The Zero Moment of Reputation

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by Iris Wenting Xue

Eleven years ago, in the book The Game-Changer, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley defined the First Moment of Truth as the moment when consumers are physically reaching for the product they intend to purchase. The concept was further developed, as the Second Moment of Truth and the Third Moment of Truth, referring respectively to the moment when consumers purchase the product and the moment when they share reviews after using the product.

Five years ago Google released its study on the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT): the moment when consumers research before they decide whether to buy. According to Google, 88% of US consumers explored online before actually buying a product (ZMOT, 2011). The number is still rising as Internet and mobile technology have advanced in recent years to make buying products online and on a phone easier than ever before.

(Source: YouTube)

ZMOT was a revolutionary idea in brand management and marketing by quantifying consumers’ behavior patterns before they bought a product. While many focus strictly on the “numbers” around ZMOT, the impact of this insight could be applied far beyond just numbers. And beyond just brands and marketing.

As I watched the ZMOT video above and read other journal articles about the topic, I found an interesting parallel between this concept and what I have learned and practiced when working with clients on how to manage their reputation. Just as with Moments of Truth when products are being judged, and those same critical moments exist when a company, leader, or organization is being considered and judged. If we understand those moments when organizations can influence the perception of their stakeholders, what I call Moments of Reputation, we can be more prepared to maintain the strong reputation no matter what happens.

Before I translate the four moments of truth into four moments of reputation, we should note that a company’s reputation is not only determined by consumers, but also broader stakeholders such as investors and employees. Reputation symbolizes an organization on a macro-level. It goes beyond the goodwill on the balance sheet. Reputation is the way in which a company is perceived by those who matter most to the company. The same is true of brand reputation, and even an individual’s reputation.


The Four Moments of Truth:
  • Zero – Consumers research a product prior to their purchase decisions.
  • First – Consumers are physically in front of the product.
  • Second – Consumers buy the product.
  • Third – Consumers share their thoughts and experiences about the product.

The goal of the brand or company is to sell the product.


The Four Moments of Reputation:
  • Zero – Whether positive, negative or neutral, every stakeholder holds his or her own perception of an organization. Note: No perception is also a perception; it counts as neutral and is very easy to change.
  • First – Something happens. Sometimes that something is planned (a product launch); sometimes that is accidental (an acute crisis); sometimes that something is not bad enough cause criticism; sometimes that is so good that it evokes envy.
  • Second – Stakeholders are influenced by whoever describes that event first.
  • Third – Stakeholders follow what happens next and judge the company the through a tinted lens. Most of the time, the tinted lens is comprised of what happened in those first three moments.

The goal of  the company, leader, or organization, is to maintain their reputation.


These Moments of Reputation can help us understand when a company, leader, or organization has the greatest chance to influence the perception of the company to stakeholders.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.49.55 AM

From what we can see, after the Zero Moment of Reputation, a company’s perception is taken to some degree outside of their control – something has happened, good or bad, that the company has to manage. This means that first and foremost, companies need to invest in the Zero Moment of Reputation, because this moment is when the company has a greater degree of control in building up the perception of the company to stakeholders, before something else happens that makes them visible.

However, companies also need to be prepared for when that First Moment of Reputation arrives, that turning point for the company and its reputation. It is hard to predict what will happen at any minute, so companies should be equipped with mental readiness the moment something happens to respond quickly and effectively. Most of the time, they rely on the communication department to clear up a messy situation. They think they are safe once they have a communication director, a spokesperson; a media list spreadsheet and a 100-page crisis plan.

But they are not necessarily as safe as they think. This mental readiness goes beyond any practical tactics. It is also about being strategic – how can the company maintain the trust and confidence of their stakeholders. It means thinking more clearly about those practical tools already available to the company with critical eyes. Does the communication director leverage both internal and external partnerships? Does the company have an appropriate spokesperson and is he or she well trained? Is the media list double-checked? Is the crisis plan up-to-date? Can the company seize the initiative when the First Moment of Reputation occurs?

Reputation is hard to measure and manage. The Zero Moment of Reputation is a good opportunity to examine whether a company is prepared for anything that will make it suddenly visible. Once a company passes this first test, it is more likely that it will control the other critical moments when their stakeholders are making judgments about them.

The Zero Moment of Reputation is an undeveloped blue ocean. I will continue study and research this topic. Stay tuned.

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