By Karen Semone
Some years ago, we as an industry started to talk about digital transformation. The impetus was, to put it simply, uberization. How could traditional companies possibly hope to succeed in a world where real-time delivery was the norm? An entire generation had become accustomed—quickly—to having products, services, and information and entertainment on demand, at their fingertips now.
As C-suites are scrambling to respond, marketers are updating their messages, but it’s taking a while to update the medium. Today, we’re seeing forward-thinking brands implement advertising and marketing strategies that are focused on responding to the way people consume today—in real time. It’s a trend that not only has staying power, but also enables us to see real-time distribution as it very quickly becomes the norm, and table stakes for marketing success.
Below are four powerful examples of how brands are leveraging “the power of now.”
1. They’re “lifting the curtain” through the use of live social.
At one of my favorite SXSW panels this past March, marketing execs shared how they’re integrating Facebook Live and other live social platforms into their plans. Strategies varied—from The Honest Company’s live-designing diapers with art direction from toddlers through their Honest Live video channel, to T-Mobile’s CEO Jon Legere sharing real-time observations with his customers on the hottest trends at CES. Each tactic had a few things in common. They were creative, they brought customers into their process and brands in intimate ways, and they were inexpensive to execute. Hasbro’s Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing Victor Lee went so far as to warn brands against advertising agencies who weren’t up to date on live social. “The Don Draper days are over,” Lee quipped. “We can no longer wait for agencies to draft the perfect brief and spend six months concepting, when experimentation like this is so fast, cheap and successful.” Message received!
2. They’re getting free or cheap user feedback in real time, around the clock.
Smart consumer brands are building communities of loyal followers to participate in their R&D processes. My favorite recent example of this is Glossier, the cosmetic company that started a Slack channel for 100 of its top customers to answer questions and share feedback on its deliberately simple product line (20 SKUs), in exchange for product. This social community-driven user research is not only innovative, it’s multi-purpose: after giving Glossier their feedback, the Slack members turn around and post about their experiences on their own social networks, becoming invaluable micro-influencers amidst a broader, fiercely loyal and growing fanbase. The value received far outweighs the investment of time and resources—which is evident by the waiting list customers often happily endure to purchase a “boy brow” eye pencil.
3. They’re using chat vs. traditional media as an intimate delivery channel.
2015 was the first year that Snapchat’s live story coverage of the MTV Video Music Awards surpassed its linear television viewership. I remember hearing that from the social media strategist on my team and thinking it was notable. Then, in 2016 (per Variety), 21 million unduplicated global unique viewers checked out the Snapchat stories sustained over the period that the show aired, while only 6.5 million viewers caught it on TV—despite an 11-channel simulcast. And while those 6.5 million certainly experienced Beyonce, Rihanna and Britney Spears in all their splendor, those who tuned in via social chat shared in authentic behind-the-scenes fun—Fabolous getting a shave at a barber shop an hour before the show. Blue Ivy walking the carpet holding her fully costumed mom’s hand. Kanye getting booed from the cheap seats. Today’s audiences expect more than the sanitized, produced versions of what’s going on. They want to be shown what’s really happening behind the scenes, by a host who is less polished than provocative—an edgy, unexpected and high-energy peer.
And chat-replacing-broadcast isn’t just for the teenybopper set. Native apps like QZ are leveraging a chat interface to personalize the delivery of news through a conversation. In this medium, your news isn’t just customized to your topic preferences. It’s customized to your mood that moment—there’s nothing more now than that.
4. They’re honoring quality and craft in real-time campaigns.
This is really it—the toughest nut to crack. How can brands maintain quality in the age of immediacy? It takes a trust and talent at every level of the marketing organization. Executives must hire for, and then allow for, experimentation, knowing that not all strategies will stick. And marketers must pay attention to the details—maintaining adherence to brand standards, voice and tone, and innate knowledge in what’s right to say or do for the brand—in a live, improvisational setting. A brand that’s gotten higher on my admiration list is Keds, who has not embraced Facebook Live, they’ve developed partnerships with Instagram and even driven programs like Create & Cultivate, a collective and conference celebrating powerful creative women. And they’re working fast to develop an in-house production studio to create even more real-time marketing that aligns to their legacy brand values. Quipped CMO Emily Culp at SXSW: “Real time is really the only form of marketing that matters—look around you, you’re all on your phones, all of the time. What else is there?” In their case, a classic and rich American brand that celebrated its centennial last year. Put real time together with craft, and that’s where the real magic happens.
It’s not enough to stay up on trends. Adding an element of “right now” to your advertising, marketing and content strategies is crucial today, and you have to jump in with both feet. While measured planning and creative discovery will always have a place, there is nothing more powerful than now.
Karen Semone is Associate Partner, Content Strategy Lead at VSA Partners. For nearly two decades, Karen has been helping brands create digital content that drives people to think, feel, transact, share and connect. She partners with clients to plan and execute digital, content-driven products and experiences. Past clients she’s helped have ranged from global enterprises like IBM, GE, P&G, Abbvie and Harley-Davidson to entertainment properties, once garnering 20MM hits a week for her work on BritneySpears.com in the early 2000s.
Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.