Real-time marketing is a topic that packs rooms at marketing events and fills news feeds with a constant flow of chatter. Recently, I was in such a packed room at Inbound 2014 & FutureM in Boston to hear Ekaterina Walter share her own personal insights about the topic, and I was relieved to hear her set the record straight…
You see, real-time marketing isn’t like traditional forms of marketing where simple tools and technologies can allow anybody and everybody do it. As Ekaterina aptly stated, “it’s not a tactic or a strategy; it’s a mentality,” and as a mentality, real-time marketing requires a certain level of aptitude, understanding, and preparedness. Granted, real-time marketing offers significant advantages, as Ekaterina noted, for example, that those who adopt real-time marketing average a 26% lift in website conversion rates, but such benefits don’t come without costs. There are actually a few critical caveats about real-time marketing that marketers need to understand in order to be ready for both the risks and rewards of real-time.
It’s not scalable.
Real-time marketing is about making the most of the right moments, with the right messaging, for the right people, in the right format. Think of it like basketball; in that decisive moment when the game comes down to one shot, you want the best possible player shooting from the best possible spot. In both scenarios, though, events may not pan out exactly as planned, but through practice and preparedness, the top performers often come out on top. You can’t scale clutch performances in real-time marketing any more than you can scale clutch performances in sports, but you can practice and prepare. Moreover, as Ekaterina expertly pointed out, the top real-time marketers, like the team at Oreo, do visibly practice, and had plenty of other real-time tries before their biggest success at the Superbowl. Although you can’t fully scale real-time marketing opportunities, tactics like ensuring the ability to dynamically customize content – which research shows to yield a 32% lift vs not having customized content – can at least skew the odds for success in your favor.
It’s not formulaic.
There’s no, “for event X, do Y, and get Z” secret formula for success in real-time marketing. In fact, as Aberdeen research shows, there’s actually an interesting decline in marketers’ abilities to leverage data simply for predictive models (not even for full on campaigns) as the data sources become more and more real-time oriented. For example, 91% of “Leader” performance level companies, and 76% of “Follower” performance level companies are able to leverage internal transactional records (heavily non-real-time data), but for using social media data (where real-time is critical), only 41% of Leaders are able to execute, and only 18% of Followers. Reinforcing the unscalability of real-time marketing, you can use real-time data to be prepared and informed, but so far, there’s no sure-fire, measurable secret sauce to identify or anticipate the right real-time moments. Moreover, as real-time marketing requires you to produce timely engagements for real people, your best bet is actually to trust your human instincts. If the marketing or the moment doesn’t feel right to you, it definitely won’t be right for your audience. Of course, you still want to be as informed as possible with data, buyer personas, and documented customer feedback, but when speed is a factor, instinct is often the best way to avoid analysis paralysis.
You Can’t Expect a Reward.
What makes a random act of kindness from a stranger so special? It’s the idea that someone would go out of his or her way to surprise and delight you with no expectation of a reward. Ekaterina did an exceptionally good job of highlighting this point in her presentation, but it bears repeating. A big part of real-time marketing is doing something that stands out to someone, makes his or her day just a little better, and creates a memorable experience. Whether or not the individuals targeted in real-time marketing efforts share their experiences, or convert into customers isn’t the point (even though they will be much more likely to do so); it’s more about the sincerity of the action. Apart from the immediate targets, social media on-lookers, network connections, and others may still recognize the act (without you having to prompt them) so the more genuine you are, the more likely others will ensure your efforts don’t go unnoticed. As far back as two years ago, social media marketing research showed that 59% of the Best-in-Class organizations had already fully integrated social media into other marketing efforts and that trend has only increased over time. For even the Best-in-Class to stand out on social channels, however, it requires being at one’s best for social or other real-time interactions – which inherently means being genuine and empathetic.
There Are Conversations Where You Don’t Belong.
In a later FutureM session, Chad O’Connor aptly summed up another one of Ekaterina’s key points on real-time marketing when he said, “resist that temptation to get in front of people at all costs…” What both he and Ekaterina stressed about real-time marketing is that there are some moments where you just don’t belong. Despite seemingly being common sense 101, there are plenty of examples of absurdly distasteful real-time marketing attempts by brands trying to capitalize on tragedies or other delicate situations for wide-scale exposure. It’s simply not true that any attention is good attention – especially when throngs of people can react by boycotting, protesting, or even taking legal action against your brand. Even in more seemingly safe scenarios, like hash-tagged conversations on Twitter, for example, if you don’t understand the nuance and nature behind the trend, coming in with commentary wrapped in misaligned context, at best, your messaging will come off as random and dismissible, but at worst, it can be taken to be deeply offensive. Just as proper manners would dictate in real life, in real-time marketing, simply listen before you speak, and if you don’t have anything that feels right to say, don’t say anything at all.
Overall, real-time marketing is still a tremendous opportunity, but to harness its value you have to be – for lack of a better word – real about your expectations. It’s not a consequence-free environment, and it takes practice and preparation to become effective. There are no X easy steps to real-time marketing, but if you’re willing to work within the right mentality, real-time marketing can work for you…
Do you have any additional thoughts on real-time marketing? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments below.