This article first appeared on Fast Company.
By now, many of you have already been inundated with the never-ending flurry of expert commentary and opinions related to our industry’s latest infatuation, real-time marketing. Of course, we all know Oreo’s exquisitely timed and provocative tweet during the Super Bowl set the benchmark for breakthrough marketing on one of the world’s most visible stages. That nimble activation not only generated immediate social recognition and praise from consumers, marketers, and SXSW panels alike, it also ignited the latest social media frenzy calling for brands everywhere to evolve from simply publishing content towards a much more sophisticated construct that looks more like a traditional “newsroom”—an editorial team model that supports agile content development, predictable distribution, and real-time performance analysis to help marketers reach and connect audiences at scale.
Of course, that’s a brilliant and powerful proposition for marketers who’ve already embraced branded content as a way to drive deeper connections with their most valued consumers. However, it’s perhaps a bit too progressive for those many others who are still in the very early stages of content marketing and not yet ready to unleash an army of strategists, community managers, content architects, data scientists, cultural anthropologists, and atomic physicists all huddled together waiting for the next meaningful meme to emerge so they can all pounce in real-time with surgical precision.
In all seriousness, the perceived operational requirements of an editorial “newsroom” model are enough to send tremors up the spines of CMOs everywhere. That said, there are several key themes that can be immediately leveraged from the “newsroom” approach that all brands can embrace now, to not only help engage audiences with breakthrough content, but more importantly, to ensure they remain an active and ongoing part of the cultural dialogue.
1. Tap into the moment: As marketers, we’ve been engineered to work towards developing the next killer brand campaign that will make our clients famous and fundamentally transform their businesses. Perhaps that’s still our collective motivation, but in the realm of real-time marketing, the notion of traditional campaign planning becomes a bit irrelevant. In this “always-on” marketplace, brands are now tasked with tapping into everyday moments as they emerge with genuine wit, creativity, and timeliness to help drive cultural relevance with their audiences. Of course, this model still requires extensive planning, preparation, and vision, but the emphasis shifts towards developing a series of micro-campaigns that tether back to a central brand idea or distinctive point of view. It’s this flexibility and reliance on real-time audience insights that encourage creative expression while still (ideally) remaining true to the spirit of the brand.
Recently, M&M’s brought this vision to life with a timely and playful tweet to a student who had invited Kate Upton to join him for his senior prom. Although clearly not on the scale of the Super Bowl, this approach encapsulates the exact vision of celebrating everyday cultural moments while still ensuring the experience remains relevant and authentic to the brand. Also relevant is AT&T’s prominent activation around March Madness that brought this vision to life at scale and enabled the brand to dominate the social engagement around key moments of the tournament.
2. Native experiences vs. native ads: As the worlds of branded content and social media continue to coalesce, native ads have emerged as one of the most viable and effective real-time syndication tools. However, just because native ad inventory appears on the distribution plan doesn’t automatically suggest the experience you are crafting is “native.” How many brands have you come across using promoted tweets to push promotional brand messaging? While it can be an exceptionally effective brand experience, it’s not nearly as interesting when used as a traditional ad vehicle.
Earlier this year, The Atlantic launched a native ad program featuring “sponsored content” from the Church of Scientology that didn’t necessarily align well with the proper journalistic credibility—again, native ad product by design, but clearly not in terms of the experience (and backlash) it created. Increasingly, as more audiences engage with content through curated feeds the appetite for disruption is essentially non-existent. Embracing an authentic, content-centric approach to syndication is still the best way for brands to tap into the natural rhythm of social engagement and sharing.
3. Rigor and magic: In Nate Silver’s SXSW keynote, he suggested that in our pursuit for more data and information we have created a culture that fuels polarized thinking, citing the perpetual ineffectiveness of our political system to bring the point to life. As we think about the critical role data plays in real-time marketing, it’s important to ignore the non-essential “noise” and focus our attention on the key signals (i.e., social momentum, engagement, and velocity) that let us know our content is genuinely resonating with audiences—then act quickly to scale that experience as broadly as possible. Remember, nothing is formulaic (or predictable) in this space and the most effective real-time content strategy embraces a philosophy that imparts both data science and creativity to best drive brand impact.
The evolution from “brand as publisher” to “brand as newsroom” is well upon us and all brands have an opportunity to participate—at their own pace. However, news cycles and modern culture move quickly, so in order to break through, you must create an environment that supports active testing and iteration to generate the key insights that will help you navigate this new world moving forward.