Planning for real-time marketing success

Real-time marketing is a big part of PR's next act, but many practitioners aren't sure how to get started.

Is your team ready to market in the moment?

Real-time marketing is a big part of PR's next act, but many practitioners aren't sure how to get started. Worse yet, some mistake it as a form of improvisational marketing, requiring little preparation.

In our experience executing real-time campaigns on The Bridge, rigorous planning is among the most important success factors. Let's face it: for most brands, there is no shortage of actionable engagement opportunities. However, converting opportunities into meaningful results each and every day requires discipline and focus. A good real-time marketing plan sets parameters for those tasked with gathering real-time insights, creating content on the fly, and engaging influencers at a moment's notice, ensuring their time is spent advancing opportunities that yield valuable outcomes.

Today, when my agency prepares for a RTM assignment with a client partner, our teams often host an immersive workshop, crafting a detailed RTM plan that orchestrates activities, sets goals, and ensures expectations are set and, ultimately, met.

If you're integrating real-time marketing into your organization's communications plan, here are several important considerations for creating a winning strategy.

Define the role real-time marketing will play in your mix
Research suggests that real-time marketing can deliver plenty of valuable outcomes, but what outcome is most important for your business? Will it be used to drive awareness or trial? To spark word of mouth? To help manage thorny issues?

Start by defining the role real-time marketing will play in your company's marketing communications mix.

One of our clients is talked about every three seconds online and garners significant media coverage for virtually every announcement it makes. Though the possibilities for nimble marketing are vast for this brand, real-time marketing's application in the company's marketing mix is narrow. For this organization, real-time marketing complements publicity activities and large-scale social media campaigns to forge closer customer connections and keep the brand top of mind everyday. This clarity of purpose helps real-time marketing teams stay focused on specific kinds of opportunities and work more efficiently. 

Articulate the essential stories you want to tell
Real-time opportunities often tempt marketers to stray from their most important narratives. When a topic trends globally on Twitter, for example, it's easy to come up with a tangential connection to a brand just to inject it into a conversation at scale. But real-time marketing is most effective when it's consistent and authentic, reaching recipients with a relevant message at the right places at the right time. Stretch your story too far to fit one short-term opportunity and you'll diminish the overall impact.

When creating your plan, identify a handful of messages most important to share. Look for opportunities each day that provide an authentic means for sharing them, focusing more on relevance than reach. We've all seen what happens when companies try too hard to capitalize on news or conversation trends.

Think broader than the communications function
Real-time marketing is a team sport, providing value to more than just the communications department. In your plan, consider other stakeholder groups that could benefit from or participate in real-time marketing activities. Can you involve colleagues from the research team? Operations? Customer service? Product development? How can your plan help people outside the PR function do their jobs better?

PR is well-suited to manage multifaceted real-time marketing campaigns, but shouldn't execute them independently. Think broader than the communications function when architecting your plan and considering its participants.

It's also important to tap professionals who possess diverse skill sets. We regularly staff assignments with a mix of seasoned journalists, media relations pros, writers, community managers, designers, and other creative professionals. These specialists work together on The Bridge, but each has unique responsibilities, helping the team move faster. Diversity and specialization breed precision and efficiency.

Create repeatable processes
Efficiency enables real-time marketing, and great plans help choreograph activities for all participants. Make sure your plan includes streamlined, repeatable processes that empower your participants to move from insights to engagement as quickly as possible. Work ahead! For example, collaborate with your legal team to pre-approve basic messaging or ask the “brand police” to bless visual storytelling asset templates in advance.

On The Bridge, we apply a unique six-step process that we've socialized among agency real-time marketing teams around the world. In addition to unified training on this process, we have also created common tools such as “RTManager,” a web-based campaign management and collaboration platform.

Set different kinds of goals
Real-time marketing is engagement with urgency. Typical PR measures such as quarterly or annual media impression tallies don't sufficiently assess the impact of real-time marketing on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis.

In developing your plan, set different kinds of goals that assess your team's performance on a timelier basis.

Don't be afraid to set quotas. We often establish daily goals for basic outputs such as insights gleaned, relationships built, content created, or even stories placed. These goals keep our specialists hungry every day, driving them to deliver meaningful results for clients on an ongoing basis.

Jeff Beringer is global practice lead for digital at GolinHarris.

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