Marketing is a business process that takes time. It takes time to research, time to draw a plan of activity, time to execute. But for all the time and energy invested into planned, periodic and structured marketing, how does a business respond to a real-time world where events break and memes trends in minutes, let alone days or weeks?

No doubt, speed will be one of the key foundations of future competitive advantage. It is one thing to craft a message that resonates with people. That will always be a differentiator. But it is no longer enough, because in the modern world, where marketers can listen in real-time to what is being discussed about their products, competitors, and indeed the needs their products could fill, it is nimbleness and immediacy of engagement and response that is vital.

What’s the future here? It’s a shift from a primarily creative-driven industry, to an analytics-driven industry, where an ability to understand, measure and deal with huge volumes of data is a fundamental competency in any CMO. In a B2C marketing environment, potentially millions of customers are interacting with the web site, following the brand on Twitter and Facebook, and talking about the brand and lifestyle issues on every platform available. What does that translate to? Data. Lots and lots of data. Clickstreams of web pages visited. Semantic web analytics regarding the topic preferences of each user. Social graphs about friend networks. Interaction analytics about followers, fans and advocates. And much more.

Just this Monday, we needed milk in the office for our morning caffeine-machine ritual, and, being the cutting-edge tech company we are, we tweeted one of our guys to get some Cravendale on his way in. Within minutes, Cravendale had tweeted us a voucher. When we retweeted it to our designated milkman, they tweeted us again and gave him another voucher too. Milk people on-the-ball + tech company with milk vouchers = winning combination.

What is it?

What Cravendale did wasn’t different from any Twitter interaction between colleagues or friends, and that’s exactly why we were impressed. The brand was acting like a person, not a distant and corporate entity. Real time marketing will become more vital because contacting customers and media at the point of interest and intent is the future. It is enabled by a transparent and trackable social media marketplace.

With so much going on, CMOs are going to have to get cozy and comfortable with Big Data, and a ‘whole new category of information and information-processing capabilities that are changing the kinds of questions marketers can ask and have answered’. Customer behaviours will be aggregated in detail, sorted out by location, season and topic; this will give marketers actionable intelligence to work with to build a better understanding of what short and long term business strategies are viable.

Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott recently highlighted the importance of real-time marketing in a recent interview:

“Regardless of type of company, whether it be B2B or B2C, what will now set marketers apart are the ones that work in a mindset geared ‘exclusively on campaigns’ to one that is focused ‘on instant engagement’.”

What are the requirements?

The modern marketer will have sophisticated tools; how else will we calculate how many people look at our sites, which pages they are most attracted to, what do they want to talk about and how are they going to say it?  The marketing department of the future will be incredibly data-driven.

Real-time marketing requires technology. Some major enterprises we have spoken to recently are spending a huge amount on consulting and services to enable them to conduct marketing and customer service through social channels effectively. But they are now looking for platforms that carry some of that weight, as the cost is currently increasing in proportion to the volume of digital messages they are dealing with (which is growing at a huge and seemingly unstoppable rate).

Some products, like Radian6, help to monitor the public web for mentions of your brand or market issues, track incoming messages from social channels, and analyse metrics such as volume, sentiment, and intent. Others, like Conversocial and Syncapse, are primarily publishing and engagement tools, which allow a global organisation to manage the content creation and publishing process across multiple territories and multiple social platforms in one place, and then use the same tool to engage with customer responses.

These tools significantly decrease the manual effort needed, but they still rely completely on a company representative to assimilate the right information to respond to support issues, and create and publish other material to attract and engage the audience.

I’m particularly interested in the next generation of tools that help marketing and support teams by suggesting responses from the archive of current material and data. This is similar to the way that call centre workers are fed a CRM-powered transcript for support calls, providing information on the customer’s previous history, known issues that might be affecting them, proposed resolutions, additional information, and likely up-sell opportunities. This doesn’t mean that marketing and support conversations will be all conducted by a machine, but that there is a role for technology to assist the management of the millions of mentions, queries, conversations, and inquiries that a modern enterprise receives. I’m eager to see what the future of B2C marketing automation holds.

Case In Point

What kind of steps does a real-time marketer take?

Meerman Scott describes it using a B2B example, Eloqua. The day one of their rivals, Market2Lead, got acquired by Oracle, Eloqua’s CEO Joe Payne wasted no time. While a Google search keyed in with ‘Oracle’ and ‘Market2Lead’ still only produced the Oracle website’s press release, Payne wrote a blog post the same day called ‘Oracle joins the party’, addressing the announcement but also discussing what the acquisition meant for an industry both Market2Lead and Eloqua represented. Overnight, the blog post was quoted in all news articles as a great analytical piece. Next, Eloqua demonstrated immediate outbound content marketing and segmentation by gathering together a list of every prospective customer in their database that currently used Market2Lead, and sent them an email with the blog post attached. Whilst Oracle followed the standard comms procedure of drafting and finalising an announcement to the affected customers, Eloqua took the real-time advantage, and when they spoke, customers listened, and they secured$1m in revenue as a direct result from their real-time approach.

In order to be able to find the signal from the noise, and react in real-time, new systems are needed: ones that take the pressure of search and filtering of market and customer voices, and that put the knowledge in the hands of marketers to make clever and calculated decisions very quickly.

The Eloqua example above is a B2B example, and the complexity is even greater when there are thousands or millions of consumers talking, and a lower value product or service being sold. This new world is not about automation for automation’s sake, but about using consumer marketing automation tools to allow marketers to make decisions that take into account all available information. At idio, we are working hard on building these tools, and are eager to see the market develop, as an analytics-focus starts to dominate marketing strategy.