Why The Zero Moment Of Truth Is Even More Important Today

Source: Google

In 2011 Jim Lecinski, who was Vice President, US Sales & Service for Google, wrote the book Winning The Zero Moment Of Truth. The book dealt with the “moment where marketing happens, where information happens, and where consumers make choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every brand in the world.”

While it was ‘only’ 8 years ago, we all know 8 years is a lifetime in the digital age. In fact it is multiple lifetimes.

Today, Jim is a professor of marketing at the world-renowned Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern as well as Notre Dame. He also serves as an advisor for the consulting firm Bain and Narrative Science, a software company.

I caught up with Jim not long ago. I wanted to pick his brain on a whole host of topics including the now-infamous ZMOT.

What are some (of the many I’m sure) things that come to mind when you think about Then v. Now and the zero moment of truth?

Well, over time it’s become clear that the notion of ZMOT which we first identified eight years ago has proven accurate, and it continues to be even more important than ever today. Academic research have shown the criticality of winning that moment of the consumer journey.

Jim Lecinski

And now with the emergence of mobile, that pre-shopping evaluation behavior has exploded across all categories not just high stakes high involvement categories like investments or travel.  For example Google has recently reported that ZMOT searches for “best olive oil,” “best shower curtain,” “best umbrella,” and “best toothbrush” all have doubled between 2015 and 2017. So marketers need to continue to be focused on winning ZMOT today.

What’s your latest project you’re working on?

I am working on a book project with Raj Venkatesan, a professor at University of Virginia’s Darden School titled AI Moments of Truth  in which we propose a strategic roadmap for Marketers to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to Marketing.

Marketers are increasingly hearing about the importance and potential for what AI & ML might do to transform Marketing.  The problem is, the AI and marketing books and solutions CMOs and their teams typically encounter are focused either on the basic capabilities of AI and machine learning technology or on the high level impact of AI on humanity, with nothing much in between.

This book proposes a solution that places the customer at the center of the discussion, a solution designed to help marketing managers leverage AI to do their jobs better, i.e., deliver the amazing, highly personalized customer experiences that will set their brands apart and help them win.

In short we show how AI can “super-charge” each Moment of Truth in your customer journey, and we provide an “AI Canvas for Marketers” as your playbook or strategic roadmap.

Segueing into your current life, if you will, as a professor if I may. What are some of the key lessons you try to impart to future marketers on a high level that is meaning some lessons will vary based on what particular field of marketing a given student pursues?


I teach Marketing Strategy and Brand Management at Northwestern and Notre Dame.  In my courses we stress that the role of marketing is to drive profitable incremental growth.

That’s what it’s all about, that’s why marketers exist. And it’s important not to confuse “means and ends.” Things like “engagement,” “views,” “likes,” etc. can be important means, but don’t lose sight of the ends: profit, revenue and share growth.

To do that modern marketers need to be “whole-brained” which is to say they need to be fluent in data analysis and creative insights. It’s the effective combination of those things together that enable great marketers to drive profit growth. That’s what we try to impart on the students – that strategic approach and the tools to make it happen.

Additionally do you think there are some Marketing 101 lessons that were applicable say 25 years ago that still apply today?

No doubt. The interesting thing about marketing is that it is an “additive” profession. Marketing concepts we all learned and practiced years ago like how to write a good brand positioning statement and the 4Ps still matter as do classic techniques and methods like Conjoint Analysis. AND additionally now there are also newer theories (like Christensen’s “jobs to be done”) and techniques like R and Sentiment Analysis that we all need to know too.  

This is what makes marketing challenging – it’s the totality of the decisions marketers have to make and the ever-evolving nature of consumers, competition and technology that marketers need to know.

Now let’s take a look at brands in general but I also want you to wear your consumer hat. What are some things brands do that drives you crazy today?

It drives me crazy when brands that have significant friction in the customer journey. I’ve been sharing this story about a recent brand experience I had: I stopped into a big box store right near my house because I needed a small $10 item. I walked the store and couldn’t find it, so tried to find someone to ask, finally I did. He looked on their computer, and said they had one set in the store.


He then couldn’t find it (and it’s now 30 minutes elapsed) so he suggests he can order it for me and have it shipped to the store in 3-6 days for a fee of $3.99. I say are you kidding, I can order it myself from Amazon right now on my phone and have them at my door tomorrow free. He replied, “I know that’s why I order from Amazon too even though I work here.”  

This story illustrates immense friction in my buyer journey. Know your customer, and ruthlessly work to eliminate friction at every step–or someone else will!

Then looking down the road, finish this sentence: The brands that will be successful 10, 20 years from now will be the brands that _______________________________.

…will be the brands that know their customers best, and can quickly and continuously provide an ever-improving brand experience based on that customer knowledge. Unpacking this, that will mean a continued focus on customer-intimacy and deriving superior customer-insights AND the ability to quickly and decisively act to deliver what customers want. Increasingly this means real-time personalized experiences.

To do that, marketers will need to increasingly turn to machines to assist them. For example, take Google Search, how can you decide the optimal bid, budget, creative, landing page, time of day, day of the week and geography for every single relevant query? With a spreadsheet? In a weekly meeting? Machine learning offers marketers the potential to solve this.

That in my opinion is a key to being successful in the future…and thus why I’ve been thinking a lot about this looming “AI Moment of Truth” marketers are facing.

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