In the advertising world, many would point to the night of February 3rd, 2013 as the moment real-time marketing crossed over from marketing tactic to marketing buzzword. In the middle of a second half Super Bowl matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, a power outage caused a partial blackout for more than 22 minutes. While play was stopped, Oreo — working alongside agencies Wieden + Kennedy, Mediavest, Weber Shandwick and 360i — sent out a tweet that made social media history — and simultaneously gave way to one of social advertising’s biggest cliches yet: the real-time marketing hit.

Overnight, dozens of consumer brands dove head first into social TV war rooms, while agencies flocked to real-time publishing platforms and programs. The race for social response speed was on, even though not everyone involved necessarily knew the right direction to the finish line.

The Evolution of Always-on Marketing

Although social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin and MySpace had been around since the early 2000’s, it wasn’t until 2009 (when Facebook introduced Company Pages) that brands began to take a serious interest in incorporating social publishing as an important part of their marketing strategy.

Around this time, media audiences also began using Twitter to discuss their favorite TV shows, interacting directly with the show’s account and the stars themselves. Because new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offered brands round-the-clock audience access — a relative novelty compared to the traditional, finite TV spot — marketers could publish content to fans more frequently. This distribution approach — and a newfound ability to enter trending conversations — marked the beginning of ‘always-on-marketing’ (AOM).

Alway-on-marketing is not bombarding customers with more content at a greater speed than ever before. AOM is – to paraphrase Ben Wilcox, head of data and technology at Havas EHS – “anticipatory, hinging upon a deep understanding of consumer behavior, providing something in advance of a consumer wanting it.” AOM is provided within a context (time, place, location, emotion) that enables the consumer to simply engage with the product or services.

By the time Oreo published their “dunk in the dark” tweet, the concept of AOM had been fully embraced by marketers looking to ride trending topics by being more real-time. And while agency war rooms were common during major live events well before Oreo’s ‘tweet heard round the world,’ Mondelez’s defining Super Bowl XLVII moment pushed the AOM community into a frenzy trying to replicate Oreo’s Super Bowl successes. For the next year, a host of marketers focused on speed and response-marketing, occasionally losing sight of the value their brand could bring to the conversation.

Percolate-Decline-of-Organic

Is Always-on Already Over?

Much has been said of the death of organic reach. I won’t go further into it, except to say that the consistent, precipitous decline of organic reach — particularly on Facebook — continues to diminish the value of being the fastest to publish, or the most frequent. Instead, successful AOM, to varying degrees of real-time, has now become a function of who can respond the best and keep the conversation going in a valuable way.

Percolate-Real-Time-Use
Two great examples of AOM come to mind. The Barclays Pingit project allows anyone, regardless of whether they are a Barclays customer or not, to send mobile payments to friends and family for free. Since its launch in 2012, the mobile app has become the largest customer acquisition channel for Barclays, and demonstrates the power of a service-driven and product-based AOM approach. Barclays’ Pingit mobile payments app is available to customers anytime, anywhere – and customers want it because it creates real value.

The Share a Coke campaign, another example of strong AOM, printed the first names of more than a million people on Coca-Cola cans and bottles across the U.S. alone. The idea was to get consumers to buy Coke not just for themselves, but for their friends and family. The mass-personalization effort worked so well that the campaign actually reversed a decade-long decline in Coke sales in the U.S. With its iconic design, the Share a Coke campaign hits home what good AOM really is: visually compelling, personalized, and targeted marketing.

What these campaigns tell us as marketers is that on its own, sending more messages across more channels to more people with greater speed is not what’s valuable. The message itself, the quality of the creative and the quality of the response is what people care about.

What Does the Future of Always-on Marketing Look Like?

The time of AOM defined by speed and volume is over. But this is never what consumers really wanted anyway. Great AOM, creating thoughtful, interesting content that adds value to the conversation is the future we’re building towards.

What other trends are we seeing in the evolution of AOM, and where are we headed in 2015? We recently interviewed a group of senior agency professionals at BBDO, Group SJR, and Ogilvy to learn how top agencies are handling the demands of AOM in the post-organic era of social marketing.

Agency Takeaway: Consider adapting your brand campaigns to a variety of situations to publish relevant and on-brand messages.

“With the Luis Suarez tweet for Snickers, what made it work so well was that it was inspired by the core idea behind the Snickers brand, which is that “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” Using this core concept as a jumping-off point allowed the teams to very quickly produce a piece of real-time content that was both true to the brand and relevant to the trending conversation.”
— Daniel Charness, Digital Strategist, BBDO

If speed for speed’s sake is no longer effective in driving engagement, what are brands to do? Daniel Charness, Digital Strategist at BBDO recommends returning to a fundamental of marketing: the campaign. Looking at how Snickers has leveraged their, “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign should give brands plenty of inspiration as they seek to bring spontaneity to their marketing.

Agency Takeaway: “Middleweight” content can be a powerful tactic for brands who have the editorial resources and distribution channels to produce quality articles on a regular basis.

“My thesis is that most brands don’t do middleweight content, and yet is is one of the key drivers for success of brands. I think people were taught as brands to be disruptors and be campaign focused. Instead, today’s world is seamlessness – in other words there are 365 days of disruption.”
— Alex Jutkowitz, Managing Partner, Group SJR

Alex Jutkowitz, managing partner at Group SJR, wants brands to create more “middleweight content” in 2015. Content pieces like blog posts and contributed articles are easier to produce than “heavier” content like whitepapers and research reports, and have a longer half-life than “lightweight” social content. By investing in middleweight content, brands get the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

The brand of AOM that defined itself by speed and volume is over. And that’s probably a good thing, because AOM was never really about bombarding your customers with messaging anyway.

Great AOM, which is characterized by being thoughtful, relevant, and interesting, hinged upon a deep understanding of consumer behavior patterns and provided in the right context (emotional, time, location, and place), is alive and well.

Download our latest report, “The Evolution of Always-On Marketing” and learn what the top executives at some the most iconic agencies in the world are saying about AOM in 2015.