The Fallacy of Google’s “Micro-Moment” Positioning

In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, hope your summer is winding down to a relaxing end.

We had a request from a regular reader (and colleague) this week, Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design. Miriam happened to notice my comment in last week’s newsletter that I found Google’s increasingly pervasive term “micro moment” meaningless. You and I responded to Miriam and started the discussion on Twitter, but it seems like a good topic to explore in more detail for this week’s conversation. What say you?

Mike: Sure. I too find the term annoying. 🙂

I see the customer journey as the customer journey wherever it leads. I see Google’s efforts to oversimplify it into discrete points in time as a gross form of reductionism that doesn’t help us understand that journey better. What is your perception of the value and use of the term?

David: Totally agree. It reduces all consumer buying decisions to thoughtless reflexes, which is just not reality, and drives all creative to a conversion-focused experience, which is only appropriate for specific kinds of keywords or mobile scenarios.  It’s totally IN-appropriate for display or top-of-funnel advertising.

I also think it’s intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers — ”OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!” — which doesn’t help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend.

Mike: I agree. If you don’t have a sound, broad strategy no micro management of micro moments will help.

To some extent I wonder if Google’s use of the term reflects the limits of their analytics to yet be able to provide a more complete picture to the business?

David: Sure, Google is at least as well-positioned as Amazon or Facebook to provide closed-loop tracking of purchase behavior. But I think it reflects a longstanding cultural worldview within the company that reduces human behavior to an algorithm.

“Get Notification. Buy Thing.” or “See Ad. Buy Thing.”  That may work for the “head” of transactional behavior but the long tail is far messier and harder to predict. Much as Larry Page would like us to be, humans are never going to be robots.

Mike: Algorithms are at the core of their DNA so I don’t expect Google’s limited view to change any time soon. And yet they all too often miss the wheat for the chaff. Here’s hoping that someday either they become more holistic or that their algos improve significantly. Maybe both. 🙂

Much of local these days, at least vis a vis Google though, is bottom of funnel activity. Does it provide any clarity there?

David: Actually, no it doesn’t. Think about the bottom-of-funnel experience on non-Google properties. Consideration, purchase, and loyalty are all blended together in the new “marketing hourglass.” (h/t John Jantsch)

It’s in these blended longer tail purchase decisions where Facebook (or even NextDoor) far outstrips Google. A request for product or service recommendations from a close set of friends could, I guess, be considered a “micro-moment,” but it’d be counterproductive for the business itself to insert a plug into that spot within the consumer journey.

Mike: Yes I can see that focusing on the micro moment could very well distract a business from thinking about the real issue that is at the core of all of their marketing and that is creating an experience that customers want to repeat and share with their friends. Who then repeat and share it.

David: The irony is that if any company owns the space around Google’s concept of the “micro moment” today, it’s actually Amazon with its Alexa-Prime integration and in particular the Dash button. It’s a scenario that has nothing whatsoever to do with the phone. The Dash is a physical button, and increasingly through the Echo, it’ll morph into a voice command.

It’s a micro moment that depends 100% on customer loyalty, not advertising.

Mike: Amazon has created an incredibly pleasant experience in that regard. But they started by removing the painful points in the purchase process. And in doing so created that rinse-and-repeat process so necessary for a merchant to grow. I am not sure that Google really gets that it’s the reduction of pain and the ease of the purchase that is at Amazon’s core attraction. The Dash is just the frosting.

David: Of course. But I see the Dash functionality expanding pretty rapidly through Alexa and the Echo. I think many specialty retail purchases will remain primarily offline (apparel, jewelry, equipment), or at least research-driven eCommerce.  But commodity purchases like detergent, toilet paper, and other Prime Pantry-type supplies are being rapidly converted to voice searches.

Mike: The thing that I love about Amazon, the one touch experience, applies to all parts of the purchase process, not just the order. I can so easily return something to them without driving to a Walmart, walking across a huge parking lot and then standing in line to do the same thing with the wrong diapers I ordered via Google Home. I see too many components of the “delightful commodity purchase” missing from the Google-Walmart alliance.

Can the Google-Walmart alliance really catch up on that front?

David: I too am skeptical of the long term success of that alliance. While I think it’s a win-win for both companies (Walmart needs a foothold in voice, Google needs a major product fulfillment partner), I don’t see Walmart customers running out to buy a Google Home as a result. They tend to be lower-end consumers who will probably be more attracted to the cheaper Amazon Echo, if any voice device.  And I don’t see a Walmart integration being anything close to a compelling reason for existing Echo users to switch to Google Home.

Amazon Prime is already in roughly 50% of U.S. households (and has “room to grow” with lower-end consumers). Amazon has an enormous head start in terms of customer base and product experience.

Mike: Certainly Walmart is at a disadvantage in the online and online/offline sales but this consolidation will take place over the next five years, and it won’t be Walmart that goes out of business. And they do have some time to fix what is missing.

But does the micro-moment of commodity purchases help Google clarify their existential struggle to be relevant for consumer purchases? I think not.


After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University. 

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GetFiveStars, a feedback and reputation platform, and LocalU, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week podcast about Local marketing. 


Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either or, or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

  1. reilly3000
    August 29, 2017

    Hey guys, great post! I really believe the deeper thrust behind micro-moments is providing a more nuanced machine interface to humans. By adding these layers of control and complexity they achieve:

    – Exclusive control of a ‘behavior modification’ (borrowing from PR jargon) engine that has unprecedented effectiveness.
    – Allowing better hooks for more and more Deep Learning to drive decisions about campaign structure, content, sequence, budget, and more on previously unavailable dimensions like cross domain search journeys, playlist behavior as a proxy for mood, models of past buying triggers, etc.
    – Making the complexity of these tools difficult and expensive for humans to operate them as effectively as a TensorFlow model running on GOOG TPU’s. Maybe big brands can really leverage the tools, but SMBs won’t be able to move fast enough.
    – …
    – Skynet.

    As a human, the idea of machine learning having substantial reach into my own behavior feels like a threat to my autonomy. No thanks. As a marketer, I see every marketing cloud pitching their version of 1:1 marketing st scale. Billions are flowing to these systems, and they are all collectively spending billions to get an edge in machine learning. Eric Schmidt said they have really completed the shift from ‘Mobile-First’ to ‘AI-First’ , but have also just begun scratching the surface of all that will transform, both internally and for its customers.

    Elon and a bunch of smart people agree we shouldn’t give AI guns. I posit we shouldn’t give AI megaphones either.

    From the latest ‘Think with Google’ bit on Micro Moments

    “If I didn’t believe so much in the role of technology, I might get worried. How can we as marketers possibly scale relevant messages and experiences across all devices at all moments? How can we possibly deliver smart marketing that recognizes each customer is unique, while simultaneously driving the bottom line? But I’m not worried. I’m thrilled. It is precisely technology—specifically the promise of data and machine learning—that will enable us to get this right.”

    It’s plain good vertical integration for GOOG to push machine learning, and it really does seem to add tremendous value to its users.

    I don’t even think it would have to work very well to be able to work on me. I have driven the majority of I-5 between WA and CA 8 times now over the past 15 years. All those times I saw the signs for the Olive Pit: XXX miles away. Free Samples: 2 hours away. You’re almost there! You get it. Well I did that trip a few weeks ago, and I finally stopped there. We had a great time. Enjoyed the free samples. We got a jar of pickle stuffed olives. I had a damn fine spicy Muffuletta covered in olive tapenade. It worked out better than I could have hoped.

    If sequential creative could actually work at scale it would work on me, every time. And, what the hell? Maybe this AI stuff will turn out awesome for everybody. let’s hope!

  2. Andrew Goodman
    September 9, 2017

    Apparently, P&G’s A.G. Lafley coined “2 Moments of Truth” in 2005, and then in 2011 Google tried to jump on some imaginary thought train with a white paper called the “Zero Moment of Truth.” It’s interesting that none of these authors seem to have any grounding in decision theory, sociology, or even make much attempt to cover the nuances of causality. The author of ZMOT became a VP of sales at Google in 2006. Prior to that, he held senior roles in ad agencies (advanced degree: MBA). I think it’s safe to say these are concepts used to help large publishers & large agencies sell ads. 🙂 OTOH, the concept of ZMOT appears to refer mostly to consumers at the research stage, which is seamless and ongoing. That would point to the need for long term engagement in content, social, and “walking the walk” at least as much as it would indicate a need for ad spend. I don’t know what a micro-moment is, frankly. The ZMOT white paper makes some sense — it explains that companies need to invest comprehensively in many touchpoints. This concept goes all the way back to “360 Degree Branding,” a notion David Ogilvy advocated back in the 1950’s.

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