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GRAVE: Technology is driving snap impressions

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voices-from-Industry-grave-crystal.jpgIs the hospitality industry winning the Zero Moment of Truth?

Purchasing decisions about everything from hotel rooms, restaurant dinner plans and wedding rehearsal locations are being made while you’re reading this column. Buyers (perhaps even you) are constantly researching, reviewing, asking for advice, and figuring out whether or not to like a business—both in the metaphorical and Facebook sense.

According to Google, this indicates changes in our overall consumer behavior, brought about most recently by the rapid advances in technology and information sharing. Google even coined a name for this new pattern of behavior—Zero Moment of Truth.

Google recently released a front-line evaluation of purchasing habits and distributed the findings in a free, downloadable eBook called ZMOT: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.

So what is ZMOT (zee-MOT)?

ZMOT, according to the online search engine powerhouse, refers to that first moment, that millisecond where a consumer starts to think about making a purchasing decision. Rather than using traditional purchase evaluation methods, Google argues, we are now most likely to grab a device (computer, smartphone, iPad, etc.), perform a Web search, and start learning about a product or service instead.

Google contends that how a business positions itself online plays a significant role in how it starts a conversation with potential buyers, and the time when the decision-making process really begins has shifted to a much earlier step.

ZMOT may signify the conversation has changed for everyone (consumers and businesses alike)—including service-oriented business lines such as hospitality.

Consumers are embarking on a different type of journey of discovery about their purchases because a wealth of information is readily available and easily archived.

According to Google, all industries must now consider ZMOT and none are immune from its influence. Quite possibly, purchasing choices start percolating long before someone walks in the door—they start online and probably even before the first inquiry rolls in to a service team member.

Lindsay Gill, leisure and online sales manager at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown, sounded off on her own property when she shared that the hotel “redid their website” which “dramatically increased organic search listing and launched a mobile site” to answer the demands of the trend.

Brandy Ison, founder of Simple Celebrations, an Indianapolis-based event-planning company, added, “I upgraded my website to make it mobile ready … to be available...24/7.”

Similar to Google’s proposition, we observed a similar finding two years ago when research for Snappening.com began here locally. In this study, Indianapolis buyers were clearly undergoing what we termed a research, consideration and selection model to make a purchase, particularly a hospitality-industry-based purchase.

If a brand was not positioned online within the realm of reach during any step of this three-part process, the entire sales opportunity was missed. Critical details needed to be simple, accessible and online to even be part of the conversation, let alone the purchase.

According to ZMOT, 70 percent of Americans say they look at reviews before making a purchase; 79 percent say they use their smartphone to help with shopping. With this rapid shift in technology-based expectations, it’s probable that all industries will need to consider ways to put their best (virtual) foot forward.

But isn’t hospitality a relationship-based industry? While the hospitality industry is a cornerstone example of its roots and namesake, technology has arguably altered what a brand offers, promotes and exudes for its customers.

Now, Google stresses, it’s not only the staff that leave an impression in the facility itself, it’s also the entire process of how the brand was accessible, the turnaround time for an inquiry, and the level of detail and care the service team took with each opportunity before ever having known about the potential dollars. (Not to mention the word-of-mouth influence previous customers play, with their experience and opinion being digitally archived online for the world to see.)

Within hospitality itself, for example, it may be noted that different business lines may require different ZMOT strategies. A casual diner has different needs than a rehearsal dinner shopper. A corporate hotel room block is not the same as a social block tied to an event with the banquet facilities.

These shoppers are marketed to differently in person and in the same ways you certainly cannot appeal to both using the same online strategies. A well-positioned business must create an online experience that thinks, evaluates and shops like a service line buyer does.

Think about it the next time you pull out your smartphone to find a coffee spot while vacationing or when you search online for that new movie and show times.•

__________

Grave is president and CEO of Snappening Inc., an online event planning database service headquartered in Indianapolis. Views expressed here are the writer’s.

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