Real time marketing – problem or opportunity?

We’ve all heard people talk about how the Internet has made everything move faster. When something dramatic happens (whether it’s a crisis or a cause for celebration) it travels quickly around personal networks, industries and even the world.

Marketers often see this as dangerous. The watchmen guarding your brand must be vigilant and ready to react the minute they hear the slightest whisperings of a problem. Those that don’t notice, fail to act quickly or react badly are punished heavily by customers.

But the Internet as a real time gauge of feeling can be positive, amazing and ultimately useful for marketers. When Christian Hernandez from Facebook spoke at The Economist Big Rethink event earlier this month, he described seeing Facebook behaviour during the World Cup. When they tracked the word ‘goal’ in status updates they could literally see millions of people around the world shouting goal through social media. This is a nice image, taking the traditional goal celebration shared between football fans and the people in their living room or a bar and connecting it to an even bigger network.

Another example of the benefit of realtime was shown by Håkan Thyr from Bazaarvoice when he spoke at eCircle Connect Europe conference (see Myles Davidson from I-kos blog here for more on this event). He showed how Dell uses reviews as a crucial component in product management and R&D. At a time when Dell was being criticized heavily, the company decided to set a goal that all their products should be getting a rating of at least 4.5 out of 5. When the project started they were getting 3.7 average.

Developers trawled the reviews for insight and changed their products accordingly. In order to maintain the high standard, new products are given a set time on the market and if they are rated as 3.5 upwards reviews are used to adjust the product. Lower scoring products are simply dropped altogether. This whole process has sped up the process of product development, customer feedback and product assessment compared to traditional evaluations through focus groups. By doing this Dell has moved away from the ‘Dell hell’ tag and re-built its reputation for quality products.

Today, as the UK budget is announced, whilst journalists are interviewing experts for newspaper articles and TV slots, the coalition government will be able to see a much more instant reaction through twitter, forums and social media. They may not be able to react instantly or even do anything with that information in the next few months, but they still have the ability to listen in on the instant reaction which offers new opportunities and possibilities.

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One thought on “Real time marketing – problem or opportunity?

  1. Interesting article!

    There’s certainly an opportunity to be had but I’m not sure that it’s the larger brands who are able to do so.

    For the larger brands the use of/reaction to the internet and social media tends to be about protection and deflecting bad news rather than effectively and proactively exploiting opportunities. It’s rare one hears about the larger brands getting out there and and using the fast flowing information they have access to, more often than not there’s a media storm about an employee spitting on a pizza (see the dominos YouTube scandal) or the “Dell Hell” example that you’ve already mentioned. Incidentally I’m somewhat wary of using Dell’s future actions as a positive, To me it seemed more like a massive PR exercise due to the earlier “Dell Hell” problems and Erin Nelson did very little else apart from pushing this “consumer development angle”. Good PR rather than real world benefit I think.

    I think the larger brands have become aware of two things.

    1. Once a story reaches a certain level there’s nothing they can do, no matter how hard they tries. They can put as much positive spin out there but it’s always drowned out by the masses.

    2. Even if a story is hugely negative, it’s only a temporary problem. Who really remembers half the scandals of the past few years? Taco Bell? Belkin? Honda? Like all news today, there’s so much of it, it moves so quickly that a big story can be out of the headlines within a day, if not hours.

    One might point to the fact that a drop in share price often occurs in these situations but it’s generally a blip, history has shown that it always recovers and not only that, it’s often stronger than before.

    There’s certainly a massive opportunity in terms of using the internet for research, organisations can access panels more quickly than ever, get instant reactions to product ideas but ultimately it still relies on the marketeers to do something effective with the information they collect. They rarely do.

    I would suggest that the internet has resulted in organisations developing reactionary marketing/damage control strategies rather than being proactive and using the tools at their disposal for the positive. From the Logo change, and re-change by GAP, the United Airlines ‘guitar’ incident to the SWA backdown over the Kevin Smith Twitter storm, companies are now running scared and their resources put into developing applications that can pre warn them of potential danger.

    What I find extremely interesting is how small brands can, and have used the internet and social media in positive ways. Small brands could for example:

    Improve customer service
    Interact better with their customer base
    Communicate more effectively
    Easily and more importantly cheaply build a brand image
    Collect marketing data

    There are literally thousands of ways the smaller organisation can benefit. I saw a story recently about the response time customers expect when they post on Twitter with a problem. Customers are turning to Twitter and Facebook rather than phoning or emailing a company.

    (One rider here; some larger brands do admittedly do fantastically well in this area. ASOS is a good example of this). Conversely many others overdo it and don’t quite strike the balance between using social media/the internet for customer satisfaction and using it for out and out marketing.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how this all develops, what brands are going to do, already we’re seeing a massive shift, who would ever have thought that VW would spends millions on advertising and send people to the company Facebook page? See http://www.oho.com/blog/volkswagen-replaces-corporate-website-facebook-site-ads

    Might Facebook even make company websites irrelevant in the future?

    Ultimately the internet and social media have given customers a voice, and it’s loud because the customer can be public with their concerns.

    One final thought, you mentioned today’s budget, I wonder if we’ll ever see a situation where we use the internet for truly democratic purposes? Where the people can vote, in realtime, on issues of the day. A real throwback to genuine Athenian democratic principles! The technology is there, a government could easily give the populace the ability to decide on certain issues, it could easily give the people a voice. I think we’re probably a long way from that of course. :)

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