One thing about a real-time marketing: it’s a lot more entertaining than the canned stuff. Who doesn’t enjoy watching a venerable brand get mauled by the Twittersphere trying to hijack some news story or social buzz? These days, even a flop affords the opportunity to boost engagement with a heartfelt mea culpa.
RTM’s Vaudeville nature certainly has its detractors. But, as my colleague, Richard Fouts, points out (subscription required), it’s not as though it’s optional: RTM is an unavoidable consequence of the world we now live in (most of us, anyway): always on, always connected, always trending. If you’re not part of the conversation, you’re not part of the community, so abstain at your peril. Richard also makes the crucial point that real-time marketing is not just about putting out fires or latching on to trends; it’s about defining the processes that empower people to act in a deliberate manner that appears spontaneous in a real-time context That’s a lot more difficult than it looks. Unfortunately, because success gives the illusion of true spontaneity, it’s become something that’s both easy and tempting to imitate badly.
How can we tell the difference? In many ways, real-time marketing appears filled with contradictions. As part of the digital marketing story, it often seems to defy the story’s themes of efficiency and accountability and attribution. Although we can point to measurable performance tactics like real-time offers and real-time pricing and real-time distribution (oh yes, and real-time bidding for media) – most of the efforts we encounter resemble hit-or-miss attempts at creating impromptu brand impressions, to be superficially measured by likes, shares, followers and retweets. Where is all this going? Is there any science to it?
This leads back to the old question of how to assess indirect marketing activities, with the new twist that real-time dynamics, despite generating more data, are less predictable than ever. The complexity of opinion flows in social networks and their effects on real business metrics like sales and loyalty are still mostly beyond the reach of big data analytics to assess – and maybe they always will be. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You may discover something interesting. In the meantime, plan carefully for RTM, but consider the words of Thomas Edison: “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”