Marketers are using the phrase “zero moment of truth” to describe the challenge they face in online marketing and sales. The challenge being that, unlike the “first moment of truth” customers experience when first ogling a product on the store shelves, in online commerce there’s neither product nor experience to grasp. Customers have a zero moment, or a moment of zero truth, with the product (and brand).
The term zero moment of truth is admittedly awkward. Why reference a moment that doesn’t occur, when obviously something does occur, else there would be no moment at all. And if the point is to reference the absence of a moment of truth, why not just say that? The “missing moment of truth.” Or better, since this is online we’re talking about: “The proxy moment of truth” Or, since what we really mean to talk about are the myriad of pre-purchase brand encounters in social, review, search, etc sites: “the vicarious tease,” “the anticipatory moment of truth,” “the social quest for truthful moments” …
Allow me one further digressive bit of commentary. There’s a lot baked into that “moment of truth.” First, that truth has anything to do with a customer’s experience of brand and product. I’m not sure that it has. The concept suggests that a) there is a brand truth and b) this can be communicated, equally, to all customers. Well that’s well over-stating it. Not to mention, customers aren’t fools; they know brands and products are advertised by means of lies big and small. But more significantly, the customer owns any experience and measure of “truth.” We call this, rightly or wrongly, value. It’s an expression of what is valuable to the customer, which of course varies, and includes: desire, aspiration, performance, discount, identity, popularity, and so much more. A complex of rational and irrational choices that include price, name, history, impression, messaging, aesthetics, hearsay, status, and so on.
My issue with “zero moment of truth” isn’t so much that it may not exist. Although that is a concern. Truth is falsehood, actually, on the brand end, since brands have foresworn “real” relationships over profitable sales transactions. Moments are, well, not really moments because we’re dealing here with a customer looking at a product — something we do so much of it can hardly be called a moment. Zero, well that refers to a lack, so what’s the point in creating something out of a nothing, particularly when that nothing is circumspect to begin with.
The real problem is that even the zero moment wants to preserve the illusion of brand control. Brands don’t control customer experiences. They control their own branding. Brands are a part of customer experiences, yes, but customers have their own experiences, period.
What the zero moment intends is to refer to the many ways in which customers encounter a brand in reference prior to making any purchase. The channels in which this occur, and so which seem to be available to bands, include review sites, twitter, facebook and pages, g+, and so on. In other words customer talk and shared stories, questions and answers, recommendations, reviews, etc.
These are not “zero moments” at all, but are potentially rich and influential moments. That they are “zero moments” to the brand tells us something about the brand and how brand sees these customer experiences.
There is an awful lot to learn and use in the world of commercial discourse, meaning, where people share interests and exchange views, sometimes about values and sometimes about brands and products. This is a space from which brands are not excluded unless they choose to exclude themselves. It belongs to the spectrum of learnings and choices in which customers engage and share with friends, and is thus very intentional, if not also action based. These “zero moments” in which brands are referenced but by customers, not by brands, are possibly the most important moments: they culminate in a choice to buy or not to buy. Little zero about that!
I understand where the “zero moment of truth” comes from. But I have a bone to pick with language. For it gives rise to false concepts and misleads us into thinking that we understand something, and how it works, when in fact we understand only a metaphor. And this phrase “zero moment” in particular gets under my skin, for customers are people, and customers own and enjoy their experiences, and thread together the narratives that make sense to them about who to listen to and what to want, which to buy, from whom, when, and whom to tell about it. And all of this if very rich, and there might be little zero about it, other than zero advertising, in which case the term, viewed from the customer’s perspective, might as well be “zero moment of false.”
See: Google’s Jim Lecinski on What the ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ Means for Marketers