For decades, marketing relied heavily on labor-intensive tactics, such as focus groups, lengthy team meetings, and a lot of manual research, to devise new and better strategies to engage customers and drive sales. But today a marketing revolution driven by new technologies is well under way—some call it real-time marketing.
The trend is profoundly changing the people, processes, and technologies required for a marketing organization to dramatically impact a company’s bottom line.
The most powerful—and disruptive—innovation fueling change in real-time marketing is the ability to have machines make insightful, timely decisions about content delivery, personalization, campaigns, which products and services to recommend, and other critical activities. With these newly automated capabilities, company executives and marketing managers at all levels have to rethink their current approaches and develop new skills along the way.
Automated, real-time marketing touches areas that previously relied on hands-on, manual approaches—from deciding which digital experiences to offer online shoppers, to analyzing visitor engagement with Web pages, to bidding on online ads. Regardless of where and how it’s used, the impacts of real-time marketing are far-reaching. For example, in the case of digital ad buying, real-time bidding (RTB) technology uses algorithmic engines to buy digital ad inventory from multiple publishers on an impression-by-impression basis, typically through an auction pricing mechanism. Think of it as an unbelievably fast online auction for ads.
The same advantages of automation are evident in areas such as market research, with advanced software being used to tally and track visitor activities in real time, giving marketers immediate insight into consumer behaviors and preferences, as well as the return on any campaign. Another important outcome of real-time marketing is that marketers now have immediate access to an abundance of timely, well-qualified data, when and where they need it.
Big Data Adaptation: A Prerequisite
Every opportunity in the more automated world of marketing can come with challenges. Marketing is expected to be more accountable for delivering measurable ROI, and this requires substantial and accurate understanding of the data being generated.
The need to parse big data is spurring widespread change among marketing professionals. Many seasoned marketers today have come up through the creative ranks and have yet to learn the skills and technology acumen to analyze the new deluge of marketing data. CMOs need to take on visionary roles and build tech-savvy marketing teams. According to a 2012 survey by Forrester of 512 IT and marketing professionals, 60 percent said marketing would be viewed as more strategic two years from now than it was two years ago.
Studies show that marketers are struggling to meet this flurry of new expectations. Less than 40 percent are measuring results across the sales and marketing funnel. For those marketers who do measure results, the outcomes show substantial room for improvement. On average, only three leads out of 1,000 convert to a sale, and marketing contributes less than 20 percent of leads, according to Adobe/Keyence research. Additionally, 55 percent of CMOs in technology organizations say their top priority is to optimize lead generation, yet more than 40 percent of them are challenged with measuring and demonstrating ROI, according to IDC Tech Marketing Benchmarks (PDF).
The good news is that companies are increasingly seeing success by leveraging the tools that enable more insightful, real-time marketing decision making. For instance, a recent Wall Street Journal article cites a campaign by InterContinental Hotels Group targeting 71 million of its Priority Club members. By consolidating all of its customer-marketing information in a single data warehouse and tapping into the tools to efficiently analyze it from many angles, the company was able to launch an entirely different campaign. Instead of having on average seven to 15 customized marketing messages, the new campaign has 1,552 that it can provide to customers depending on their interests. The result: a 35 percent higher rate of customer conversion.
What’s clear is that marketers who learn to use real-time marketing technologies to streamline content delivery and gain powerful insights from big data will win today and in the foreseeable future.There are several facets to consider and implement to thrive in today’s new real-time marketing world. It’s not just the technology; there are major impacts and considerations to the organizational setup, the individual skill sets required, and the long-term training plan.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Change your mindset: Ted Kohnen, chief marketing officer of Stein + Partners Brand Activation (and a CMO.com blogger), put it perfectly: “Real-time marketing is not a tactic,” he said. “It’s an organizing principle that includes multiple facets: content marketing, the right media partners, a technically skilled staff, and other capabilities that allow organizations to consume big data, analyze it, and act on it immediately with the right channel and the right creative.”
2. Assemble the ideal team: People are more crucial than ever in the realm of real-time marketing, but it is essential to find team members who can combine the art of marketing with the science of big data. Find people who can ask the right questions and understand what the data really means. Perhaps the data doesn’t look correct, or there’s a trend that points to a market opportunity. Look for those who can write well and think technically, too. Other C-level executives need simple, compelling explanations of what the data shows in order to understand and be on board with marketing decisions. Hire specialists—social media managers, for example—and trust them to monitor sentiment and hasten appropriate responses.
Part of the reinvention process, according to Kohnen, should begin in academia. “Universities need to see and respond to the organizational crunch marketers face and gear up to integrate the appropriate learning materials into their curricula,” he said.
3. Think outside the box: Capitalize on marketing scientists, economists, and statisticians who can help with predictive modeling. Consider hiring psychologists to help map customer behaviors to known theories, and build campaigns around the insights. According to a recent Forrester study, B2B CMOs should collaborate with business technology and customer intelligence teams to institute the new roles of marketing technologist and data scientist. And starting in 2013, after CMOs realize that they do not have the skill sets in place for data analytics proficiency, 50 percent of new marketing hires will have technical backgrounds, according to Adobe/Keyence.
4. Market at the speed of light: Remember when the lights went out during NFL SuperBowl XLVII? Oreo’s brand team, comprising 360i, Mediavest, and Wieden + Kennedy, got creative and turned around an on-the-fly ad on Twitter in minutes, with the headline: “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark.” Consider this level of creative agility and speed the new normal. The idea is to move away from having the “one big idea,” and instead to generate a bucket of atomized content and assets that can be combined and repurposed at a moment’s notice for a wide array of media channels. Rethink creative executions with an eye toward personalization and acceleration in an omnichannel world.
5. Develop customer-centric processes: Define and document automated processes, identifying the people and data required to support each phase of the process, Gartner suggests. It might also be wise to move marketing budgets out of channel silos and into new cross-platform teams, organized around consumer segments, with experts on the relevant media, channels, and devices for that particular segment, according to Forrester.
Jeff Allen, Adobe director of product marketing, summed it up nicely:
“While the idea that marketing lives at the intersection of art and science has been around for ages, it’s only been over the past decade or so that the democratization of data, and of the tools to leverage that data, have allowed more science into the lives of mainstream marketers. This has enabled marketers to deliberately blend math, statistics and creativity together in new ways to drive predictable, repeatable results.”