A young mother watching her favourite TV show sees an advertisement for disposable contact lenses; she grabs her smartphone and researches the brand, scouting reviews, videos and competitors. Narrowing her choice down to two, she then asks her Facebook friends if they’ve tried either. Long before she even gets to the optician, she’s already made her choice.
This type of behaviour can be seriously disruptive for marketers. For several years, consumer packaged goods players believed they were largely insulated from the fuss around digital marketing and counted on reaching consumers through traditional media.
“Brands think that online searches are not happening in categories like shampoo and toothpaste,” saysPrabh Singh, head of consumer goods industry, Asia-Pacific, citing it as a top barrier for marketers. “But the buying journey has changed.”
A Google and TNS study reveals that the web is rewiring the way women shop, introducing a new stage in the traditional buying journey which the firms label ‘the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)’, describing the instant that consumers grab their smartphones or computers to find product information online. What they see in search results, learn on ratings and review sites, glean from blogs or official sites and get from friends on social media has a powerful impact on their decision making.
According to the study, 78 per cent of women in Asia-Pacific said ZMOT was an important step in moving them from undecided to decided. Overall, 60 per cent of the study's consumers are ready to buy, seek prices or deals online and 56 per cent look for a brand name or features.
Women in Asia reported consulting 6.3 sources before buying a product. The number is most pronounced in developing markets; women in Malaysia report consulting 7.9 sources and in Thailand, 7.1. In India it's 6.6, Indonesia 6.4 and in the Philippines women check or talk to 6.2 sources before buying. Women in developed markets used fewer sources: 5.9 in China, 5.8 in Singapore and 4.4 in Korea.
The findings show a correlation between low GDP and consumer confidence. When money is tight, consumers want to make extra-sure they’re making smart choices. So they search and verify more, and take time to look at an extra site or more reviews.
Conversely, in more digitally-savvy Asian countries, consumers are ZMOT veterans. They’ve developed a repertoire of trusted sources and as such, surf fewer sites to get the information they need.
In terms of categories, Google sees the highest number of sources being used when shopping for babycare and household products. Household items in Malaysia had the highest number of all, consulting as many as 8.7 sources. That may seem surprising for a low involvement category, but it shows the relative importance of core product purchases like diapers and detergents, versus more personal and extravagant items like skin and hair care cosmetics. Women in Singapore tend to look up skincare and cosmetics and babycare brands the most.
Google believes that if brands change their marketing model to include ZMOT, they’ll reach millions of shoppers who are making decisions before they enter the store.
Brands also assume that ZMOT is not happening in Asia and as such don’t set out a budget for it, Singh adds. He’s been urging brands to plan for mobile. About 40 per cent of consumers in Asian markets say they use a smartphone to shop and more than 50 per cent of all Asia-Pacific consumer product goods searches are now on mobile.
Johnson & Johnson is one company that’s been focusing its digital spend on ZMOT. The company launched BabyCenter, a parenting website to woo consumers. “Search is an active mindset,” says Rowena Millward, Regional Managing Partner, Asia-Pacific, forJohnson & Johnson. “The shopper has a question and she wants the best answer to that question.That’s why search is the gateway to ZMOT. It’s the point where shoppers and consumers are reallyconsidering brands — where they’ll actually decide if you’re in their consideration set.”
ZMOT happens in all product categories in all markets. Online consumers have shifted over 50 per cent of their media time to digital, but advertising continues to lag with only 20 per cent of spending online.
ZMOT also has many motivations that vary across markets. In Korea people look for price-related information like coupons and discounts. In Thailand, beauty shoppers are less confident and therefore seek endorsement.
According to Toby Desforges, founder and managing partner of marketing consultancy Engage, ZMOT provides a true measure of engagement. “It gives a degree of insight into who’s really engaging with your brand,” he said. It starts to blur the line between consumer marketing and shopper marketing. “It’s the first measurable point where we see someone converting to a consumer.”
Desforges has been encouraging brands to make a dramatic change in the way they market. Companies for their part are slow on the uptake. Media budgets are fragmented and brand managers tend to be more interested in protecting their turf than looking at the commercial benefits.
He recommends brands do three things to capture ZMOT: move from mass marketing to micro marketing; create targeted messaging; and stop thinking about brand imagery and experience and instead concentrate on brand purchase.
The study talked to over 8,000 female shoppers across eight different Asian markets: China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The surveys were specially designed to show exactly which sources influenced buying decisions in six categories of consumer packaged goods.