I was at Facebook’s “Hack” Conference in LA last week, targeted at advertisers and agencies. Much of it was product updates, FB for beginners, and some tech updates. But it really felt like the opening salvo in FB’s philosophical positioning of themselves as a brand-building platform, setting the stage for the battle with Google for the hearts and minds of advertisers.
Google has been in this space for a while: they’ve had a roadshow for advertising 2.0 for several years, along with a variety of events and publications in the “advertising is information” vein. With ZMOT, a vook detailing the Zero Moment of Truth in consumer decision-making, they started to formalize and ground their thinking in a broader marketing framework. The Zero Moment of Truth is a geek-play on P+G’s “First moment of truth” – the point where a consumer who has seen the stimulus (the TV spot typically), is at the store shelf and makes a decision. A. G. Lafley, attempting to focus more effort on the actual experience of the product (and its impact on advocacy, WOM, and reuse/churn) dubbed the at-home use of their goods as the “second moment of truth.”
In a geek numbering gag, Google has numbered the moment between the stimulus and the store shelf decision as the Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT. (It’s geeky cuz, in programming and things binary, counting starts at zero rather than one.) The Zero moment is actually a bunch of moments – web searches, price comparisons, talks with friends, lookups on social networks, blog reading. It’s also semi-directed and blurs into the stimulus moment, since many ZMOT activities can spark awareness or put someone in market for something (eg, someone tweets about how much they love their new digital camera and a reader of the tweet says “Hmmmm, maybe it’s time to get a new one?”). In the ZMOT, the user is building a consideration set and forming brand preference, making it critical for marketers to take seriously and try to have an effect on it. But, ZMOT has a down-side that marketers have been wrestling with since the early days of “Skip This”: it’s non-linear, only partly emotional, rather chaotic, and favors non-brand and non-expert content. Two factoids to help orient people to this new shopping reality, the first from ZMOT:
“the average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011, up from 5.3 sources in 2010.”
- Google/Shopper Science Survey (commissioned by Google) 2011
The second from the Wall Street Journal:
“it’s well known that consumers research expensive products like electronics online, but coming out of the recession, consumers are more scrupulous about researching their everyday products such as diapers and detergent, too. More than a fifth of them also research food and beverages, nearly a third research pet products and 39% research baby products, even though they ultimately tend to buy those products in stores, according to WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting firm. WSJ April 25, 2011
(It’s worth questioning whether the recession is the main driver for this – the availability of information breeds curiosity, and the transparency the internet forces on brands allows consumers to act on product questions they’ve always had but not been able to pursue.)
Anyone who accepts either of these facts would be hard-pressed to stick to the notion of an emotionally-driven consumer funnel. While we bombard them with 5000+ brand messages a day, customers are accessing hundreds of non-brand, info-motional data points in the form of reviews, blogs, ratings, tweets, likes and other forms of approval or criticism.
Google’s recommendation is to focus marketing dollars on impacting that decisive, but slippery, ZMOT phase. (They also, unsurprisingly, put search at the center of that phase – at least that’s how many people read it.)
Facebook, now ready to IPO and become beholden to quarterly earnings forecasts, needs to make a rigorous case for itself as a marketing platform. To date, the argument for most marketers has been that brands need to be where the customers are – and since hundreds of millions of them are on Facebook, we need to get after it. This certainly gets marketers’ attention, but not necessarily the dollars (see Martin Sorrell’s evolving thinking about Facebook.) With “Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web, Facebook is entering into a more formal description of customer decision-making and making a case for itself as a marketing platform, and not just a place with a lot of eyeballs. (For the record, Grouped is written by a Googler turned FB staffer and not, strictly speaking, a Facebook document. But it was the centerpiece of the Hack event.)
Facebook’s argument is pretty straightforward, (and, I might add, similar to a piece I did for Boards magazine): people turn to friends and family and their friends for decisive inputs into their purchase decisions. Yes, consumers are more information-hungry, even about low-consideration products, but, in a world where available information is exceeding the memory/storage capacities given to us on the Savannah, we need intermediaries more than ever. The most trusted, easiest to access, intermediaries are our carbon-based social networks, which often express themselves most clearly on silicon-based social networks. The nods and disapproving looks our friends give to brands on-line will be decisive.
Paul Adams, the author of Grouped and a Google defector, gave a great talk pretty much covering the book. Some highlights:
“if you’re thinking about attention and disruption and moving customers’ attention from here to there, you’re not thinking about Facebook in the right way”
“most people come to us asking for bigger ad units, pre-roll . . . I’m one of the people keeping you from running bigger ads”
“Facebook is a social environment, so interrupting people and drawing attention to yourself is not going to be a successful strategy”
As in any relationship, brands need to start with “many lightweight interactions over time .. you can’t start with heavy interaction … the current strategy: bombard people with information until it sinks in”
“no marketing or advertising is more interesting to people than their friends or their actual interests”
Towards the end, he challenged the room: “how many brand pages have you looked at on FB that are for brands that you haven’t worked for?”
If you’re Google, the message is: brands need to be present in the information set of the consumer. If you’re Facebook, brands need to be present in the small social networks and sub-networks of people. Both companies’ arguments point to the strengths of their platforms. ZMOT emphasizes the information (and search)-intensive moments when a consumer is building a consideration set and forming brand preferences. Grouped, on the other hand, emphasizes how the overwhelming amount of information and limited time consumers have for research forces them to rely on their social networks for decisive, validating moments in a purchase path.
Both, of course, have validity and both challenge classical marketing models based on the 4Ps, the funnel, the emphasis on emotional brand-building. Both also emphasize patience, humility, and hard, slogging work. Should be fun to watch.