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A couple of weeks ago, I attended the eMarketer’s webinar “Key Trends in e-commerce” and thought I would share with you the developments and insights that caught my attention.

It’s worth noting that most of the trends covered in this webinar are based off US-centric data. However, with the US being one of the leading countries in all things e-commerce-related, it’s safe to say those changes will soon be happening on our Aussie doorstep – if they are not already in some shape or form.

Below are the three trends that grabbed me:

#1. The adoption of beacons and visual search by retailers to bridge the online and offline worlds.

#2. Mobile sales may be small in volume and dollar value (at country level and worldwide). Yet mobile browsing is a key driver of sales across channels.

#3. Etailers are working hard to bring a human touch online and offline.

Happy reading! And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on new and emerging e-commerce trends to watch over the next few months.

#1. The adoption of beacons and visual search by retailers to bridge the online and offline worlds.

Beacons make it possible to deliver personalised mobile communications at the right time and at the right place to the right person. And amongst the many use cases, beacon-triggered mobile messaging may be used as a way of driving sales off and online (think: e-coupons etc). For those of you who are keen to find out more about how they work, their benefits and other key considerations, you can check out my post on the key need-to-knows of beacon marketing.

Compared to beacons, I would argue visual search is still in its infancy, with a much lower take-up amongst marketers worldwide at this point in time. Its future is nonetheless equally promising. Luxury fashion retailer Neiman Marcus is amongst the very few who have started using the technology as a way of generating more sales, with the recent launch of the Snap.Find.Shop feature on its shopping app.

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#2. Mobile sales may be small in volume and dollar value (at country level and worldwide). Yet mobile browsing is a key driver of sales across channels.

Research has shown that tablets and smartphones are often the preferred devices for searching and browsing product information, exploring options, with the actual buying typically taking place on a desktop or in-store. Sales made through mobile devices remain comparatively small as a result.

However, for this very reason and as eMarketer points out, one should not underestimate the influence of mobile browsing. Our mobile consumption habits and ultimately their very impact on sales make it critical for marketers to have a mobile presence, commerce-enabled or not.

Sadly, there are still too many Australian brands out there (large and small) whose web presence is not mobile-optimised and/or who have no mobile apps either – making the discovery of their products and services through mobile difficult, if not impossible. These brands are missing out and no doubt losing sales to competitors who think mobile first.

#3. Etailers are working hard to bring a human touch online and offline.

Online, this human touch may take the form of an online personal assistant or a video chat with a stylist to help with your online shopping as it happens.

Offline, pop-up shops are one of the ways established online retailers such as Amazon or Zappos are experimenting with a physical store environment. This allows them to connect with a category of customers whom they would otherwise not reach i.e. those consumers who prefer the warmth of real-life interactions with sales assistants made of flesh to virtual ones, as well as those who like to experience and touch products before buying them.

For more on these and other key trends, you can view a recording of eMarketer’s webinar “Key Trends in e-commerce” here. Alternatively, for the time-poor amongst us, here is (spoiler alert!) their wrap-up slide:

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Finally – there is one other trend worth considering, not covered in the webinar as such, yet one to watch in my view.

This trend is best exemplified by Burberry or Hointer.com as they both seek to bring the convenience of the online shopping experience in-store, each to a different extent however.

Burberry’s London flagship store was the first of its kind when it launched in 2012, and remains one of the best examples of store of the future to this day. Simply, no expense is spared to recreate a fully-immersive online shopping experience in-store, through a blend of interactive multi-media content and state-of-the-art store design.

A lot more recent, the Hointer.com shopping experience goes the extra mile in my opinion, achieving a closer “virtual store in a physical world” experience. It uniquely uses mobile technology as the key enabler of its in-store shopping experience end to end, transforming the role of sales assistants as we know it in the process.

Now, some of you may argue that Hointer.com is taking it a step too far, that it’s way too cold and mechanic and that it will never catch on. Well, it may be the way you think now as it is a never-seen-before experience after all, bound to take us out of our comfort zone initially. But who’s to say that it won’t be one day the only way to shop in-store? I guess time will tell.

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Have you ever wondered what a beacon looks like? I have and I have seen a few.

They are small enough they can sit in the palm of your hand, be stuck to a wall inside a store or inside an outdoor panel at a bus shelter without anyone noticing.

By Jonathan Nalder from Kilcoy, Australia (beacons by jnxyz.education) [CC-BY-2.0]

They first came to the world’s attention 12 months ago with the launch of Apple’s iBeacons in the US. This launch was closely followed by another defining milestone: the Regent Street project in the UK, a first of its kind now in full swing.

Soon after, as I was talking to two outdoor media owners, they were telling me about their plans to bring the technology to the Australian market – both understandably racing to be the first in market given its huge potential for highly-targeted mobile marketing.

Plenty has been written since on how the technology works and its marketing possibilities. For my part, I am genuinely excited about its many benefits. Yet there are some drawbacks to be mindful of also.

In this post, I specifically seek to answer the following questions:

What do you need for the technology to work?

What are the marketing applications?

Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

As a marketer, why should consider investing into beacon marketing?

And what key considerations do you need to be mindful of?

Happy reading! And as always, I welcome your thoughts, in particular any insights gained from first-hand experience or best-in-class case studies you may have come across.

What do you need for the technology to work?

As a brand – you need a native smartphone app programmed to react to one or more beacons.

As a consumer – a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, with a beacon-enabled brand app installed on it. Push notifications and location detection must also be activated on the app.

Assuming these conditions are met, as soon as one of your app users/customers is within range of your beacon(s), they will get tracked and a personalized message triggered and displayed on their mobile screen in the form of a notification, CTA or an event.

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What are the marketing applications?

The possibilities are endless. Their quality and effectiveness however are largely dependent on the sophistication of your data-driven marketing capabilities and their level of integration with your mobile ecosystem.

Two of the most advanced examples I’ve come across are the Regent Street and Slyde Beacon-enabled shopping apps. Key functionality typically includes the ability to identify a customer nearby and offer them customized promotions as they walk past a store, automatically check them into said store upon entry, mobile redemption of e-coupons and in the case of Slyde a touchless payment experience.

In terms of user experience, here are a couple of scenarios:

On a hot summer day, as you walk past an outdoor poster you may get prompted to redeem a discount on a can of Coke in a nearby Woolies, conveniently located within meters of the panel.

Another example, as you return in-store, and get near an aisle that carries your favourite brand of cereals, the store may invite you through its app to redeem a promo on that very product to incentivize repeat purchase. It may not be on your shopping list that day, but when prompted (or even better, reminded that you might be soon out of stock) you may decide to be tempted.

These are just some of many possible retail applications, and the more customer data is leveraged at the individual level (e.g. product preferences, frequency of product purchase, average basket spend etc.), the more relevant and effective the message.

Beacons may also be used in other physical environments (e.g. airport lounges, museums, cinemas, at home etc.) and to offer any number of value-add services on-site, not just retail offers.

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Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

77% of Australians over 13 are now smartphone users (source: The Digital Australia: State of the Nation 2014 report). And with Bluetooth adoption on the rise, it’s safe to say we are looking at a large audience across age groups.

Within that pool however, phone usage varies greatly. From your teenage daughter to your mum and your grandad, digital literacy and mobile user behaviours (e.g. what they use their phone for, where and when, frequency etc.) aren’t quite the same and so bound to impact on receptivity levels to your mobile marketing.

Critically also, mobile phones are our most personal digital devices. Hence how and when you choose to intrude on this very private space (once you are granted access) will make or break your relationship pretty much.

So to answer our question, all mobile consumers can benefit from it as long as you make time to know them – and know them well – and engage accordingly.

In terms of which categories are likely to benefit the most from beacons, retailers are by far at the top of the list – from your local grocer’s to your favourite fashion retailer or department store to name a few. But not just. I would also argue that any brand with a loyal following, a solid mobile presence and data integration strategy stands to benefit from it.

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As a marketer, why should you consider investing into beacon marketing?

Assuming you already have a suitable app in market (e.g. a shopping, loyalty or customer service app) with a sizeable user base, are in the process of building one or considering investing into one:

#1 – Beacons make it possible to deliver personalised mobile communications at the right time and at the right place to the right person – based on the customer’s location at its most basic, on their purchase history and shopping preferences also (when the latter are known) at its best.

#2 – They are a source of valuable customer data and insights: user data is collected at every interaction (such as store visits, dwell time, conversions); that data may in turn be used to build a meaningful and mutually rewarding relationship.

#3 – For bricks-and-mortar shops, beacons are simply a great way to drive footfall whilst allowing them also to compete with online retailers on delivering a personalised user experience offline. 

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What do you need to be mindful of?

#1 – Your opt-in acquisition strategy and ability to deliver on your customer value proposition are both critical.

For this type of marketing to be successful, you need to maximise opt-ins within your mobile user base. This requires you to think long and hard about the benefits and rewards you are going to offer in return for opting in to receive your beacon-enabled communications.

Those benefits and rewards (including their level of personalisation) must be of real value to the user for them to accept to trade off their privacy. And then, you actually must deliver on your promise. Failing that they won’t let you in in the first instance, or you will risk losing them and generating negative WOM.

#2 – The more integrated your CRM and data capabilities, the more effective your beacon marketing.

At its simplest, beacon marketing doesn’t require a fully integrated multi-channel CRM and data strategy. Tactical use cases can be as simple as driving in-store purchases on a seasonal product (e.g. sunscreen or ice cream on a hot day) amongst app users browsing nearby.

To realize its full potential however, it requires the ability to identify app users as individuals, with their online and offline interactions, purchase history and shopping preferences reconciled and accessed in real time for an optimal personalisation of the experience.

The reality is that most marketers are yet to achieve that single customer view and it may take a few years before they do. With this in mind, a staged approach towards achieving an integrated customer profile is most likely the best avenue, with a CRM and technology roadmap clearly setting out your capability improvement goals over a period of time.

#3 – Beware of the lack of legislation about what you can and cannot do.

The lack of legislation governing the use of beacon technology in Australia was flagged to me recently as a potential risk by an industry peer, and I have to agree.

On one hand, the absence of a legal framework is liberating for marketers – Amazon knows this too well as it picked an unregulated market, India, for the launch of its drone deliveries.

On the other hand, the lack of regulations may lead to an unbridled use of the beacon technology, which could antagonize consumers with marketers intruding excessively with their user experience.

So until such a time when we have guidelines in place, common sense must prevail. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Think: what would you think or do if you were to receive that message at that time and place? Focus groups, customer surveys and other forms of consumer research should help validate your approach also.

All in all –

When their application is carefully researched and planned, with the personalisation (hence the relevancy) of the message maximised, beacons can take your relationship marketing to another level. Fact.

They can be an effective way of driving sales but also building loyalty and WOM amongst your existing customer base through the messaging of timely contextual value adds.

If misused however, they could lose you loyal customers faster than you think. That is a fact also.

Have you started using beacons for your clients or own marketing purposes? Don’t be shy, let us know of your wins and learnings also.

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I have just come across yet more insightful research from our Google friends, which the advertising types amongst us will no doubt find useful.

This time the research focuses on mobile searches – specifically, mobile user search behaviours and the correlation of mobile searches with online and offline conversions.

You can view the full Mobile Search Moments study here – for now, I just wanted to point out a couple of striking stats.

First – their research shows that a staggering 77% of mobile searches happen at home or work (i.e. a location likely to have a PC), with only 17% on the go.

This surprised me at first as I had thought until now that smartphones were used for searching mainly on the move (i.e. when no PC is available). Then I remembered my own behavior at home: since trading my old phone for an iPhone 5, my smartphone has fast become my #1 device of choice for initiating all sort of activities from the comfort of my sofa including checking emails, reading online articles, playing games and … searching.

The study goes on by explaining that the key reason for users preferring their mobile phone over a tablet or PC when searching at home is the convenience and speed it offers. A respondent explains: “It was easier on the mobile device as I didn’t have to get up to turn on the computer and wait for it to boot up”. I could indeed have said this myself to justify my own behavior.

One other key insight that stuck with me is how powerful a conversion tool mobile is:

Not only 3 out of 4 mobile searches trigger follow up actions (e.g. visiting a retailer’s site, sharing the info you have found etc.), but also – and most importantly – 55% of purchase-related conversions (i.e. store visit, phone call or purchase) occur within one hour of the initial mobile search, with that number increasing to 81% within 5 hours.

As the ultimate “always on, anywhere anytime’’ companion device, the ever increasing take up of smartphones and with both a purchase intent and conversions this high, it is easy to see why smartphone users need to be at the top of any marketer’s priority list (sadly not always the case).

And for the time-poor amongst us, the below infographic sums up all other key insights for future reference – Thank you Google!

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Lately I have been reading about connected homes and connected cars. Whilst I am (very) excited at the prospect of experiencing both in the not-so-distant future, it left me wondering about what connected stores might look like also a few years from now.

3 players stick out for me when it comes to transforming the in-store experience through the integration of information and communications technologies.

All 3 are working hard to merge the bricks-and-mortar and virtual shopping experiences into one effortless, consistent and personalised experience. This they achieve not only through a selective use of technologies (mobile or other), but also by observing their customers’ shopping behaviours and adapting the in-store experience accordingly.

According to Burberry –

For Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of the British luxury fashion brand, the shop of the future integrates behaviours that are inherent to the online shopping experience into the in-store experience.

And so in the same way as customers shop online from the comfort of their sofa at home, customers in its London flagship store are shown to a sofa at point of purchase, where they are presented with a swipe machine that swiftly computes their purchase.

Christopher Bailey commenting on the launch of the new store design in 2012 explained: “We designed it like that because when you’re shopping at home online, you are on the sofa with your credit card. You don’t stand up and queue.”

Other examples of the “digitalization” of Burberry’s largest store include embedding clothes with RFID-enabled chips that can be read by the fitting rooms mirrors, triggering images and videos of the selected garment in catwalk shows or how it was made. Kitting out the store with high-speed lifts to fast track the time it takes for staff to check an item’s availability is one other (this check is instant online).

According to Starbucks –

For Howard Schultz, the CEO of the coffee house chain, the store of the future will enable a one-to-one relationship between the brand and its customers through the personalization of the service they receive as they walk into the store.

As he explained in a recent interview with USA Today, customers with a history of in-store mobile payments made through the Starbucks app could in future be presented with their usual favorite drink as they are geo-located and id’ed the moment they step through the door – without having to order.

According to GAP –

For the high-street fashion retailer, the store of the future reconciles the rise of the omni-channel shopper with the company’s ability to connect demand (web, mobile or offline) to supply (wherever it might be also) through its backend systems. This has led the retailer to start trialing the find in-store and reserve-in store features on its shopping app.

The app geo-locates you and flags the nearest stores. By connecting to the store inventories in real-time, it shows you the inventory level for a given item and ultimately gives you the ability to find and buy the item you pre-shopped online in a store of your choice.

As you go online to shop with GAP, you spot an item you like, you locate it in a store near by and simply reserve it. The item is held for you until the next business day for you to try in store, build a transaction and possibly a whole outfit around it. Unlike pick-up in-store, it encourages customers to stick around as they try things on and build a connection with the staff and brand.

In both scenarios, the shopping experience starts online and leads to an offline transaction.

No doubt there are more examples in the same vein (feel free to share those you find inspiring!). Burberry and Starbucks however are ones to watch: they have famously (and successfully) broken new grounds when it comes to integrating digital media and platforms into their marketing efforts. And they are constantly looking for new ways to market their products and optimise the customer experience.

With this in mind, any one who ever thought the bricks-and-mortar shops would soon be a thing of the past may want to have a rethink. A converted online shopper myself, I could even be tempted to go back in-store.

I recently listened to an interview with Film Director Danny Boyle, held at this year’s SXSW.

He spoke about the democratization of film-making, how easy it is for a new generation of film-makers to distribute their content on the web direct to the public (which I liken to self e-publishing for wannabe writers), and the fact that anyone with a smartphone camera can now create footage on the fly that may well end up one day on prime time TV news.

One other comment he made that resonated with me was his prediction on the future of movie-making.

According to him, soon, we will be given the license to re-edit movies ourselves, potentially leading to a ‘’whole new art form” – just in the same way as we are able to create new music tracks by remixing existing ones. This point reminded me of what has started happening with crowd-sourced advertising.

Crowdsourcing of user-Generated Content (UGC) for advertising or promotional purposes is nothing new. However, it was recently taken to another level by Ford and Coca Cola. These 2 companies are empowering their fans on creating content in new and bold ways, whilst being careful to retain some control over the final outputs.

At the start of the year, Ford announced its plan to recruit 100 new brand ‘’agents’’ (as they are known), all handpicked and socially-connected, to produce the next campaign for its 2014 Fiesta – that is 12 months worth of ads entirely generated by consumers…! Daring and ground breaking at the same time. And this is where it all starts if you wish to put yourself forward as a wannabe ad exec: simply go to fiestamovement.com to register (good luck! ☺).

This move stays true to the car marker’s existing reputation as one of the most social marketers. I see it as the natural continuation of its Ford Fiesta Movement kicked off 4 years, when 100 social “agents” were then recruited within the target audience to create content about their own driving experiences for seeding on social media.

This year’s campaign however ups the ante as it empowers the selected lucky few a lot more than previously. Their video clips will not only appear on social media but also on other media. They could be used as TV or online commercials, repurposed as digital, social media or press ads (generating substantial production cost savings in the process no doubt). Obviously, the casting of these agents is managed tightly by the advertiser as a number of filters and parameters for recruits to work within will apply. These are necessary to ensure all content created is indeed on brand and achieves the campaign objectives in terms of awareness, social media buzz (shareability and virality), hand-raisers and ultimately sales wins. However Ford also insists that it will be careful not to interfere too much with the creative process by giving its agents greater ownership and license than usual.

Meanwhile, Coca Cola also appears to be on a mission to redefine UGC as it continues to seek to create closer ties with its target audience by crowd-sourcing pop song writing in its latest campaign, the Perfect Harmony Programme. The programme was developed in partnership with Fox’s “American Idol” and lets you create a song with pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen. Each week you can vote on which of the proposed lyrics you want to see featuring in sections of the song, and each vote unlocks exclusive content. You also get entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a trip to the “American Idol” season finale and other related treats.

… And as I threw my vote in for week 1 of the campaign, I couldn’t help notice (with great delight!) that at any time Coca Cola didn’t force me to like their Facebook page to participate. Consistent with Coca Cola’s approach to creating genuine connections with its fans.

Now, let’s go back to Danny Boyle’s comment on the future of film making with both of these examples in mind.

I would say that the future of film making will not only be about empowering fans and wannabe film makers to remix existing movies, but also about letting fans and the public at large contribute to creating an entire storyline from scratch, in partnership with a brand, established film studio and/or film marker – with this collaboration simply enabled by the web and social media.

And this has already started happening to some extent. CollabFeature has been leading the way by allowing a collective of independent film makers all over the world to co-create, co-direct and produce feature films by simply collaborating online via a bespoke platform. Their first film, The Owner, won the German IPTV award for innovative format in 2012 and beat the Guinness World Record for most directors of a film with 25 directors directing from 13 countries.

The next logical instalment of this could be to see a brand (Red Bull and its media & content division, Red Bull Media House, come to mind) partner with an established film maker (or music artist) on crowdsourcing a storyline (or lyrics) for a feature film (or song) in a similar fashion i.e. by completely opening up the content creation process to their fans and wider public – not just to a limited crowd of professionals or within constraining parameters (e.g. choosing from ready-made lyrics). The idea would be to let the consumer be in the driving seat with the brand and film maker (or music artist) providing guidance only.

You then end up with a three-way partnership between an advertiser, a film maker (or artist) and their fans and consumers co-creating entertainment together for the enjoyment of the wider public. The key challenge will be to let consumers drive or at least have an equal share of voice in the project. This also throws all sorts of questions over whom ultimately owns that content. However the legal hurdles seem to be worthwhile as to my knowledge, this type of partnership is unheard of (let me know if you know otherwise) and yet, is in my view the ultimate brand-consumer connection to aim for.

A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

A lot of ink has been spilled lately on the “immediacy of the internet”, the “real-time web”, the benefits of “newsjacking” and the fact that social media “war rooms”, “mission controls” and “creative newsrooms” are becoming a regular fixture at brands’ HQ.

These are just some of the causes and manifestations of what has become known as real-time marketing. Or 24/7 marketing as some of us like to call it.

I like to think of real-time marketing as a form of opportunism with a marketing or PR twist. In my opinion, it is best defined as:

The art and practice of taking advantage, in real time, of trending topical content to create maximum impact for your brand or product.

Where the impact is measured in terms of offline and online WOM, earned media coverage, sales etc.

A recent successful example of this is the “Dunk in the dark” Twitter ad from Oreo at this year’s Super Bowl, which was created and broadcast within minutes of the power outage causing some of the lights to go out. This tiny (and inexpensive) ad generated over ten thousand retweets and Facebook likes before going viral on Tumblr. Although the sales impact is yet unknown, the brand awareness and equity have most certainly gone up as a result.

Another lesser known but no less successful example is the appropriation of the Super Bowl by an American advertising agency for the last 3-4 years. Not only does its Brand Bowl do a great job of “highjacking’’ the game extensive publicity, it also leverages a well-known behaviour (the fact that everyone LOVES to talk about the Super Bowl ads) whilst showcasing the agency’s smarts in social media to existing and potential customers:

Why is real-time marketing grabbing so many headlines these days?

Although it’s been around for some time, it is becoming increasingly popular amongst advertisers as a result of a fundamental change in the way we consume content. This new behaviour has created more opportunities to engage with their audience apropos.

The fact is that more and more of us are connected to the web for a larger portion of our day as we hop from one device to the next. One way to look at our ever-growing need to stay connected through a device is nicely summed up here (courtesy of Rob Gordon):

sleep internet

According to Google, on average 4.4hours of our leisure time is spent in front of screens every day (be it a TV, mobile, tablet or desktop screen), with a good chunk of that time spent online. (And some of us are more addicted than others: with up to 9 hours spent on screens and more time online than any other nation, the British are officially the most obsessed with the www.)

To put this into context, the above Super Bowl case studies both tapped into the 36% of Super Bowl viewers who confided they would be using a second screen, with 52% admitting to using social media during the game.

What are the key ingredients to successfully targeting this new breed of highly connected consumers?

Simply put, speed, impact and relevance. Or the timely delivery of relevant content with high virality potential.

Easily said, not so easily done as the challenge for marketers then becomes to have the right skills on hand and solid logistics behind it.

Brands have to be prepared to commit dedicated in-house resource to it or alternatively outsource the service entirely – a substantial and continuous investment either way. Additionally, it is advisable that they continue leveraging their creative and media partner agencies’ smarts to ensure the content ideas, the timing and delivery channel(s) resonate best with the target audience, especially around key campaign dates.

Coca Cola and Oreo’s real-time management of their Super Bowl social media campaigns exemplify this cross-functional brand/agency operational model perfectly, and how involved it can get:

Coca Cola set up “war rooms” across the country as it monitored and responded live to user engagements throughout its Mirage TV and social game campaign at this year’s Super Bowl. The size of the multidisciplinary team pulled together on that one day was impressive:
“Nearly 40 execs from Coca-Cola, Wieden, Starcom MediaVest Group and PR shop Allidura gathered at the 360i offices in downtown Manhattan to manage the brand’s second screen experience. Another 20 people worked remotely in collaboration with the team, while Katie Bayne, president-North America brands, and Allison Lewis, senior VP-marketing Coca-Cola North America, were in New Orleans at the game.” (Source: Ad Age)

Likewise, Oreo’s Black Out Twitter ad would not have been possible without a solid operation in place: brand and agency teams (including copywriters, artists and senior brand stakeholders) were on call that day, strategising together in the same room, and ready to react within minutes to any opportune situation unravelling on and off the pitch throughout the game.

As a brand, you may prefer to keep your involvement to a minimum by outsourcing the operations and bulk of the work to an agency specialising in real-time content creation and newsjacking. That’s Pepsi’s choice with its partnership with Deep Focus’ social media service Moment Studio.

Whichever operational model you choose, it can’t be a half-hearted effort and requires a serious investment in time and $$ to deliver positive results for your brand.

Finally, another question comes to mind: can brands afford not to be committed to real-time marketing 24/7?

With so many of us connected around the clock, it appears not. The Burger King Twitter PR disaster, the latest high-profile hack in the series, shows how imperative it is for a brand to have a strategy in place for the efficient and timely monitoring of their social channels 24/7.

Whichever way you go about it, for real-time marketing to work in the connected world we live in, it requires a fundamental shift in mindset on the advertiser’s part i.e. their agreement to a lean, nimble approval process to allow for the speedy delivery of near-instant communications. And in my view that is probably the trickiest part and biggest obstacle to effective real-time marketing.

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