Four strategies for using real-time marketing to increase your brand relevance and competitive advantage.
This article was co-written with former BI student Amalie Skrent, who is currently studying for a MSc in Strategic Marketing at Imperial College Business School in London, UK.
Real-time marketing (RTM) is a marketing strategy based on brands creating material and responding to world events, hot topics, and trends in real time.
RTM is an attractive strategy on social media, where companies can both build their brand and engage in “real-time moment” conversations with their customers.
Still, a lot of companies consider RTM a risky proposition, fearing customers may label their efforts as tone deaf, phony or contrived. However, with the right strategy, there is great potential for success.
Two low-risk and two high-risk strategies
In general, real-time marketing can be organized into four main strategies, that differ in terms of the risk they entail and the differentiation opportunities they provide.
Organizations that are new to real-time marketing or has a small social media team should consider low-risk options. Conversely, experienced companies with larger social media teams can safely engage in high-risk strategies.
These four strategies include:
1) Planned RTM content (low-risk)
This tactic applies to events that are known to occur, such as when Coca-Cola launched their “family-of-four” campaign after the birth of Prince William and Kate’s second child.
However, the potential for differentiation is low as several brands might create content on the basis of the same event. Further, this type of content does not evoke a great deal of excitement on social media unless there is a natural link between the brand and the event.
Indeed, Coca-Cola’s campaign was met with little excitement, presumably because consumers perceived the link between the two as force-fit rather than natural.
2) Everyday RTM content (low-risk)
Companies can also link their brand to everyday, spontaneous micro-trends that are in consumers’ consciousness for a short period of time.
A few years ago, the detergent brand Tide created a post to join the discussion around the viral question “What color is the dress?”. By connecting the brand to an everyday event, Tide triggered a great deal of interest from customers.
The large number of micro-trends makes it easier for companies to select the trend that best suits their brand and less likely that competitors will utilize the same trend, thereby increasing the brand’s potential for differentiation.
3) Watchlist RTM content (high-risk)
This strategy involves preparing for potential outcomes of an event, by keeping track of upcoming events that may be of high relevance to their brand and creating different content based on them. NASA, for example, did this with great success when the film Gravity won the Oscar in 2014.
The watchlist tactic is risky, as it requires an attuned social media team that prepares for multiple possible outcomes, including the possibility that no known outcome will take place.
Yet, when it is done right, as in NASA’s case, it can elicit a great deal of interest. However, as the event is known, multiple organizations may prepare for the same outcome, thereby reducing the level of differentiation opportunities associated with this strategy.
4) Opportunistic RTM content (high-risk)
The greatest potential for gain can be said to lie in opportunistic content, content that “forges while the iron is hot”. While risky, this strategy entails the biggest rewards in terms of differentiation.
One example happened when Oreo took advantage of a 30-minute power outage during the 2013 edition of the Super Bowl, by directly speaking to viewers who spent the blackout scrolling on their phones. During the next 24 hours, the stunt received tens of thousands of retweets and likes across the biggest social media platforms.
For opportunistic RTM to be successful, you need a social media team that are able to think “on the spot” and immediately respond to unforeseen factors that arise during live events.
Kerns, C. (2014). Trendology: Building an advantage through data-driven real-time marketing. Springer.
Mazerant, K., Willemsen, L. M., Neijens, P. C., & van Noort, G. (2021). Spot-On Creativity: Creativity Biases and Their Differential Effects on Consumer Responses in (Non-) Real-Time Marketing. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 53, 15-31.
Willemsen, L. M., Mazerant, K., Kamphuis, A.-L., & Van der Veen, G. (2018).Let's get real (time)! The Potential of Real-Time Marketing to Catalyze theSharing of Brand Messages. International Journal of Advertising, 37(5),828–848.