How to prepare a real-time marketing strategy

Altimeter Group recently published new research on a topic high on most brands' radar. "Real Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage 'Now'" looks at the six business use cases in which real-time marketing (RTM) applies (in other words, beyond that infamous Oreo/Super Bowl moment) and also examines what's required of brands that wish to engage in RTM.

How companies prepare dictates the effectiveness of RTM programs. We found that planning falls into two areas. The first is overall RTM strategy, which we'll examine here. The next installment of this column will focus on the organization and resources needed for real-time execution.

Phase one of real-time marketing preparation lays an essential foundation of customer understanding, goals, and content strategy.

Listen and learn

Success in real-time is contingent on understanding your audience: who they are, where they go, what they care about, how they perceive the brand, etc. While traditional research methods like focus groups and surveys are instructive toward this end, the literal real-time nature of RTM requires more real-time information gathering. Listening and analytics tools help monitor audience pulse, sentiments, behaviors, and buzz as it happens and as it evolves. Are customers complaining about not getting a response? What are competitors doing? And what is happening in adjacent industries?

Equally important is the analytic capacity to mine findings and apply learnings to improve campaigns and uncover new insights. Brands must always be learning and listening for cues from the audience, industry, and pertinent cultural events.

Define RTM business goals

What goals will RTM serve, both at a program and business level? Aligning real-time with existing business goals is important because it helps contextualize and justify the program to executive decision makers and increases the likelihood for executive sponsorship as a program evolves across functions.

Integrate with content strategy

Aligning real-time marketing with content strategy is foundational to creating guidelines around what, how, and when to respond, publish, and listen. It also provides a reference point for rapid decision making around brand relevance, messaging, and strategy. Content strategy not only provides guidelines around voice, tone, POV, messaging, and brand values, but also educates those executing, whether they are brand employees or agency partners.

At an executional level, content strategy aids in the creation of more anticipatory "locked and loaded" content assets, which facilitate the appearance of real-time to customers but can be created, approved, and queued for deployment well in advance. In fact, real-time can be integrated entirely with ongoing content marketing initiatives through modular, repurposable, or even evergreen, content hubs.

Integrate with channel strategy

The "where" of RTM is as critically important to its success as content strategy. Channel strategy is dependent on many factors, including in what channels the target audience is found, the channels in which relevant conversations are occurring, and having the ability to quickly make content assets that are appropriate to the channel in question (e.g., photos, videos, text, animated GIFs, and so on). Currently, the most critical channels for RTM are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, and of course, email. Secondary, but still important, are owned channels such as the company website, YouTube and Facebook channels, mobile app, etc. Channel selection is always dependent on a variety of factors including content strategy, audience targeting, and rapidly shifting media habits.

Multinationals and even many national enterprises must also deeply consider time zone issues simultaneously with channel strategy. Having separate Facebook pages for India and the U.S., or for the Northeast and the Southwest, for examples, may be as much a component of RTM strategy as is cultural relevance -- when it's important to generate conversation, excitement, buzz, or other RTM initiatives around a local event, be it news or even local weather.

Define the "time" element and expectations

Not all organizations are prepared to operate 24/7 or to respond to customer queries with literal immediacy. The Clorox Company currently has a response goal of one hour or less as it considers ramping up to a 24/7 environment. Cisco responds to all customer interactions within two hours. The fastest-responding brand on Twitter in 2013 was Halo BCA, of the Bank of Central Asia, averaging a three-minute turnaround in more than 95 percent of customer inquiries.

"Real-time" can also span a temporal continuum of days, weeks, and even months (e.g., the BP Gulf oil spill). The temporal definition of (and imperative to respond in) "real-time" depends on context and differs by situation, organization, and business goal. Ultimately, brands must define the what "real-time" means for unique programs and channels and allow this to guide expectations for responding and publishing based on organizational capabilities.

Establish clear guard rails and trust -- before deployment

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to RTM adoption is the perceived barrier of approval processes: internal, legal, client, etc. Yet the organizations practicing RTM most successfully shrug off this concern. "We have a great relationship with legal," is a typical, dismissive response to what, for others, is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. 360i, the agency behind the Oreo tweet, recommends simplifying approval to a simple yes/no response to avoid distracting (and time wasting) discussion. Further best practices for fast clearance are having the necessary teams on deck, including access to the necessary stakeholders (corporate communications, legal, PR, etc.) for planned RTM scenarios. Other organizations have mini playbooks for employees working in real-time. Symantec poses three simple questions:

  • Am I creating unneeded risk to the brand?
  • Could this impact me or the company negatively?
  • Would I want my grandmother to read this?

Anticipate negative RTM

Opening an organization to real-time events, reactions, and interactions increases the risk of backlash. While preparedness and governance help mitigate risks, companies must actively and proactively be ready for anything. Brands can generally choose if, or to what degree, they want to chime in during social media conversations. But when negative brand events unfold in real-time, there's an imperative to respond accordingly.

One company we interviewed explained how integral its listening tools and agility were to preventing negative real-time reactions during the Boston Marathon. They had pre-loaded an infographic on emerging technologies runners find useful. Even before the news of the Boston bombing hit the media, the company detected mentions of it on Twitter and quickly pulled infographic from the queue, sidestepping what would have come across as insensitive in the face of tragedy.

Active preparation for negative RTM includes direct communication and clear guidelines around what, how, and where to respond and message, as well as a plan for action, apology, or improvement. Prepare proactively for negative RTM by monitoring social buzz with listening tools, setting alerts for suspect mentions or keywords, and staying agile.

Part two will discuss the execution of real-time marketing.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments