In late October, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and impacted millions. It was not a surprise. The weather service reported on it for over a week. Predictions for landfall and impact had high confidence for days and, in hindsight, were very accurate. Everyone learned about the power of nature, but for digital marketers, there are additional lessons the storm leaves behind about the power of technology.
- Change your message and delivery channels to match the context
- Use predictive models to give you an alert and time to prepare
- Track your campaigns from inception to impact in real-time
The first lesson is to be agile enough to advertise when and where context changes. This gives you a chance to accelerate the positive and damper the negative. People in the track of the storm, or engulfed in any episodic event, change their interests, media habits and search engine key words. This is no time to take a week to plan a new marketing campaign. Your search engine and social marketing content, along with budget reserves, should be on the shelf and ready to go operational during predictable events. With a little tweaking for context, you are ready to get your message delivered to an episodic audience. In this case, storm name, intensity, path and impact were the context variables. For many, this is obvious. The advertisements for property insurance got a bit old, but it was interesting to watch how fast the US presidential campaigns shifted to less negative messages. With a bit of innovation, anyone can ride the wave with a bit of contextual branding or product promotion, and measure the results.
Second, recall the words of George Box, who is quoted as saying “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. Without models, few would have predicted the storm would make a left hook and hit New Jersey. After several models converged on the same conclusion, officials and individuals acted with faith in technology, and spent millions of dollars to reduce loss of life and property damage. Just 14 months earlier, models for Hurricane Irene weren’t so accurate. People in NYC prepared for a degree of impact never realized but the false alarm turned out to be good rehearsal for the real thing.
Modeling tools for marketers are plentiful, and useful, even if the resultant models are not as complex or as accurate as weather models. Not every campaign will meet the forecast, but many will. The skills to build multiple models, know which ones to trust in different situations and act quickly on prescriptive advice gives an organization a competitive edge. The next time there is a significant weather event, dig deeper into the discussions from the weather service. Their lingo will teach you how to turn models into forecasts.
Finally, realize the value of real-time information. There is a resolution gap between what is happening and what happened. During an event like Sandy, there is a flood of information, such as predicted path, current wind speeds, evacuation notices, traffic jams, water levels and people’s reactions. Information is on the news, social networks and is the topic of daily conversation. Oh yeah, you can look out your window too and get to clean up the damage first hand. There is no better time to get a sense of what is happening than during the event. If you want to understand the history of Hurricane Sandy, sure, you can find lots of information, but it doesn’t unfold in a way that gives you the same sense that you get while following what is happening. Living the moment, enhanced by real-time technology, is a new wonder of the modern world.
The lesson for digital marketers is two-fold. First, build real-time monitoring into your campaigns. Watch them as they unfold. Be aware of the publishing schedule, customer reaction and social discussions, along with the weather, news of the day and your colleagues’ reaction. You will never have a better time to learn the nuances of marketing than while living it live. The second aspect is to publish in real-time if it is relevant to your audience. Video may be better than text, so understand the optimal channel and media type mix, and ensure your publishing operations is ready to go.
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