How Media Planners Can Sell When Consumers Won't Stop Researching

Working at the 'Zero Moment of Truth'

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Last week we hosted a number of clients at GroupM's "What's Next" conference, a summit that offers a window into some of freshest thinking and practices in the marketing and digital media spheres.

Jim Lecinski, VP for U.S. sales and service at Google, presented a thought-provoking idea that he calls the "Zero Moment of Truth."

It's a modification of the P&G marketing mantra conceived in the golden A.G. Lafley era, when the packaged-goods marketer evangelized on "winning at the two moments of truth" -- the first at the point of purchase and the second when consumers use the product.

Now "The Zero Moment of Truth" -- or ZMOT -- is potentially disruptive thinking for marketers.

The idea is that a real consumer shift has taken place in the last few years. Consumers have changed their pattern of decision-making dramatically, increasingly deciding and switching their opinion of brands or products before they step into a store, talk to a sales representative or visit an e-commerce site. Hence the "Zero" moment of truth refers to the stage before the "first" and "second" moments of truth.

Increasing access to the web and mobile devices was already turning consumers into relentless, round-the-clock product researchers. But the recession has pushed us to become even more prudent about spending our dollars. The number of sources consulted by consumers before a purchase has already nearly doubled since last year, to 10.4 from 5.3, according to a study conducted by Shopper Sciences for Google.

It's no wonder that retailers complain that foot traffic across the board is down.

Shoppers' patterns have changed. They don't go through a linear process that starts with narrowing a long list of brands down to a short list and then finally making a purchase. In this more connected, transparent and crowd sourced world, when shoppers start to research a product instead of narrowing, they expand their consideration set. The more you learn, the wider the options you consider and the decision to switch brands can be made with a click of the button.

My wife and I recently were in the market for a washer and drier. We started off with the intention to replace our Maytag set with updated models. After a recommendation from some colleagues, however, we switched our search to a Whirlpool. We visited its website and settled on something. But we then surveyed a myriad of consumer-review sites -- Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping and then Best Buy with its comments and ratings -- and found both a question on the model's reliability and several alternatives. After settling on an LG model this time, we went onto to check prices. By the time we arrived at our local electronics store, we were armed with exactly the brand, model and the price we needed it to match.

This shift in marketing isn't just centered on large purchases like cars or more involved service purchases like insurance or wireless plans. Small everyday products from cat food and cough syrups get an enormous level of search activity online -- particularly from moms. A quick scan of cough syrups commands 6.8 million searchable items.

This has plenty of implications to marketers and their agencies:

1. In addition to aiming your marketing communications toward heavy users, you have to focus on "heavy influencers."
Bloggers and online reviewers are only getting more influential as Google leads a path directly to them. A personal recommendation is one of a few ways to really get people to shift brands. Marketers have already been reaching for influencers, of course, in the hope that they'll multiply the effect of their campaigns.

2. The classic marketing funnel needs updating.
Most marketers still fundamentally operate off the traditional purchase funnel. Metrics and key performance indicators are set against building awareness, consideration and preference. Marketing communications' traditional role was confined to the top of the funnel, long before consumers' purchases, while customer-relationship marketing concerned itself with customers after they bought. This model is deep-seated. Yet those silos are killing opportunities to win sales. Traditional above-the-line media and digital communications can in fact deepen your relationship and engagement with current customers, building positive experiences that are critical for maintaining repeat buying and encouraging advocacy.

3. Everything should be more social.
Consumers don't distinguish a traditional media campaign from a social-media campaign. The real power in marketing comes from social working at all levels. So much of the Zero Moment of Truth is driven by consumer-generated recommendation and sentiment. Think about how traditional paid media can drive the conversation. Everyone in the marketing and agency team needs to be thinking, "What can I do to make this TV or print campaign, this event or this content, more social?"

4. Digital discounting is in.
Part of the motivation behind researching online is finding value for money. The same motivation also means that services such as Groupon and LivingSocial, or value-based e-commerce platforms like Amazon and, will command a growing role in the marketing eco-system. I don't know which players will win, but everything points to this sector getting more traction with consumers.

You can download Google's free e-book "Winning the Zero Moment of Truth" here.

Antony Young is the CEO of Mindshare North America, a WPP media strategy and investment agency. He recently published "Brand Media Strategy," a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication about integrated communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.
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