Operating in Real Time: How Far Away Are We?

Until recently, companies have accepted the premise that predicting the future was more important and/or practical than reacting to the present. The time lag between gathering data, developing actionable insights and implementation in the market was too long to create any practical immediate impact. Besides, research highlighting trends over time is a logical predictor of future activity, most of the time.

Of course, today technology is available to monitor, segment and analyze large amounts of real-time data from multiple sources, and consumers are becoming more accustomed to an on-demand media world. So when you think of the potential benefits of operating in real time, it's worth trying to figure out how to make it happen, even if it may take some time to get there.

Imagine one of today's Twitter trending topics in tomorrow's TV, DOOH and online ad creative. What about shortening product development cycles from months to days? Is it realistic to think that the marketplace can react to the market in near-real time?



The ramifications and opportunities for the agencies and marketers who are first movers in operating in real time are tremendous. Intrepid marketers have been using data to make informed decisions in progressively shorter time frames, so the trend is definitely heading in the direction of real time, albeit slowly.

It's important to take a systematic approach to moving toward this goal. The road may be a long one. Especially if you have any level of scale and brand equity, you need to start planning now. This is new territory, and I am not professing to have all the answers. Here's what we are currently recommending:

Be proactive about being reactive: Start with the easy stuff.Develop a plan that addresses the types of real-time changes you are able to implement in the short term, with minimal organizational support. For example, today you're able to make near-real-time changes in creative or website messaging by using social monitoring of sentiment and trends relating to your category, brand or products. Start online, then advocate for TV and DOOH, two channels that have the ability to swap out creative as quickly as you can deliver it. Moving beyond marketing into product development is a challenge that will require significant organizational support, but it all starts with a plan and a change in mindset.

Utilize the right tools: This is a given. There are so many technologies out there. Having the right person on staff to vet and manage the right tools is far more important. Next.

Develop the right team: Plan for a collaborative process. Determine the internal and agency resources required to manage and execute in real time. Clearly define roles and responsibilities among the internal client team, the agency, and each individual. Your real-time task force will require a strong leader to develop strategy and orchestrate collaboration; a technical/data lead to select the right technologies, scrutinize the analytics approaches, refine the actionable insights and work with an insights team; and a team leader to disseminate real-time briefs to a production and media team ready to move at all times.  This team structure can scale according to needs.

Gain executive support: The most important step in the process is to gain support from executive management. An executive-level sponsor can help make or break any initiative, especially an experimental one. Even taking baby steps to operate in real time is a lot to ask of a large organization. This requires a shift in culture and priorities. Companies want to be agile and nimble, but often these aspirations don't materialize. If you are the champion of operating in real time within your organization, be committed to the process and be prepared for an uphill battle that will test your resolve. Nothing great happens easily.

The call for real-time marketing will grow louder over the next year or two, with operational changes following shortly thereafter. Companies must make change part of their culture and adopt an iterative mindset regarding all aspects of their business processes. By doing so, the shift to real time will be a natural progression, void of the fear and discomfort that it presents today.

2 comments about "Operating in Real Time: How Far Away Are We?".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, July 12, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.

    The old saying is "Strategy doesn't win battles, Logistics does." Basically, the idea is you can't predict how a battle will develop, no matter how much time you spend mapping out strategy. But you CAN make sure your Logistics are in place to take advantage of changes in battlefield conditions - or "react to the now". Good Logisticians are tactical geniuses. A good friend of mine in the transport business runs logistics. I love watching how he makes his decisions to decide which warehouse to ship from, which informs his decision on which route to take, which informs his decision on trucks vs. planes vs. rail...and then he has to choose a provider.

    All the data he works with changes on a daily basis. He can make some predictions on which firms are going to need shipments, based on behaviors, contracts and his knowledge of the market. But he always points out that he has to react to items like changes in the cost of fuel, use of roads and current traffic, and the weather.

    Being reactive is far more valuable than trying to predict how things will turn out. You can strategize all day long, but if a new technology suddenly pops up that radically alters the decision making process, and you haven't accounted for it - you've left yourself out in the cold.
    At one point I had a boss, who when I suggested we put the company on the web, said "why? So I can post my poetry? What good is this web ever going to provide for us?" A strategically bad decision, to say the least. His feeling was there was no future in this Web thing. Luckily, there were others who disagreed with him, and some money was set aside to get something started. We did not post his poetry.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, July 12, 2011 at 2:59 p.m.


    We have been looking at this for 5 years now. The problem is purely technical. There are 3 major elements: Time zone of the server, location of the programmers and company, and all the different time zones including states with more than one time zone. Then for Sweepstakes Today, we have to consider the end date time and where that server and what time zone do the sponsors want to end it in.

    Then all this is the cost to create the programming. Because you have to break each member of the website down to either zip code or time zone, this might cause a another series of problems with your current membership. More programming and customer service work if you get this far.

    Yes, we would like real time sweeps and contest. But for now, there would be a negative return on investment. This is far more complex than it sounds.

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