Major global or national events increasingly trigger their own marketing arms race. From the Superbowl to the birth of a royal baby, the Grammy Awards to the passage of gay rights legislation: no potentially momentous occasion is complete, it seems, without an army of eager brand marketers planning the perfect real-time marketing response to it.
This rhythmic test of brand strength and spontaneous creative skill has its winners and its losers, and the line between the two can be brutally clear. For every real- time marketing triumph from the likes of Arby’s, Oreo or Virgin, there are plenty that fail to make an impact– or that make entirely the wrong kind.
The lure of the big occasion
Brands are drawn to big occasions because they offer the prospect of becoming part of a moment that matters in their audience’s lives. Rigorously scheduled events enable them to plan in advance and focus their resources around a given few hours. Stripping down sign-off procedures and clearing diaries for rapid turnarounds enables them to appear responsive and dynamic, part of the experience itself. Oreo’s famous “You can still dunk in the dark” Superbowl tweet from 18 months ago remains the ideal for real-time marketing and demonstrates what this type of strategy is ultimately designed to achieve: its success was to make Oreo a natural response to an unexpected moment that the vast majority of American families were experiencing simultaneously.
Being the winning tweet on such mainstream moments can, of course, deliver jackpot returns in terms of retweets and amplified reach. However, brands that stretch too far in a bid to become involved risk appearing as the random, inappropriate guest at a party: ignored until they blurt out something embarrassing. Delta Air Lines’ tweet intended to celebrate the US team’s World Cup victory over Ghana went disastrously wrong when it chose to represent the African country with an image of a giraffe – an animal not found in Ghana. In its desperation to be a part of the big occasion, Delta managed to appear unable to differentiate one African country from another. Less damaging but of negligible impact were the wave of tweets and posts from brands joining in to mark the birth of Kate and William’s son, Prince George, but few were able to secure real stand-out for their messages.
Such missteps are potentially damaging of course. But they also represent a serious misallocation of resources and attention. By defining real-time marketing as something that happens only on a given few dates in the calendar, too many brands are focusing on occasions when they have no relevance and passing up plenty of more accessible, more appropriate opportunities.
Why real-time is becoming a requirement
Brands’ appetite for such real-time marketing is driven by the fact that more and more of life is experienced through digital media. Connected Life confirms that the average inhabitant of planet earth now spends3.8 hours online every day. Exploding ownership of multiple, and increasingly mobile, devices is encouraging digital platforms to overlap with other forms of media consumption, and all aspects of human experience. Traditional, interruptive advertising has proven spectacularly unsuccessful at integrating brands within this connected experience of the world. According to a stat released last year by Solve Media, you are more likely to summit Mount Everest thanclick on a banner ad. To cut through, brands need a way to get under the skin of the digital experience.
The reality of most real-time occasions
However, for brands to become a more consistent and meaningful part of their audience’s connected lives, they need a far more inclusive definition of what real-time marketing involves. The moments that matter to people include major TV happenings and historic events, but they also include key religious dates and festivals such as Christmas, Ramadan or Chinese New Year, and they include a wealth of everyday occasions where the involvement of a brand could be natural, intuitive and appreciated. Twitter Everyday Moments highlights just some of the numerous smaller occasions where brands have a clear and valued role to play. In the UK, the predictable rhythms of social media discussion around coffee, the weather or dinner plans provide real-time marketers with the ability to target the fabric of life at specific times of day and on specific social media channels, not just one-off events.
All too often these rich, real-time marketing opportunities are squandered because brands rely on superficial or incidental topline data to do their planning for them. On social media, rapid, automatic response is no substitute for contextual understanding.
Real-time marketing is cluttered with misfires when clumsy attempts to engage through behavioural targeting become obvious to those they seek to target. This matters because brands’ permission to engage with consumers on social, and their permission to use personal data, is becoming more fragile all the time. At first glance, the fact that 40 per cent of global consumers say that they welcome engaging with brands on social platforms reads like an open invitation to keep tweeting, posting and updating. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals a different picture. For starters, the appetite for social media engagement is hugely skewed towards emerging markets such as India, South Africa, Indonesia or Nigeria, where mobile web access predominates and social media often represents the most accessible channel for brand engagement. In developed markets such as the UK and US, where much high-profile social media marketing is directed, only around one in five people actually want to engage with brands on social, and the appetite for social media engagement varies hugely depending on the age of the audience.
How to succeed in real-time – finding the sweet spot
To succeed, marketers need to identify their relevant real-time marketing sweet spots, where a specific audience’s needs and appetites overlap with the experiences their brand is equipped to offer. They must start with a detailed understanding of the audience itself: both the devices and platforms they are using, and their appetite for social media engagement with brands. This should be intertwined with an in-depth understanding of their own brand position and equity. Research around TNS’s NeedScope framework proves that successful, irresistible brands have the ability to align their brand experience across all the touchpoints where they encounter consumers. Seeking involvement at the right moments and in the right tone of voice is the key to extending this across real-time marketing opportunities.
TNS has pioneered an understanding of Situational Equity, using mobile data collection techniques to get closer to different contexts and occasions, and reveal how the equity that brands enjoy varies between them. The Starbucks logo above a coffee kiosk enjoys far greater power in the minds of commuters during the morning rush hour than it does at lunchtime, for example, when other café brands start to see greater equity. And the same fluctuations in situational equity occur throughout consumers’ online and social media routines: the minutes spent in bed with a coffee catching up on the day’s headlines on LinkedIn before getting up; the dilemma that confronts many office workers at the end of the day when they check Facebook on their phone whilst deciding whether to head to the gym or head home; the moments spent deciding what to cook for the evening meal – or multi-screening in front of the TV whilst arguing about who is going to do the washing up.
All are real-time moments with real potential resonance, where a broad range of brands have different roles to play. By understanding social media users on an individual level (as Connected Life allows us to do), we can identify these occasions and target them appropriately. The best opportunities for real-time marketing lie in the moments when target audiences are most open and receptive, and when the brand in question has a genuine contribution to make to that particular occasion. The focus for brands should be on developing a real-time radar to identify these sweet spots.
Being rapid is no substitute for being genuinely relevant.
From pre-meditated to genuinely responsive
The brands that develop and maintain this form of real-time radar are far better equipped to respond to spontaneous real-time marketing opportunitiesas they develop – and to judge which are genuinely appropriate for them to respond to. These opportunities can be born of major news events such as the gay marriage bill that provided the basis of a memorable Virgin Facebook post featuring twin, lipstick-marked champagne glasses; but much of the most powerful and effective real-time marketing actually results from brands’ direct interaction with consumers themselves.
Memorable examples of the intersection between real-time marketing and customer service include the business-class passenger in an SAS lounge, who, after complaining on Twitter about the choice of music found the track quickly changed, and a tweet in response asking her whether she thought the new soundtrack was an improvement. Or perhaps most famously, Kit-Kat’s tweet challenging Oreo to a game of confectionary-based noughts and crosses, which sprang from a sweet-toothed consumer agonising over which snack to choose.
Brands whose real-time marketing efforts are rooted in a proper understanding of their brand’s role are able to move beyond pre-meditated executions and strike a chord through responses that develop with the situation. If this takes hours rather than seconds, then results suggest that the extra time is worth it for something that truly hits the mark. It’s one of the myths of real-time marketing that the most successful brand activity is the quickest out of the blocks; in fact, being rapid is no substitute for being genuinely relevant. Arby’s wasn’t the first tweet about the hat worn by Pharrell Williams to perform at the Grammy’s; in fact, it only made its comment an hour or so after the singer’s set. It didn’t matter, because it established a contextual relevance that no other brand could match. Brands that are genuinely committed to being a part of connected lives need to find ways to do the same.
About Connected Life
Connected Life is a leading global study of the digital attitudes and behaviours of over 55,000 internet users across 50 countries, exploring how technology is transforming the lives of consumers across the world. It offers essential insight into the impact of the growing digital ecosystem on the media landscape. Connected Life also uncovers new and exciting opportunities for marketers to connect with their consumers in this increasingly complex environment; it is a powerful tool that helps brands make better digital decisions. The fieldwork was undertaken in all markets between March and June 2014. Please visit www.tnsglobal.com/connectedlife for further information.
About the authors
Rosie Hawkins is Global Head of Brand & Communication at TNS, based in London. Throughout her career Rosie has specialised in brand and communication research in both client and agency roles. Rosie is responsible for driving and developing Brand & Communication expertise, new thinking and best practice across the TNS network and advising clients how to manage and grow their brands.
Simon Falconer, Global Product Development Director, leads mobile solutions development across the TNS offer. He is responsible for driving R&D and new product development as well as expertise and best practice across solutions design and delivery. This includes leading mobile for the TNS Brand & Communication practice and its pioneering work in advising brands on growth opportunities through an enhanced understanding of their Situational Equity.
TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and customer and employee relationships, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world.
TNS is part of Kantar, the data investment management division of WPP and one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups.
Get in touch
If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch with Atle Følgesvold or via Twitter @TNSGallupNorway