Real Time: Web’s New Prime Real Estate

The Internet was always fast. Google made a point during its rise to prominence to detail — to the millisecond — just how quickly it delivered a search result. And, as we all know, the Web has gotten even faster.
Real-time communications channels like Twitter are pushing the Internet into “real time,” where communication and information flow nonstop. This presents advertisers with a dizzying array of opportunities — and a daunting number of challenges.

Marketers “are built like battleships for long, sustained warfare, [but] this is guerrilla warfare,” said Lisa Bradner, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

One of the most intense challenges is the new speed with which messages need to be crafted. Think of display advertising, which is in the doldrums thanks to a nearly limitless supply of space outstripping ad demand. With a large chunk of the market transitioning to a marketplace-driven dynamic where advertisers, networks and agencies bid on ad placements based on people, not pages, a message — and its permutations — increasingly needs to be made on the fly. And this, in turn, means extra work up front.

HP, for instance, using tools from Yahoo and Tumri, recently ran a campaign with more than 20,000 ad permutations. To do this, said Catherine Paschkewitz, director of demand generation, HP Direct, “you need to take the time to think of your testing framework and the different things you want to test. It’s having an up-front process as you’re launching and refreshing campaigns.”

Another way to make display ads more real time is to use live video. Visa, for instance, ran live video in banner ads earlier this year that showed scenes from cities worldwide. Last month, Intel embedded live chat in its banners. Earlier this month, GE CEO Jeff Immelt delivered a Webcast address on healthcare issues live in a banner ad on top sites. And Volvo and Intuit have piped Twitter into ad units.

Another challenge for brands is that consumers now expect instant gratification when it comes to customer service, which is why marketers like Apple, Bank of America and now provide live customer service on their sites. Kevin Kohn, evp of marketing at LivePerson, which worked with BoA and Overstock, said this is nearly a requirement in a real-time world.

To help rein in potential customers, Verizon uses data to inform it when a live chat is needed. For instance, it knows users typically drop off if they spend more than two minutes per step when signing up for DSL and can ping them an offer to chat live with a service rep after a minute expires. “If you can intercept them, not only can you save their problem in seconds, but you’ve kept them from disrupting how they’re interacting with you,” Kohn said.

Consumers also expect marketers to respond quickly no matter the issue. Take the now infamous Domino’s saga. In April, Consumerist pointed to a video of two employees doing gross things to the food. Within a day, Twitter was alive with demands that Domino’s address the matter.

This desire to have answers in real time, wherever consumers are, is unlikely to change, said Andy Jacobs, chief technology officer at MRM Worldwide. “Our clients find themselves in a very reactive world,” he said. “They’re forced to respond to things. They need methods by which they can confidently and quickly publish info through the right channels.”

For corporations, this requires new strategies. It means, for instance, bypassing the normal layers of sign-off to get information out to quell customer revolts, Jacobs said.

As a result, several marketers have established presences on Twitter to stay on top of customer problems. This early-warning system can pay off. Back in December, buzz gathered on Twitter that Ford sent a legal notice demanding a Ford Ranger blogger surrender his URL. Scott Monty, a well-known Twitterer and Ford’s social-media leader, quickly nipped it in the bud.

“There’s the opportunity to enhance your brand relevance in real time and respond to problems before they’re intractable,” Bradner said.