Columnist Marcus Miller discusses how the customer journey has changed in the digital age and recommends ways to reach consumers at each stage of the journey via SEO.

By: Marcus Miller

Fifteen years ago, the marketing messages we received were all thrust at us via TV, radio, print, PR and word of mouth.

Now, everything has changed. We no longer take the marketing messages delivered to us at face value. We take matters into our own hands and seek out information on the products we wish to purchase.

For marketers, every one of these search moments is an opportunity to help shape the decisions your customers make.

In this post, I take a look at these crucial moments of truth and how we as marketers can capitalize on them. In particular, I look at one of the newer additions to this thinking — what Google is calling the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) — and how our always-on internet connections and mobile devices are driving purchase decisions as never before.

Moments Of Truth

In 1981, the then-CEO of the struggling Scandinavian Airlines suggested a change to the prevailing customer service philosophy, which became known as Moments of Truth. These moments were focused on really dealing with the emotional needs of the airline’s customers during customer service interactions.

The company could experience thousands of these moments throughout any given day, and a positive interaction could result in a favorable feeling towards the brand and continued loyalty. Customer loyalty would then lead to profits in subsequent interactions. Increased customer service focusing on emotionally charged moments led to more brand loyalty and further business. Soon, the airline was struggling no more.

Fast forward 35 years, and the only thing that has changed is everything. Customer touch points with brands have multiplied: smartphones, social media, search engines, reviews, live chat, email, phone or in person. There are now many more moments of truth, and dealing with the emotional needs of the customer is more important than ever over multiple touch points.

People expect answers quickly, via multiple channels. And we — as marketers, businesses and brands — must provide the information they seek.

First Moments Of Truth

The First Moment of Truth (FMOT) is a concept proposed by Procter & Gamble in 2005. If you’re unsure what P&G is, the company owns a portfolio of brands that you will most certainly know, some of which are products that you likely buy and have in your house right now.

The FMOT relates to that moment when a potential customer experiences a product on a store shelf (physical or digital in 2016). In this micro-moment, the brand has the best possible chance of creating an unplanned or impulse purchase and converting a browser into a buyer. Impulse purchases are largely emotionally driven, so this is achieved by appealing to the customer’s senses, values and emotions at the point of sale (POS).

If you have ever wondered why the supermarket moves everything around, then you will find answers in the studies conducted into impulse or unplanned purchases. Certainly, there are indications that reducing shopper efficiency results in more time in store, more product interaction and more unplanned or impulse purchases.

In our modern marketing environment, the First Moment of Truth is not restricted to viewing products on shelves. It could also occur in a variety of instances, such as:

  • A customer viewing a range of products on a store shelf or in a POS display.
  • A potential diner viewing a restaurant menu in the window.
  • A customer visiting the website of a potential service provider for the first time.
  • A traveler looking for hotel ratings and reviews for a trip away.
  • An office manager comparing prices for a printer toner.

It’s important to realize that this is not the beginning of this customer’s journey, and the first moment of truth is essentially crunch time. This is where the presales marketing and branding rubber hits the road. In most cases, a user would have been exposed to a stimulus — be that some advertising or even possibly word of mouth — that set up the FMOT.

Second Moment Of Truth

The second moment of truth is when the customer uses your product. Whether this is eating the meal that sounded so good on the menu (FMOT) or shaving with the shaving foam that promises no skin irritation.

This is where your product or service has to deliver on the promises made by your marketing. Fail at the second moment of truth, and your chances of repeat customers are slim.

Third Moment Of Truth

This is the moment of advocacy. Much like a typical sales funnel, we must go from awareness (stimulus) through to the sale, and ideally, to post-sale recommendation. This is where you transform a customer into a fan. This is where you build true brand loyalty.

In the real world, generating advocacy often requires a business process to stimulate those happy customers to review you or share positive feelings on your social media channels.

The Zero Moment Of Truth

Whether we are shopping for cars, hobbies or holidays, the internet has changed how we decide what to buy. Now, after the initial stimulus and before users reach the First Moment of Truth, they will encounter multiple decision-making moments that Google calls the “Zero Moment of Truth,” or ZMOT for short.

The Zero Moment of Truth was initially conceived on the back of a study conducted by Google in 2011. The study determined that the customer journey is changing:

  • 50 percent of shoppers used a search engine to research a product or brand.
  • 38 percent comparison shopped online (reviews, prices and so on).
  • 36 percent checked out the brand/manufacturer’s website.
  • 31 percent read online endorsements, reviews or recommendations.

This was in 2011, and smartphone adoption has only grown ever since. In fact, a follow-up study in 2014 showed that users are grabbing their smartphone to research a product even earlier now, and there are even more touch points on the way to a purchase.

The Zero Moment of Truth is this new moment that sits between a stimulus (ad) and the FMOT. Let’s say a mother sees an ad detailing how important an eye test is for children. Where in the past she might call the optician from the ad directly, today she would pull out her smartphone and begin to research the best brands, prices, reviews and (in the case of local) business locations.

The ZMOT can happen on search engines and social networks, and the net result is a more confident and well-informed purchase decision.

The 2011 study indicated that 79 percent of consumers use a smartphone to help with shopping, and 83 percent of mothers claim to do online research after seeing a TV ad. Given the age of these stats and the stratospheric rise of smartphones and the mobile internet, we can only imagine these statistics are conservative at best.

The takeaway here is that users now conduct research, read reviews, compare brands, talk to friends, watch videos, interact on socially driven sites (from Facebook to Trip Advisor), read news and even visit brand websites to make decisions — and all of this is done at the Zero Moment of Truth.

A New Marketing Model

The basic concept here is that the customer journey is now broken into hundreds of micro-moments. Want-to-know moments, want-to-go moments, want-to-do and want-to-buy moments. What is the best mortgage product in 2016? What is the best dog shampoo? What is the best UK mountain bike brand? Where do I buy a sled? Where can I buy a guitar tuner?

The following diagram shows where the ZMOT exists in this newly proposed model:

ZMOT - from stimulus to advocacy

It is these micro-moments that represent the Zero Moment of Truth and present an opportunity for your brand to get in front of a potential customer. As an example: This morning, whilst researching tinnitus for a friend, I stumbled across an article detailing how diet affects the condition. The article was published by a company that produces a range of tinnitus supplements.

I am now aware of these supplements, and if the company is as savvy as their content marketing would suggest, then I will likely see remarketing and offers to drive me towards their digital storefront and the First Moment of Truth when I decide whether to buy.

In fact, I will likely go away and conduct further ZMOT research. I will search for the brand. I will read up on the specific products. I will look for reviews. I will look for customer testimonials (on the brand site but also on specific forums where I feel they may be more trustworthy). I will look for alternatives. And, being a bit (lot) of a geek, I will likely look into the science and studies that back up the claims made by the product.

My ZMOT for this product will be a fairly lengthy research process. I could imagine a few hours and lots of reading. For some purchases, this will be much quicker. For major purchases — from technology to cars — it may be a process that takes place of days, weeks or even months.

In addition to the studies, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Google is in direct control of what must be the greatest consumer insight platform the world has ever seen: billions of queries every single day along the entire spectrum of the customer journey.

Whilst some of this information is available via tools like Google Trends, Google Insights and theGoogle Keyword Planner, we can only imagine the analysis done by Google itself to better hone its ad products. As such, we should pay attention to these studies and determine what we can do to better help the products, businesses and brands we service as marketers in this fast paced environment. (I am also a big fan of tools like Übersuggest and for aiding in the research of customer questions.)

Users no longer wait for what they need. We can search, educate ourselves and make purchases at any time. Patience is at an all-time low, and we can act immediately and expect to find relevant, useful content to aid us in our decision-making process. It is these micro-moments that shape our needs and inform our purchase decisions. Businesses that do the best job of helping users in these Zero Moments of Truth will beat out the competition.

What do we do, as marketers, to leverage this information? How do we help our prospective customers reach their goals (ideally with our products)? How do we ensure that we understand the customer journey and that we are there during the multiple touch points that help a consumer make a purchase decision?

SEO, Content Marketing & Moments Of Truth

In simple terms, this is a game of content marketing. Customers have questions, and we must have the answers.

In reality, delivering those answers may need a more nuanced approach, and we must use the armaments provided to us to promote our content. The exact approach will vary depending upon business, location and too many variables to cover here (social media, search ads, display ads and content amplification are at least a start in the right direction).

However, we can loosely categorize the types of content that our users need at each stage of this new user journey and buying cycle. You can then take this framework to research the specific questions that your prospects have at each stage of this newly revised customer journey model.

The Zero Moment Of Truth

Content at the Zero Moment of Truth needs to be self-serve information regarding your product, industry, category and service. You need to understand the needs of your audience, and then present this in a format they can easily access. For example:

  • Customer questions in blog or video formats.
  • Content on your blog, industry blogs.
  • Content on popular video sites like

This kind of content predominantly answers questions. What is the best HDTV? What is the best TV brand? Do I need an LED or OLED?

At this stage, being present in multiple locations and formats is how you win the ZMOT.

The First Moment Of Truth

At this point, the shopper has likely got a solid idea of what they are looking for, and content should support and reinforce the purchase decision. Such content might include:

  • Product Specifics — Delivery, specifications, FAQ and so on.
  • Special Offers — Clinch that deal when the customer is primed with a special offer.
  • Reviews — 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • Testimonials — Real customers talking about your products.
  • Case Studies — Show how your product made the difference it promises.
  • Social Media Engagement — Actively responding on social channels is critical here.
  • Customer Support — Allow your prospects to easily ask questions via your website (real-time chat, support forms and so on).

When we are looking at credibility, it is crucially important to review the landscape and understand all the potential locations for presenting a positive reputation. Again, this will be completely unique depending on your location and industry, so you have to get inside your customer’s head and start looking around (Customer profiling can be a useful tool here).

I am huge a believer in the power of online reputation and credibility, and I talk about that a little more in my super credibility post over here.

The Second Moment Of Truth

The second moment of truth relates to your customer using your product or service and ideally, having a great experience. Their experience can easily create negative or positive feedback that feeds into the Zero Moment of Truth for future customers, so it is critical to support and encourage advocacy at this stage.

Here are some content types that can support the Second Moment of Truth:

  • Product FAQ — Help customers with common questions or problems.
  • User Guides — The more complex the product, the more support you should provide here.
  • Social Media — Most folks won’t read, so be sure to be active and direct them to your FAQ/Guides.
  • How-To Guides — Support customers in the advanced use of your products.
  • Questionnaires — These can help mine feedback for future improvements and improve all your moment of truth marketing.

The second moment of truth is all about helping your customer have a smooth experience with your product, whether that is a razor or a holiday, a burger or a mountain bike. Be there to answer all questions and support those users, and you are ensuring a positive second moment of truth (and brand experience).

The Third Moment Of Truth

The third moment of truth is after the experience. This is when you move a customer towards becoming a true fan and advocate of your brand. Some nurturing is needed here, and instances of stellar customer support can help.

Let me give you an example: I have two boys, ages nine and four. They both have the same kind of teddy, and both are called Jacko. They have each had this same teddy since birth (one Jacko is nine, one Jacko is four). A few weeks back, we left both Jackos in the bedroom at Center Parcs after our short visit to one of their holiday villages. The boys were crestfallen.

I called up Center Parcs expecting very little — but I was in for a surprise. Not only did they have both bears, but they had already packaged them up and were sending them back to us in the post.

This Third Moment of Truth means that when I talk about this holiday now, I advocate for the brand with a positive message about my experience rather than thinking back to some of the more scandalous pricing in the park (they have problems at the Second Moment of Truth).

Mobile Optimization

By now, this should be pretty obvious, but having a mobile-optimized site and ensuring you provide a solid experience on mobile devices should be at the forefront of your ZMOT strategies.

Turning up is half the battle, but if users are then put off by content that is not optimized for their device, then you will lose the chance to influence those users.

Embrace The Pre-Journey

Ads are no longer as effective as they once were. They have a purpose, and that purpose can be to act as a stimulus. But without fully embracing the pre-purchase journey (or “ZMOT,” for the cool kids), your efforts here will fail to reach their true potential.

Ultimately, to win at the ZMOT, you must provide the information your prospects need — and you must provide it where they are looking for it and in a format they can easily access across multiple screens and devices.


SEO has become such an umbrella term of late that it can tough to frame where SEO fits into the picture. My vision of SEO includes how potential customers interact with search engines. How do they search for your products or services? How do they search for the problems, wants or needs your products or services solve? How do they look at you from a credibility perspective?

What we like to do is own all of this. Own everything that could factor in a ZMOT of FMOT decision. A useful tool for this is to create customer profiles. In these profiles, consider all of the search terms that users would possibly use during all stages of the buying cycle. All of the search terms that customers would use for a ZMOT or FMOT search.

Use tools like Übersuggest and (and any keyword research tool of choice) to really dig into the questions your users have at the Zero Moment of Truth.

Again we can return to this “80 percent of success is simply turning up” idea that, to a large degree, SEO and PPC is built upon. I like to go further than that, though. Turning up is no good if you are dishevelled and drunk. Ensure that you are there to nail the 80 percent, but then ensure that people are saying great things about you to get that other 20 percent dialed in.

Use the search engine to help you research your customers. Use the search engine to get a clear understanding of everywhere you need to be. Then, ensure you turn up and look good. Forget 80 percent — We want 100 percent marketing to really win big at the ZMOT and beyond.

The ZMOT For Local Businesses

We work with business of all shapes and sizes. A single-location business. A multi-location business with national coverage. Whatever your size, moments of truth matter.

Whether you are a music shop in Leicester or a plumber in Birmingham, your customers are looking for you and searching around the problems you help solve. You may not be able to rank organically for big questions, but you can certainly rank around ZMOT questions like “best music shop in birmingham” or “plumber birmingham reviews.”

Remember, this visibility is not restricted to your own site. Simply considering all the ways a consumer may compare providers and ensuring you are presenting a solid reputation will often put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Reviews. Testimonials. Business information. Opening hours. Phone numbers. These can all be ZMOT searches. This does not always have to be complicated. You must be absolutely certain that your technical SEO is dialed in and Google understands your business.

Someone with water streaming down from their ceiling knows what they need, but that’s not to say they don’t want to make a split-second smart decision — and they now have the power to do so. A search for “plumber birmingham reviews.” From reviews to a call. One device. An informed purchase. Completed in moments.

If you want to get a little more sophisticated, search, social and display ads offer a wealth of opportunity. Whether you use paid ads to promote content that answers a potential customer question with a special offer at the end or you show a banner for your business with a special offer on an existing piece of content, you must think about your users. Consider where they are, and make sure you are there (ideally with an offer).

Remember: 80 percent of success is simply showing up at the moment of truth.

All Of This Has Happened Before

In many ways, this is nothing new. We have always had a sales funnel. We have had the consideration stage. We have always researched products.

However, the Zero Moment of Truth provides a useful tool for thinking about the customer journey and unearthing ways we can help and market to our customers earlier in the buying cycle.

The dwell time at Zero Moment of Truth is longer than ever before. The touch points are more numerous. The opportunity is clear.  Are you showing up at ZMOT searches for your customers?


It’s important to clearly understand what has changed here and how the internet and mobile devices have streamlined access to information. Previously, we would have seen an advert (stimulus) and then moved directly to the product or service (FMOT). We would have visited the car dealership. We would have had to trust the salesman.

Now, we don’t need to trust the experts. We can be the experts. We can conduct our own research. Find the best price. Find the best service, and then make a well-informed decision. We don’t need to accept the price the car dealer offers, us as we have researched the real price that they will let the car go for, and we certainly don’t need to take that 2005 model they are pushing, as we know that has a common issue.

Google, Facebook and the big players here have not changed the game. We have changed the game. Consumers. We want better, and we now have the tools to do better. We have the tools to become more informed in our purchases. Products must be better. Businesses must be transparent. The weak will falter. The strong will prosper. And customers will grow ever smarter in their purchase research.

As marketers, we have to help our consumers in their quest for information. We have to be there at the Zero Moment of Truth, and we have to support users through the first, second and third moments to help create new moments of truth for new prospects.


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