Stimulus, ZMOT, and Your Brand

The 20th century path to purchase looked like this:

  • Consumer receives a stimulus, such as a TV ad or a magazine story, making him aware of the product.
  • Consumer sees message, such as the TV ad, 5-12 times before taking action.
  • Consumer goes to store to buy product (First Moment of Truth).
  • Consumer experiences product (Second Moment of Truth) and decides whether to buy again — or perhaps to return the product.

For 20th century marketers, that meant making sure the consumer saw the product repeatedly with billboards, TV ads, and other opportunities to push the product in the consumer’s face.

The internet has changed that. Now the path to purchase looks like this:

  • Consumer receives a stimulus, such as an ad or a Pinterest pin, making him aware of the product.
  • Consumer intentionally checks out online information — 7 to 9 sources on average according to Google, so it’s probably still 5 to 12 contacts with the message.
  • Consumer makes tentative decision to buy (Zero Moment of Truth).
  • Consumer goes to store or website to buy product (First Moment of Truth).
  • Consumer experiences product (Second Moment of Truth) and writes about product online, sharing snaps at Facebook or a review at Amazon.

What’s different? First, a lot of this happens online, whether the sale takes place online or in a physical store. Since this is more trackable and cheaper than traditional advertising, this fact makes the playing field a bit more level for CPG companies and retailers of different sizes.

Second, the consumer is in charge. The initial stimulus may still be an ad — though it’s increasingly likely to be social media, including blog posts — but the consumer doesn’t rely on the company for information after the initial stimulus.

Instead of waiting to see more ads, consumers actively look for further information — via Google, at the company website, at blogs, on Amazon, or by asking friends at Twitter or Facebook.

This means that marketing content has to show up in search and/or in the consumer’s social media stream, that it has to be good enough for the consumer to go to it intentionally, and that it has to be accurate — the consumer is comparing your product’s story with what other people say about your product.

This gives you multiple points at which to encourage the consumer along the path to purchase.


Your consumer sees a friend with a new tent and thinks, “I should buy a new tent.” So far, you have no part in this conversation unless the friend happens to have your tent, in which case you’ve got the most trusted source of product information: recommendations from friends and family. The quality of your product, your market share, and a bit of luck are the ingredients here.

However, you can create stimuli, just as 20th century marketers did. People are far more likely to ignore ads than they used to be, but you can create content at websites your customers like to visit, participate in their social media, and show up in their online searches — so you have an overall advantage.


People need multiple contacts with a message before they take action; that seems to be hard wired. Very few of us think, “I need a tent” and immediately rush off to buy one. Whereas 20th century advertisers had to repeat their commercials and strew their ads around and hope people noticed, modern consumers are now in charge of where they get their information.

Your best bet is to be the best source of information on the subject. If your website contains the definitive article on choosing tents, you have an enormous advantage. But consumers look at a lot of sources of information, so you don’t have to be the biggest and best to get in on that conversation. You do have to be in the conversation.


At the Zero Moment of Truth, your customer is thinking that he might buy your tent. He has seen good reviews, he has noticed that your tent shows up in blog posts and articles about camping at websites that he trusts, and he hasn’t found any negative information about your company (though he has looked for it).

He can still change his mind. When he gets to the store, a competitor’s price or packaging may change his mind. When he shops online, a negative review or a “Other customers who looked at this product chose…” notice may distract him. The more solid his intentions are at this point, the better your chances of closing the sale.


If you have an e-commerce site, you’re still in the conversation at this point. The quality of your website, the strength of your descriptions, the ease of checkout, and the quality of service can all confirm your customer’s decision to buy from you… or make him leave your shop.

If you’re the manufacturer and not the retailer, you have to rely on your packaging and your ability to join the conversation with consumer-crowdsourced information like customer reviews.


At the Second Moment of Truth, your customer’s experience of the product, the quality of your product is the central issue.

However, this is also the point at which consumers go talk about your product — or not. If they’re delighted enough to blog about your product or to post about it, you can thank them and engage with them. If they’re unhappy, you get a chance to make it right. In order to get this chance, you have to make it easy for consumers to talk to you, you have to listen to what they say (and monitor the conversation around the web so you can be in the right place to listen), and you have to respond well.






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