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Comment: right-time vs real-time marketing - determining the best time to market
Image courtesy of Tibco

Part one - the always-on consumer. By Marc Darling of TIBCO Loyalty Lab.


Comment: right-time vs real-time marketing - determining the best time to market

Part one - the always-on consumer. By Marc Darling of TIBCO Loyalty Lab.

We live in the age of the always-connected consumer. That connection can come from a mobile device, or through an in-store experience, which often includes a mobile device anyway. But just because the channels are always on and available, and just because many brands have the technical capability to be in constant, pervasive contact, real-time all the-time is not necessarily the most effective method of engagement.

In many situations, setting real-time engagement as the default timing, or believing that faster is always better, are actually detrimental to building a truly-loyal relationship.

Consider the six core elements of building a loyal relationship: value, trust, consistency, control, relevance and efficiency. 

Using this as a guide, ask the questions: 

  • Am I deepening the bonds of trust between my brand and my customer?
  • Am I respecting the control that I’ve provided to them?

Rather than a scramble to be faster to the punch with streams of offers and enticements, today’s marketers must ask themselves “when is the right time for engagement?”.

Or more specifically, "based on the channel of communications, the context of the interaction, and the targetable profile of the consumer, what kind of timing is best to take powerful, relevant action toward my customers?”.

The two-second advantage explored

Obtaining just a little bit of the right information a little bit beforehand, and delivering it to the right person at the right time with appropriate context, is more valuable than all the information about a given situation after the fact.

Just because the capture and interpretation of these disparate events can be handled in fractions of seconds, it doesn’t mean that the next step, the offer, should trigger action with the same instantaneous velocity; that wouldn’t be accurate. In fact, a key concept in the two-second advantage is context. Context is the true competitive advantage marketers should strive to capture. Context is what ultimately differentiates real time from right time.

As marketers, we must also fight the temptation to act on impulse. Patience is an increasingly difficult trait to master, especially in a fast-paced world of notifications, buzzes, and rings, each with a message that promises to be important. Marketers now must ask “what don’t I know – yet?” and  “what missing piece of information will increase the relevance of the engagement? “. This could include: where the customer is going, what I have in inventory, when they are most likely to shop, and whether she connected with a friend on social media. Each is key to knowing the right time to engage. The information can be processed in real time, but the choice of when to respond is more nuanced.

When real time is not the right time

When the response is creepy. Real time is not the right time when a response can be construed as creepy or all-knowing. Imagine receiving an email about a deal on socks mere moments after you purchased a new pair of shoes. Though useful, it would probably make you wonder just how much the store knows about you.

Building trust in a loyalty relationship places huge importance on respect of privacy. Just because we have the capability to trigger an email or SMS at the exact moment of cart abandonment does not mean that it’s the most effective next action. In fact, it’s often the opposite. Despite knowing they’re connected, most consumers won’t welcome responses that acknowledge that every click, every update, every post is being tracked and analyzed. They may suspect it is so, but there’s an undeniable awkwardness in making it overly obvious.

Consumers usually welcome “butler” style assistance – taking in all available data but passing on to them just the information they need to make the best decisions at the appropriate time.

Consider when the consumer might be reconsidering the purchase or is in close proximity to a physical store. The best result comes when a brand leverages multiple insights, and among other choices, sweetens the offer to make it more compelling or gives other forms of enticement or information. The customer sees the effort without feeling like the brand is ever-present, waiting to pounce on any cue.

When building habitual or regimented behaviors. Many brands seek optimal relationships with their customers based on adherence to an ideal pattern or frequency of purchase, like pizza every Friday, skin care product replenishment once a month, or spin class four days a week.

Smart brands consider timing built around hitting a key moment of non-action. Using analytics to identify each customer’s normal cycle, marketers can closely monitor when the cycle has been broken and choose the best moment to reward loyal behavior as a prompt for reestablishing the cycle. The benefit of customer habits is exceptionally high, and the benefit of bringing the customer back is worth the additional attention and incentive.

When they are on the move. Eighty percent of the data-events generated in the world today have some degree of geographic context, including movement from place to place. In an omni-channel world, a customer’s movement from device to device and site to site is just as much a part of movement and provides key context to consider in right time marketing.

Rather than a reactive stance, the trick is to think about where a customer is likely to go rather than the historical view of where she’s been. Taking the abandoned shopping cart as an example, a brand can listen for the next moment both customer and smartphone are near a retail outlet in a shopping centre. The same concept applies for the customer who has been researching a hotel on the web and then calls a customer service representative. An upsell offer delivered in that follow-on moment has key timing and context.

When it risks the core transaction. Web analytics and usability have taught us to “stay out of the way” of a customer’s purchase intent. That’s only partially useful. Complexity at the time of purchase increases the risk of abandonment and says, “Maybe I should about this some more.” The reality of right-time marketing gives real-time upselling its place when the value of the interaction is compelling and well-aligned for response.

But what if the customer is in line at the store paying for their goods? Is an offer to choose another item well-timed when they finally reaches the checkout? They are unlikely to give up them place at the head of the queue to find another item. Not only is the timing wrong, but the sense of missed opportunity leads to customer frustration. Instead, if we communicate with them via an electronic receipt or SMS about their point balance, that compelling offer could be waiting for them on their next visit.

In the second part of this article, Marc will discuss the merits of Real Time Marketing.

Marc Darling will be at the Retail Bulletin's Customer Loyalty Conference on 10 June 2014 where speakers will include loyalty specialists from Subway, Feelunique, Lux Fix, Home Retail Group, Pharmaca (US) and more to be announced. Click here for the agenda and Early Bird registration.  


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