A Model For Always-On Digital Marketing

by , Feb 19, 2013, 10:44 AM
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Marketers are remembering this year’s Super Bowl as the one where a power outage created an unprecedented, awkward silence that some big brands capitalized on with real-time marketing response teams. Coca-Cola, Audi, Oreo and others augmented their packaged creative with on-the-fly content publishing and social media outreach.

Baba Shetty and Jerry Wind, members of the Wharton School’s Future of Advertising Program, remarked in an excellent essay on the Harvard Business Review blog that a consistent theme emerged from this year’s Super Bowl: “The rigid campaign-based model of advertising, perfected over decades of one-way mass media, is headed for extinction.”

According to Shetty and Wind: “For messages to be heard in 2020, brands will need to create an enormous amount of useful, appealing, and timely content. To get there, brands will have to leave behind organizations and thinking built solely around the campaign model, and instead adopt the defining characteristics of the real-time, data-driven newsroom — a model that's prolific, agile and audience-centric.”

While that’s true, it’s important to note there is a long history of brands acting as newsrooms. However, such newsroom behavior has skewed heavily toward high-stakes crisis management, where useful, appealing, timely and sometimes life-saving content is central. The important difference today is that the centralized power of the media is diffusing and enabling everyone -- conventional media, brands and the people --  to participate and guide experiences and outcomes in real time. Brands need to participate not only in defense, but also in offense, every single day. We call this always-on marketing.

Challenges Of Scale & Persistence

Shetty and Wind’s metaphor of the newsroom for always-on marketing is a great aspiration. Some cutting-edge advertisers are even living it today, though it is far from the norm. It may be the future, though scale and operations beyond a single event will be the hurdles to overcome. There’s a long way to go.

Which is why the Super Bowl, a campaign-driven event, is interesting and trailblazing, though not the norm, and perhaps not the best case in which to think about an always-on model. The real-time brand response that everyone is raving about required a rare context, which has often gone ignored: a truly massive, engaged audience amidst a live, brand-safe event. While a brand can justify the expensive, labor-intensive and risky strategy of a live newsroom during the Super Bowl, the fact is there just aren’t that many of these premium, high-scale events to invest in.

Even with the massive scale of the Super Bowl, it is only a single event, and therefore can only be part of a larger plan to achieve brand goals around reach, frequency and impact.  Moreover, the rapid response that earned the marketing industry’s appreciation is only one component of a brand communications strategy -- not a strategy unto itself.

The Always-On Digital Marketing Model

While investing in occasional blockbuster events like the Super Bowl will always be important, real additive impact happens through everyday reach, frequency and relevance. Just like a man trying to please a woman, it’s the little things that matter, day in and day out. An occasional jewelry splurge won’t make her happier in the long run; listening and responding with thoughtful words many times a day, everyday, will.

How does a brand practice always-on marketing at scale? For most brands, this will happen not as a revolution, but as an evolution with many tactical and operational iterations. It is not a binary outcome, but an aspirational one. It’s a way of thinking about and doing business.

Building on Shetty and Wind’s mandates of being “prolific, agile and audience-centric,” marketing leaders must embrace a simple foundational model to orchestrate better marketing outcomes. Our always-on marketing communication model factors in five core elements that create better outcomes when in balance:

  • Consumer understanding and segmentation;
  • Brand stories and content;
  • Paid media;
  • Community management and grassroots response;
  • And measurement.


By understanding, managing and balancing these components holistically, marketing leaders can begin to practically align dispersed operations and investments toward an always-on world. They can direct more effectively the contributions of near and distributed stakeholders, including internal departments, external agencies and partners. This simple model allows for marketers to start thinking and acting differently immediately, while investing for the future -- be it in strategies, people, processes, data, technologies, partners and more.

What is your marketing communications roadmap for an always-on world?

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