Real Time Marketing: Are You Ready?

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We live in a real-time world. Real-time marketing continues to explode. Consider the Ellen selfie tweet from last year’s Oscars, one of the most viewed selfies ever. It was an extraordinary product placement – engineered through Samsung – retweeted 3.3 million times and favorited 2 million times within hours. Some people cite this as the tipping point when every consumer-facing brand and company realized that communicating in real-time is now table stakes. New technology has both created this expectation and enabled this communication.

Social data is giving us greater insights. While marketers have historically used past performance to determine future actions, real-time data is now driving smart, real-time marketing decisions. These new tools and new approach allow brands to successfully deploy optimized content, pinpoint media buys and adapt campaign strategies on the fly. It’s no longer enough for companies to be aware of what is trending today and reacting to it tomorrow; it’s crucial to understand tomorrow’s conversations today so they can make the proactive decisions necessary to be relevant to their stakeholders.

Already we can accurately chart the course of social media conversations and predict which will grow and which will fall off significantly. Now, by combining demographic, behavioral, social, and consumer insights information, we can develop predictive causal models that directly drive business results. These results can include brand trust, affinity and engagement, as well as sales conversion and repeat purchase.

But making unstructured social data immediately actionable is no easy task. From data acquisition to systems design to the people, processes and behaviors that need to be aligned to yield results, it’s a challenging and brave new analytics-driven marketing world. Marketers must begin to integrate real-time and even predictive insights into the business. They align the people, processes, and systems to create an operating model that is efficient and adaptive…one that is able to work at the speed of the customer, versus the speed of the company. But how do they do this? In other words, how do you create a data-driven, adaptive operation?

Setting the Foundation for Results
Creating an agile, adaptive marketing function requires a new way of working for most organizations. It embraces speed and change at its core, and demands that people, objectives, KPIs, processes, and systems are aligned. The key principal of “trying and learning” in real-time is embedded in this mandate. Yet, this new way of working can cause angst in traditional, risk-adverse, and often-siloed organizations. In an adaptive marketing organization, all stakeholders collaborate in real-time to make the most of every decision. A cross-functional team of internal departments and external vendor partners – anyone who has a stake in the outcome – has a voice in every decision made. Because you get the behaviors you measure and reward, the move to an adaptive organization also forces alignment of metrics and KPIs. Otherwise, groups may inadvertently work at cross-purposes, impeding the precision of decisions and the speed of execution.

For example, we recently worked with a company that had one team responsible for the website, measured by visits, and another responsible for a promotion, measured by sample requests. The promotion team wasn’t meeting their metrics for a very simple reason: their page was buried a few layers into the site. Both teams were pushing people to the site, but their efforts were fragmented. The easy and successful fix was to put the request for sample product on the home page. Home page traffic and sample requests both increased. In building your team, it’s mission-critical to have those functions with veto power – often Legal and Finance – either at the decision-making table or aligned in advance via covenants or service-level agreements. By setting up these approaches in advance, the team can seize every opportunity.

Building Your Successful Approach
To build-out a data-driven approach, you need technology partners, whether internal or external. You need to acquire the right datasets, organize them in the right way and make certain that they’re giving you the right information. Often, these datasets are divided into two groups: those that provide knowledge and insights, and those that provide the ability make the insights actionable. Selecting the datasets and technologies is essential to achieving your ROI, so be choosy – understand your overall objectives first and then find the datasets and technologies that specifically support your goals. After securing the datasets, you need to foster a culture of cross-functional collaboration. To achieve this, it’s ideal to organize all marketing processes into a specific physical location, or command center. Kimberly Clark, American Express, Intel Asia are a few examples of companies that have invested in physical command center environments to effectively drive real-time brand marketing through data-driven decisions and agile processes.

These command centers provide a valuable forum for cross-functional teams and vendor partners to collaborate. Indeed, putting everyone’s eyes on the same data fosters diverse opinions that lead to better/faster/more targeted decisions. Empowered with the ability to act, and armed with the right information, the team is best positioned to “try and learn” in real-time. It is also important to meet regularly. Doing so creates the team’s “muscle memory” and sets the pace and the cadence for decision-making and execution. This collaborative process becomes more critical with large organizations operating globally. If a single physical location is not possible, then look to implement web and video conferencing.

Adapting to Adaptive
Building an effective, adaptive real-time marketing organization doesn’t just happen when you purchase the tools and designate the command center. It takes leadership. It also takes a committed team to own the process, and it takes some patience, as it can take a while to work the kinks out as you continue “trying and learning.” Many organizations talk about cross-functional alignment and collaboration, but in our experience working closely with these teams to deliver results, they rarely have it. They particularly struggle to deliver content and engagement at the speed of the customer; making their three-day or week-late content irrelevant. For adaptive marketing to succeed, there are three major areas of focus: culture, competitors and performance.

For companies and brands to engage with their customers in a way that creates affinity, it is critical to become part of conversations that are relevant to these customers. This requires monitoring culture – especially pop culture – to inform and shape the appropriate response, whether that is creating content, programmatic buying, or even engaging directly to advance the brand’s perspective. For example, Mercedes uses our Blab software tool to identify and successfully engage in escalating social conversations around two of their brand territories – technology and fashion.

The second area is competition. Monitor for any unusual happenings, programs, announcements, or other news about competitors. With this information, the command center team can quickly react to keep its brand front and center. Plus, it’s never been easier to get great data on competitors, providing a greater understanding of market dynamics and, perhaps, introducing new ideas.

And the third focus area is program performance. We talked earlier about the importance of metrics and KPIs. To ensure we meet our targets, we must know how our programs are performing. With this information, we can truly be adaptive – shifting, modifying, enhancing and even scrapping based on the real-time inputs we are receiving and the collective team’s wisdom.

Real Time for the Long Term
As Forrester Research stated in April 2014, “Push Marketing is dead … Use scalable, affordable big data machine learning technologies to get prediction insights with compressed ‘time to insights’. Then change the ‘how’ and ‘when’ you apply insights.”

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