The Biggest Lesson of Real-Time Marketing

If there’s one constant with marketers, it’s that we love to name things. Why talk about integrating your marketing with high-profile events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics when you could coin a new phrase such as “real-time marketing”?

While a real-time marketing purist might tell you that there’s more to it than that, the lines are blurred at best. The easiest way to define real-time marketing is to point to one of the best examples of it.

Last year during the surprise blackout at Super Bowl XLVII, Oreo turned many heads online and off with their clever social graphic featuring their signature cookie – in the dark, of course — along with the copy “You can still dunk in the dark.” This image was then shared across all of their social networks. Within one hour, this relevant and playful message was retweeted 10,000 times.

The real time aspect comes from the fact that, as reported by AdAge, this social graphic was “designed, captioned and approved within minutes,” thanks to members of Oreo’s agency, 360i. This improvised bit of content launched the movement we now call real-time marketing. Beyond simply embracing digital tools like Facebook and Twitter, we now have to be ready to engage with witty commentary aligned with what our audience is focusing on at the drop of a hat.

The Problem with Real-Time Marketing

What’s the big deal? Shouldn’t we be pushing to make relevant content based on what our audience is watching?

The problem with real-time marketing comes when brands focus on parroting this very specific tactic as opposed to finding ways to develop a team where this kind of work can be produced.

While the Oreo example is a good story, it also created a series of copycats as brands set out to make their own “Oreo moment” for the Oscars and Olympics, treating real-time marketing like another buzzword to cross-off on an arbitrary checklist. Instead, we need to focus on what makes this type of content successful. It was real-time content, that sparked conversations online, and created a larger sense of community around their brand.

The payoff can be big. However, as a marketer, you need to make sure you’re focusing on the steak, rather than just the social sizzle.

What You Should Focus on Instead

The real opportunity is something very different. Instead of being a piece of content you create, real-time marketing should be something organizational that you practice. 

If you focus only on the beautiful ad creative with case studies like Oreo — which is amazing, don’t get me wrong — you miss the bigger takeaway. The graphic itself was a powerful example of improvisation, teamwork, and culture.

We spend so much time worrying about what can go wrong with social media and digital marketing that we miss ensuring that we are creating an environment where great marketing can thrive. Is your team empowered to respond in the moment? Is your leadership standing by to approve something fun your agency might create for a real-time response?

Real-time marketing isn’t another thing you need to add to your checklist. It’s a way you go about working through that list. It’s not only the systems you put in place, it’s also highly dependent on the trust and culture you establish.

And, yes, it does involve working faster than ever before. “Forget real-time marketing,” said Joseph Jaffe, author of Z.E.R.O. and Flip the Funnel, who blogs at Jaffe Juice, during his talk at SXSW 2014. “Just move faster.” It’s true. We do need to move faster. This is not accomplished by merely cranking up the pace. It comes from improving process, removing roadblocks, and empowering your team.

Can real-time marketing have an impact on your brand? When done right, it provides highly relevant content leading to engaging conversations among your community. But this can only happen if you remember that real-time marketing is a discipline you develop, not just a deliverable you create.

Photo via Flickr user Tyler M.