Marketing is wonderful for coming up with buzzwords that shape the spirit of the day. I always get worried when everyone is repeating the same couple of mantras and I still have a little doubt. I'm
sure there are lots of people out there who are also wondering -- am I just not seeing it properly or does real-time really deserve all the fuss it's getting right now?
It's that same
pit-of-the-stomach feeling that had me labelled a moaner among pals before the World Cup, with the prediction that Roy's boys stood no chance of getting out of their group. Mind you, it was the same
feeling that once had be label the internet as "glorified teletext" nearly twenty years ago. So, like any human, I'm as capable of getting it wrong as I am right.
It's just that nagging
feeling when something comes "on trend" so much that you feel foolish for not revering the very term. I've always been the same with Big Data. There's always been a lot of data out there, and we've
always tried to control it. The amount of data is increasing and our tools are getting better -- so it's no surprise that it deserves specialist Web sites and conferences. I remember once laughing at
the wrong moment in an interview in which a well-known company was saying how huge data sets were helping it to encourage women to buy new shoes with a new dress. You can imagine the response of any
married man. Any system that claims a success in getting women to buy shoes with a new dress really is claiming a little too much credit for a purchase which, I humbly submit, may just have been on
the consumer's mind all along!
And so we come to real-time. No brand would ever aim to only have a rear view mirror insight into its customer interactions, By definition, marketing has
always looked forward with the most up-to-date information available.
However, there are now far more touchpoints and opportunities to surprise and delight consumers, as well as unwittingly
annoy them. With iBeacons spreading like wildfire, brand messages will have to adapt on the fly. With social media comments zipping through the door, executives will need to increasingly make quick
decisions on how to be active in discussions and how to appease annoyed customers.
I recently discovered this when a very well-known drinks brand delivered a Father's Day inscribed gift
bottle of Scotch on the day after, er, Father's Day. This despite the purchase being made more than two weeks in advance and the tracker subsequently realising a day before that it wasn't going to
make it until the day after.
Needless to say, tracking was no good. It just revealed bad news I couldn't change. Calling made no difference, their offices were shut at the weekend -- even
on the weekend when their prime Scotch had a Father's Day promotional push on. Then there was social media. Needless to say, no responses there until the slot had already been missed and we were all
back to work.
So here's my point. If real-time is about connecting up the IT that says a Father's Day gift is going to be late and proactively either avoiding the issue or apologising in
advance, then I'm all in. If it's about connecting IT systems so clever things happen, that's wonderful. It could be an apology or it could be recognising me via an iBeacon and letting me know the
store I've just walked in to has an offer on my favourite after shave while a friend gets a message their favourite golf balls are back in stock. That all sounds great.
I just can't help
but think evangelists at shows like Cannes are talking about more general, human and strategic decisions being treated like real-time bidding where machines take over. I have a horrible feeling that
knee-jerk reactions to market conditions could see brands flip flop like a politician who's just been reminded his voters don't agree with his party's backers.
You see, I'm a devil for
weighing statements up against each other. On one hand we're told that digital is all about emotion and getting deeper connections with consumers. On the other, we're told this has to be done at the
speed of light with decisions made on the fly, often by automated tools.
So, could the block I just can't get by be this?
Marketing must be emotional and strategic --
and could it then be used to program advertising that we can happily allow to be real-time?
Is it marketing that needs to human with the addition of real-time advertising to steer eyeballs
toward its strategic goals?
Oh, and by the way, if anyone has to be real-time, it's customer service. Just a "sorry" tweet will suffice, but ignoring customers on celebratory weekends with
very real complaints is a very odd way to run social media.