2nd February 2015

On the Lookout for Real-Time Marketing

The communications industry never stands still. The media changes all the time, as does the way consumers interact with it. That’s precisely why my colleagues and I, as communications experts, constantly keep our eagle eyes open, on the lookout for the hottest new trends in marketing and communications. It’s crucial we do so to understand just what impact they will have on the industry and the businesses we work with.

From our most recent researches it’s clear that technology is going to continue to play a major role in the way marketing campaigns are carried out in 2015, further strengthening the position of digital PR as a must-have for communications campaigns. But for me, one digital trend really stood out as having major implications for businesses looking to interact with their customers effectively: real-time marketing.

But what is it, and how can savvy brands take advantage?

For those who don’t know, real-time marketing is, quite simply, “on-the-fly” activity to capitalise on up-to-date events, rather than carrying out an advance plan to a fixed schedule. The goal, of course, is to connect consumers with the product or service they need right now, in the moment. This has been made possible by the internet and the explosion of mobile technology, allowing news to reach the public as soon as it breaks, and enabling brands to reach out to target consumers almost instantly.

Carried out quickly and targeted at the right audience, this method can be highly successful, bringing the brand to the forefront of consumers’ minds and helping to secure all-important sales. Back in September, for example, Samsung lampooned the launch of Apple’s new larger mobile handset, the iPhone 6. Referring to its rival’s u-turn on making big phones, the brand tweeted “guess who surprised themselves and changed their minds” with the hashtag #Morethanbig. The post highlighted the fact that a bigger phone was not an innovation, but something Samsung has been doing for years with its Galaxy Note 4, and resulted in more than 1,400 retweets and a number of wry comments in the media.

This isn’t the first time Samsung has pointed out the foibles of its big rival though. The tweet is part of the manufacturer’s on-going multi-channel It Doesn’t Take a Genius campaign, which playfully mocks Apple and the messianic tone of its marketing collateral, as well as poking fun at iPhone users. While it can be a risky strategy to define your brand as simply the opposition to the competition, it has really paid off for Samsung, taking the wind out of Apple’s marketing drive for its latest products and turning consumers’ attention back on Samsung’s products.

The American Red Cross is another brand that gets real-time marketing spot on. Through its Twitter account and other digital channels, it responds to humanitarian crises as they develop, offering information to victims and their families, as well as marshalling public support. A single tweet appealing for aid after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example, raised some $33 million from the American public, money that went directly to boost disaster relief in the stricken country.

The charity is also quick at responding to its own crises, and witty too. In 2011, when a member of staff accidentally posted a message about getting drunk on the American Red Cross Twitter account, the organisation responded straightaway with the post: “rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”, helping to turn a potentially alarming media situation into an amusing minor anecdote.

However, if they aren’t not done properly, such campaigns can have the potential to backfire, as website Made.com found out. Anticipating a Yes vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, it had a celebratory mailer announcing its launch in the “new country” of Scotland the day after the vote. The email went out despite the poll returning a No, prompting ridicule of the brand on social media.

Pet food brand Purina Petcentric also got it wrong during the 2013 Oscars with its attempt at a witty tweet. Uninspiring copy, poor photoshop design and a dodgy pun on an Oscar winner’s name to force some relevance all added up to a marketing fail. The post received just one retweet, and considerable opprobrium from digital commentators.

From these examples it’s clear that there are a few things to bear in mind when planning your real-time marketing campaign to ensure it’s a success. It needs to be naturally relevant to the news item, not forced, and well-timed as well as timely. Above all though, it must be well-written and well-designed, in order for it to grab consumers’ attention.

Real-time marketing as a phenomenon looks set to blossom this year, thanks to the on-going strength of smartphones and the burgeoning use of smartwear, and many in the PR industry are already implementing these off-the-cuff campaigns in clients’ communications activity, keen for the same success as Samsung. Hopefully, we’ll see more positive real-time marketing wins in 2015.

By Michael Wood, senior B2B copy writer