In 2011, Google popularized the term, "zero moment of truth," in an e-book written by Jim Lecinski titled Winning in the Zero Moment of Truth.
It refers to that moment when a consumer has completed their research of a product, usually online, and has decided to commit to a purchasing decision.
Lecinski's book highlighted how shopping decisions can be viewed as individual "moments of truth" (MOTs) that are part of a distinctive consumer "journey."
Understanding this journey is critical for any inbound marketing strategy because, ultimately, the goal is to "win" the ZMOT.
What does that mean? It means meeting the customer at that particular crossroads at exactly the time they arrive by providing them with what they most need to make that decision.
Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT): a short history
We didn't always make purchasing decisions like we do now.
Before we had the Internet, we had advertising, word of mouth, and branding at events to guide our decision making. While these are still valid forms of marketing, they are no longer enough to connect customers with the products and services they want.
The web has made it possible for them to "Google it": in other words, to perform (often) obsessive amounts of research to learn about their range of options, pricing, brand reputation, service history, and other details of a business or product which matter most to them.
It has become such a natural behavior for all of us in the digital age to "Google it" that we may forget how distinctly newthis kind of consumer behavior actually is.
No longer do we just blindly trust what marketers tell us; now we look at all of our options before laying out an investment in almost anything, whether it's a tube of toothpaste purchased by subscription through Amazon Subscribe & Save or buying a used car through Carvana.
How ZMOT applies to medical marketing
There isn't a single physicians group or medical practice out there that isn't aware of the impulse of patients—both established and potental—to pay a visit to "Dr. Google" before they ever consult a living, breathing physician.
Patients are often more savvy than we give them credit for, though there are just as many who do not know how to navigate the healthcare information landscape on the Internet, which is still its own kind of digital Wild West.
What's worse, we all know how healthcare information on the web can be unreliable, flat-out incorrect, and alarmingly dangerous.
How do we negotiate this kind of patient "buying" behavior inside this treacherous landscape?
We give them what they are looking for: information for solving problems. Some of these problems include:
Diagnosing a mysterious symptom or cluster of symptoms
Getting the best price on durable medical equipment
Finding the appropriate specialist for their healthcare needs
Knowing all the options they have moving forward, post diagnosis
If you can provide patients with solutions, information, or recommendations to answer these questions, you are doing them a world of good because you have simplified what can be an exhausting, frightening, demoralizing experience for many who simply need quality healthcare they can afford.
Building patient trust via ZMOT
Consumers who go online looking for nice table lamps are one thing; patients who go online looking for compassionate, competent, and affordable healthcare providers often have more acute and immediate needs.
They seek value, of course, but they also need to know they are making the right decisions for themselves or their loved ones; wellness, unlike table lamps, is irreplaceable.
This means they need to harbor trust... in your services, your products, your procedures, your staff, your facilities, your reputation. They aren't going to invest in anything these days without trust.
Using inbound marketing is ultimately about converting leads into sales, but for medical practices, this seems almost secondary to building trust, not only from patients, but their families, their communities, even your peers and the larger landscape of healthcare. Digital word of mouth matters. In a sense, gained trust is its own kind of intangible conversion... not something that's easily quantifiable, but valuable nonetheless.
Your efforts to reach out to patients with reliable information they can trust on your healthcare blog helps them make critical choices. This is why a medical practice's understanding of what its patients need is so valuable. These high-quality, selfless educational efforts you provide for free tell them "we respect that you are savvy and want to make your own decisions. Let us help you... no strings attached."
Give them excellent, reliable content, and they are more likely to visit your site repeatedly on their journey toward some medical decision they need to make, some problem they need to solve. These so-called "micro-moments" happen in real time and are drive entirely by intention.
For patients, these moments along the journey happen while they are:
Consulting patient product reviews of wrist braces for dealing with carpal tunnel symptoms
Trying to understand the symptomology of different kinds of headaches
Looking for medical images to help identify an unexplained rash
Seeking how-to advice for using a spacer with an inhaler
Your job, then, is simple, in some respects: If you can meet them at that digital crossroads of healthcare solutions, at precisely the time they are there, you can "win" the ZMOT. They're there because they've come to trust you as the expert; they will sign up for your services if you are responsive to their needs.
Social influences on ZMOT
Taking it a step further... the saturation of social media in our culture is creating a new kind of consumer connectivity referred to by marketing experts as networks of relevance.
These are niche sectors of people who share something in common—for our purposes, let's say they are all diabetic—and actively use social media to connect with their cohorts. This kind of linkage moves patients beyond search engine research; marketing guru Brian Solis calls these efforts "an alternative and efficient means of guiding decision-making."
In light of this, it may actually be more useful to identify several kinds of "moments of truth." CEO A.G. Lafley said in the P&G 2013 Annual Report that:
"We have to win at the first moment of truth, when the consumer
chooses our product at the store shelf, and the second moment of
truth, when the consumer uses the product at home and decides
whether to buy it again. We also have to win at the 'zero moment
of truth,' when the consumer discovers information about our
brands and products before they shop."
It makes sense to win all of these MOTs, doesn't it?
The new trust landscape
This is where trust reigns supreme, in a space that Brand Anew calls "the new trust landscape."
Studies show that consumers have fading trust in the healthcare industry, but that does not mean they have jumped ship. Spend one day in an online group centered on diabetes, and you'll discover that some patients are fiercely attached to their medical teams, while others are in great need of finding new caregivers to help them manage their disease.
If you are an endocrinologist, what part of the problem-solving discussion do you want to participate in? The one where patients are raving about how you've helped them get better pricing for insulin supplies, or the one where disgruntled patients call the medical field a disgrace because they don't feel they are being heard, then post your clinic's name in a related comment?
People don't trust advertisements like they used to. They have become media savvy. But this does not mean you can't reach them.
What it means is that your efforts to reach them should be tailored to meet their needs and give them quality service, even if that only means posting free content on your website. They, and their peers—who they do trust, implicitly—will and do take notice of this.
One Search Engine Land poll recently showed that, between 2011 and 2014, the number of consumers who consult online reviews of local companies increased by 17 percent. No doubt that percentage is even higher today.
Also according to data from Edelman's annual Trust Barometer, customers trust employees of companies (and for our purposes, this can include those who provide your website content).
Why? This is because they are looking for information that "informs and guides them quickly and efficiently." Answers coming from your website that "help rather than sell" are extremely legitimate and lead to gains in trust.
Some other considerations
Working to win ZMOT is going to be different from traditional marketing practices. Hat tip to Terrostar for offering these points to think about as you address how to meet prospective patients at their own ZMOT crossroads:
Patience is critical. People can be obsessive about researching online. Others are intimidated by language and concepts they don't understand and may take a lot longer to eventually find you. Don't give up on them. Inbound marketing means they hold the cards, after all. Let them take all the time they need.
People may consult beyond Google's page one. Search engine marketing (SEM) is still a vital part of "being found," but don't despair if your content isn't always showing up on page one. People are using twice as many sources to self-educate as they have in the past; they may also dig deeper into search results or "find you" through social networks.
Search has evolved into something as valuable as referrals. Sources of legitimate, quality content may be valued just as much as word of mouth.
Mobile presence matters. People are using their phones and tablets to access information like never before; mobile optimization means having a strong, easy-to-navigate online presence through multiple venues to give your content the leading edge.
If you're still challenged to understand how inbound healthcare marketing works, it never hurts to remind yourself that you are also a consumer. What is your behavior when it comes to purchasing decisions?
Physicians and their staff are no different than ordinary people when it comes to seeking out solutions to problems. Think about how you arrived at your own MOTs, then apply what you understood of those experiences to your own inbound marketing strategies. You'll be glad you did.
Amazon Subscribe & Save
Edelman Trust Barometer
Jim Lecinski, Winning in the Zero Moment of Truth
Search Engine Land
Inbound marketing for medical practices can be overwhelming if you're new to these strategies. Download our free e-book below to get started on savvy strategies that focus on building patient trust and increasing your patient base.