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Google’s ZMOT – brilliant or bo***cks?

Google's framework for multichannel success

I appreciate the headline might be a bit controversial, but it's a genuine question. It's a natural follow-up to my previous post reviewing McKinsey's New consumer Decision Journey. After all - Google are saying that their Zero Moment of Truth model represents the death of the sales funnel. Really? I don't think so…

Of course we already know that P&G first realised the idea of 'moments of truth' in 2005, they said that the first moment was "in front of the shelf," and that the "second moment of truth" was gained through product trial and experience. So compared with McKinsey's Consumer Decision Journey, what is ZMOT adding? The aim of ZMOT is to explain how the consumer's research and decision-making journey on the way to purchase is now fundamentally different, that there's a step prior to P&G's first moment of truth, called ZMOT.

ZMOT also explains that this happens largely online, using multiple journeys and multiple devices. Feels about right, too? This video will help introduce it if ZMOT is new to you…

Great insight and content marketing from Google

The over-arching ZMOT thinking, led by Jim Lecinski at Google, is more great stuff for people trying to sell something to someone, it hails further signals that, as marketers, we all really need to wake up to. It's just as you'd expect from the might of Google's content marketing too; there's some fantastic insight and it's well researched based on insights from organizations such as Nielsen.

It's a concept orientated (though far from exclusively) towards online retailers, which makes sense given Google's commercial goals to sell retailers their advertising opportunities. Armed with 'ZMOT', Google are recognising the fact that for the next generation of consumers, the line between online and offline retail is already gone, 'ZMOT' helps Google brand a benefit orientated sales pitch to help retailers do something about it.

Google's Jim Lecinski starts by talking over his personal example ZMOT customer journey which I've paraphrased below…

  • Step 1: I need to get a new TV
  • Step 2: What springs to mind when I think of brands to shortlist?
  • Step 3: Do some research to create my best shortlist of brands
  • Step 4: Open a new browser window, are their any that come recommended by experts or commentators?
  • Step 5: Open a new browser window, type “[brand or model name] review” and repeat for all options, evaluate the general feeling
  • Step 6: 5-10 minutes later - find the best price for the product vs trust of the retailer, buy TV

Can you spot where the ZMOT takes place? Yep, steps 3-5.

So is the sales funnel really dead?

Not even close! Let's appreciate that Google wants to sell, they need a big campaign idea to promote with, so it's important to have some filtering in place in order that we can weed out the actual value vs the necessary creative hype that might blindly send us into a new obsession with mobile advertising 🙂

A little like McKinsey's fantastic and simple Consumer Decision Journey, I believe ZMOT to be a similarly re-engineered sales funnel, the funnel itself is very evolved and very alive, it's a funnel on its side... What Google are actually revealing is that the early major stages of activity in the funnel are different now. The *way* we research, the sources, methods and devices is much more complex. What remains common is that fewer and fewer people logically progress through the stages, the first and second moments of truth. So just like McKinsey's Consumer Decision Journey, I'd suggest that ZMOT is a funnel of sorts, more at the early stages and less at the latter.

McKinsey's Consumer Decision Journey and Google's ZMOT are very similar though differ in what they focus on in regard to post purchase behaviours. ZMOT appreciates that there's a likely response (positive or negative) based upon the product experience - where consumers might 'do something' such as share, rate, comment or post words, pictures or video somewhere about their experience, this in turn creates or supplements someone else's ZMOT. McKinsey, on the other hand, talk about the continuation of the shoppers journey into repeat purchase and loyalty. I think both of these models offer important perspectives post purchase.

The major ZMOT take-aways

  • Every shopper is unique: And, they always have been Google, we've not become emotive and human, we've become empowered to exercise that irrational nature with more choice just one one click (or finger flick) away. Without doubt Google's message stands true though: Be ready to meet shoppers their way. The key? Develop major persona types, market to those individuals as individuals, let them see real-time relevant content to aid in decision making, in taking micro (i.e email sign-up) and macro (purchase) decisions, over time. The 'over time' point is important, people will repeat visit over time, so consider lifetime value over one-visit or one-purchase value.

"Why would people make decisions based on the opinions of strangers? They don’t. They make decisions based on the opinions of people like themselves. Which is who they find at ZMOT" Jim Lecinski

  • Shoppers are multi-channel and multi device: This is the important point, as users now have more time to research and consider purchase (and let's not forget those of us that make massive impulse purchases!). The consumer jumps online, offline, word of mouth and back online again. This journey is not predictable outside of that you know you do this yourself. Google talk about T-commerce (tablet commerce, naturally). Understanding channel attribution modelling will become more important as a part of this.

  • Advertising is no longer the primary effective tool: You need to earn the attention of the consumer, the reality of high cart abandonment, high bounce rates and your brand or product generally being lost in a sea of noise. You cannot logically buy the problem out with advertising anymore, 99% of us just don't have the budgets to hand. Not that I'd recommend it if you did. Consider how you can earn attention at every step of the customer's journey and especially when they're on your site.
  • 80% of success is showing up: This is actually the most important point, what makes it easy to get started and near impossible to ever be perfect. You need to show up where the consumer is trying to solve their challenge. So how are you going to do that?

"The average number of information sources used by shoppers DOUBLED from 2010 to 2011" Professor David Bell

How do you be a part of your customer's ZMOT?

Google talk about winning at the ZMOT, I think that's possibly a little misleading. You don't win, you help the consumer on their journey and then monitor and measure the amount of attention and trust that you get as a result, ultimately in how many attributable sales that your efforts generate. Let's not make this complicated either, it's content marketing (or inbound marketing if you're that way inclined) at multiple stages of the buy funnel. Something we've covered before and created a content marketing info graphic to go with it.

Given that you're unlikely to be able to beat every competitor on price and warehouse inventory, Google advise that you need to beat those competitors at the point of ZMOT, where decisions are made outside of price alone. This is done whilst also bringing the same quality of content into your website by giving the consumer the information that they need at point of purchase to confidentially make a decision. Again it's relevant content at that point on the journey.

So what's the practical checklist for starting out in ZMOT?

  1. Collect the data about your brand across as many review sites, blogs, forums and social networks as possible. Do this through search or better using social monitoring search and listening tools that make this easier
  2. How do your compare to competitors - where are you in the market so far as the searching consumer is concerned?
  3. Define and understand your customer or persona types - more specifically map their journey to purchase, where do those individuals go to make informed purchase decisions, where do they get their ideas and inspiration and who or what do they currently trust (repeat this process regularly)
  4. Walk in the consumers shoes as much as possible, what is their experience of searching in your market, exploring intermediary or influencer sites, including how does your site and others in the market work in smartphone or tablet devices, and of course on a PC
  5. As the consumer hits your site, is it credible, does it demonstrate a trustworthy brand, making realistic promises that are valuable outside of price alone?
  6. Are you catering for those further up the sales funnel, those people (as P&G said in 2005) who are stood in 'front of the shelf' at the first moment of truth, are there reasons to make what Google call the micro decisions to register for or download some form of useful content from you?
  7. And, of course: Download the ZMOT guide guide (there's a new second edition for 2012); it's a little long, but absolutely worth your time

“There’s evidence that customers acquired by word of mouth actually have higher lifetime value than others.” Jim Lecinski

Careful not to upset the direct marketers

"UnderStanding lifetime value — that’s the way online marketing is headed," says Google, "Because the digital world makes it possible." I don't mean to be rude, Google, but the LTV thinking has been around for a long time now and might rile a few of those direct marketing traditionalists! Probably the best book ever written on customer orientated marketing remains Pepper and Roger's 'One to One Field book' (1999), in fairness they too were suggesting this some time ago. How do you find ZMOT? Brilliant or Bollocks?

Share your thoughts

  • Ilias commented on May 24, 2015

    I like your analysis and the fact that you compared Google’s findings with McKinsey’s and P&G’s. I would like to add to that that Forrester has also many references to the new marketing journey and they have been blogging about it.

    My question is , how much of Google’s research is focused on B2B and how much is relevant to B2C/ecommerce ? I understand that B2B and B2C are slowly coming together to become B2X , as people bring their personal way of buying into their jobs, but there are still many differences such as the sales cycles etc.

    Furthermore, Google’s infamous “customer journey to online purchase” is using data from ecommerce Google analytics accounts, so I would not say that its B2B focused as ecommerce still hasn’t been adopted by the majority of B2B companies.

    Looking forward to your answer and further references to add to my research 🙂

    Thank you

    • Ilias commented on May 25, 2015

      Apologies for the “infamous” I wanted to edit my post but could not find how to .

  • stefan commented on March 15, 2013

    hi, i dont find this quote: “The average number of information sources used by shoppers DOUBLED from 2010 to 2011″ Professor David Bell …

  • Hi Danyl. Good read, thanks.

    I like the simple idea behind what both McKinsey and Google are saying. That the internet has introduced (or greatly empowered) a ‘discovery’ phase in the consumer decision journey, which can kick-in for first time or repeat buyers.

    This has implications for how you try to influence the journey (or funnel), but also how you understand the space in which consumers’ discover and form opinions about brands. This is a much more fluid and changeable space than the other moments of truth. Companies need to really understand what consumers are looking for in a category. The challenge is to find your blind spots – the benefits you haven’t realised your potential customers are looking for and adapt.

    • Thanks for your comments Listen and Learn – like that,

      I learned from this:

      “The challenge is to find your blind spots – the benefits you haven’t realised your potential customers are looking for and adapt.”
      In a similar way, successful content marketing is

      “finding the intersection between what your brand can offer and what consumers want from your brand”
      Think I’m paraphrasing Joe Pullizi there, or was that yours Dan?


  • David Coombes commented on October 26, 2012

    Good article. Is it not that ZMOT has widened the first stage of the funnel to include all the contact points out there that people have either been unable or unwilling to accept? I also think it’s not really about one funnel, it’s whichever funnel the consumer decides suits them rather than the silos companies try to create and force people down.

  • The ZMOT ebook says: “In short, the shopper’s journey looks less like a funnel and more like a flight map, as John Ross of Shopper Sciences has called it. Shoppers dart back and forth as they touch down — again and again — not at cities but at all the information hubs on their journey. Google ran a study with Shopper Sciences early in 2012, looking at the purchase journey for 3,000 shoppers in tech, CPG, auto and finance. What we found were 3,000 completely different paths! But when we drilled down, we found certain stops, or “hubs,” in common.”

    I think that’s right – the decision process isn’t really a funnel. The consumer is like a bird, flying from branch to branch, collecting evidence each time they land.

    • Nice comment! I like this analogy:

      “The consumer is like a bird, flying from branch to branch, collecting evidence each time they land”.
      or maybe like a hawk surveying the scene and then swooping when the time (and price) is right.

  • Good writeup! Dave and I had a brief chat about ZMOT a while ago, because I mentioned I used it when pitching clients. Ultimately, as a consultant, I find it a good lead in to reputation management and full-blown content marketing for clients.

    I can see your points that Google haven’t invented/discovered this themselves, they’ve just branded it really. But it’s much easier to flick interested people to a short, interesting and attractive video (courtesy of Google) then it is to say “go read this and this and this and this”.

    • Hey Chris – ZMOT is a good thing if it helps explain what success in today’s marketing involves. Interesting and positive you can use it with clients for this.

      • I really appreciate this article because it warns us not to drink the Google cool-aid all in one gulp. I think there are some valuable conclusions in the ZMOT book – lots of people are researching a lot more – that portion of the funnel has certainly blossomed. But, looking at the actual survey – it’s so flawed. It only surveyed online users (of which there are still a handful of folks that aren’t glued to their computer), plus it pre-ordained what Google considered research tools. It called magazine articles stimuli, but in funnel days, magazine articles were the #1 research tool for auto shoppers. Only online tools were considered ZMOT tools, which is pretty presumptuous of Google. It sadly smacks a bit too much of propaganda for my taste.

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