Best Practices

ZMOT is the Stupidest, Most Brilliant Idea Ever!

What is ZMOT?

ZMOT is a concept that Google came up with a few years ago. Their VP of US Sales, Jim Lecinski, recently wrote an eBook titled “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth” describing the concept. It appears as though the aim of ZMOT was to convince marketers of what used to be thought of as impulse items, that their buyers were doing research before the purchase in a way they had never seen before.

Here is what the Consumer Behavior models look like:

zmot Consumer Buying Process

Why ZMOT is stupid – for automotive marketers

ZMOT starts, using as a foundation, the 3 step behavior model in place for decades when folks bought cheap impulse items… and then adds a fourth step. The problem is that the process for high-involvement items (like cars) was documented by folks who dedicated their lives to the study of consumer behavior decades ago as well. Hundred of textbooks, thousands of pages have been dedicated to this study. It is already well defined and was NEVER the 3-step model; it’s always been the 5-stage model. ZMOT takes it a giant step backwards from the Five Stages of Consumer Buying Behavior for a number of reasons.

Here’s an example of where ZMOT can lead dealership marketing astray; ZMOT advocates view much (all?) traditional advertising as “Stimulus”. But very little automotive advertising is actually “Stimulus”. Stimulus is the billboard you drive by on the highway that makes you think “Yeah, pizza does sound good tonight”. Most automotive billboards, on the other hand are designed with a strong branding component rather than stimulus. They are also in place to raise awareness of the dealership after a need has been recognized – to add the dealership to the customer’s consideration set. Branding can be a big factor in the high-involvement Purchase Decision stage. Having a strong brand can tip the scales in your favor at ‘ZMOT’.

With high-involvement products it’s almost impossible to spark the need, but advertising can be very influential in the Information Search and Alternative Evaluation stages. The ZMOT folks see traditional advertising as Stimulus because the ZMOT model starts with Stimulus (many times external) – the automotive buying model doesn’t. It starts with recognition of a need (almost always internal). While much of the automotive buyer’s research is done online, the factors that contribute to the Purchase Decision aren’t limited to the Internet. The strong brand a dealer has created offline will come into play at the online ZMOT.

So here’s the problem, ZMOT’s foundation is the wrong buying process – the buying process for chewing gum, pizza and pantyhose, one that goes from Stimulus to Purchase Decision. It’s added a step for sure, but when you’re marketing a car dealership at a high level, your foundation needs to be more advanced.

If you look to the 5-stage model, you’ll see that traditional advertising isn’t inherently a bad thing, but you’ll understand exactly how it influences consumers. That said you’ll also recognize the vital importance to a consistent branding and cohesive messaging.

Here’s Jim Lecinski, when asked if he thought ZMOT changes the buying decision:

“No, ZMOT was an attempt to catalogue, characterize and give a sticky name to the behaviors that we are seeing from consumers. What is new on a consumer-behavior front is that consumers who used to use this Zero Moment research model to inform their buying decisions only around high-ticket or so-called high-involvement products — white goods, cars or travel — are now so comfortable with and reliant on that behavior that they are now applying it to what you would call everyday items.”

Consumers have always followed a much more advanced model with auto purchases.

Why ZMOT is Brilliant

Way too few folks in the dealership world have a strong foundation in marketing. The birth of the Internet hasn’t helped. It’s focused dealers on the First Moment of Truth, the Purchase Decision. Whether we call it conversion, a lead or an “up”, we put all our focus on one stage. ZMOT delves into how we should be looking at all 5 Stages (or 4 if you wish to use the ZMOT model). If you do focus on the entire process, you WILL sell more cars. I’ll still contend that the Zero Moment of Truth is nothing new, but I fully agree that the more attention paid by dealers to the traditional 2rd and 3rd stages (ZMOT), the better off they will be.

And ZMOT is brilliant because it does just that. If a catchy little acronym is what it takes to get dealers to pay attention to the entire process – the entire cycle – then the dealers will be the winners.

This little eBook from Google and its advocates have sparked dealers’ interest in Consumer Behavior. Marketing, at its core, is about so much more than where you spend your money – it’s about having a better understanding of your consumer. ZMOT may well be the most important thing to happen to automotive marketing in a long while.

The Solution

Use the ZMOT concept to wake your dealership up but don’t base your entire marketing plan on an eBook written by the guy Google has in charge of selling you AdWords. Dust off your old marketing textbooks and dive into them. If you’ve never actually studied marketing, take a class or two. Do some reading. Study concepts like Purchase Intent, Awareness, Branding, Consideration Set and the like. They will serve you well in your quest to win the ZMOT.

The core foundation of your ZMOT efforts should be the proven Five Stages of Consumer Buying Behavior and not the behavior of folks buying bubble gum. From what Jim Lecinski says, he based ZMOT on the consumer behaviors that have always been at play with auto sales, he just dumbed it down a little for folks selling gum. Go back to the original material on which he based ZMOT. (he does have a Masters Degree in marketing, he knows what he’s talking about)

And one last bit of advice: Don’t just optimize for the sale, optimize for the research.

What do you think about ZMOT and how it relates to your dealerships marketing?

NOTE: The comments for this post has started over in the forums. Click here to comment.


I thought for a moment you were channeling Larry with this article's title...I'm still a bit confused why the sudden rash of anti-ZMOT sentiment.

As for ZMOT NOT creating stimulus - I disagree with that, here's 2 examples. I saw a print ad, yes - a print ad for the new Ford Explorer. That caught my eye for whatever reason and since then, I am very interested in getting one of the new models. Also, my wife leaps out of her seat whenever the new Mercedes ads run - she loves them and that created stimulus. 

If we already knew that the average automotive shopper can be exposed to over 18 potential channels and contemplate an average of 3.8 vehicles before purchase, then why are we calling ZMOT ridiculous? Use these channels, exploit them, saturate them - do whatever you need to do to get your brand, your story & your customer's experiences out there so that is can influence other people in your markets.

Sure, the argument is made that ZMOT doesn't factor intent. Big deal. Get your message out there every single day and you'll just become a machine.

This is simply a pretty way of describing the concept; Google is great at doing that: Come up with a sticky acronym, dress it up with pretty colors and make the content available to everyone in the universe via a free eBook. 

I do agree 100% Ed, if anything, ZMOT should be used as a tool to create the onboarding needed at the staff level to ensure the experience and process don't misfire. Doing so will simply create even more ZMOT opportunities. 

Eric, I'm not anti-ZMOT at all. I do think it is a little too simplistic.

As to stimulus, volumes of work have been published on the subject. Being a little factitious here but, did either ad stimulate you into a dealership? Or is it more likely that you filed away the positive thoughts you had for these cars to maybe be pulled out after you have self-identified a need for a new car? I'm asking if these external ad messages were enough to put you in-market for a vehicle. If they did you'd be the exception to the rule.
  • D
    Duncan Scarry
  • November 27, 2011

I think this completely over-complicates ZMOT.

A lot of advertising / marketing concepts are developed by advertisers, not marketers. For example, Proctor & Gamble's advertising budget is larger than any single global agency. A lot of what we use today comes from companies like them - not marketers.

Take reach and frequency for example - it was not developed by an advertising agency - but a global marketer. The 'moment of truth' concept was created by Google. It was a pre-existing concept.

A global marketer developed a concept called the first moment of truth and the second moment of truth. A consumer is stimulated (not necessarily advertising), then goes to the store and interacts with the product (could be packaging like orange juice or an experience like buying a car), then purchases the product and uses it. The 'first moment of truth' concept was simply confirmation that the initial interaction with a product or service was influential - not just whether the product or service was actually effective of well received.

The ZMOT concept is that the Internet, either research or social, is a new step in the process and and has an effect on the purchase process. 


What's revolutionary or BS is how influential the moment of truth is. I would assume vAuto assumes that it is. My clients who use vAuto have drastic sales improvements when they use the tool - because they become more effective at pricing their vehicles compared to others online.

AGAIN, ITS THAT SIMPLE. There's another step of the process now and depending on your industry IT CAN BE VERY INFLUENTIAL. There's a lot of research done on this (not just a concept grown to sell ads) where they hook biometric sensors up to people and measure their temps, pulses and brainwaves as they shop online and dig deep into the process.

If you read more into it, you're missing the forrest for the trees.
November will forever register in my brain as the month of ZMOT and ZAG...  Both inspiring more opinions than any two topics I can remember...