Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 | 9 min read
Real-time marketing has continued its ascent in priority for marketers across the digital landscape. As justifiably excited as everyone is by the real-time opportunity, it’s important to note that brands have been evolving toward more real-time marketing for years. And while enable a vastly more sophisticated and efficient approach, there is value at each step in the real-time marketing evolutionary ladder.
At its most basic, the goal of real-time marketing is to position your brand as part of the most relevant conversations among your target audience and reap the brand benefits of that association. To that end, there have been three distinct approaches with real-time marketing examples that have emerged: almanac marketing, event marketing, and true real-time marketing.
This is the earliest and most common form of real-time style marketing. Brand content creators identify in advance the cultural moments that are likely to be relevant to their target audience, and then plan content accordingly – often weeks in advance. Common examples are the “Happy National Handwriting Day” or “Happy Teacher Appreciation Day” type posts that emerge from brands regularly. The most effective of these types of posts tend to align to holidays (e.g. Christmas, Fourth of July, Halloween) and hyper-specific celebrations (e.g. National Ice Cream Day for a brand like Haagen Dazs).
From an operational perspective, almanac marketing is fantastic. Marketers can see an important date coming, develop appropriate creative, time the launch, and then manage any responses through normal social customer service channels. However, from an engagement perspective, almanac marketing leaves a lot to be desired. Mindshare on large and consequential events is scarce, and it takes something quite clever or unique to stand out. This was apparent in the recent attempts by brands to attach to the conversation surrounding the birth of the royal baby. As AdRants explains, Oreo, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and numerous other social media heavyweights attempted to join the conversation with varying degrees of success. Some brands succeeded enormously (as depicted below), but others were lost in the noise of the event.
A typical Oreo photo tweet generates 50 to 100 retweets and 40 to 75 favorites. Oreo’s royal baby tweet yielded 1,024 retweets and 415 favorites. That is a more than 900% increase in retweets and 450% increase in favorites.
For Starbucks, the results are even more impressive. A typical Starbucks UK tweet generates 10 to 40 retweets and 20 to 50 favorites. Starbucks UK’s royal baby tweet yielded an increase of more than 3,300% in retweets and 2,000% in favorites.
In the case of both Oreo and Starbucks, we are looking at massive increases in engagement versus standard, photo-based tweets. Clearly, there is value in joining the right trend in the right way. But many other examples, including Charmin and Hostess, failed to break through. Almanac marketing works and can be an effective stepping stone in a brand’s evolution toward real-time marketing, but there is only so much room for brands in any given mainstream conversation.
Event marketing and sponsorship is nothing new for brands. But in the last few years it has become increasingly commonplace for brands to weave social content and activation into their field and event marketing tactics. A good example is VisitFlorida and iHeartRadio’s recent Ultimate Pool Party. This mammoth, multi-day party in Miami was accompanied by a host of “preview, real-time, and recap” content from the brands participating.
This sort of real-time marketing is similar to almanac marketing in that the brand knows well in advance that the event will occur, and even has the ability to pre-program some percentage of its content for the day. However, it varies in two key ways. First, the brand is not moving toward an existing consumer conversation; instead, they are trying to trigger a conversation. Second, the brand usually enters the day with an explicit mission of flexibility and user engagement that is very much in the real-time spirit. There is a framework of content creation, but with a lot of built-in, real-time flexibility.
A closely related (but far sexier) cousin of event marketing could be called spectacle marketing. You can think of the famous Old Spice Man social media campaign as a standout example of this approach. In the case of Old Spice Man, the activation tactic was a combination of extreme novelty, celebrity interaction, and bizarre humor. The real-time aspect of the campaign – quickly creating a vast array of humorous videos – was the key to the whole spectacle. Extremely high-quality video responses to an array of tweets were created in record time, and that sort of real-time interaction was so unheard of that the engagement spiked to unprecedented levels. The campaign spread like wildfire across both Twitter and YouTube, and effectively relaunched the Old Spice brand as a relevant youth brand instead of an “old man” aftershave.
When executed correctly, the benefit of this sort of campaign is apparent; Old Spice sales were up 107% in the month following the viral campaign. However, marketers need to concede a few basic issues before going off to recreate the Old Spice Man campaign. First, despite numerous efforts in the years since the original campaign, no one has succeeded in hijacking the zeitgeist of the internet in that same way. Except maybe Red Bull Stratos…and they dropped a guy out of space. Second, given the costs required to execute an Old Spice Man or Red Bull Stratos quality event, success has to be nearly assured, and unfortunately most efforts of this kind in the year since have failed. Modest success in almanac marketing or event marketing is acceptable because of their relatively modest costs. When an expensive spectacle campaign ends up not being much of a social spectacle, the outcome is not as acceptable. Jobs are lost over things like that.
So if you’re a brand that wants the quality engagement and reliability of almanac marketing without the budgetary commitment and uneven nature of event or spectacle marketing, what do you do? The answer is true real-time marketing.
True real-time marketing is actually, well, real-time. It is defined as “‘on-the-fly’ participation by brands in the events, topics, and ideas trending at that very moment among target audiences online.” You can prepare all the operational capabilities beforehand, but until the moment of truth a brand does not know what it is going to make or discuss. True real-time marketing should also be oriented at the specific conversations of target audiences that are most important to a brand. Attempting to participate in general trends is great, but global trends are a crowded and noisy place – as we saw with the royal baby conversation. For every one Oreo tweet from the Super Bowl blackout, there are 100 attempts at real-time marketing that disappear without a sound (or a re-tweet).
An excellent example of true real-time marketing is U.S. Cellular’s social sales program that reacts to live tweets from competitors’ dissatisfied customers, responding with customized messages on a real-time basis – 365 days a year. This is an instance of a highly responsive content team moving toward a lively consumer conversation, and inserting an interesting piece of content into that conversation.
The opportunity to execute tactics of this type for brands is present every single day. Technology now enables brands to see the specific trends that their target advocates, influencers, and prospects are congregating around at any given moment. Every one of those trends is a viable real-time marketing opportunity for a team that is organized to tackle it rapidly and efficiently. The dashboard below displays trends being discussed among Oreo’s advocates at 1:00pm Central Time on August, 27, 2013. While not every trend is brand appropriate, there are at least five opportunities there for Oreo to create content and join an active conversation among its most prized audience.
There are substantial operational challenges that brands face to effectively execute true real-time marketing, but there are ways to make it easier, and technological solutions have emerged (most notably Dachis Group’s Real-Time Marketing Engine) to speed up the transition.
Any brand can now become a real-time marketer. It will often be easiest to get started with almanac style marketing, but the potential upside of daily, real-time participation in your target audience’s conversations is too great to pass up.