Blog post

Real Time Marketing Goes Far Beyond Twitter Stories

By Richard Fouts | September 18, 2012 | 3 Comments


Real time marketing often conjures up scenarios of customer service issues posted on Twitter or YouTube, where an unhappy customer attempts to embarrass a company into fixing their problem fast. But real time marketing goes far beyond real time microblogging.

The high-tech industry, with its many winner-take-all stories can be especially generous to providers that get there first.  For example, those that perform well in analyst reports such as Magic Quadrants are often characterized by organizations that see opportunity, find an area where they can add customer value, then follow with a skillful mobilization of resources  for fast execution.   Leaders  get there first.

What can we learn from these organizations?

Organizations that operate at customer speed … in ways that cause others to ask, “Why didn’t we think of that?” are the real time marketers. They are the type of digital marketers that realize speed is a trait available to anyone seeking business advantage.  It starts with a burning desire to act more quickly, more nimbly. It means taking measured risks, and yes – granting people the freedom to suffer the occasional setback. For many organizations, this type of environment represents a major disruption. But it may indeed be worth the effort.

How did the term real time marketing evolve?

The speed at which everything is taking place has kicked off a new wave of thought leadership known as real time marketing.  While it feels new, many of you might recall that Regis McKenna (considered the marketing guru of Silicon Valley) talked about real time marketing as early as 1995 with his HBR piece, “Real Time Marketing.”

The term “real time” (RT)  traces back to engineering: applications that automatically trigger an instant response to an event (e.g, when the room temperature hits a defined threshold, the AC kicks on; or when a stock dips to a pre-defined price, a trade is triggered). These type of applications are often governed by operating systems (or operating environments) – optimized to serve  real time requests.

Of course, marketers have taken some creative license with the term. While cases of true real time marketing do exist, particularly in sales (airlines use of dynamic pricing for example) real time marketing doesn’t imply knee-jerk response to every market event that happens along. The real time marketer rather, is one that readies the organization for speed, agility and rapid response to unplanned events – within time frames that can impact business advantage. It means having a process for discerning which events require fast response and which don’t. But it also means having a proactive environment for rapid response, where you’re the one putting competitors (that still operate on their own timetables) on the defense.

Hence, real time marketing is designed to avoid threats (escalating a customer service situation that is on the verge of becoming public)  as well as opportunity (streamlining go-to-market strategies with digital techniques that cut out margin-adding middlemen).

What are some other examples?

Some scenarios  illustrate common marketing and sales processes. When I request client references from company A, the turnaround is two weeks. Company B returns them in an hour – not from any extraordinary use of technology (other than a good customer reference application) but rather due to a marketing organization that puts value on turning things around fast (to secure a deal). Sure, technology helps, but the existence of an application doesn’t guarantee operational response; that’s something that occurs at a process and cultural level.

Real time marketing isn’t just applicable to sales and customer service situations. Another example is an agile product development process that commands premium prices for getting functionality out the door before competitors. It’s about shaping news stories as they happen (versus responding to them later). It’s about crowdsourcing a product development idea over days versus months, reading buying signals in real time as people interact with your web, or commenting on blogs where discussion about you is occurring.

How does an organization migrate to a culture of speed?

Becoming a more responsive organization doesn’t necessarily mean you’re facing a full scale transformation. If you’re part of an organization that runs on its own timetables (versus those of customers) and is missing out on opportunity due to lack of speed and agility, there are things you can do immediately to start turning things around. For example:

Create a list of the previous year’s Top 10 Firefighting Moments, where the lack of rapid response prevented you from achieving a specific business advantage through speed.  Turn your focus to the top three.

Identify the inhibitors that prevented you from rapid response. Think about how you can re-engineer the process to eliminate the inhibitors. Many times, this stems from empowering marketing program managers with enough information to make their own well informed decisions. Or, it means giving people enough information and empowerment to make higher quality recommendations to senior management to enable rapid signoff.

Or, you can start even smaller. For example, TD Bank conducted a Kill a Stupid Rule contest where employees were asked to cite rules that add no customer value. Once the best idea was implemented, more followed resulting in much more streamlined, agile , responsive organization.

Keep in mind: real time marketing, as a set of priorities, processes and attitudes, won’t be realized with a large scale business transformation initiative that forces the issue. Those efforts usually fail because they try to deal with too much, and they often fight well established culture norms that need to handled more delicately. A more measured approach that leads by example is usually the better way to go.

So build your top ten firefighting moments. Pick three (or even one) that has the opportunity to create real business advantage. Re-design it for rapid response, test it, measure the results, and let me know how you do.

NOTE: This blogpost is an overview of a series we intend to publish on real time marketing in Gartner for Marketing Leaders.  The second note in the series “Readying the Organization.”






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  • Hi Richard,
    Great article on real-time marketing, I share your views completely and am surprised why so many organizations leave business opportunities on the table due to bureaucracy and medieval business models. In the times we live today agility and speed are paramount but also one must not overlook the importance of content and ( technology. The United airlines example (United Breaks Guitars) is a brilliant example of the business impact that 1 person can have on one of the most consumer facing companies (not to mention the millions they spent on PR and Marketing over the years). However the guitar company and the case company saw the business opportunity and reacted very quickly as they knew their window of opp’y was closing very quickly. Another example I came across yesterday of Amazon and the way they react in very a sensitive circumstance (Hurricane Sandy) Let me know what you think and I’m very glad that you alo see the business value of real-time marketing. A very interesting book to read about this is by David Meerman Scott, who is also an advocate of real-time marketing.
    Olivier van Vollenhoven

  • Magnifico artículo, un placer leer el blog

  • Menos mal que he dado con esta informacion. Gracias!