Making real time the right time

2014 was the year when smartphone ownership hit the magic number – 60%. Users spend, on average, three hours a day looking at their phones, and for all businesses and public services, that screen is the place you need to be. Immediate access to content is expected at any time of the day or night.

In today’s crowded media environment the potential appeal of communications that are more relevant, timely and personalised to the needs and interests of the individual is huge. The promise of ‘real time’ is to cut through the clutter of the information we all get daily, by engaging people on topics that they’re already interested in because, if done well, the brand/message becomes the content that people are discussing.

But is the increasing focus on immediate real time in danger of missing the point? The primary objective should be to reach people at the right time, in the moments that really matter: the right content at the right point on the purchase or decision journey. Real time marketing can play an important role but should be seen as a tactic, not the tactic to deliver relevant content to people at the moments of greatest need and influence.

With every trending celebrity story or significant sporting event, a flood of brands start publishing content on social media in an attempt to make the most of the unfolding drama. But just as clicking on a banner is no longer a novelty, neither is seeing brands marketing around live events. Real time can contribute to ‘clutter’ too, and brands that crowbar themselves into events with which they have no obvious relevance only risk adding to this, and being blocked or unfollowed.

Instead, the best real time communication goes further and uses data to reach people with relevant content at the right moment.

Our client, Birds Eye, recently ran a campaign in which they showed online ads to people between 5pm and 11pm, when they were most likely to be hungry and in the mood for a fish finger sandwich.

We used mobile to survey our panel between these times and asked people whether they were hungry or not. The hypothesis that reaching people in the right ‘need state’ is more likely to lead to activation was confirmed.

By replacing the digital ads our panellists normally see with our clients’ ads, while they browse the web as normal – not in a research environment – we can test ads in their natural state, in real time. This is vital for online ads that are intended to have long-term, brand building and equity impact, rather than simply drive a direct response.

43% of hungry people who saw the ad said they’d buy Birds Eye fish fingers next time they shopped, compared with 33% of hungry people who didn’t see it.

The approach shows the potential for long-term impact as well as immediate impact: among people who were not hungry, 17% of those who saw the ad said that they would eat fish fingers more often compared with 6% who were not exposed to the ad.

Innovative marketing requires innovative research and the challenge for researchers is also to reach people at the right time. At Ipsos we’re increasingly using mobile to enable consumers to tell us about experiences as they happen – so we can measure the impact of advertising, messaging, word of mouth and point of sale and get closer to the moment of truth.

The key to making ‘real time’ and all forms of marketing a success is to develop creative ideas that are true to the brand and founded on insights that resonate and inspire – and to use data driven approaches to ensure that they are executed and delivered at the right time.