Skip to content

Google’s Zero Moment of Truth: Changing Purchase Influence

Sam Sebastian, Director of  Local and B2B Markets for Google, presented the next evolution in the Mental Model of Marketing during his keynote presentation that closed out the first full day at Content Marketing World 2012.

He first explained where the notion of the “First Moment of Truth” in marketing came about. The phrase was coined by Procter & Gamble, based on its discovery that shoppers make up their minds about a product within three to seven seconds — or the time it takes to note a product on the shelf.

To put the First Moment of Truth in perspective, Sebastian presented the traditional Mental Model of Marketing, in which the first step is that a marketer creates a need through some type of stimulus, such as an ad. This spurs consumers to the First Moment of Truth, where they take an action based on the stimulus. For example, if the TV promoted a new car model, the consumer would visit the dealership to drive the car. The Second Moment of Truth occurs when the consumer purchases the product and ideally is so satisfied with it that a repeat purchase occurs in the future.

To understand what happened between the stimulus and the First Moment of Truth, Google tested a hypothesis about how online search has forever changed the product research process — across all categories of product, both B2C and B2B. It also wanted to understand how offline stimuli complements online activities. One example is that 66 percent of consumers have performed a mobile search after seeing an offline ad.

Google partnered with Shopper Sciences, which talked to 5,000 consumers that had made a large purchase in major categories. Google wanted to understand what sources of information these consumers used to make their purchase decisions and which were most influential. Google and Shopper Sciences gathered and analyzed 50 different drivers influencing purchase decisions, and categorized them by stimulus (newspaper ad, radio ad, etc.), Zero Moment of Truth (online search), and First Moment of Truth (in-store purchase).

What Google discovered is that the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) between the stimulus and First Moment of Truth is where buyers are conducting important research. Buyers are using a higher average number of online sources in their research (10.4 in 2011 versus 5.27 in 2010), and are spending more time with these sources (17 percent of time in 2011 versus 9 percent in 2010).

The key takeaway for brands is that they now have to focus as much on ZMOT as on any other element in the Mental Model of Marketing to influence potential customers. It’s at the ZMOT that brands have a major chance to engage with shoppers before they make their purchase decision.

Sebastian outlined seven strategies for winning with ZMOT:

1. Put someone in charge. Most brands have someone in charge of ads, market research, in-store displays, etc. But few have anyone in charge of culling insights from across all these areas or addressing the ZMOT. However, Sebastian is seeing more companies putting someone in charge to address the strategy and budget for ZMOT.

2. Find your Zero Moments. Brands should run three search queries:

  • Type their brand name in Google.
  • Then type “[company name] review.”
  • Then type “Best [your category, e.g., photocopier].

Conducting this research will help brands figure out their ZMOTs. Sebastian suggests brands go further by conducting keyword analysis and reviewing related searches to determine what people are searching for and what the space is saying about the brand.

3. Answer the questions people are asking. Brands should get specific and relevant in search advertising by answering what people are asking for.

4. Optimize for ZMOT. Nielsen research shows that advertising on multiple platforms significantly increases recall and engagement. In response, brands should optimize their ads for all screens (tablets, smartphones, laptops, etc.).

5. Be fast. With digital marketing, brands need to be armed, ready, and mobilized to tap into the huge ZMOT opportunity. Sebastian emphasized that speed beats perfection. For example, Betty Crocker launched a recipe application and Kraft launched one six months later. Because Betty Crocker was first to market, it gained a huge leg up when it came to influencing ZMOT.

6. Don’t forget video. The second biggest search engine after Google is YouTube.  So brands should answer people’s problems with videos (how-to, case studies, etc.).

7. Jump in! Test, fail, and adjust. With so much changing so quickly, brands need to jump in to be in on the leading edge.

Sebastian wrapped up by inviting attendees to download a new, free Google eBook on the Zero Moment of Truth, available at