Zero Moment of Truth for Ecommerce

Marketers across all industries have long invested significant resources into optimizing the traditional three-step marketing model. Coined by Proctor and Gamble, this conceptual model of marketing relied on a critical notion known as the ‘first moment of truth.’ This moment of truth, focusing on point-of-sale, indicated that shoppers make up their mind about a product in 3–7 seconds.

According to this model, optimized touch-points that influence a customer’s decision making journey can be seen to impact the path to purchase in 3 stages:

  1. Stimulus: customer is first introduced to a product or product category
  2. Shelf: the ‘first moment of truth’ has traditionally been held to be the best opportunity of turning a browser into a buyer.
  3. Experience: the ‘second moment of truth,’ consumers experience positive or negative reactions as they use the product.

However today, with 54% of consumers engaging in online comparison shopping before making a purchase, the rise of omnichannel shopping has created a moment of truth that occurs before shoppers even reach the store. A comprehensive 2011 study conducted by Google and Shopper Science demonstrated this new paradigm for consumer shopping habits and marketers have refocused efforts to win at this newfound fourth step in the marketing model — the ‘zero moment of truth’.

Zero Moment of Truth, Defined

After asking 5000 shoppers across twelve different categories what resources they use to make purchase decisions, when they use them and how influential they are, Google was able to identify the zero moment of truth, or ZMOT.

Subsequent to the stimulus step of the marketing model this new step is described as the precise moment where customers have a need, intent or question and they turn to the Internet for answers. This is the part of the buying cycle where consumers are researching a product or product category before the seller even knows they exist. Brands that can successfully speak to these reserching prospects at the right time not only provide them with essential information, but stand to gain the competitive advantage of being a frontrunner in the customer’s consideration stage of the purchase cycle.

The evolution of this new stage in the decision making journey can be largely attributed to technological growth and the exponential increase in both the accessibility of information and the sheer volume of information available. The average shopper uses 10.4 sources of information before purchasing a product, in comparison to the 5.3 seen in 2010. Additionally, the rise in mobile usage has given shoppers the opportunity to research products the moment they experience stimulus, which happens in real-time and is increasingly happening on the go.

Winning the ZMOT in Ecommerce

Marketers, for the most part, have adapted traditional marketing models to fit online transactions, in the same way ZMOT also applies to and impacts shoppers in the ecommerce space. For example, the stimulus may take the form of a PPC ad for email automation which triggers the interest of a firm’s marketing manager who decides to do some research. This research step of the customer’s journey is the zero moment of truth.

According to Google’s study, 36% of consumers check out a brand’s website and 31% read endorsements, reviews or recommendations before buying. Product reviews, customer testimonials, case studies, buyers guides, additional ads and digital word of mouth will all shape the consumer’s decision to buy. It’s this moment where online businesses need to be proactive and ensure product information is delivered across the mediums where their potential customers are looking.

Before ecommerce businesses can optimize their ZMOT marketing practices, they must understand where they currently stand in this step of the marketing model. For example, when the product name is typed into a search engine, what term fills in automatically? Where does the brand’s website or message appear in the search engine page rankings? Where does the brand stand on key ratings and review sites for its category?

Lastly, if someone searches for key phrases from your brand’s marketing communication, what do they see? Once a ZMOT audit has been conducted, you can begin implementing strategies to win in the early stages of discovery.

Finding Your Zero Moments

Your first task should be to identify moments that matter to your target customers. Tools such as Google Trends or Insights for Search can be used to discover the type of questions people are asking. Acting on these moments across your marketing mix will be essential for gaining visibility. In the example of email automation, a ZMOT would likely be the search phrase ‘creating email campaigns.’

Be Engaging and Remain Relevant

Customers are looking first for information, so don’t add in unnecessary information or incentives like discounts upfront. Discounts can often be a valuable incentive in later stages of the inbound marketing funnel, but when searching for ‘creating an optimized email campaign,’ a discount or free month trial is going to be of little value.

Instead, focus on being present at every step of the customer’s journey with relevant, engaging content. A blog post, white paper or video highlighting optimization tactics for an email drip campaign will provide the perfect seguay for answering the consumer’s questions and then, subsequently, promoting your own product.

Visuals Matter

If you haven’t already incorporated videos in your digital strategy, you should. ZMOT is now visual as well as text-based and, next to Google, YouTube has become the second-most-used search box in the world. Not only does this channel have an international reach, but it is also optimized for users on any device, making it an increasingly popular platform to target customers during the product exploration stage.

Before investing money into making this kind of creative, remember that different consumers seek different kinds of videos. For B2C, focus on product demos and how-to’s. If you’re a B2B business, case studies and thought leadership are among the best tactics to attract prospective clients.


Numerous techniques exist for winning the zero moment of truth. However, above all it is critical companies keep in mind that, in the world of ZMOT, speed beats perfection. Popular search terms, customer buying habits and technologies are consistently changing, making flexibility a crucial attribute for businesses looking to become influencers in consumer buying decisions.

With 84% of shoppers stating that ZMOT shapes their decisions to buy, this moment cannot go unnoticed by companies looking to expand their online presence. Conducting a ZMOT analysis and taking measures to ensure you are present when consumers require information about a product category are necessary steps for adjusting to this new paradigm for consumer shopping habits.

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