Real-Time Marketing? Ha.

There’s a lot floating around the Internet (or the digital water cooler, whatever you want to call it) about how technology is changing marketing. As marketers, these conversations go, we’ll soon be able to personalize the entire digital brand experience in real-time; using big data, they add, we’ll give prospects and customers an experience that is tailored just for them.

And for the most part, these conversations hold a modicum of truth. Digital technologies really have revolutionized marketing. They have enabled a more frictionless, cost-effective bi-directional flow between audience and brand. And those same technologies are also carrying us down a raging river towards the waterfall: real-time marketing.

Call it the marketing Holy Grail: the ability to personalize, in real-time, a digital brand experience. Using aggregated and personal data, these marketing technologies will be able to customize how the audience engages with the brand…as they are engaging with it. Websites navigation changes based on what’s clicked. Video players load content based on behavior. The entire digital experience of a website, for example, can morph in color, shape, operation, and most importantly content, depending upon what the data tells us about the specific user. Think Minority Report.

But we aren’t there yet. Sure, we’re getting closer but we are still a ways off technologically. Only my point in writing this piece isn’t to tell you that we aren’t there yet, it’s to tell you that we might never get there because real-time marketing isn’t just about the technology required to personalize digital brand experiences on-the-fly. Real-time marketing is also about how the businesses operate in an age that is increasingly becoming “real-time.”

Let me say that more generally. Marketing isn’t just about technology. It’s also about the processes by which we use technology to accomplish marketing.

How many of you have heard this story? Marketer A wants to publish Tweet X. But Tweet X must be vetted with Manager B, Upper-Manager C, and Content Committee D. Three weeks later, Tweet X is scheduled to go. Of course, there are outliers to this, organizations that understand the need to respond to market opportunities much faster. Remember what Oreo Tweeted when the lights went out during the 2013 Superbowl? “You can still dunk in the dark.” Had Oreo practiced a more restrictive process (like I just outlined), that explosive super-viral tweet may have never seen the light of day (pun intended).

Only don’t think this is all about social media. In the new age of real-time marketing, prospects and customers will need all sorts of content. Whitepapers. Briefs. Summaries. Webpages. Tweets. Status posts. Instapictures. And more. They will need content at a moment’s notice. And in order for real-time marketing to work, content creation cannot be encumbered by processes that do not operate in real-time. And let’s face it, despite the outliers of my have-you-heard-this-before-story like Oreo, it’s more the norm than the exception. Most of the internal, manual processes that power businesses today aren’t designed with “real-time” in mind. They are designed to protect rather than enable.

How can real-time marketing ever happen, despite the technology being available, when the businesses employing that technology can’t publish content in real-time?

That, of course, is why there’s been a big push to make content creation within the enterprise more like news rooms. Why? Because news rooms operate with a “real-time” mentality. When it comes to getting digital content to their audience, news organizations have to publish the content as quickly as the news actually happens. But what happens when you combine the real-time nature of a news-room with the brand-protection-focused processes of an enterprise? True real-time gets killed in favor of ensuring that nothing is published which might damage the brand. Only that’s exactly where we need to be. As news organizations have discovered, they can’t please everyone. There will always be dissenters, naysayers, curmudgeons, and people who will find a reason to hate what’s been published. Operating in real-time simply means ignoring them and moving on.

Real-time marketing is on the horizon. Digital technologies will certainly bring us there in the foreseeable future. The problem is that although we are getting closer to the possibility of personalizing the digital brand experience in real-time, we are miles away from a business ability to capitalize on it.

What are you doing to make your business more real-time?

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. In this role he helps direct Limelight’s corporate messaging and positioning, develops whitepapers and e-books, blogs, and evangelizes the Limelight solution offering to audiences around the world. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine Honors Program and a M.A. in English, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Jason is the co-author of the marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share (Wiley), the middle-reader chapter series Marmalade (Dime Novel Books), and rethinkeverythingblog.com. He is an inventor on a number of technical patents with Limelight Networks. Follow him on twitter @_jasonthibeault.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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