In 2011, Google’s research into the decision-making process of consumers resulted in the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), which defined a new step in the purchasing journey. With this new marketing model, it is no longer enough to have a site where users ‘can’ achieve their goals; instead, sites must be the place users ‘will’ achieve them.

This means that a customer’s experience is increasingly important. Whilst this throws up new challenges for online marketers, it also creates opportunities to identify where audiences are online and reach out to them, answering their concerns while influencing the purchasing decision.

How do we make our digital user experiences more engaging? The following ‘golden rules’ are by no means definitive, but should help you overcome the primary hurdles in creating an engaging website that encourages the ‘will’ in a purchasing decision.

1. Listen to your audience

Many websites still lead with messages about themselves, with ‘about us’ pages, company history, ‘meet the team’ and service pages; hardly fitting with the Zero Moment mentality.

‘Listening’ could simply be ensuring you know what terms people search for when researching your product or service. Who are they? What questions are they asking? What are their concerns? Answering these questions will set the foundation for engaging activity.

A great recent example is BMW and their run-up to launching their new X4 model. With the automotive audience excited at the release of a BMW vehicle, people were already searching for information, such as “BMW X4 Review”. BMW listened and created their own content, specifically producing videos to answer those queries.

They were therefore able to capitalise on that touch point with the ZMOT to talk to their audience.

2. Answer their question

This concept may seem like common sense. However, so many sites fall at this hurdle, presenting ambiguous messaging and irrelevant imagery. 

Shopify is a great example of how the web design directly answers a query. Their proposition is clear and succinct, so if a user has searched for selling online, their query is immediately answered on Shopify’s landing page, and they can identify within seconds what Shopify offers. 

This defines the primary leverage for online engagement: relevance. Quickly establishing relevance is the difference between someone staying on your site or quickly bouncing back to the search results. You can read about the problems with customers returning to search in this article.

3. Be interested

To encourage users to engage further, take an interest by asking more about what they are looking for. By repeating our ‘Listen and Answer’ dialogue, we can begin refining what the customer sees, allowing us to learn more about what content is relevant to their needs, tailoring the content on-site to suit.

A great example is on the neighbourhoods pages of Airbnb. Typically reliant on knowing where you want to go, Airbnb asks subjective and emotive questions in order to make recommendations.

Asking questions and providing the most relevant answers plays an important part in building trust with customers, which is vital for any brand.

4. Be helpful

Having shown interest in what the customer is looking for, add value by giving educated and informed recommendations.

Take wine, for example; you will find in any supermarket an entire aisle organised by grape variety, region, price etc. The process is perfectly set up for procurement. However, unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s difficult to choose, as:

1.    Packaging has little differentiation
2.    Labels have scarce information
3.    It’s difficult to articulate taste through the written word

We therefore struggle to be confident in our choice. This is known as ‘analysis paralysis’: faced with too many options without guidance, we struggle to make any decision at all. This is commonly a result of prioritising procurement over engagement.

It’s here that some of the best opportunities to innovate and engage exist in the digital landscape. For example, is a fashion retailer that excellently demonstrates how engagement can influence the purchasing decision.

Rather than typical retail ecommerce tactics (searching by type, size, brand etc.), Thread asks what kind of styles or brands you like, what budget you have for different items (such as shirts or shoes) and what you are looking for (e.g. work clothes or holiday wear).

You are then assigned a real-life personal stylist, who selects outfits based on your preferences. You can buy entire outfits or individual items and provide feedback for the stylist.

5. Personalise the experience

‘Personalisation’ is the idea that we can adapt the online experience to what we know of customers and their actions, based on the previous results of the user journey. Whereas Thread relies on the human contribution of a stylist, modern content management systems and server-side technology dynamically tailor content.

Branded3 recently created a new platform for Inchcape, a leading automotive retailer. They wanted to challenge the norm of procurement-lead online automotive retail, focusing instead on how to engage better with users.

Many automotive websites suffered from relying on users knowing what they are looking for. Invariably, the first options were:

•    Do you want a new or used car?
•    Search by make, model and price?

However, we discovered that customers’ first motivation is typically how much per month they can spend. We therefore removed the ‘New’ and ‘Used’ options from the menu and brought a monthly cost search to the homepage.

We then created a set of tools in order to show interest in the user. For instance, ‘find my car’ helps users select a model. Again, retail sites often rely on the user having a knowledge of their ranges, but what if the customer doesn’t know what they’re looking for?

Rather than questions around specific features (e.g., engine size or number of doors), the ‘find my car’ tool asks what users actually want from a car: “Do you prefer performance or economy?”, “Do you need space for a family?” etc. The site can then intelligently recommend the most appropriate option; this is not only helpful, but also establishes relevance, keeping users engaged.

In this case, as the platform is built on the Sitecore CMS, we were able to capitalise on the inbuilt personalisation DMS to build a customer profile based on their interaction with the site. This information allows us to adjust the site’s content to fit what we know about the user.


What I find fascinating about these rules is that they have been around forever. The way we as people have engaged with each other has been practised since commerce began: identifying a demand, and answering the consumers’ need accordingly. The rules of how to influence through engagement haven’t changed – we just need to apply them to the new digital consumer.