Commentary

RTM: Preparing to Be Spontaneous

Talk to experts about real-time marketing (RTM) and you can almost feel them wince. It’s not that they aren’t excited about the sudden attention RTM is receiving, but rather that the buzz is about the “spontaneity” of RTM, when in reality they know that RTM is anything but. In fact, Altimeter recently delineated twelve preparatory steps (and six possible strategies) for brands to consider when approaching RTM — that’s a lot of preparing for being spontaneous.

So one can imagine the mixed emotions of daily RTM practitioners like Marshall Wright of T3, Anne-Marie Kline of DigitasLBI, Teresa Caro of Engauge and Adam Naide of Cox Communications when forced to confront the subject of RTM for both a panel discussion (which I’m moderating this week) and this article. Fortunately for me (and you, by extension), their insights will help you keep the wincing to a minimum as you prepare for these six realities of RTM.

1. RTM Isn’t a Discipline Unto Itself

While getting consensus on the definition of RTM is next to impossible, most practitioners do agree that we shouldn’t be talking about it as its own thing but rather a part of a larger strategic approach to marketing. Explains T3’s Wright, “We actually refer to it as ‘always-on,’ rather than ‘real-time,’ because it is smart strategy. As a brand, if you’re going to put yourself out there, you should be ready to engage whenever your customers are ready to engage.”  

2. RTM Is More Than A Well-Timed Stunt

We can all blame Oreo for the sudden association of RTM with a brilliantly timed tweet. And while hoping to catch lightning in a bottle is a common wish in quixotic social corners, it shouldn’t be confused with a sustainable strategy. Instructs Engauge’s Caro, “You need to think of it [RTM] more broadly as timely, on-brand content that is relevant to an event or trend, created to elicit an emotional response and/or drive action.”  

3. RTM is Ruled by Relevance

One of the more common complaints about RTM is that it is “newsjacking,” in which a brand co-opts a cultural moment and turns it into a self-serving message. To avoid epic #fails, Wright suggests that you “know who you are as a brand and where you fit in. If you’re not authentic or relevant to the moment, it shows immediately.” Adds Kline, “You have to find the intersection between what is interesting to the audience and the brand purpose.”

4. RTM Restraint is Not an Oxymoron

As more brands consider real-time engagement, there is a temptation to join all of the big conversations (e.g., Oscars, Super Bowl, elections, holidays, headlining news, etc.) instead of picking the right ones, a faux pas that can cost brands dearly (just ask Gap and American Apparel, whose ill-conceived Hurricane Sandy-related tweets unleashed consumer disgust). DigitasLBI’s Kline believes lack of restraint is one of the primary reasons many RTM programs fall flat, especially “when a brand forces entry into a conversation they have no business being in.”  

5. RTM is Best Played as a Team Sport

As the only client on the upcoming panel, it is quite telling that Adam Naide, executive director of social media for Cox Communications, emphasizes client-agency collaboration as a prerequisite for successful RTM. “A level of trust must exist between agency partners and clients, since many real-time opportunities are created and promoted without client approval based on shared goals and strategies for the year,” Naide notes. So, yes, the T in team stands for trust!

6. RTM is a Time-Consuming Commitment to Excellence

Just as great theater actors make their craft seem effortless through months, if not years, of preparation, so it is with successful real-time marketers. “Don’t expect to hit out of the park the first time around — this is something that requires practice,” coaches Caro. Keeping with the sports metaphor, Kline adds, “This is about not only being ready to respond but also building muscle memory.”  

Final note: For a calendar full of great examples of RTM, be sure to see my entire interviews with Wright, Kline http://bit.ly/1jvYIrW, Caro http://bit.ly/1mKOBN7 and Naide http://bit.ly/1jEiBgz , and if a real-time conversation on RTM appeals to you, watch our panel live http://www.ustream.tv/channel/social-media-insider-summit on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EST.

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