Zero Moment of Truth for the Church

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  Most recently I’ve been taking courses in a specialization in Digital Marketing through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The course is focused on the influence of the technology specifically the connectivity of the internet in our pockets (or on our wrists) on marketing.

You’ve heard me say before that marketing is not evangelism.   There are definitely lessons to be learned from the marketing world, though, for the institutional church.  Marketing is not evangelism, but it is necessary explicitly or implicitly for the sustainability of the organization.  Most congregations rely primarily on word of mouth, but of course their image in a community, reputation, etc. all play a part in marketing.

This week’s lesson introduced the concept of  the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).  Proctor and Gamble identified the “textbook” approach to marketing as having three distinct moments.  The first was when a person first began to desire or need a product (I need dishwashing liquid, for instance).  They called that moment the stimulus.  The second moment happened in the store when standing in front of a zillion brands and types of dishwashing liquids.  It’s called the first moment of truth.  And it’s the moment that the consumer chooses to purchase a particular brand. (I’ll buy the Dawn Apple Blossom scent.)  The final moment comes after the consumer purchases and uses the product and decides to either talk positively about it or complain about it to friends (I love the scent of the new Dawn dishwashing liquid!).

In the church, our “moments” would be defined something like this:  Stimulus — Herb and Karen are new in town and are looking for a church to join.  First Moment of Truth — Herb and Karen look through the phone book or newspaper ads to find the churches they want to consider visiting.  Second Moment of Truth — After Herb and Karen visit your congregation they talk about what they liked and didn’t like, and they decide to either return for another visit or to scratch your church off their list of possibilities.

Focusing marketing on those three moments was effective for a few decades.  However, now, Google has identified a fourth moment that they call the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).  Like most things in the digital age, it doesn’t fit into the matrix in a linear way.  It normally lodges itself between the stimulus and the first moment of truth, but it spirals throughout the whole marketing paradigm.  The ZMOT is a time when consumers, or potential members of our congregations, engage in social and online research.  Maybe ZMOT is not a big influence in the purchasing of dishwashing liquid, but think of the way we approach buying a car these days.

My daughter and her husband bought a new car last month.  Before ever stepping into a dealership they had spent hours researching cars online.  They read reviews.  They asked questions.  They compared options and specs.  They talked with friends who purchased new cars recently.  They reviewed dealerships as well as models.  They narrowed down their decision to three options before test-driving any of them.  Even when they were in the dealership, they had the ability to check information and prices online at competing dealerships on their smart phones.  Not all car sales people understand the ZMOT these days … Kate and Ben spent too many hours trying to convince the sales manager that they were not “negotiating,” because they knew what they wanted and if this dealership couldn’t meet their requirements, they’d go somewhere else.

Churches that hope to welcome new members need to understand the importance of the ZMOT in people’s decisions about your congregation.  While some new members will still wander into your sanctuary on a Sunday morning because of the pealing of the carillon, many others will spend weeks and months researching, thinking, evaluating your congregation before they ever step foot on your property or meet one of your staff members.  They will do internet searches, talk with friends and colleagues, mine your website for information and a “feeling” about your personality, theology, and style.  They will read blogs and listen to sermons.

Having an good online, interactive presence is important.  Or, rather, understanding what your online presence IS is important.  Are people saying good things about your congregation on Facebook or Twitter?  How often have you googled your church?  What comes up? What about your website? Is it up to date and feature images that genuinely reflect the personality and style of your congregation?  Are there places to ask questions or to take suggestions or prayer requests?  If someone does leave a comment on your Facebook page, does a church member or staff person respond right away?  Do you podcast sermons, or are they available for potential members to listen or read before attending worship at your congregation?  Do you encourage members to share information about your congregation online as well as with their neighbors and coworkers and friends?

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