Brand marketing has entered an era of rapid-response. Major corporate reputation crises that have beset large brands have made one thing clear: the playbook for how brands communicate with their customers is in need of an update. In this new rapid-response ecosystem, data plays a new role in building customer trust and loyalty. But leveraging data about your brand from multiple sources in real-time, and then using that data to respond to consumers and create engaging content — that’s no easy feat. Many brands are addressing this challenge by building dedicated brand command centers, defined succinctly by Emmy-winning producer and content marketer David Beebe:

“A brand command center is where data and content come together to create always on marketing along the entire customer journey. They are the heartbeat of consumers and customers.”

On September 14, we will sit down with David for a live discussion on how brands can harness real-time analytics to reach their customers, as he draws from his expertise helping world-class brands like Marriott build their own command centers. As a precursor to our webinar, we sat down with David Beebe to understand just what command centers look like in today’s media landscape, and how brands can use them for better customer care and crisis management.

What are some of the new commandments for brands to succeed in a real-time world?

“Marketing is no longer Monday to Friday, nine to five.”

People and consumers are always on: connected, creating, consuming, and curating content, so brands should be always on listening and engaging in real time, too. It’s the only way they’ll stay relevant and part of the conversation. And with social media, there’s an expectation of standard response time for brands.

The main purpose is to be relevant. There’s an interesting psychological thing that happens when you put something on social media talking about a brand; when the brand replies to you you know that a) they’re there, and b) they care. It’s a huge thing for the brand to be present. The brand’s purpose has evolved into being the heartbeat for the consumer. And to that end, the command center is where data and content comes together in real-time for the brand to make actionable decisions in real time for the audience they’re targeting.

What’s the purpose of content today?

“Ideally, content should be focused on providing value to the consumer first.”

Unfortunately, that’s at odds with the training that CMOs and senior-level executives have traditionally received: that your marketing should center around features and benefits, and that that’s what consumers care about. That was true when consumers didn’t have the choice to skip commercials, and didn’t have multiple screens distracting them. TV commercials were the only way you learned about new brands. With the shift to a multitude of digital channels, brands have to provide value to consumers in real time. It’s tough for brands to put out content that’s not about them, but they have to be entertaining, interesting, and relevant to succeed.

What does a command center look like from the inside? How do you staff it?

There are many different teams sitting inside the room: your digital team, data team, content producers, even your corporate or crisis communications team. You’re also communicating with your media agency and other agency partners. One core persona is the executive producer — this is ideally someone from a TV or news background, used to operating in a newsroom environment. They lead the room or “direct the show”. Content producers look at all the data coming in, look for interesting moments. Then there are writers and designers, the creative team who comes up with what the creative is for the brand’s response: a tweet, a GIF, an image.  There is also a lot of of different technology in the command center to identify opportunities to engage — this is where platforms like Percolate come in to help centralize the process, and others like Tickr and Sysomos to filter through the streams of data.

What is the business case for brands to build command centers?

It goes back to being relevant — if your brand isn’t there, someone else’s will be. It’s really important when a brand is present and responsive. Going back to the purpose of these command centers, they’re not just about social media. There are actually humans in the room that consumers can have conversations with —  they’re not chatbots, but people who give a heart to your brand.

Can you speak to the role technology and systems play in the command center?

Not all creative teams may sit in the command center, rather they have a representative in there for the group. What Percolate helps with at brands I’ve worked at in the past is centralizing that workflow, as well as educating people about what ass1ets are being developed and published, and what’s been approved or is waiting for approval. In a large organization or for a company that has multiple brands, with Percolate you can see everything that’s going on and avoid conflicts. You can see what’s happening, what’s available, and the real-time status of everything.

Gartner has cautioned against the risk of command centers siloing off your social marketing from the rest of your department. How do you avoid this in the initial setup and workflow?

You need to set up the right system of checks and balances. For one, you have to ensure you’re not just monitoring social, but all media coverage about your brand. More importantly, you have to make sure everyone is talking to each other — your content and data team, your social team, your media agencies, and so forth. If it’s set up right, the person running the room  — the executive producer I referred to earlier — has insight into everything happening. As soon as people understand that they complement each other, and see the big picture of everything happening across the brand or portfolio of brands. Another key check — try to minimize the number of people involved; you’re not going to make everyone happy.

How can command centers play a role in real-time crisis management?

Older brands have a rigid customer care manual that originates from the days of call center training. When I worked at DirecTV, we had a script for when customers called. That conventional mentality of having scripted, automated responses has extended into customer care across other channels, including social media. For instance, a few years ago i was on a flight that had to make an emergency landing — after we landed, I took a photo of the landing scene with the fire trucks and emergency crew and posted it to Twitter. The airline’s response to me on social was “Glad you had a great trip!” That’s just one example of how important it is for brands to actually pay attention to what customers are saying.

Process and training are equally important: there has to be some sort of process in place for when customers go online to complain. And training can’t be overlooked: customer care and communications teams need to understand the different platforms available to them, their functions, and when to use them. In some cases, customer care is taken of in the command center itself, but in most cases it’s in a separate room. At brands I have worked with previously, it was handled elsewhere because it was so complex; we connected call centers to the command center and vice versa. Real-time data is important for experiential brands like hotels, airlines,and food brands: for instance, some hotels have real-time call data coming in that allows them to identify trending topics. This lets marketers get ahead of the problem, if there is one, before they go online.

Want to hear more from David on how brands can harness data to build real-time command centers? Watch our discussion “The Why, How, and ROI of Real-Time Brand Command Centers.”