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What is the ‘zero moment of truth’?

I was at my favourite little family-run store, looking to stock up on cold cuts, xacuti masala and Goan sausages, when I saw a little exercise in consumer decision-making play out in front of me. Savio Barretto writes.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2010 01:27 IST
Savio Barretto
Savio Barretto
Hindustan Times

I was at my favourite little family-run store, looking to stock up on cold cuts, xacuti masala and Goan sausages, when I saw a little exercise in consumer decision-making play out in front of me.

I put him in his early 30s, successful (branded slippers, branded capris and a carefully-assembled-but-trying-to-look-casual Sunday look) and your typical urban consumer. As he headed to the check-out counter, he spied a tray with homemade coconut cakes. There were two loaves left; no brand names but the packaging on each spelled out that they were coconut cakes and ‘deliciously homemade’. He picked up each, examined them carefully, read through the packaging and selected one.

I could see no apparent difference between the two cakes. They both had your basic transparent cling film with a little piece of paper stuck on, undoubtedly designed at home and printed in black-and-white.

I was thoroughly intrigued, so I stopped him on his way out and, after the basic pleasantries, asked him why he chose the cake he did over the other. “Oh that’s simple,” he said, “This one said ‘just like your grandmother used to make’. It brought back so many memories I could actually smell my grandmother’s coconut cake. I just had to have this one.”

The good folks over at Procter & Gamble call this the FMOT or ‘First moment of truth’ — the 'first' interaction between a shopper and a product on a store's shelf. The theory is that a consumer makes up his mind in the few seconds it takes him to consider a product on the shelf. Many brands believe this is their most important opportunity. Till now.

The ZMOT or the ‘Zero moment of truth’ argues that in a world as digital as ours, the FMOT is no longer first. Interactions between consumers and brands now occur before they even see the product on a shelf.

According to Information Resource Inc.’s Time & Trends report from October 2009, 83 per cent of shoppers stated they are making their purchase decisions before entering the retail store. This is a 23 point jump in just two years.

This makes the ZMOT interesting for two reasons: it challenges the legacy on how marketers think about their brands, and it establishes that people research online even when they purchase offline.

Our own market research for India indicates as much: 1. More than half of the consumers we polled said they preferred to learn about new brands online.

2. Seven in 10 of our Indian respondents said they “always” went online to research financial products they are interested in; over 60 per cent said online research helped them become aware of new brands of financial products.

3. Offline purchasers of travel products used search engines more than those making their purchases online (81 per cent versus 74 per cent).

4. Four in 10 new car buyers begin their search online. Seven in 10 use the internet throughout the purchase process. And yet, the online components of our brands continue to be the most orphaned.

I was in a class of marketing majors and one of them told of how her building society was arguing about the most useful place to put a sheet of important phone numbers. We concluded that the building notice board would be best, provided the information poster had a standout design. But someone in the housing society had a brainwave and stuck it to the inside of the lift.

That makes complete sense. Everyone uses the lift. The solution didn’t need a fancy poster. Just a simple legible sheet where everyone could see it and know it was there when they wanted it. Of course, I’m overly simplifying the issue here but see what I mean?

For the naysayers who argue “But, this is India” and the ZMOT cannot hold true, I’ll leave you with two findings from a recent retail study: only 13 per cent of purchases were decided without any online research, and purchasers spent the same amount of time (45 minutes) researching retail products online as in stores. So, does this ‘ZMOT’ thing exist? Your call.

Savio Barretto is marketing manager, Google India

First Published: Aug 30, 2010 01:25 IST