How to Succeed in Real-Time Marketing

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When the power went out at the Superdome during the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo tweeted an image of one of its cookies with the caption “You can still dunk in the dark.” With all eyes on Twitter during the blackout, the brand saw an opportunity to reach a massive audience, and the free ad has since been retweeted more than 15,000 times.

Oreo exemplified the potential of using real world events to jump-start social media conversations with a single tweet. It is a progressive move that paid off for the Oreo brand, but it is only one example of a larger, unfolding trend that industry experts have dubbed real-time marketing.

And there’s more to real-time marketing than simply selecting the best hashtag. With the proliferation of social media, mobile devices, and messaging apps, businesses need to constantly monitor digital channels for opportunities to reach their target audience. Doing this effectively is key.


“What social and digital devices have done is really transform marketing, customer service, and even sales,” says Natalie Petouhoff, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

As opposed to simply pushing messages out through email or various other channels, marketing now requires organizations to interact with customers, she says.

“The rise of social media means that increasingly, we know who people are, we know if they’re your customers, we know if they’re your demographic…you have a lot more real data about who people are, and are able to do a lot more personal, in-the-moment marketing,” says Joshua March, founder and CEO of Conversocial.

March also emphasizes the massive impact that the proliferation of mobile devices has had on marketing. “You’re able to interact with consumers in a way that was never quite possible before, because it was very hard to hit people in the moment,” he says. “You could try to get people while they were searching for something on a desktop computer, but it was very hard to send them really targeted information…in a very personal way. A smartphone is always personal.”

Mark Smith, president at Kitewheel, agrees: “The mobile device is ten channels all in one—it’s a phone, it’s a Web site, it’s text, it’s social—all of those channels are in one place, in your hand. It’s the ultimate real-time delivery [system].”

Petouhoff notes that while digital channels have enabled marketers to reach customers more easily than ever before, businesses now have to constantly be on watch for potential public relations disasters—companies can get themselves in trouble if they neglect to monitor social media during off hours. For example, in 2009, Domino’s severely damaged its reputation because of its delayed response to a prank video: two employees uploaded a video to YouTube wherein one of them was seen defacing a customer’s food in various unsavory ways, and it took the company 48 hours to respond—by that time, the video had gone viral.

For companies to succeed in digital marketing, Petouhoff offers seven key steps: (1) monitor what is being said about them, as well as what is being said about competitors; (2) set objectives and goals; (3) define their target audiences, and establish a “company voice”—a brand persona that marketers use on all channels; (4) decide what kind of content to create; (5) determine what platforms to use; (6) train executives and staff; and (7) fail fast and update their digital marketing strategies accordingly.

Following these steps will help organizations take a more proactive approach to digital marketing, as opposed to just reacting.

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