Real-Time Marketing: What It Is and How It Works

Richard Lee Peeler
Nayo Shell
Published: May 10, 2023
Last Updated:
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Real-time marketing offers sales and brand image-boosting benefits to businesses. However, marketers have been slow to implement it because of its perceived complexities, the challenges of influential marketing, and not understanding precisely what real-time marketing is.

What Is Real-Time Marketing, Really?

Real-time marketing is a hot topic, but marketers often need clarification about what it is. There are two approaches to real-time marketing: content marketing and contextual marketing.

Approach 1 — Real-Time Content Marketing

In real-time content marketing, you monitor news and events pertinent to your target audience and quickly create relevant, engaging content published while the topic is fresh in people’s minds. Sometimes called ‘news-jacking,’ timely blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media posts, and ads can all gain increased engagement while the topic is hot.

A memorabilia merchandiser, for instance, may create numerous real-time content pieces tying into limited edition products featuring King Charles’ recent coronation before and during the event.

Approach 2 — Real-Time Contextual Marketing

In real-time contextual marketing, you systematically collect customer-interaction data from many touch points and execute the appropriate response in milliseconds on the right channel to reach your target — chat, ads, prepared social media posts, and customer service can all use collected data.

A travel website could email or text a customer while they are searching for flights to Paris to offer a discount code for hotels in the city. A bakery app can send a push notification to a customer near its location containing a free coffee coupon valid with any pastry purchase.

You can use real-time content or contextual marketing alone or weave the two methods into a real-time marketing strategy. The same travel website could also feature blog posts about what to do in Paris and use social media to drive traffic to the posts. The bakery could use articles about how to throw a successful birthday party in their locality to tap into local search.

The simplest way to begin experiencing the benefits of real-time marketing is through content marketing. Begin creating digital content relevant to trending, newsworthy events your target audience cares about.

Benefits of Real-Time Marketing

“It’s clear that improved customer experiences are the most significant benefit to implementing a real-time marketing strategy.”

Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey

A successful real-time marketing strategy improves your brand image because people see that your company is on top of current events through timely content. You’re also seen caring about their needs because of your instant responses to their activities.

When you deliver real-time content pertinent to customers and provide opportunities in the present moment, you attract more visitors, generate more leads, increase conversions, and build loyalty.

Understanding Your Target Audience

Before you can create an effective marketing strategy using real-time content, you need to understand what your target audience cares about, how they behave, who they are, and where you can reach them. Then you can tailor your real-time efforts to their interests, preferences, and expectations.

Because your highly relevant content speaks directly to hearts and minds, it will Increase customer engagement and drive better metrics across the board.

Identifying Your Potential Customers

Creating an avatar for each audience group is the best way to identify prospective buyers. It’s also the first step in deciding on a marketing plan or building marketing strategies.

You’ll need to do a little market research that will pay off big because it will help get your message in front of the right people at the optimum time using the platform and channel of their choice.

Two data sets in your avatars that are of particular value in real-time marketing are:

  • Psychographic: attitudes, values, interests, and lifestyle. These will guide the content angle into agreement with the audience’s opinions.

  • Behavioral: purchasing habits, product usage, satisfaction, loyalty, and feedback. You can guide content consumers into actions consistent with normal group behavior.

Identifying each group’s preferred channel and content type is also extremely valuable. This knowledge will help you produce content based on current trends and events that audiences actually want to consume.

Finding Current Trends & Events

It’s time-consuming to manually search all the media available today to find content your audience values enough to consume. These tools will help you discover and track current events and trends:

  • Google Trends displays trending topics and compares the popularity of different search terms over time.

  • Google Alerts sends you an email notification when your topic is mentioned.

  • Twitter gives real-time information and opinions on various topics, events, and hashtags.

  • Reddit allows you to subscribe to threads matching your interests, browse popular posts, or sort by new, hot, or rising topics.

  • News aggregators collect and display articles from various sources and categories that you can search and filter. Examples are Google News, Flipboard, Feedly, and Pocket.

Utilizing Social Listening Tools

Using the right social listening tools to monitor online conversations allows you to quickly gain insights into customers':

  • Needs
  • Preferences
  • Opinions
  • Feedback
  • Sentiment

The tools also identify trends, influencers, competitors, and opportunities. You’ll know when your brand, product, topic, or industry is mentioned on various platforms such as social media, blogs, forums, news sites, and more. Researching and creating timely and personalized content becomes more efficient and effective.

Each social listening tool has its features, benefits, and limitations. Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Mention, Brandwatch, and BuzzSumo are worth looking at to see if they meet your goals and budget.

Crafting Effective Real-Time Strategies

Use these steps to build an effective real-time marketing strategy:

  • Define your goals and objectives clearly and communicate them to your team. What conversion type are you targeting?

  • Analyze the current situation to identify opportunities and challenges.

  • Choose the best course of action.

  • Implement your plan with speed and flexibility.

  • Monitor the results and feedback.

  • Adjust your strategy as needed based on changing circumstances and new information.

One of the biggest challenges facing real-time marketers is pivoting quickly enough to keep up with changing environments to keep content relevant.

Creating Relevant Content

Your customer avatar will tell you what content types your audience prefers. Monitoring current events and your social listening tools will inform you on topics to choose and the most popular position to take as the environment shifts.

For example, Patagonia markets outdoor gear to environmentally conscious customers. Their website, social work, and real-time marketing content reflect their customers’ attitudes about conservation and the changing regulations and events influencing it.

Utilizing the Right Social Platforms

Where does your target audience live, and what content type do they prefer?

If your B2B target group enjoys authoritative LinkedIn articles, you won’t reach many of them with a YouTube video or an Instagram image. You need to identify the social platforms your target audience is on and their preferred content type when you build the customer profile.

Generating Actionable Insights

Measuring the impact of real-time content can be challenging. Using a combination of tools will help:

  • Analytics platforms like Google Analytics can track and report on real-time content metrics — views, likes, comments, shares, and more.

  • Social listening tools monitor and analyze sentiment, feedback, and trends.

  • Content intelligence tools like SemRush and SpyFu can provide recommendations and suggestions to improve real-time content quality, relevance, and effectiveness.

  • A/B testing tools can compare and contrast different versions of real-time content to identify the best performers.

  • Content marketing platforms can help plan, create, distribute, and manage real-time content across multiple channels and platforms.

Actionable insights for real-time content enable you to create meaningful and memorable experiences for audiences in the moment, capturing attention and generating more conversions.

Leveraging Limited Edition Offers

Combining limited edition offers with real-time marketing is a powerful strategy to increase sales, engagement, and loyalty. Tapping into customers’ emotions and fear of missing out is useful in these promotions:

  • Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte and McDonald’s McRib sandwich relate to popular events.

  • Amazon’s Prime Day deals and Uber’s referral program offer discounts for fast-acting customers.

  • Netflix’s interactive Black Mirror episode or Spotify’s personalized playlists offer a limited edition experience available for a short time or specific audience.

Sending real-time, trigger-based content to specific groups can increase sales and revenue.

Executing Effective Campaigns

Knowing your customer profiles is the key to executing effective campaigns. Armed with this superpower, you can spot content opportunities, craft engaging content, and run winning social media campaigns.

Enhancing customer interaction will come naturally because you’ll have deep insights into positioning your product or service to alleviate customer pain points and bring them emotional satisfaction.

Developing Creative Content Ideas

Trend monitoring, social listening, and competitor analysis are all excellent idea generators. Brainstorming will help develop creative content ideas that use current events to showcase your business’s expertise, value proposition, and personality.

Writing Engaging Blog Posts & Articles

You’ll need to choose relevant, timely, and interesting topics and the angle that will tie them into your business, product, or service. Then follow these steps to write engaging content:

  • Do your research to gather credible information.

  • Write a catchy and informative headline summarizing the main idea or benefit.

  • Write a concise introduction hooking readers’ attention by agitating pain points or promising benefits.

  • Use a logical structure with subheads, short sections, bullet points, and clear transitions.

  • Visual elements like images, charts, graphs, or infographics support points and break up text to make your post more appealing.

  • A powerful, memorable conclusion summarizes the main points and gives the reader a call to action or a takeaway message.

  • Don’t forget to edit and proofread.

Engaging content that displays well on a mobile device makes it easy to run viral marketing campaigns.

Running a Social Media Marketing Campaign

A real-time social media marketing campaign coordinates a set of actions across one or more social channels that reacts to current events, trends, or customer feedback. A flexible content calendar is indispensable to keep all the moving parts synchronized.

To run a successful real-time social media marketing campaign, you need to:

  • Set campaign goals and a budget.

  • Use your customer avatar to analyze the target audience and competitors, and choose the proper channels, tools, content types, and metrics to measure your performance.

  • Plan and produce relevant, engaging, and timely campaign content.

  • Schedule and upload content using social media management tools to post across multiple platforms and optimize posting times.

  • Use social listening tools to monitor customer interaction and respond accordingly.

  • Track, monitor, and analyze campaign results using analytics tools to gain insights into reach, engagement, conversions, and ROI.

  • Tweak your campaign based on feedback and data analysis.

Enhancing Customer Interaction and Feedback

Taco Bell is masterful at enhancing customer interaction and feedback with a witty, edgy brand personality that appeals to its young and active target audience on Twitter. They use friendliness and humor, incorporating emojis, memes, and pop culture references to announce new products, promotions, and collaborations.

Taco Bell solicits feedback and votes from its fans, creating buzz and excitement around events — like the launch of its breakfast menu. It has won the Shorty Award for Best Brand on Twitter and the Webby Award for Social Content and Marketing.

Tracking and Acting On Real-Time Data and Analytics

You can automate real-time insights from the analytics and data tools listed above by combining them with an instant decision-making tool to make real-time contextual marketing effective.

A decision-making tool uses a set of rules to guide AI actions on information gathered from data and analytics. Then, within milliseconds, you can immediately send specific, relevant content to the right customer without manual intervention.

For real-time content marketing, manual analysis of data and analytics generated by analytics platforms and social listening tools may be enough to aid strategic decision-making.  

What Do You Need?

The benefits of real-time marketing are enticing, but the key to doing it right is determining whether you need real-time contextual marketing or real-time content marketing to engage your audience.

A sophisticated real-time marketing campaign can employ both. However, it may be best to start with real-time content marketing. It’s easier to understand and less complex to set up and operate compared to contextual real-time marketing, which has various touchpoints and massive data flows.

Expert content strategists can help you get up and running with a content plan with spot-on articles crafted to engage your target audience.


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