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03/04/2013 Real Time Marketing is Not Just An Extension of Paid Media

 In the last month, the marketing world was abuzz about two huge media events: The Super Bowl and the Oscars. These two evenings represent an aberration in our constantly splintered media world. They command huge TV viewing audiences and thus extremely expensive ad costs.

Yet the marketing news coming out of these events reflected primarily what was happening on social media. It left us with a new buzz phrase “Real Time Marketing.” The prime example everyone pointed to was Oreo’s quick social media response to the Super Bowl blackout. After the Oscars, the pundits expressed disappointment that none of the brands were able to replicate Oreo’s success. 

Real Time Marketing has come to mean the ability for a brand to react quickly, immediately, to respond to events as they happen. It’s a very powerful concept, one that places a premium on listening and empathy. In order to do this, brands need to set up listening structures and response mechanism. They need to be able to work across silos. Those are tall orders for most marketing departments and their agencies.

One of the best examples of real time marketing I’ve seen is how REI responded to someone looking for a gift. To me, this shows a clear strategy of what to listen for and how to use social media to help solve someone’s problem. At its best real time marketing grows the business in a measurable way, through sales or increased customer service.

The Super Bowl and Oscars take another approach to real time marketing. In those two instances (and others) the real and perhaps only aim is to extend and enhance a brand's paid media, i.e. their TV ad. That may not be a bad strategy, since brands are paying through the nose to air those ads. It makes sense that they would want to recoup or maximize those costs in any way possible.

And the only way possible is to provide even more entertainment (called content) to provoke a response that’s almost solely dependent on the whims of the crowd or the pundits. They measure success not on business results but on much looser metrics such as impressions, retweets and media articles.

If this doesn’t sound like social business, it’s because it’s not.

Since this real time marketing content doesn’t always impress us, we see a lot of talk about the structure behind this response. Brands set up social media control centers to monitor events and respond quickly during these two huge media events. Maybe that’s good. But in some sense it’s a short cut or even bastardization of how other brands have set up ongoing structures to manage their social media strategy all the time, not only when the brand buys TV spots.

Brands like Gatorade and Dell pioneered this social media control center several years ago. The best brands are using real time marketing to provide utility and problem solving, not just for providing entertainment. Real time marketing can be the cornerstone of a real social business.

One of the best examples of social business is American Express. It primarily uses social media for two reasons. It uses it to respond to customer issues. And it uses it to grow its business, through innovative social promotions such as Small Business Saturday (in conjunction with Foursquare) and it’s current promoted Twitter Offers campaign. For American Express, real time marketing has clear, tangible results.

Many of the brands advertising during the Super Bowl and Oscars have a much harder time providing utility or making their business social. How does a cookie provide utility? How could you build a social business around bologna? Instead those brands are left with producing entertainment.

Most don’t do that very well. The one that did, Oreo’s did so because they had practiced it the year before through its Daily Twist campaign. Other TV advertisers take note: It’s not enough to show up a few times a year and think that you’ll succeed.

Real time marketing has huge potential for brands that use it well to build a social business. I’d hate to see the meaning of it solely focused on extending TV advertisements. If so, I think we all best lower our expectations of the promise of social media.


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