphone searches. This also gives priority to other Digital Marketing Trends we will see in 2020 like optimization for voice searches and aiming to improve automation. Local searches will also need to be prioritized, as Google becomes more centered on location specific queries.
Another important thing that Google is gaining serious expertise is in contextual based searching. The Google BERT algorithm introduced late in 2019 is the perfect example. This was another Black Swan moment that affected 10% of all Search queries and totally took down old school ways of SEO. Now, it is more about the context of what the user search that matters most. Hence, ZMOT as a concept will become even more user-friendly than before. Those who will be experts in this, would cash in on user context based queries, while others will lose out. The concepts of ZMOT that make marketers understand what the user wants before they type in their next query, and pre-judge the kind of information they are searching for, will become a very valuable trait. Hence now, the playing field has been leveled in a way that a local company in rural India, if knowing the tricks of the trade can compete with a big firm in San Francisco if it knows its local user base and can easily understand the context of search results that people type. Even though it would be great to see how far big companies can leverage Artificial Intelligence and Data Science to overcome this gap. Whatever be the case, ZMOT is now the new moment of truth!