Like Mother Goose's girl with the curl on her forehead, real-time marketing can be very, very good—but when it is bad, it is horrid.
"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," Bryan Specht, president of Olson Engage, says of brands that join trending consumer conversations while having little or nothing to do with the topic at hand.
Case in point: the birth of England's royal baby. Every marketer and its Anglophile mother jumped on that bandwagon, many embarrassingly so, leading to something of a diem horribilem for RTM.
And yet, the promise of the practice remains potent. Brands are building up giant audiences in social channels, and those beasts must be fed. Engaging fans with shareable content around the things they love is becoming a practical as well as a strategic necessity. Doing so skillfully and quickly (you can look dated in a news feed faster than almost anywhere else) is worth its weight in Oreos.
"What you have to do, as a brand and an organization, is be able to produce content on a regular basis and make it timely and relevant," says David Armano, managing director of Edelman Digital, Chicago, which has done RTM for clients including Adobe, Volkswagen and ConAgra's Slim Jim. "If you have millions of followers across social networks and at any given moment you put up the right content and promote it the right way, you can get in front of a lot of them. And that becomes a mass channel that's direct to your brand."
Clearly, RTM isn't going anywhere. In fact, despite its relative youth as a marketing tactic, a set of standard RTM genres has emerged, along with a suite of best practices. How do you do it well? You need sophisticated monitoring tools, inspired creative ideas and speedy yet polished execution. But perhaps most of all, you need "a culture where people are wired to recognize these opportunities when they arise and empowered to act on them," says Specht.
Also, you know it when you see it. Here's a look at recent real-time efforts tied to eight types of events—everything from holidays to TV broadcasts—and the brands that handled each of these opportunities with skill, grace and dexterity.