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Real-Time Marketing Gone Wild

By Andrew Frank | October 25, 2013 | 2 Comments

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.”

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  • You say “real-time” over and over.. but the marketing practices talked about just aren’t real-time. Real-time means, in the moment. Instant. Responding to external current events and social trends isn’t instant.

    It also isn’t very relevant for brands… A brand interjecting themselves into a cultural happening/social trend is like someone talking to you at a social party with the intention of influencing business.. It’s sleazy and not good marketing.

    Now real-time marketing, as thought of as most marketers – not within the media – , is definitely the future. Just not with the definition defined the media to explain the phenomena of brands trying their best to include their brand into more conversations.

    Most marketers actually believe something very different about real-time marketing… and that true engagement comes when companies respond to consumers based on who they are individually, what they have done with their business, and what they are currently doing with thier business in the moment… in real-time.

    This is the kind of real-time marketing that every business can embrace and see true business value from (not just increased brand sentiment).

    I go into more detail on the history of the term “real-time marketing”, what 235 marketers from all sized businesses think, and practice use cases for real-time marketing in my blog post today. Would love your feedback..

  • Andrew Frank says:

    Rob, thanks for your comment, and for pointing out the divergence of definitions for “real-time marketing.” I agree that the trade press may be guilty of misappropriating this term (and, as a former embedded systems engineer, this bothered me for a while), but definitions of trending concepts (marketing especially) do tend to take on a life of their own, despite what any snapshot might say about them.

    Regarding your metaphor of introducing business at a social event – very apt. Sleazy perhaps, and yet how much business is done that way (especially in media)?

    Real-time personalization may be a more powerful marketing strategy (depending on many factors), but culture-drafting variations still demand attention given the volume of activity.