If you follow dealer forums like DealerRefresh or DrivingSales, you may have come across the acronym ZMOT, or the “Zero Moment of Truth,” a term coined by Google’s Jim Lecinski in a recent e-book, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.

The concept takes the traditional marketing model of “Stimulus” (traditional advertising that raises consumer awareness about a product or service), “Shelf” (the shopper’s visit to the store) and “Experience” (the buyer’s opinion of the product and sales process post-purchase), and adds in the “Zero Moment of Truth,” which represents the stage during the purchase process where consumers go online to find out more.

ZMOT illustrates just how important it is for businesses to optimize their online presence because of the role it plays in connecting the dots between a consumer’s intent to purchase and your dealership.  Before consumers experience how well you’ve merchandised your store and interact with your salespeople in person, they’re first reading reviews written by previous customers, comparing your inventory and your reputation against your competitors’, forming an opinion about how much their trade-in is worth and deciding how much they’re willing to pay for a new vehicle.

Simply put, ZMOT asks: Is your online presence driving traffic to your store?

Google did follow-up surveys of consumers in various industries, including automotive, to gather more insight into the “Zero Moment of Truth,” and the studies revealed some interesting findings: automotive shoppers consult more sources (18.2) on average among all categories, and the decisions of 97% of those shoppers were influenced at ZMOT – higher than consumer electronics (92%), investments (89%) and even voting (95%), and second only to travel (99%)*.

For more information, check out Google’s video on automotive ZMOT and PCG Marketing’s Automotive ZMOT Infographic, and consider joining the Automotive Zero Moment of Truth online forum.

*Source: Google/Shopper Sciences, Zero Moment of Truth Industry Studies, U.S., April 2011