Real-Time Marketing Do’s and Don’ts: 7 Tips for Success

All-night command centers churning out crackers dressed in evening gowns. Errant tweets offering scone recipes in response to tragedy. Is this the promise of real-time marketing?

Certainly, the rush to real-time is driving innovative disruption—in agency-client relationships, process, creative development, and costs. But more and more brand executives are awakening the next morning with a real-time marketing hangover—foggy, unsure of what one was doing, and, sometimes, full of regret. One can’t help but ask: “Is real-time marketing worth the effort?”

The answer is a qualified ‘yes.’

 With a few key do’s and don’ts, marketers can unlock the appeal of real-time response, reap the benefits of disruptive change and avoid falling prey to the common pitfalls of social marketing.

The promise

For most brands, real-time marketing’s promise is limited to achieving “witty friend” status—the guy everyone invites to the party because he knows how to toss a little bit of fairy dust over a banal experience and transform it into something lively and fun. He surprises us in ways that make us see things differently. He injects life into something that’s dragging. He’s welcome. He’s likable. But more than anything, he has a keen sense of social-savvy and smart timing.

Entering the cocktail party: social-savvy and smart timing, not heedless speed

Much like the witty friend, in the world of real-time marketing, socially savvy timing is critical to success. But “timing” does not equal “speed.” Where speed is fast and indiscriminate, timing is patient and discriminating. Timing is prepared to act quickly, but thoughtful enough to wait until the right moment is identified—not reacting just because you can, but because it makes sense. Social savvy, whether at a cocktail party or in social media, requires a basic understanding of intrinsic social graces, with listening and restraint at the helm. Yet sadly these elements are often the first to be discarded as brands rush breathlessly to try to manufacture their own Oreo’s Superbowl moment (more on that later).

 So before you flip the switch on your real-time command center and jump head-long into the social media cocktail party, here are a few things marketers should consider to get socially savvy timing right:

 Timing Tip #1: Be witty, not awkward

-Don’t be self-involved. Finding ways to inject self-promotional speak into conversations other people are having is not conversing. It’s crashing a party you were never invited to.

-Do practice engaged listening. Identify in advance what cues align to your brand—whether thematic, linguistic, or behavioral—then listen intently for these natural ‘openings’ into the conversation.

Timing Tip #2: Don’t force it

-As in real life, don’t act desperate. Don’t force a connection to an event where there isn’t one simply because it’s popular.

-Do seek the right kind of attention. By aligning with events that are specifically relevant to your target audiences, and providing value–not gimmicks–that enhance their experience in real-time, you will earn the right kind of attention.

Timing Tip #3: Think before you speak

-Don’t ever exploit the tragic or controversial. Brands should know better than to seize such events as a real-time marketing opportunity, but recent marketing debacles (such as’s now infamous Boston bombing tweets) suggest some brands still haven’t learned this lesson.

Don’t miss the cream for the cookies: the secrets to Oreo’s Superbowl moment

In the burgeoning world of real-time marketing, no brand is mentioned more often than Oreo. While it has continued the drumbeat of creative real-time executions and still sets the standard for many CPG brands, none of their subsequent real-time efforts has yet eclipsed the impact of their Superbowl blackout moment. Copycats abound, but few have been able to break down the unique recipe of ingredients behind the success of that moment.

So what made Oreo so special? What made Oreo the witty friend instead of the one-joke punster of copycat brands? In a word: tension.

The Superbowl blackout was an anomaly no one had experienced before; it was unexplained. It provoked anxiety. Tension mounted. And Oreo broke the ice.  Like the witty friend dropping a well-timed joke into a crowd of individuals meeting each other for the first time, tension dissipated into a moment of delight. Here was the true promise of real-time marketing: creating a strong emotional response in an instant—at a price much lower than traditional advertising. And, in an instant, the industry was disrupted.

Disrupt your own approach to real-time marketing with a few of these Oreo-inspired do’s and don’ts:

Tip #4: Ease moments of tension

-Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on external events, waiting for the next ‘Superbowl blackout’ means overlooking a wealth of other opportunities.

-Do start simply, by taking a fresh look at your customer experience—offline and online. Where are there ‘moments of tension’—areas in the user experience where things break down, are needlessly difficult, or don’t deliver as promised? These are the moments where you can cause delight and relief by providing an unanticipated instant fix or a customized real-time response.

Tip #5: Find your creamy center

-Do know your audience and what they care about most before undertaking any real-time marketing. With this understanding, you can then focus your attention on the elements of an event that you know your target audience will be paying attention to.

-Do know where your brand is most credible in the discussion; then engineer a logical path from your customers’ interest areas to your brand. Where the two interests meet is your real-time sweet spot.

Tip #6: Remember why you’re there

-Don’t lose sight of your business objectives. Oreo did not innovate to be cute, but to drive sales. In a moment-driven economy, where brands now flaunt ‘open relationships,’ real-time marketing is the Snapchat of the brand world, ephemeral and one-off in nature. In this context, the lasting emotional impact necessary to achieve loyalty may not be achievable through liking alone. And emotional impact—the kind that drives purchase intent—is precisely that objective every advertiser chases and few are able to obtain.

Bringing Oreos to a cocktail party: Don’t get caught up in appearances

Bringing cookies when everyone else is drinking cocktails may seem unsexy or unsophisticated. But guess what? People like cookies. And when they’ve had a few cocktails, they’re more than happy to have a few cookies. The same goes for real-time marketing: don’t get distracted with trying to be trendy or trying to impress the wrong people (i.e. other marketers). Instead, focus on what matters and what’s real: your customers.

Avoid over-thinking and over-complicating with this simple strategy:

Tip #7: Focus on the tangible to achieve the intangible

  • Don’t focus on being likeable if you want to achieve the emotional impact that drives business results. Likeability is difficult to measure and is a subtle art to achieve. Most importantly, the best way to attain it is to not focus on achieving it at all.
  • Do focus your real-time marketing instead on delivering tangible benefits—whether it’s providing creative inspiration, surprising product hacks, free expert guidance, or a tool to help in a crisis. Practical utility delivered in real-time provides instant value—the currency necessary to forge 21st century customer relationships.

In the end, the promise and disruption of real-time marketing will likely continue to evolve along with platforms, digital behaviors, and consumer expectations. But underneath the real-time jargon are social interactions. The grace, timing, wit and savvy that they require have remained largely unchanged. To keep getting invited to the real-time party, all it takes is some cleverness, some creativity, and—sometimes—even a few cookies.

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