The Harsh Realities Of The Real-Time Web For Marketers

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In four words: we are not prepared.

The past few months have probably been all about planning for the next year (and, for some, even beyond this coming year). We look at product launches, holiday seasons, brand requirements, sales goals and beyond to figure out the marketing mix, align the agencies and get our collective ducks in a row. Once the budgets get confirmed, it’s all systems go… or is it?

Let the data decide.

For the past few decades, marketers have been leveraging the power of data to remove more and more of the guess work that comes from our marketing initiatives. Direct Marketing (and its subsequent growth) played an integral part in helping marketers to understand the power of data, analytics, outcomes and predictive modeling. Loyalty programs helped marketers truly understand who their customers are (and what they are doing). Web analytics pushed this even further, helping marketers to deep dive into the customer sales funnel and by providing amazing insights that could be turned into actionable outcomes (as my friend, Avinash Kaushik, says). Now, comes the real-time Web.


We are able to see a lot more information (from usage to customer service issues to innovation opportunities to advertising performance) and it’s happening live and in the moment. It’s now. It’s not data today from usage over the past week. It’s right at this very moment.

How are we dealing with it?

Not very well. Even the most sophisticated marketers don’t have the right tools and dashboards to do more than know and see that something is happening. The truth is that most marketers, are still planning on a quarterly basis and – if they’re really good – only looking at performance on a weekly (sometimes monthly) basis. Marketing optimization is still not a huge priority for most brands and their infrastructure is not set-up to react and engage with this real-time Web. The raw truth is that marketers can finally react on a moment’s notice to an opportunity or to something that isn’t performing at the anticipated pace. Sadly, brands are too busy looking at Excel charts and reports that lie in an inbox or are stacked up on the CMO’s desk. The world of the real-time Web and the CMO’s desk full of reports have collided and they are diametrically opposed in terms of efficacy. The real-time Web is leaving lots of marketing opportunities in the dust for the majority of brands.

Moving this forward.

Agencies need to foster, nurture and create better dashboards and reporting for this real-time world. Along with that, they need to restructure how they perform and output their work to better serve the client’s needs and to act as a true agent of marketing on their behalf. Brands need to completely overhaul how they set-up and measure performance. This includes a quicker pace and desire to get things right on an iterative process in lieu of the post-performance analysis and trying to get it right the next time around. At a more macro level, the only way to really improve is for both agencies and brands to become better and closer partners in the work. A true marketing partnership over a provider or supplier mindset is what will, ultimately, really move the needle. Yes, the creatives and the strategists now need to make the data and math folks their best friends. At the Google Zeitgeist conference that I attended last month, Google Chairman, Dr. Eric Schmidt said, "In God we trust… everyone else must bring data." Word to the wise Marketer.

What’s do you think it’s going to take?


  1. This is a fantastic and timely post. Most marketers calling themselves “real time” just mean “faster”.
    Data moves so quickly that marketing outputs need to be predictive. That can only happen with an accumulation of data history and pattern recognition. Experiences will be different for each user type. This is part of what I’m working on now.
    It’s changing the agency experience, dynamics, and integration with the client–for the better. It leads to better ROI as it doesn’t rely solely on intuition and guesses on how what changes will occur in the market.

  2. The problem is not the speed of the data, but the speed of the humans. For example, even if my big retail clients learned in real time, via a live ticker, that Cool Jeans are suddenly smoking hot (maybe Drake wore them on a red carpet), it still takes human beings to find them, order them, label them, process them and ship them – and that’s presuming everyone at Cool Jeans is ready for the calls. And if the retailer wants the smoking hot jeans in-store, well, that adds even more layers, including advising the 16 year old salesperson that these jeans are hot NOW and to get them on the floor NOW. So far, in my experience, there is still a very looooong lag between receiving the info, even if you get its significance, and being able to translate that into immediate success.

  3. Ava has a good point, but we’re not dealing with a trend–it’s something we can directly tie ROI to. It is up to the agency to understand how this works and educate the client so they can make the best business decision.

  4. Hmm… While it’s true that reacting to market signals immediately can bring you more sales, the reality is vastly different.
    If a company is planning for its next quarter,year, whatever, it has to base its decisions on long-term predictions – and these, by definition, are based on past performance.
    Example: if there’s been a recent big fire with lots of destruction, the market is outrageously interested in fires and fire protection. In your scenario, a fire protection equipment company might be led to think now is the time to capitalize on that fire. In reality, the fire will be off the front page of news in about two days. The next quarter’s marketing spend allocation shot to hell.
    Add to this manufacturing and delivery times, logistics planning, and the company’s need to look beyond day-to-day fluctuations on its market, and the picture will suddenly look a lot more vague.
    Or did I misunderstand something?

  5. What we’re talking about is a revisionary business model. Businesses already operating efficiently with positive cash flows will be best suited for pivoting into this more social business. The ones that aren’t and are looking to real time data for salvation will not have the capacity to utilize it and will only flounder. Any agency offering realtime services should be mindful of this.
    That being said, I see realtime data offerring many opportunities to agencies offerring service design consulting. Any firm brave enough to see that directions need to be changed and are committed to changing them can begin immediately making small precise movements towards meeting their consumers half way and beginning to understand what products and services they are really hoping for.

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