Marketing in the ZMOT: An Interview with Jim Lecinski

First published July 21, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

A few columns back, I mentioned the new book from Google, “ZMOT, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.” But, in true Google fashion, it isn’t really a book, at least, not in the traditional sense. It’s all digital, it’s free, and there’s even a multimedia app (a Vook) for the iPad.

Regardless of the “book” ‘s format, I recently caught up with its author, Jim Lecinski, and we had a chance to chat about the ZMOT concept. Jim started by explaining what the ZMOT is: “The traditional model of marketing is stimulus – you put out a great ad campaign to make people aware of your product, then you win the FMOT (a label coined by Procter and Gamble) — the moment of truth, the purchase point, the shelf. Then the target takes home the product and hopefully it will live up to its promises. It makes whites whiter, brights brighter, the package actually gets there by 10:30 the next morning.

What we came out with here in the book is this notion that there’s actually a fourth node in the model  of equal importance.  We gave the umbrella name to that new fourth moment that happens in between stimulus and shelf: if it’s prior to FMOT, one minus F is zero, ‘Zero Moment of Truth.'”

Google didn’t invent the ZMOT, just as Procter & Gamble didn’t invent the FMOT. These are just labels applied to consumer behaviours. But Google, and online in general, have had a profound effect on a consumer’s ability to interact in the Zero Moment of Truth.

Lecinski: “There were always elements of a zero moment of truth. It could happen via word of mouth. And in certain categories, of course  — washing machines, automotive, certain consumer electronics — the zero moment of truth was won or lost in print publications like Consumer Reports or Zagat restaurant guide or Mobil Travel Guide.

But those things had obvious limitations. One: there was friction — you had to actually get in the car and go to the library. The second is timeliness  — the last time they reviewed wash machines might have been nine months ago. And then the third is accuracy: ‘Well, the model that they reviewed nine months ago isn’t exactly the one I saw on the commercial last night that’s on sale this holiday weekend at Sears.'”

The friction, the timeliness and the simple lack of information all lead to an imbalance in the market place that was identified by economist George Akerlof in 1970 as information asymmetry. In most cases, the seller knew more about the product than the buyer. But the Web has driven out this imbalance in many product categories.

Lecinski: “The means are available to everybody to remove that sort of information asymmetry and move us into a post-Akerlof world of information symmetry. I was on the ad agency side for a long time, and we made the TV commercial assuming information asymmetry. We would say, ‘Ask your dealer to explain more about X, Y, and Z.’

Well, now that kind of a call to action in a TV commercial sounds almost silly, because you go into the dealer and there’s people with all the printouts and their smartphones and everything… So in many ways we are in a post-Akerlof world. Even his classic example of lemons for cars, well, I can be standing on the lot and pull up the CARFAX history report off my iPhone right there in the car lot.”

Lecinski also believes that our current cash flow issues drive more intense consumer research.  “Forty seven percent of U.S. households say that they cannot come up with $2,000 in a 30-day period without having to sell some possessions,” he says. “This is how paycheck to paycheck life is.”

When money is tight, we’re more careful with how we part with it. That means we spend more time in the ZMOT.

Next week, I’ll continue my conversation with Jim, touching on what the online ZMOT landscape looks like, the challenge ZMOT presents marketers and the seven suggestions Jim offers about how to win the Zero Moment of Truth.

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