How marketers can harness the zero moment of truth with design thinking


Many tech companies are immersed in an invention culture: Build it and they will come.

A new business initiative group at a technology Fortune 100 used this mindset to develop a clever idea for an app store marketplace. The tool would compile robust automation software for energy co-ops.

Information and software would be available at the swipe of a thumb. It was a unique concept that would dramatically simplify the sales process for both business and consumer.

Moments of Truth

This group was chasing the zero moment of truth, which was introduced by Google in 2011. It was a necessary addition to the established Moment of Truth brand experience model:

  • First Moment of Truth: When a consumer comes face to face with a brand in real life
  • Second Moment of Truth: When she purchases and uses the product
  • Third Moment of Truth: Her feedback and reaction, through word of mouth, social media or direct contact with the company

The new zero Moment of truth acknowledged a massive shift in shopping patterns:

Zero moment of truth (ZMOT): The online research a consumer conducts before purchasing a product.

Since the ZMOT entered the scene, marketers have come under extreme pressure to get their brand – and their carefully crafted message – in front of the right audiences. The tricky thing is that when a customer is engaged in the ZMOT, the seller often has no idea that an opportunity exists.

The challenge brings to mind my favorite Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The problem with B2B

To Google’s delight, most organizations have tackled this problem with statistics and keywords. The booming SEO industry is a testament to this obsession. Rising to the top of search results is important.

But pandering to algorithms may not be sufficient to engage discerning audiences like B2B shoppers.

As B2B marketers know, every B2B shopper has a unique, convoluted purchasing process.

The person researching may not be the person making the purchase, who may not be the person setting the budget, who may be different from the person with final approval authority, who’s likely never even met the end user.

It’s an extended, multi-tiered maze. Identifying and reaching the right person at the right time is no small task.

Agility through insight

One solution may be design thinking, a method that the Harvard Business Review describes as “art, craft, science, business savvy and an astute understanding of customers and markets.”

I like to think of design thinking as the opposite of invention culture. Through qualitative research – stakeholder reviews, journey mapping, interviews, observations, ridealongs, contextual inquiries, language analysis – we build a deep understanding of the audience.

Only once we understand them do we begin to formulate solutions.

The development process is equally responsive and human-centric. Solutions and products are developed, released, and reviewed iteratively, on a small scale. These small experiments give us the ability to tweak and edit. Fail fast, fail early.

Design thinking in action

Our work for that new tech business initiative group captured this process. At our recommendation, they delayed the app-style marketplace build and instead made prototypes, which we used to conduct interviews with a coop in Texas.

After demonstrating the concept, showing potential users what the platform would look like, and extensively researching the audience, we came to one conclusion: it wasn’t going to work. The model was all wrong.

The software was too expensive for lower-level workers to approve on their own.

If B2B consumers worked like private consumers, the app store model may have been wildly successful. But information and awareness were not the issue. With these customers, winning the ZMOT requires a multipronged approach, and it was only once they built a deeper understanding of the operations that our client understood the flaws in their original design.

Marketers who want to take control of the zero moment of truth need SEO. But in complex B2B buying situations, it may not be enough.

Marketers must integrate in-depth qualitative methodologies like design thinking with established practices like SEO; only then can they seize an advantage and skate with it. Because let’s face it: The Great One would probably rather have had possession the whole time.

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