6 Challenges With Real-Time Marketing

Customers at the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising 2019 finds that marketing teams that ignore the real-time nature of customer behavior and expectations could see “full-scale media crisis.” Maybe but regardless, real-time marketing is no walk in the park because, as Gartner researchers noted, marketers still “struggle for relevance in core customer engagement moments and lack a clear business case for real-time engagement.”

“The challenge is, do we have enough data, behavioral data, and enough automation tools in our system to actually deliver on that promise?” said Mike McGuire, vice president analyst in Gartner’s marketing practice and one of the authors of the Hype Cycle (with Colin Reid). “That’s where we see a lot of challenges right now. Eight to 10 years ago we all talked about big data and how we’re going to gather all this data. But now we can’t figure out with all these data points which ones are going to be most useful right now to deliver this experience?”

What Is Real-Time Marketing?

What is real-time marketing in Gartner’s view? It’s the ability to use data analytics to understand where a customer is along a journey and the ability to respond and take advantage of opportunities within a certain time frame that provides value, according to McGuire. Marketers do this, McGuire said, by “providing the right, next step, the right offer to a customer or prospect that they’re engaging within the system.”

Gartner research shows event-triggered and real-time marketing will have the biggest impact on marketing activities in the next five years. Marketers are going to need to use predictive analytics — though that’s not always a surefire tactic according to some — and deliver personalized communications.

“Marketers need to get better at this ability to gather the right set of data, analyze it, and then be able to act on it as quickly as possible, not only in real-time,” McGuire said. “The core is how do I identify the right sets of data and how they’re going to be most useful to my marketing teams in terms of executing campaign tactics and strategies?”

Taking a Gamble on Messaging

Therein lies the great challenge for marketers. Data management and messaging execution at precisely the right moment. What will help? Gartner finds customer data platforms (CDPs), AI processes infused into marketing, blockchain for advertising and real-time marketing will “transform the martech ecosystem” over the next decade.

But what about in the next minute? Marketers need to know how to contend with creating experiences NOW. “When it comes to real-time marketing, it can be challenging to predict what will resonate with your target audience at the time of the event,” said Tonya Davis, marketing manager at ThoughtLab. “If you are trying to take advantage of something as it’s going on, you have to guess the type of tone, emotion and messaging to use. This can often backfire for a lot of companies, or if guessed correctly, can have a really positive impact. The trouble is whether or not you decide to gamble and take the chance.”

Creating Long-Form Content on the Fly

Another challenge with real-time marketing? Creating long-form content on the fly, according to Rodney Brazil, SEO specialist with EasyWP. “When building out a resource center, for example, pages must be filled with thorough information that answers a variety of customer needs,” Brazil said. “When trying to create this content in real-time, I often find myself building out answers that may already be addressed on other pages.”

Responding to new trends and customer questions frequently leads back to old questions that now need to be framed up in a different way, according to Brazil. “We must always be careful,” he said, “to avoid duplicating the same target queries on different pages within the site, and battle with our own content for the same search engine results page.”

Access to Meaningful Data

Garin Hobbs, director of strategic sales at Iterable, said the most common challenge facing real-time marketers is data — not the timely availability or accessibility of data, but timeliness to actionable insight. “There is no shortage of data available to marketers: historical campaign data, custom events, user preferences and behaviors, contextual metadata and more,” he said. “But within that massive influx of information, only a small percentage represents truly actionable insights. Marketers are challenged to separate the wheat from the chaff and take appropriate action within a relevant and meaningful timeframe, ideally while the customer is still actively engaged. Many marketers are left chasing the experience after the customer has disengaged or converted elsewhere.”

Managing Location Data

Managing your location data in real time is another struggle for marketers, according to Ryan Weber, accounts director at Rio SEO. Location data is everywhere from Google to Yelp and many apps, Weber said. “… Accurate data is paramount and being able to deliver in real time is essential,” he said.

Whether it’s a temporary closure, permanent closure or just location updates, the marketer needs that to happen in real time. Gaps and inaccuracies in your local business information ultimately have a direct impact on foot traffic, and revenue. In addition, engaging with customers by responding to reviews and questions posted about your business in a timely manner is becoming increasingly important, Weber added.

Is Real-Time Even the Answer?

The most common mistake in real-time marketing practices is that marketers often forget that thoughtfulness, not responsiveness, is typically the more valuable response, according to Vic Drabicky, founder and CEO of January Digital. “Real time marketing encourages us to be reactionary and reactionary responses are quite often not as valuable as something more thoughtful,” Drabicky said.

He cited the example of a customer complaining about something on social media. Things could fester if you take too long to respond. However, a quick response that isn’t thoughtful could “stoke the flame,” he said. “Finding the balance that allows a thoughtful and quick response could squash the issue while strengthening brand perception,” he said.

Not Connecting to Inventory Systems

Sometimes urges for real-time marketing can backfire. If your brand sells an enormous amount of red dresses on a particular day, your algorithms respond and shift your marketing spend to direct traffic to the red dresses. “While an opportunistic move, perhaps you don’t have the inventory to fulfill the demand,” Drabicky said. “You have now led customers to a potential bad experience.

Adding more thoughtful rules to your algorithm or allowing your human marketing team to inject context into a system can save both dollars and brand perception. So while the amazing potential of real-time marketing is without a doubt a huge potential benefit,” Drabicky said, “when we value responsiveness over thoughtfulness, we open ourselves up to more challenges/mistakes.”

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