Business Report

Harnessing the Here and Now

Five ways to embrace “real-time marketing,” served up by a best-selling business author.

A huge company has announced that it is acquiring one of your competitors. The news hit the wires five minutes ago.

Spinning faster: Companies need to market at the speed of a tweet.

What would you do right now? Not tomorrow. Now.

How about writing a blog post and hitting the TweetDeck to get the word out?

That’s what Joe Payne, CEO of the marketing automation company Eloqua, did on a Tuesday afternoon in May when Oracle announced the acquisition of Market2Lead, another company that makes software used to generate sales leads.

The Oracle announcement was just one paragraph long. So Payne saw a tremendous opportunity to define what the announcement meant to the marketplace. Just a few hours later, under the heading “Oracle joins the party,” he posted: “I expect Oracle’s entry to make a major difference in the attention paid to this sector. It’s going to open marketers’ eyes, and, as a result, expand the market. This is exactly the type of movement this industry needs. You see, the potential market for lead management systems is less than 10 percent penetrated.”

Eloqua’s real-time commentary was widely retweeted and became a key part of stories on the acquisition that appeared in BusinessWeek, InfoWorld Customer Experience Matrix, and PC World. Had Payne waited even a few more hours to post, the opportunity would have been lost.


Real-time data changed the financial markets a generation ago, but now all businesses find themselves dealing with it. Businesspeople are feeling their way forward at a time when the landscape has changed and the road signs are gone. It’s like trying to drive across America with a map made in 1950.

Finding the new roads may be confusing, but they can be a better way to take you where you want to go. Here are five marketing and public-relations strategies that organizations can use to take advantage of this new environment.

1. Monitor social networks in real time

Take the tactics that Avaya, a maker of call center technology, is adopting to win and keep customers. At the company’s headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Paul Dunay, global managing director of social marketing and services, watches carefully what’s being said on social-networking sites. He’s established a presence for the company in blogs, forums, Facebook, and Twitter.

“Listening to the market and engaging in the right conversations enables Avaya to quickly spot issues and opportunities as they arise, even before anyone contacts the company,” Dunay says.

The strategy delivered a quick payoff when somebody tweeted, “Cisco or Avaya? Time for a new phone system very soon.” Dunay’s team spotted the post right away. Minutes later, a team member responded using the @Avaya_Support Twitter account: “let me know if we can help you–we have some Strategic Consultants that can help you assess your needs.” The interaction resulted in a quick sale worth a quarter of a million dollars.

“A 57-character tweet led to a $250,000 sale,” Dunay says. “That’s nearly $4,500 a character!”

2. Engage the media in real time

What was once a predictable 24-hour news cycle driven by evening TV broadcasts and newspaper print deadlines is now a constantly evolving flow of news from thousands of mainstream sources backed by feeds from millions of citizen journalists using blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and the like.

Did you hear the one about the pornographic robocall?

About a week before the general election in 2008, Zane Starkewolf, a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in California’s First District, sent automated phone messages to 100,000 voters. The recording featured a sultry-voiced woman who moaned as she urged them to choose Starkewolf.

Shaun Dakin, founder and CEO of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry, sprang into action. Dakin monitors Twitter for words like “robocall” and contacts people to hear about their frustrations. By feeding journalists interesting story leads as they happen, Dakin and his organization have garnered attention from USA Today, ABC News, and CNN.

Before the day was out, Dakin had contacted the media and even posted a recording of the call on his site. By the next morning, the story was on all the local radio and TV news shows. And that evening, less than 24 hours later, it was featured on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. A new wave of outraged voters soon signed up with Dakin’s registry.

3. Connect with customers right now

Finding ways to interact with customers in real time is something of an art form. But if you have the right creative approach, social media can make communication instant, easy, and free.

Albion Cafe in Shoreditch, London, sends a tweet (Twitter ID: @albionsoven) when baked goods come out of the oven. “Freshly baked crumbly Chocolate Chip Cookies stuffed with oozy chocolate chips,” said one (see for a photo of the cookies). Locals subscribe to the Twitter feed so they know exactly when to pop over.

The café was the first to employ BakerTweet, a wall-mounted device that makes it easy for bakers to post when the goodies are ready. A busy worker simply has to turn a dial to select the product and then press a button to generate an automatic tweet, complete with a sumptuous description.

Admittedly, few of us are in the cookie business. But many of us could use a way to alert potential customers to something new coming hot out of the oven.

4. Tap the crowd for ideas

Crowdsourcing involves using online social networks to put many people to work on a task that’s usually performed by one or a few. In marketing, it can replace weeks of internal head-scratching or eliminate hefty fees paid to a specialist agency. Take a shortlist of possible product names vetted for trademark compliance, for instance, and ask your Facebook fans which ones they like. You could come up with a winner.

When Kodak was trying to name its new waterproof video camera, thousands of suggestions came in on Twitter and in comments on a company blog post. Mike Colbourn of Williston, Vermont, entered the name Play, and Jim Culver of La Mesa, California, suggested Sport. They won a trip to the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to join Kodak in announcing the new name: Kodak PlaySport.

5. Create a policy for real-time communication

If employees are to feel free to engage customers and the marketplace in real time, a clear policy must be in place throughout the organization. Train it, demonstrate it, discuss it, and review it until it becomes second nature to everyone.

IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines, for example, provide rules to help employees use this kind of communication effectively and responsibly. “A big part of being engaged in the community is feeling comfortable with what you can say and what you can’t say, so we wanted to establish the boundaries,” says Tim Washer, head of social-media productions for IBM worldwide.

I’ve talked with people all over the world who are struggling to adapt to this approach, and most are not at all comfortable with it. In fact, many dismiss quick response to opportunities and threats as “reckless” or “risky.”

These ways of thinking are so ingrained that even with an iceberg off the bow, companies persist in choosing slow and cautious over quick and nimble. Way too much time is spent checking, getting permission, researching, and running ideas past “experts.” By the time a decision is finally reached, it’s time to head for the lifeboats.

The conventional approach favors a “campaign” (note the war metaphor) that requires people to spend weeks or months planning to hit “targets.” Agencies must be consulted. Messaging strategies must be developed. Advertising space or time must be bought. Conference rooms and refreshments must be prepared for press conferences. Do we serve sushi or sandwiches?

In planning ahead, marketing and PR teams commonly look back. What were we doing five or six quarters ago? What happened at the trade show last year? As a result, they ignore what’s happening right this instant.

If you’re the leader, work to tear down the command-and-control mentality. Recognize your employees as responsible adults. Empower them to take initiative. Give them opportunities to hone their communication skills, and offer clear guidelines as to what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Scale and media buying power no longer offer a decisive advantage. What counts today is speed and agility. While your competitors scramble to adjust, you can seize the initiative, open new channels, and grow your brand.

David Meerman Scott is author of the best-selling The New Rules of Marketing & PR. He is a recovering VP of marketing for two publicly traded technology companies. Some material in this article is adapted from his new book, Real-Time Marketing & PR (Wiley, Nov. 2010).

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