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Should brands be real-time? McDonalds, Capital One, Dell, Whole Foods Markets discuss


By Stephen Lepitak, -

March 9, 2014 | 5 min read

The rise of real-time marketing through the adoption of social media by brands has been evident over the last few years, with many companies increasing their spend in an effort to achieve viral success through single creative messages or longer-term engagement strategies.

A panel of brand marketers in the US from McDonalds, Dell, Capital One and Whole Foods Markets was assembled as part of a session at this year's SXSW Festival in Austin to discuss their differing social strategies in achieving audience and consumer engagement.

While much of the talk in the industry has highlighted major one-off success stories, with the much hyped Oreos Dunk in the Dark Super Bowl tweet still held up as the example to beat. But it was clear from the discussion that such achievements are rare and that chasing that success can prove fruitless and costly for most brands. The panel was united in the belief that rather than gaining a major audience through single posts, brands should see social as a customer service tool to communicate in a meaningful, granular level.

"What's lost in the real-time marketing discussion is the customer service stuff," claims McDonald's Corporation's director of social media, Rick Wion. "When we got started on Twitter years ago we were very particular in making sure that we had a customer service team as part of our original launch team because we knew we would have things that people would complain about and we wanted to make sure we were able to take care of those customers. For us, real-time is about one-to-one inretractions everyday as those customers that come in and are upset, we need to speak to them too."

Tonya Anderson, director of social media for Whole Foods Market, was in agreement, calling on marketers to view the potential to communicate with customers 365 days a year, rather than attempting stunts around major events. "The maturity that we have seen in the social listening tool space means we're no long just getting big blobs of data back. We have have pretty sophisticated ways to filter through them to look for influencers and because social is a more mature space for businesses, not every single tweet needs to go through 10 layers of approval. We're really at a place where real-time marketing can become a reality."

Noha Abdalla - senior director, brand social media at Capital One underlined the need to understand relevance, should a brand wish to activate around a major event, admitting that the bank chose not to focus any activity around the recent Oscars for instance.

"Real-time doesn't necessarily mean being a part of that culture-jacking moment. We don't have to be part of the Super Bowl, it's more about having the right conversation with consumers around something they are passionate about and something they want to engage with them on, but absolutely we'll engage around the NCAA because we're a sponsor and it's something our customers will allow us to talk to them about," she explained.

Meanwhile, Dell's VP of marketing, North America, Brian Jones revealed his social team encompassed around 280 people from within the marketing team. He added that a culture of social media use had to be developed and that his staff were trained in order to be capable social advocates. Training meant extending their skillset to allow members of the team to be able to help the company's sales team reach customers and prospects, so having specialists who could be reached out to by customers in need of advice.

"Every one of my marketing people is part of the conversation, so every person within the organisation needs to have an active role in social media and connecting to our customers," said Jones.

"Real time marketing is similar to the conversations we have already had. I'm not looking for the lightning strike, I'm looking for the constant connection with customers. If something funny or unique comes out of that interaction then that's great, but its not the driving factor in how I deliver a marketing campaign. I want that connection every day, for it to be relevant and empowering to the end user."

All agreed that social should be used for listening and responding to customer needs but that response should only be made when appropriate.

Anderson advised that social interaction be viewed as community management; "Real-time marketing happens at the intersection of customer conversations or your business opportunities or business stories and I really believe in the idea of holding conversations that customers would invite you to join. But by listening to customers listening to what they need and what is important to them and then by joining in with what is important to them, that can be useful to them."

Command centres and legal involvement have become the norm for real-time engagement, and the panel encouraged marketers to include their legal teams in order to help them understand what was trying to be achieved.

It was also agreed that inhouse social capabilities were necessary for brands in order to ensure that message were kept on message, as companies reach a 24/7 communications delivery system.

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