In September of 2014, Beyonce had a big month. September 4th was her birthday. Trends formed, and one hashtag began trending: #BeyDay, as fans and followers wished her a happy birthday.
But then something interesting happened.
Best Buy decided to jump in on the conversation.
Best Buy is a $12B, publicly traded company, with a fixed marketing calendar that includes campaigns, sponsorships, and media buys. This was not part of any of those.
This is what we call “real-time marketing” - a brand or media company jumping in on a public, trending, social conversation where they might not necessarily belong. They don’t jump in to HIJACK the conversation, they jump in to JOIN the conversation.
It’s different than what we’re used to as marketers - it’s weird, and it’s strange.
But it’s happening more and more every day.
All we hear about RTM today are the moonshots - the huge, successful stories that come from big events.
We hear that if you can “win” an event on social, then RTM makes sense. But if you can’t, then RTM is just a risk for your brand. It makes you look silly and desperate as a brand, The audience doesn’t want you in their social conversations, so why even try? It’s a lottery ticket, so stay away.
Here’s a collection of headlines over the past few years to demonstrate the current temperature for RTM in the press.
So these are funny, but what you’ll notice is that they are all opinion. None of them include any data about RTM - if it works, or doesn’t work.
This is the current state of RTM - lots of people are talking about it, but no one is bringing data to the conversation. This is an area of opportunity.
This is where baseball was 20 years ago, before Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s and Moneyball disrupted with data and changed the way players are valued.
This is where politics was just a few years ago, before Nate Silver and 538 disrupted with data as well.
So that’s what we’re going to do now - we’re going to bring data to the conversation. We’re going to play Moneyball with RTM.
So let’s start with our Beyonce Tweet. It’s silly, but did it work?
The best way to figure that out is to look at the data behind the Tweet. And we can see how effective it was for engagement and sharing through measuring Retweets and Favorites.
But how do we know if these numbers are good?
We’ll compare Best Buy to itself- we’ll look at the performance of this Tweet vs. their last 3,200 Tweets (removing RTs and Replies that will skew our data set) to see that this Tweet actually performed REALLY WELL.
And now maybe RTM doesn’t seem so silly anymore.
But this is anecdotal - it’s one data point. Luckily for us, there were 10 brands that Tweeted about Beyonce’s birthday. Let’s look at how they all performed.
9/10 brands saw a bump
Average RTs: +842%, and the bump to Favorites was almost the same.
This shape is called the “RTM Wave”, and you’re going to see it again and again as you look at the performance of RTM. It has two major properties:
Far more brands are succeeded then failing with RTM The success that brands are seeing with RTM far outweighs any losses
This is not a winner take all distribution. This shows a long tail of success, even if you don’t “win.”
In Trendology, Ilooked at over 100 brands doing RTM over the past few years.
I looked at brands doing RTM for big events, smaller events, and everyday trends, to see if real-time delivers consistent results.
And overall, it delivers amazing results. When brands do real-time marketing well, it really works.
If we think about the theory behind WHY real-time marketing works, it actually makes sense.
Marketing is a very difficult thing to do. We typically have an audience that is focused on something - a TV show, a magazine article, their Facebook page - and marketing needs to distract them away from that activity to pay attention to a brand’s message.
To do that we need bright colors and loud sounds and beautiful people and great storytelling - it’s very expensive, and not always effective.
RTM works in the exact opposite way. It finds a relevant topic that an audience is talking about, and then the brand jumps in to talk about the exact same thing. When it’s done well it doesn’t change the conversation, it joins the conversation. It drafts behind these centers of attention, just like a NASCAR, and sees great results from doing so.
We’re going to walk through three main points.
The four quadrants of RTM:
Planned: you know it’s coming, you can do this ahead of time
Opportunistic: a micro-event within a big event (like the Super Bowl blackout.) for this you need a quick response team ready to go, but there’s tons of attention for you as a big opportunity.
Watchlist: A known topic, but you don’t know when the event is going to happen (or even if it will happen, it just MIGHT happen)
Everyday: daily trends that you can’t see coming, you need to be responsive to
Brands can take advantage of all these different situations, you just need a different framework to be ready for each of them.
We’ll start with Opportunistic
Looking at all the brands from the Interbrand 100 that have done Opportunistic RTM over the past few years, it turns out it’s not even close to winner-take-all.
46/56 brands saw a positive bump in Retweets (when compared to their own historical performance) by doing Opportunistic RTM, with an average Retweet bump of +360%
And not just certain types of brands - there was success from many different verticals here. Arby’s, Kia, JC Penney, Gain, MTV
Royal Baby #2 announcement saw participation from a ton of UK-based brands. Nissan_UK was called out by many as the “winner” of the event, but how did everyone else do?
12/14 brands saw positive bumps in both Retweets and Favorites by jumping on a relevant topic.
Average Retweet bump: + 396%
Average Favorites bump: + 580%
Different types of brands saw success.
Visit London: tourism
V&A Museum: nonprofit
Apple’s iPhone and Watch event could be seen coming for weeks ahead of time, but with timely posting of content, many brands still took advantage of a trending topic to engage their audience.
13/15 brands saw huge bumps in engagement and sharing from their audience when talking about this event.
Average Retweet bump: +1300%
Average Favorites bump: +940%
Again, a wide variety of brands seeing success.
HTC makes sense, it’s a direct competitor
Mastercard makes sense, it was mentioned in the presentation
But Denny’s has nothing to do with the iPhone, and either does Zappos. Both got a great response from their audience.
And then, when a few iPhone started bending, brands jumped in on the trending topic #Bendgate
14/14 brands saw record bumps.
Average bump in Retweets: +11,000%
Average bump in Favorites: +5,400%
We’ve shown a lot of success for RTM here today, but what we don’t want you to think is that you can just blindly jump on any hashtag and get a bump.
There’s risk to manage as well, as there is with any marketing effort. But RTM risk can absolutely be managed.
In mid-September, a daily trending topic called #ThoseThreeWords appeared, and 30 brands jumped in to offer their take.
The distribution looked not so good.
Only 10/30 brands saw increased Retweets.
So what happened? When we dive deeper into the data, we can see a pattern.
Brands that stayed on message with the trend did well.
Brands that put their product or brand messaging first did not do well.
Here’s a revised distribution
Brands that focused on the trend: GREEN
Brands that focused on their product: RED
RTM works, but you have to join the conversation, and you can’t do that with a commercial. You need to do the work and not come off like a brand, and then you’ll get your increased reach and engagement.
In September, Digiorno (a big real-time marketing brand) made a mistake. It jumped on a hashtag that it shouldn’t have jumped on, and was mentioned in the press over and over. It became a poster child for “hey brands, we don’t want you in our social conversation.”
If Digiorno had used a tool like Spredfast’s Spark tool, they would have known within 10 seconds that they should have stayed away, but they didn’t.
What you probably didn’t hear about was when Digiorno returned to Twitter after 2 weeks off.
They came back with an RTM Tweet (around National Pizza Month), and the response from their audience (that, remember, supposedly did not want a brand in their social feed) went like this.
The audience welcomed them back with open arms. They wanted them back on Twitter.
To put it another way: when’s the last time you stopped a marketing campaign for two weeks and your audience MISSED YOU?
Real-time marketing and social media give brands the opportunity to connect with an audience like nothing we’ve seen before.
Social media and real-time marketing are giving us a new avenue to connect with our audience. It’s going to look different than advertising, it SHOULD look different than advertising. But it can be more powerful than advertising.
The data shows that in the near future if a brand isn’t in a trending conversation they will be missed - or the audience will just be hanging out with their competition.