The Real-Time Brand

VMA Data Visualization

Brand communication to the masses used to be an expensive proposition. It involved painstakingly producing assets, buying media, and long leads times.

Campaigns will always be with us, but now most brands have their own media channels as well, many with millions of opt-in subscribers. We can access all those people at a touch of a button.

This is an amazing, and unprecedented thing. But with that power comes changed expectations. Social is an immediate, and human medium. The expectation is a conversation, which means immediate reaction, real-time discourse, and timely topic starters. It means being of the moment.

Gatorade Control Center

Gatorade has a created a dedicated control center where they can listen to their audience, see trends and conversation spikes, and respond in real-time.

Comcast Cares Radian6

It might seem like PR, but it works. Comcast’s pioneering twitter customer service uses a custom Radian6 setup, allowing them to respond within minutes to customer gripes or questions.

McLaren Real Time Data Stream

McLaren have automated their real-time communication. The F1 constructor live streams data to the website during F1 races and tests, including live stats and real-time commentary between the car and the pit.

Baker Tweet

BakerTweet allows Albion Bakery to send out immediate updates to fans when their breads are fresh out of the oven, just by a flick of a switch.


The real-time extension of Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign delivered on-the-fly episodic content, scripting, producing and distributing 87 short videos in 11 hours, all in response to live commentary on Twitter.

Cultural relevance and relevance to the consumer’s needs is increasingly defined in minutes and days, not weeks or months. Increasingly brands need to be participating in 24/7, 365 conversation, and campaigns themselves need to become more agile and responsive. This is giving birth to the “real-time brand”, which is a fundamentally different way of thinking about and delivering marketing conversations.

Here’s a few initial guidelines for the Real-Time Brand:

  • Create your listening post
    The internet is filled with millions if not billions of conversations daily. You need a way of honing in on what is most relevant in order to be able to meaningfully participate. Technology solutions such as Radian6 and Visible Technologies are a good place to start.

  • Find your voice
    Be ready to react in the moment with your brand’s POV. This includes ensuring the people who are charged with manning the listening posts and social presence are able to and authorized to respond in real time, and can do so in a voice that represents the brand.

  • Shift from campaigns to content streams
    Real-time brands have a steady stream of original content humming out on their social channels. Start by creating a conversational calendar and leave room for experimentation. The cost of creative failure is much lower, so try things, weed out the weak performers and amplify the rest.

  • Treat campaigns as living things
    Rather than fire and forget, ensure your campaign budget allows for responses and reactivity, and leave room for your audience to get involved with them.

  • Automate to reduce information latency
    As McLaren’s live commentary stream and BakerTweet show, real-time communication from brands doesn’t always need to come from people. Relevant and true real-time messaging can also come from connected products or automated triggers, cutting the information latency down to next to nil.

  • Invest
    The resources required to support an ongoing conversation should be allocated separately to the traditional campaign budget, as the depth and on-going support required is a completely different model. Best Buy have tried empowering their entire workforce (to mixed results), while Dell’s success is built around a dedicated 45 person team. This isn’t somebody’s part time job, it’s a whole new way of bringing the brand to life.

    Also worth considering is taking a page out of Red Bull’s book. They have inverted the traditional media model, investing as much as 90% in execution vs 10% in media. They produce great events and content, and then leverage earned media and PR get it in front of millions of people.

The shift we’re seeing is just beginning, even if it’s fast becoming an imperative. If you have any other principles or great examples of the real-time brand I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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