The ‘Three Moments of Truth’ Web Site Checklist

How do you know if your brand Web site is measuring up to its full capacity and potential?

This is a critically important and timely question. Brand Web sites, executed properly, can play a key role shaping early impressions and deepening relationships. They can also have an unmistakable impact on the output of brand-specific CGM (define). Such content, in turn, acts as advertising, impacting the awareness, trial, and purchase cycles of other consumers, especially via the search process.

All too often, I’ve seen brand managers and senior marketers sit idle while their Web sites atrophy. Such neglect is palpable and rationalizes bad assumptions about what’s possible. Throw away antiquated memos pooh-poohing brands sites! They were all written, by the way, when the cost to build was impossibly high and the infrastructure was impenetrably inflexible. Come up with a new framework.

My latest, and very successful, approach is to appeal to how marketers already think about winning consumers in the offline world, then bridge those insights to the online world.

The Framework

I’ve always been a fan of Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley’s “two moments of truth” concept because it simplifies and clarifies an otherwise complex consumer transaction. The first moment of truth is what you see on the shelf. The second is what happens when you experience the product. There are lots of moving parts in between, but if you win on those two fronts your brand has far greater odds of taking the whole cake.

But in the age of consumer control, that’s just not enough. As I’ve insisted many times, there’s another moment of truth marketers must factor into the equation. This third moment is about the emerging dynamic of consumer feedback, expression, and opinion. Indeed, the fastest growing media are those consumers shape and share with others. How can brands possibly give this short shrift?

So I’ve developed the “Three Moments of Truth Web Site Assessment.” I use it to identify unmet consumer needs, call out untapped opportunities, and occasionally stake out a new strategic direction for the brands. Here’s the basic framework:

First Moment Second Moment Third Moment
What consumes see and seek What consumers experience How consumers participate
  • External search
  • Brand site search
  • Content accessibility
  • Access to quick answers
  • Usability
  • Sight, sound, and motion
  • Video
  • Transactions
  • Information retrieval
  • Content prioritization
  • Feedback
  • Opinion
  • Score, rating, or review
  • Comments on brand/corporate blog
  • Suggestions/co-creations
  • What Consumers See and Seek

    What do consumers see when they start to research a category or visit a brand site? Is the shelf optimized, so to speak, to get consumers to the next level? What triggers are needed to entice some level of exploration or perusal of the shelf?

    General search results figure big time into this analysis because they immediately establish where your brand sits in the hierarchy of solutions or answers for brands. If your parenting-centered consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand shows up nowhere in organic search results against obvious queries like “how to parent” or “baby care,” you’re failing at the first moment of truth. Your underperforming Web site is probably a big culprit.

    But it can get worse. If consumers actually land on the brand Web site, the same prerequisites of shelf presence apply, especially via brand search. If you don’t have a search engine on your brand Web site, you’re out of sync with basic consumer behavior. If you do have a search engine or a readily accessible FAQ and it fires back irrelevant answers (or even blanks), that, too, is a big miss.

    What Consumers Experience

    The second moment of truth is all about actual experience and interaction. How engaging is the site? Is the interface useful and memorable? Does the content, widget, or the onsite blog provide meaningful, tangible benefit? Can consumers click to try or buy?

    Here, you must constantly measure your site relative to consumer behavior, which is why I’m such a compulsive adherent of monitoring CGM. People consume and create images, audio, and video, and that behavior should establish in the brand manager’s eyes the minimal prerequisites of site experience. If you fall short, you risk becoming irrelevant.

    Online video use can become a powerful new cornerstone of site experience. For many brands, it already is. But the opportunity goes well beyond repurposing commercials to helping consumers with no-brainer, obvious things, like how to use the product. With online video, brands have a unique opportunity to build a strong connection between teaching and loyalty. Then again, that’s the just the start of the list of potential online video applications. The key is to really get a handle on the core unmet needs. Listening to the conversation is a good starting point for getting it right.

    How Consumers Participate

    The third, perhaps most critical filter, for evaluating Web sites is depth of expression and empowerment. To what extent does the site allow consumers to express themselves? To provide feedback? Participate? This dimension is critically important in the age of conversation, especially since consumers who express themselves tend to be the same folks who create a significant amount of CGM in other venues, such as YouTube and blogs.

    Brand sites must open the door, roll out the welcome mat, and allow the consumers to talk to the brand on their terms. Bear in mind this better enables the site to capture those unique inflection points where the product experience catalyzes a curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand.

    When Wal-Mart announced it was adding Bazaarvoice technology to its Web site to enable consumers to offer reviews, positive and negative, about its products, it was a classic example of shoring up the third moment of truth. When Dove’s Real Beauty Web site begs women to speak up, participate, join a community, or provide feedback, that’s another classic example. When American Express and move their toll-free numbers to the most easily accessible and obvious places on their Web sites, that’s all about taking the third moment of truth to the next level.

    Get the Sites Back in the Game

    With these three principles in mind, brands should take a fresh look at their Web sites’ power and potential. The good news for the skeptics is the economics of building Web sites that win on all three fronts have changed dramatically. Site-publishing tools are far more agile and flexible. Widgets and video tools are practically a dime a dozen these days. And consumers are laying out a screaming cheat sheet of what’s meaningful and relevant to them through their digital trail of conversation.

    But there’s one final dimension. Simple frameworks also drive better organizational alignment and accountability. If you apply principles to your Web site similar to your offline approach, the site can become a better proxy — hence learning lab — for a broader scope of marketing activities.

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