All too often I get around to something that has been in my “must-read” pile for far too long and ask myself why on earth I haven’t read it before. Google’s “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth – ZMOT” has been hanging around on my Kindle since last September, and when I read it last week, I kicked myself for not sailing through it earlier.

You can read it too, for free, in about an hour, and you really should. It’s free because it is an extended white paper for search engine marketing the Google way, but it really is more than that. It speaks to the changing model of behavior among all purchasers that has led to Google’s success, and by extension, anyone who factors that model into how they go to market.

The basic premise is builds on a traditional path to purchase, modeled as Stimulus + Shelf + Experience. Stimulus is where you are first aware of a product, through advertising or identification of your need. Shelf is where you first evaluate the product, sometimes by literally picking it off the shelf and examining it. Experience is where you have bought the product and evaluate it post purchase as fulfilling your needs and expectations. The shelf encounter has been referred to as the “first moment of truth”, where your examination leads you to choose yes or now, purchase or not. The actual product experience is the “second moment of truth” where your use of the product leads you to judge whether it fulfilled its promise or not.

Google’s Jim Lecinski posits a “zero moment of truth” that now influences most buying decisions. Before even hitting the shelf, people hit the Internet (Google, they hope) to apply a first filter to decide which path to take. Marketers who feel they can make their case at the “first moment of truth” may be left emptyhanded.

The book does a good job laying out the model for those who haven’t figured it out already, and gives some good exercises and practical steps to apply to your own product or brand. Lecinski also highlights the shift from messaging to modeling as the holy grail of marketers. I still hear too many marketers base first principles around the messages they want to convey to the marketplace, ignoring the complexity of the connected consumer and the network of influence that is often impervious to top-down messaging efforts.

I love to see new models well articulated, even if they are thinly disguised promotions of the most successful player of the model, and this is a good source for any marketer who needs a refresher course on how things have changed, and how quickly they continue to change.

Interesting contrasts

While ZMOT’s primary contrast with older models of marketing is of great value, I noted a couple of contrasts with some recent ideas that are worth exploring.

Serendipity

There’s a tension between highly effective search models and consumer-directed targeting on the one hand, and the rewards of serendipity on the other hand. Chapter 4 of ZMOT goes into the effect of rankings and ratings on peoples ZMOT choices. Yet people making more and more decisions based on ZMOT rankings, whether they’re Yelp stars or Google’s PageRank telling you what pages to see, will miss out on the discovery of the outliers, or products where the one good review out of 20 is from someone who has the same quirky taste as you. Salon explores this phenomenon in more detail in the article How Yelp destroyed the thrill of exploring.

Though this runs counter to Google’s hyperefficient market model, I think algorithms can factor serendipity in balance with relevance and user goals – (like the BananaSlug search engine‘s “long tail search” algorithm.)

Yes or not yes?

Lecinski isn’t just a pitchman for Google, he’s also an enthusiast for change, innovation and progress. From ZMOT:

“How can marketers keep up? ‘Say yes.’ That’s one of Lorraine Twohill’s favorite sayings, and I love it. It’s always easy to be cautious and say ‘no.’ But ideas come from everywhere now. Embrace that! Say yes as often as possible. Be nimble. Take risks, try new things, learn and be surprised.”

This is in contrast with another philosophy I’ve embraced from another great little book that you can read too, in about an hour, and you really should. Derek Sivers’s “Anything You Want” isn’t free, but it’s a fresh breeze on entrepreneurial success. In it, Sivers says,

“If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no.’
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!’ — then say ‘no.’
When you say ‘no’ to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say ‘HELL YEAH!’
Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about it, say ‘no.’
We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.”

Yes or no? Who is right? Maybe the answer is that Sivers’s “HELL YEAH!” vs “no” is a ZMOT moment for us all.