Every movement begins with a moment.

The Realities of Real Time

Posted 10 January 2014 9:30 PM by Teresa Caro

When thinking about real-time marketing, visions of AMC, Tide and Oreo may spring to mind — examples of brands that garnered or generated publicity in near synchronicity with a real world event. Yet in Altimeter’s latest research report, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage “Now” by Rebecca Lieb and Jessica Groopman, it is argued that real-time marketing (RTM) is much more than that. In fact, what looks like a brand scrambling to respond to an event is just like every other form of advertising: strategic, measured and practiced.

In their report, Lieb and Groopman define RTM as “the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels to external events and triggers.” On the surface, their definition tells us what we already know: RTM requires planning up front to ensure the ability to respond (seemingly) off the cuff to an event as it happens. Yet as we read the researchers’ findings, we discover that the word “immediacy” is relative. When applied to day-to-day marketing, advertising and customer service, the response doesn’t have to be at the very moment an event occurs. Indeed, the range varies based on the need to react versus the ability to be proactive. It also differs depending on how planned or unplanned an event or activity may be. 

In the report, Altimeter identifies six use cases that fall into two sectors of RTM: 1) Reactive and Proactive and 2) Planned and Unplanned.

Altimeter believes brands “maintain the most control and can expect the best results from RTM when their efforts fall in the planned/proactive sector of the RTM quadrant.” It’s true that the realities of business play out in all four quadrants; however, for those times when a brand needs to react to an unplanned event, with proper planning and practice, it can do so nearly flawlessly and with great results.

As you review Altimeter’s research and learn more about the RTM quadrant, we recommend considering the following questions: 

How experienced is your brand in the social space? 

Placement of the use cases in the RTM quadrant can be debated based on how much experience a brand has engaging with consumers. Every company is different — has different types of legal regulations, different approval processes, different levels of trust in their agencies and employees, etc. The amount of preplanning required is ultimately determined by what it takes to ensure a brand feels comfortable navigating the real-time space. Companies new to this approach will need more in-depth preplanning than those who have done it for a while. Taking it a step further, some brands may even start in reactive/unplanned and then, with practice, move more toward proactive/planned.

What other use cases should you consider?

  • Scheduled content – From a community management perspective, this is the content created in advance, approved by brand managers (and others) and posted at scheduled times throughout the month. Generally high up on planned/proactive, it is related to RTM because it tends to trigger consumer interactions.
  • Trending topics/culture/memes – This involves putting a brand’s spin on existing cultural assets that are already trending and relevant. To effectively plan and execute this approach, brands must understand what idea they want to own in the mind of the consumer.
  • Actively joining relevant conversations – Add in a few keywords, plan your storyline(s) and then set your community manager loose to look for opportunities to engage.

How can you be more prepared? 

Customer Interaction and Breaking News don’t have to be so deep in the reactive/unplanned quadrant. Crisis communications plans, such as this one presented by our own Rene Smith, as well as response matrixes and brand character/persona documents, can help marketers plan ahead and respond with confidence when RTM opportunities arise. As is usually the case, the more detailed the documents, the better. 

What can we all agree on?

To be most effective, RTM requires practice, practice and more practice. Both the client and agency need to have a certain amount of trust in your social media marketing team. (For suggestions on how to get started, see Altimeter’s 12 Steps to Prepare for RTM.)

Finally, be true to yourself and your brand. As many marketers discovered during the royal birth, being first is interesting and exciting. Anyone who follows has to be brand-relevant and stand out from the quickly growing crowd. And if you’re really lucky, you work for a brand so innovative and ingenious that you don’t just follow RTM, you create it.

Teresa Caro, SVP Social and Content Marketing
Danielle Donnelly, Director of Social





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