It seems like marketers are rapidly becoming more and more enamored with the concept of “real time marketing”. It’s easy to understand why, but first let me define the terms I’m using.
During the Super Bowl “brownout” of 2013, social media marketers began to popularize the term as a way of explaining the clever and quick reaction of the Oreo brand with its “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet. Now you can find social media agencies that have popped up focused on this theme and the RTM sucks blog does a great job of lampooning the usually lame attempts of big company marketers to utilize social media channels in near-real time.
I’m happy to see that the real time concept has not been totally co-opted by social media marketers. David Meerman Scott has broadened the concept to include virtually all elements of the marketing mix, responsive and running at high speed (that’s what I call Compound Marketing). In December, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) will hold their first Real-Time Marketing Conference in which “social, mobile, search and other channels” will be leveraged in real time via “data analytics and technology”.
So social is included but it’s not only social. Now we are getting closer to a definition that resonates.
Marketers also appear to be starting to converge on a definition. As reported by eMarketer, in a recent DMA survey on behalf of integrated marketing firm Neolane (recently purchased by Adobe for $600M), 43% of marketers indicated that real time marketing was defined as “Dynamic personalized content across channels”.
(As an aside: it’s interesting that marketers consider good old-fashioned email to be their #1 real time marketing channel today.)
In my opinion, combining the ANA and survey definitions produces the most satisfying definition:
“Real time marketing is the practice of leveraging big data and advanced analytics to drive dynamic, personalized content across all channels in real time.”
Now to the question at hand: BS or Blitzkrieg?
There is no doubt that the data clearly shows marketers are jumping on the real time trend. The optimization of campaigns in real time is a near-tidal wave sweeping over marketing organizations. Magna Global’s recent advertising forecast shows that real time programmatic buying (largely via the new crop of demand side platforms and DMPs) is now 17% of all online display advertising in the US, rising to 48% by 2017 and already topping 30% in some more advanced markets. ClickZ also recently ran a lengthy article focusing on an IDC forecast with equally impressive growth statistics.
Google recently announced that it is also making it easier for marketers to serve dynamic content on websites, in near real time, via their new Real Time Analytics APIs. It seems like the forces of real time marketing are overwhelming. Here comes the blitzkrieg!
But can all effective marketing happen in real time? Is there still a place for the (non-real time) considerations of marketing judgment made by real people? Recently, Japanese and German computer scientists simulated 1 second of brain activity in the lab. It took 83,000 microprocessors and 40 minutes of run time. The singularity (where machines become super-intelligent, surpassing humans) will probably get here one day (Ray Kurzweil predicts 2045) but, until then, creative and intuitive minds will be necessary to keep the marketing machines humming.
Another set of wildcards in the future of real time marketing relate to growing concerns about privacy and data ownership. Currently, real time marketing is based on the premise that marketers (or their solution providers) are able to amass and leverage huge profiles of past behaviors, both on and off the web, to push relevant content. It seems entirely possible that, at some point, people will decide that they want to own (and control) their own profiles. In that scenario, the whole model of real time (push) marketing could be turned on its head to be replaced by personal infomediaries that can become effective finders and filters (pullers) for people without sacrificing their privacy. It’s the same real time approach based on the same set of technologies, but utilized from the opposite perspective – about pull instead of push.
Historians have come to use the word “blitzkrieg” to denote a highly mobile force “utilizing speed and surprise” to encircle and ultimately overwhelm the enemy. It turns out that the Germans never ‘officially’ adopted a recognized strategy of blitzkrieg but the method is simply what evolved into a winning approach on the battlefield. Similarly, real time (push) marketing will win more and more battles over time because it’s simply the most effective approach to take today – it’s clearly not BS.
But will it win the war?