To understand how digital marketing strategy can take into account online research behaviour, I will introduce our framework around the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) and how to influence prospects by enabling the amplification of word of mouth.

ZMOT

The zero moment of truth (ZMOT) is concept coined by Google to describe the behaviour of modern consumers who use the internet to form their opinion of the marketplace before buying a product or service. They will probably take into account about up to eight different sources of information in their evaluation. They can then proceed to buy either on or offline. According to the consumer barometer survey results, a large portion of customers research online before making a purchase, although differences per industry are significant.

Three stages model

We identify three stages in the research process, and each requires a different content strategy. Or model is based on our observations, the traditional marketing funnel (AIDA), and a model by Avinash Kaushik. Broadly speaking, customers’ behaviour can be categorised by intent: orientation, research and shopping. Orientation means the customer is unaware of the relevant decision parameters and attempts to form an understanding of the marketplace. In the research stage, the customer creates a shortlist of products and brands. He/she attempts to confirm the fit to its requirements of the product and the trustworthiness of the supplier. In the shopping stage, the customer has made up its mind and looks for the best deal with intent to buy, either online or offline.

Brand trust and product fit

Broadly speaking, prospects try to answer two types of questions.

  • Which type of product is right for me?
  • Which company can I trust to keep its promise?

The first question, which type of product is right for me, can be addressed by making it easy for the customer to understand your offering. From the marketing perspective, this is a means positioning and clear communication of benefits. Except for really complicated industries, this is arguably the easier question for prospects to answer.

The second question, which company can I trust to deliver on its promise, is more subjective. Customers will look for reviews by other customers, opinions by authoritative bloggers, comparison websites, and other factors that suggest the company is legit and thrustworthy. These other factors could include the information on the company’s own website, how easy is it is to contact them, and their tone of voice in social media.

The ZMOT framework

 

Brand trust Product fit
Orientation Which brands sell this product? Which product parameters are important to me?
Research Which brands can I trust? Which products meet my requirements?
Shop Which brands have the best deals? Which products can I find the best deal for?

 

Research Channels

Where do consumers find this information? We posit that the starting point of the internet is either Google or online social networks (mainly Facebook and Twitter). Facebook and Twitter can, and will to a certain extent, be used to actively request information in ZMOT type research. The feedback the prospect would receive from its network will be highly trusted, and likely influence the decision significantly. However, most people will not ask for or receive adequate feedback from their personal and professional network at the exact time of their research. Social media is more likely to expose prospects to new products or services, or influence the opinion of consumers before they are actively researching.

When researching, the prospect is most likely to go to Google for information. The prospect will look for reviews, and review aggregators. It will also look for bloggers, and forums that discuss the product or company. The more authoritative these bloggers, the more influence. It may also take into account other sources of information, such as newspaper articles and the company’s website, as well as social media.

It should be remembered that the consumer is trying to reduce its risk in making of being duped, and will therefore an absence of negative reviews may be enough to satisfy him/her. However, positive reviews instil more confidence. The sophisticated researcher will put his/her faith in balanced reviews, discussing positive and negative sites of their experience.

Conclusion: Word of mouth

The idea underlying ZMOT, and digital marketing in general is that it’s an amplification of good old word of mouth. Word of mouth is the opinion of trusted sources that have had previous experience with the product or company. While in the past, experiences would not be shared frequently, the internet has changed that. Online social networks amplify the traditional word of mouth by exposing them to a larger audience. Google even widens the exposure, although now the researcher does not personally know the reviewer. The researcher thus looks for other signals of trustworthiness of the reviewer. However, it appears that prospects generally give benefit of the doubt while reviewing.

Thus, when designing a digital marketing strategy for the modern consumer, one of the major goals is to make it as easy as possible for people to spread the positive word about you.

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