Google recently published an eBook called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). It brings to light the next evolution of consumer connectivity: digital.

Having an arsenal of specialized agencies all serving your brand is important. Advertising agencies, shopper marketing agencies, PR firms and even event planners have a different but effective role in securing brand dominance and driving shelf sales. But digital is too often still viewed as an afterthought, or a simple tactic in an overall strategy. Not anymore.

Here’s why: a consumer’s digital experiences with a brand will influence their retail experience, and their purchase behavior. All the digital moments up to, during and after the in-store experience influence how consumers assess the value of your brand.

As ZMOT stated, just a year ago the average shopper used 5.3 sources to make an informed buying decision. Today, the average shopper uses 10.4 sources to make a buying decision – and roughly seven are digital.

So while having that arsenal of specialized agencies is important, it’s also clear that getting digital right is critical and more meaningful to your brand.

What are these seven digital points of contact?

Experience and history tell us that traditional marketing drives the sale. Television, radio, coupons in Sunday circulars, and point-of-purchase are traditional—and still effective—ways in which we learned how to capture an audience and influence their buying decisions at a store. Which is great if you’re living in an episode of “Mad Men.” But we’re not.

Let’s cut to a Saturday afternoon in the life of a 21 to 34 year old female, who is married and has one child.

Statistics show that she is computer proficient, savvy with her smart phone (who isn’t these days?) and spends about three hours a day online, searching for items that she’s interested in or looking up something that a friend just tweeted or Facedbooked her about.

OK, I just saw three possible digital zero moments of truths: web browsing, Twitter, Facebook.

Her attention lasts for short moments. She might jot something about a product down on her phone, but then she moves on. Zero Moment of Truth? Many would say yes, and it ends there. But that’s not true.

She isn’t just sitting behind her computer at home or at her $36,000 job, she is on the move and her smart phone is pushing branded approved product coupons and incentives. After she steps out of the coffee shop where she got 50% off a well-deserved latte (thanks, Foursquare!), she tweets that her new favorite coffee shop is at 85th and Grand. She looks up as she passes a poster with a QR code promoting Walt Disney. She scans the code, which brings her to the Walt Disney website where enters a sweepstakes for an all-expenses-paid trip. At which point, she hurriedly remembers that she needs to hit the grocery store. She pulls up a shopping list app, and clicks on an ad for her favorite store that gives her free store pick, pack and hold services in exchange for a “like” on Facebook.

There is a meandering, circular path to the Zero Moment of Truth, and it takes many “moments of truth” to become loyal to a brand. As you can see, digital is part of her everyday life and a major way that she connects with brands throughout her day. It’s not something that she needs to learn.

But we, as marketers, need to learn about her in order to insert digital interactions into those daily experiences appropriately and effectively. By understanding consumers’ paths (even as they meander and circle), we are able to strategically develop and execute the right digital experiences to drive them to specific purchases. With our example above, she didn’t even go into a store. The path to purchase stayed entirely within the digital space. Are you ready for that? Whether you’re ready or not, it’s here.

The Takeaway

Digital is embedded in our daily lives. A one-stop agency shop can “do digital,” but not with the same results as a specialized digital agency. Something to consider if your “other” agencies are handling the digital aspects of your brand, or if digital is an afterthought within your strategy.