Skip to content
A white alarm clock is floating in the air because it is ringing so hard. This alarm clock was set to go off to remind us of the importance of real-time marketing in our strategies.

Real-Time Marketing: Definition & Examples

TJ Kiely

May 10, 2021

It wasn’t that long ago that marketing took a lengthy research-execute-rinse-repeat approach. But the data-driven, always-on business environment has drastically reshaped expectations for how (and how quickly) companies connect with their customers. Today’s companies are putting more emphasis on real-time marketing to leverage opportunities in the moment instead of chasing yesterday’s news.

Real-time marketing is becoming more important than ever, especially as customers start to expect immediate connections and feedback from brands.

Taking advantage of timeliness gives brands a chance to prove they’re connected to the wider world beyond their corporate walls. They can also use these opportunities to build stronger, relevant, authentic bonds with their customers.

Here's a deeper dive into real-time marketing specifics and how timeliness can inspire your strategy.

Table of Contents:

What is Real-Time Marketing?

Asking “What is real-time marketing?” is like asking a group of people to name their favorite shade of blue: the answer varies.

Some call it newsjacking, where brands comment on a timely news story to gain media coverage or social engagement.

Others take a more analytical stance. For example, Gartner’s Mike McGuire uses metrics and data to understand where prospects are in the buyer’s journey and respond accordingly with relevant, timely offers that provide value.

HubSpot notes that real-time marketing can also be the practice of listening to customer feedback and responding with relevant messaging.

If you’re looking for a general real-time marketing definition, it may be this:

Real-time marketing is the practice of marketing your brand, product, or service in the moment using timely events or feedback to encourage immediate engagement.

Is Real-Time Marketing Different from Social Media Marketing?

There’s a bit of overlap between real-time marketing and social media marketing. But the two aren’t quite the same. While both are designed to spur engagement, social media marketing isn’t always done in real time.

However, social media can be an excellent resource in your real-time marketing toolkit. It gets the word out at lightning speed and has very few obstacles to delay the process.

Why Is Real-Time Marketing Important?

To be fair, marketers have been trending toward real-time marketing for quite some time. Consumers are increasingly valuing immediacy in their everyday lives (think Uber, Amazon Prime, grocery pickup, etc.).

Given the current digital landscape, it’s fair to say that real-time marketing isn’t just another marketing fad.

The real-time aspect enables connections in the moment. If you’re referencing a current event in your marketing, for example, your message may be more likely to capture your audience’s attention. It’s familiar to them. It breaks through the marketing “blinders” that many consumers wear to avoid ad fatigue.

Today’s digital marketer isn’t focused on content for the sake of content. Rather, relevant content is better positioned to earn engagement.  And since time continually marches onward, every digital marketer has an endless pond of inspiration from which to fish.

Real-Time Marketing Examples That Worked

Real-time marketing isn’t always easy to get right. Because of the “timely” aspect, there isn’t much time for planning and strategizing. Digital marketers are seizing opportunities as they come and asking for forgiveness later.

But sometimes, these gambles can pay off big.

One of the most recognizable real-time marketing examples is the ALS ice bucket challenge. This viral social media challenge was designed to raise awareness for ALS by showing others how they can experience the feeling of ALS for themselves.

Just how successful was the ice bucket challenge?

More than 17 million people worldwide participated. In the United States, 2.5 million people did the Ice Bucket Challenge and raised more than $115 million for the ALS foundation.

The most admirable part was that the real-time content was almost all user generated. That was a big part of how real-time marketing was used in the ice bucket challenge and kept the challenge alive. Those who stepped up to the ice bucket challenge got to challenge their friends to do the same and/or make a monetary donation.

Oreo also won over fans with its real-time marketing tweet during the Super Bowl XLVII blackout. When a short power outage interrupted the Super Bowl, Oreo responded with a simple graphic reminding their followers they can still “dunk in the dark.”

The post received more than 10,000 retweets and 18,000 Facebook likes shortly after it was posted. Even better, the press mentions and 525 million brand impressions is far more than what the cookie would have received with a paid Super Bowl ad.  

Challenges of Real-Time Marketing

Marketers face no shortage of challenges in today’s rapidly evolving landscape, and real-time marketing is no exception. However, there are a few unique aspects that carry more weight with real-time efforts compared to other forms of digital marketing:

Having an Always-On Mentality

Marketers need to disable their snooze buttons if they want to seize real-time marketing opportunities. It takes an always-on mentality, even during the “off” hours. According to eConsultancy, this is the top challenge among 62% of marketers when attempting a real-time strategy.

Take Oreo, for example. Marketers are usually tuned into the Super Bowl - if only for ads and not the gameplay. But someone saw the opportunity to use the power outage as a way to build brand impressions in a moment where very little context was needed.

Building a Sustainable Marketing Strategy

Shooting off a witty tweet here and there is one thing. But building real-time marketing into your strategy takes a different perspective.

eConsultancy notes that 45% of marketers say that having the ongoing resources and skills to pull off a real-time marketing strategy is a top challenge. For real-time marketing to pay off in a way that it becomes part of your brand, finding ways to be consistent and sustain your efforts are key.

Collecting Real-Time Data and Insight

With planned promotions and campaigns, marketers have more time to collect, analyze, and report on data. In real-time marketing, this process happens much faster and can be harder to measure.

Real-time marketing calls for real-time data and intelligence, something with which eConsultancy says 51% of marketers struggle. Marketers have access to copious amounts of data, such as shares, retweets, and other engagements. But they need a way to separate the cream from the milk and turn those richer insights into action.

A screenshot from the Meltwater platform that shows how Tesla compares in media exposure, sentiment and other metrics against key competitors

Elements of an Effective Real-Time Marketing Strategy

Despite its many challenges, brands are finding ways to make real-time marketing work. Though every brand’s approach is different, there are a few common threads we’ve seen that support real-time marketing efforts:

Marketing Strategy

Building real-time marketing into your marketing strategy gives it a purpose and brings it to life. It goes from being treated as a nicety or an afterthought to being treated like a valuable instrument in your marketing toolbox.

Big Data and Analytics

After you jump on an opportunity, you deserve to know the impact of your real-time marketing efforts. Engagement is a big indicator you’re creating relevant, customer-centric content. Explore your analytics to see how well your real-time content marketing performs.

Dedicated Content Marketing Resources

Having a dedicated content marketer (or a whole team) for real-time marketing efforts ensures you’re prepared to seize opportunities as soon as you spot them. From finding a hot trend to creating copy and graphics, your real-time marketer can make this part of your strategy their top priority.

Real-Time Marketing Techniques

If you’re interested in testing the real-time marketing waters, there are a few ways you can go about it.

Social Media Marketing

If you want an important message to spread like wildfire, social media is a good place to start. Social media marketing is a brand’s direct connection to its followers and their respective audiences.

Mobile Explore GIF

Part of effective social marketing is social listening. It’s not enough to share timely, relevant content if no one is listening. Rather, real-time marketing on social media is more powerful when brands create meaningful conversations on things people care about.

Oreo’s Super Bowl humor worked because the game usually reaches about 5.7 million viewers. That’s a lot of people who would potentially get the joke and share it. They were also the first brand to snatch the power outage as a marketing moment.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a twist on word-of-mouth marketing. Messages travel from person to person, but influencers are usually those with a large following and can therefore help reach more people.

During the ALS ice bucket challenge, every participant got a taste of influencer marketing. Once the challenge began, participants kept it going by actively sharing it with their own audience.

PR Outreach

Many marketers use social media for real-time marketing to help their content spread faster. But that’s not your only option to get the word out. PR outreach services will pitch your story or content on your behalf and connect you with multiple websites, news channels, and other outlets.

The company you use for PR strategy and outreach might also help with reputation management. Access to advanced PR analytics helps you turn engagement and other metrics into actionable insights.

Key Takeaways

Real-time marketing is all about branding in the moment. It’s proof that you don’t always need countless hours of research, segmentation, and A/B testing to make an impact. It also gives your customers a peek at the people behind the brand and see how you’re connected to their world.

However, a lack of planning is often considered a gamble – one you may or may not be able to afford. Content marketing for the sake of content will never be as impactful as content that’s relevant and memorable for the right reasons.

Our key takeaways:

  • Acknowledge the risks of real-time marketing
  • Be prepared to take every opportunity
  • Let data tell your performance story