Sunday, February 2, 2014

Marketing in Real-Time vs. Reasonable Time

“Today, your marketing MUST respond in REAL-TIME.”

I keep hearing and reading several variations of statements like this, but does it really make sense?

I know it sounds really cool.  It sort of reminds me of Just-in-Time (JIT) shipments that many manufacturing plants are doing, but like JIT shipments, real-time marketing does not always make sense.

(NOTE: If you prefer to ONLY read about marketing, you can skip this coming section.)

The Wisdom of JIT Shipments

This is mostly a marketing post, but let’s make a few points about the wisdom of JIT.

JIT is really great, because it allows companies to save money in several ways.  They don’t need as much warehouse space, because they are receiving and sending everything “Just-in-Time.”  They don’t need to tie up as much money in inventory, since they are making only enough product (spending just enough money) to satisfy the immediate orders, as they’re needed.

BUT…There’s a problem with this!

JIT is PERFECT when everything runs perfectly.  How often can we expect things to be perfect?  How long can we expect “perfection” to rule the day with humans running the show?

Once there is a hiccup in the system, the whole system tumbles.

“We would have shipped you that order, but our supplier didn’t get us the raw material we needed in time.  Their supplier had an employee sabotage a machine, and it took them a while to fix it.”

Do you really think that’s far-fetched?  Not nearly as far-fetched as depending upon a plan for something like that to NEVER happen.  It’s not reasonable, nor is it very smart.

Key Point: JIT is perfect only in situations where perfection is likely.  (and with humans involved…)

The Wisdom of Real-Time Marketing

Real-time marketing is really an awesome phenomenon!  In earlier days, we depended upon newspapers to deliver us “current news” within a day or two of when it actually happened.

TV and radio sped up that cycle to possibly hours, if not less.

Today, social media allows us to get and share news ourselves, and we can do this at the simple push of a button.  The technology is awesome, and the world before us has never seen anything like it.  It’s a pretty awesome!

There is nothing wrong with this, except a few things…

As our news cycles became shorter, we started lowering our standards as to what was “newsworthy.”

In the days of newspapers, a scheduled presidential campaign made the news.

In the days of radio and TV, sound bites from presidential candidates made the news circuit.

In today’s day of social media, pictures of the president putting a fork to his mouth as he’s eating at a restaurant makes the news circuit.

We’ll all too interested in entirely too many things.

As marketers, we need to be where people are going, and they’re definitely going there.

However, as much as people are interested in each of these news bits, how much of these will they remember tomorrow?

As marketers, so many of us keep assuming that our customers have perfect attention spans and perfect memory, but what are they really remembering?

Real-time marketing feels good, because customers are paying attention to us within that moment, but are they really going to remember us…or the message we really want them to remember?

Our customers aren’t perfect, and marketing messages depending upon reaching them at the “perfect time” is far from a perfect marketing plan.

Key Point: Our job as marketers is to remain in our target customer’s minds, not just get there.

Just as importantly, real-time marketing isn’t always realistic.  We can’t be everywhere all of the time.

Does Real-Time Marketing Really Matter?

Despite what I’ve written so far, there are times when real-time marketing matters.

The real question isn’t, “Does real-time marketing really matter?”

However, one real question IS, “WHEN does real-time marketing matter?”

When Does Real-Time Marketing Really Matter?

From where I sit, here are times I see when real-time marketing makes a BIG difference:

If the Customer pays for it.
If the customer pays you to represent and provide real-time marketing on its behalf, you HAVE to do it.  You are a fraud any other way…ONLY IF they customer specifically pays for it.

Emergency Situations
If there is a fire in a school building, parents should probably know this as quickly as possible.  We don’t want this type of news a day later…or even hours later.  We want THAT news NOW!

The same applies to another country providing an attack on our borders, especially if we live on that border they’re attacking.

If we need to take immediate action based on that news, we need THAT news in real-time!

Publicly Made Customer Complaints
Now that social media allows people to have the power of publishing their own material with their own following, companies—especially large, well-known companies—need to be on the lookout for any random customer who complains on Twitter or Facebook.  Those types of complaints can be shared really quickly, and you probably don’t want a complaint—fair or not—to spread without you having some chance to defend yourself.

Bad news spreads quickly, and too many people with bad attitudes love spreading news.  Even people with better attitudes enjoy sharing “helpful info” to their friends.

Real-time marketing helps companies detect this and acknowledge it immediately, if not clear up things.  More likely, the smart companies will invite people to contact them directly—and privately.

This is real-time marketing in the forms of customer service and public relations damage control.

Take Advantage of an In-the-Moment Trend
This, by far, is my weakest area personally.  So I’m definitely writing from a theoretical perspective here—not from experience.  However, I’ve read where people were watching a popular ceremony, like an awards show or competition, and someone likened something or someone on the show to a specific company brand.  More than once, that brand has been able to “play along” with the other people online sharing what they saw on that show.

It did a great job humanizing the brand.  I know that I’d be a lot more likely to pay attention to things that company was doing, and I’d become a lot more receptive to advertisements they send in my direction.

When a company not only acknowledges you but actually “talks” with you in a fun way, how can you NOT like that brand a little better?

Let’s call it a #WinForThatBrand.

Key Point: Real-time marketing CAN be really beneficial…at certain times.

I might be missing a few other times, but in my mind that mostly covers when real-time marketing really matters.

When Real-Time Marketing Is Counterproductive

So when real-time marketing does not matter so much but we do it anyway, what are we doing?

We’re probably not being as productive as we COULD be!

The easiest example to explain this is probably with emails.

How many times have we started our day by “answering emails?”

This is good, as we should address important questions, requests, and complaints, but it can lead to a problem. Once we start returning those emails, what happens?  We start to get back replies…often we’re getting replies form our first emails before we’ve even finished answering yesterday’s emails.

It’s good that we’re getting responses.  However, what do most of us start doing?  We start responding to THOSE responses.  Often this triggers a nasty time-wasting cycle.

Before we know it, we’ve spent our whole day replying to emails…and replaying to those replies, and we’ve gotten NO work done (or not nearly enough).

Now apply that to social media, and what do we have?  In terms of speed, email is NOTHING compared to social media, especially Twitter.

Some people take a lot of pride in responding to Tweets nearly instantly.  That’s cool, but I eventually realized that’s not me.

Okay, there are still times where I get caught in that instant Twitter response cycle, but like many people suggest we do with our emails, I try to limit my “Twitter response time” to about 1 to 3 times a day.

As a marketing guy, there are few times I really need to answer in real-time—just within a reasonable time.

Yes, the customer is king, but…

We need to make marketing work FOR us.  We cannot be a slave to our own marketing.

Key Point: Our marketing (for our business) needs to help us improve our business.  It cannot be our only business.

There are some situations that require immediate real-time response, but most of the time we’re responding in real time to things that can be handled at some other time.

I know I ACCOMPLISH A LOT MORE when I respond to marketing within reasonable time than I do in real-time.

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