How Regis McKenna Defined Real-Time Marketing

Real-time marketing is hot. Recently Richard Fouts of Gartner wrote that real-time marketing "disrupts the organization while putting competitors on the defense." But what is real-time marketing? “Real-time marketing” occurs when a brand is always present for the always-on consumer. It is a way of thinking and philosophy that requires businesses to meet the demands of an always-on digital world. As it relates to online marketing, it includes the convergence of search, social, and real-time content production and distribution, with an expanded definition of publishing that makes social conversation and interaction as important as actual writing and digital media development.

But I'm not the first to discuss real-time marketing. In fact, legendary marketer Regis McKenna laid the groundwork for real-time marketing back in 1995, as I note in my book, “Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing.”



Many people know McKenna as the marketing guru for Apple, and as a close partner with Steve Jobs. What many (if not most) contemporary marketers do not know is that it was McKenna who first came up with the concept of “real-time marketing.”

“Real-time marketing,” distinct of “real-time content marketing,” was coined and defined by McKenna in a paper he authored for the Harvard Business Review in 1995, with the concept fleshed out in a follow-up book called “Real-time” in 1997. While he addressed network concepts within the context of the Internet, he also addressed the impact of a real-time networked society on production, CRM, organizational structure, R&D, among many other facets of business..

Of course, much of what McKenna wrote about was ahead of its time, as we still see many enterprises struggling to catch up with the digital age. But just in the last three years, a real opportunity has emerged for marketers to embrace the content aspects of real-time marketing in a meaningful way, In my book, I have outlined real-time content marketing within the context of many different types of content and engagement, with an emphasis on manifesting a constant live digital presence. Perhaps the most “new” thing about my definition is that the discipline is not complete without a thorough understanding of search and social together.

The words he wrote are just as fresh now as they were back in 1995. Here are a few direct quotes that could be helpful as you begin or retool your own real-time content marketing strategy:

-  “Companies must keep the dialogue flowing and also maintain conversations with suppliers, distributors, and others in the marketplace.”

-  “[Real-time marketing must replace] the broadcast mentality.”

- “[Real-time marketing must focus] on real-time customer satisfaction, providing the support, help, guidance, and information necessary to win customers’ loyalty.”

- “Real-time marketing requires...being willing to learn how information technology is changing both customer behavior in marketing and to think in new ways about marketing within the organization.”

- “The customer still does all the work, hunting and pecking for information. But a real-time marketer would bring the information to the customer.”

For an example of how a business is executing on McKenna’s last point, one need only look at the companies who are doing customer relationship management in social spaces. Zappos is a common example with its 1000+ army of employed Twitter users. There is a not a single Twitter question about Zappos that goes without a near-immediate response, even if the query is not directly sent to a Zappos Twitter CRM representative. If you don’t believe me, go on Twitter right now and ask a question about Zappos.

Again, all of these statements were written in July 1995 by McKenna, but it is only today that marketers and businesses are able to better justify going real-time, because of the greater adoption of the Internet medium worldwide. This is foundational to understanding the “why” of what you are doing, and there are many tactics and logistics to work out if you want to become successful. In my next column, I will discuss more of the intellectual basis of real-time content marketing by covering a brilliant Silicon Valley philosopher and sociologist.

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