Inside the Real-Time Marketing 'War Room'

  |  April 17, 2013   |  Comments

The new generation of social listening and monitoring tools can help small and large marketing departments alike run their own year-round mini war rooms.

Thirty-minute blackouts don't usually make huge waves in the news cycle - that is, unless they happen during one of the biggest spectator events in the country. Even under normal circumstances the Super Bowl is one of the biggest media events of the year, but when the blackout occurred during the 2013 Super Bowl, the brands who won the day were not the ones who had spent millions upon millions on coveted 30-second ad spots, but those who were prepared to leverage the opportunity to connect with the enormous captive consumer base via clever, timely, and relevant social media content.

The blackout was not only an unexpected event tailor-made for social commentary, but it was also a rare moment during such a heavily watched broadcast where nothing was happening (you know, like a game) to divert attention from advertising. It was a recipe for real-time marketing magic.

Across the advertising industry, Oreo has been held up as a shining example of a company that has seen amazing success with this real-time tactic. The brand's "You can still dunk in the dark" Super Bowl blackout tweet was retweeted thousands of times and was a highly effective way to strengthen its whimsical brand identity and engage with new and existing consumers. But the fact that such a successful media campaign comprised one 22-character tweet and one simple, unadorned product image belies the actual complexity of the real-time marketing process.

A widely viewed sporting event like the Super Bowl is now, for many, a two-screen experience, and usually presents great opportunities to comment on the actual gameplay. For example, the Ravens' Jacoby Jones' kickoff return touchdown was tweeted at a rate of about 185,000 tweets per minute. In fact, according to a recent survey by Video Over Internet, 77 percent of consumers say that they regularly use their computers while watching TV. So, for major events like the Super Bowl, Oreo and other brands like Tide and Calvin Klein are taking advantage of this second screen upsurge and keeping "war rooms" at the ready to capitalize on these golden moments.

The exact arrangement of a real-time marketing war room, also referred to as a command center, depends on the brand, its resources, and its overall goals, but in most cases, it is a setup much like a smaller version of NASA Mission Control or a political campaign. Several employees monitor multiple screens and experts and decision-makers at every level of the creative process are on-hand to develop and approve content. Feeds from every social platform possible are a must, as are the hardware and IT setups necessary to view and update them on the fly. And, of course, sophisticated social media listening and monitoring tools are leveraged to help guide real-time content strategies by keeping a pulse on hot topics and audience engagement, sentiment, and reactions.

Like all forms of social media marketing, real-time marketing requires a certain amount of flexibility and comfort with risk from the decision-makers at the top, which is sometimes easier said than done. Approval structures must be built from the ground up and integrated across every team that may touch the finished product, which means that brands must place a great deal of trust in their employees' judgment, dedication, and responsiveness, not to mention their wit and creativity.

Though war rooms can be set up to leverage major media events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, popular TV show premieres and finales, etc., many brands get the most benefit from operating their war rooms year-round. This does require a significant investment of time, but helps brands keep a finger on the pulse of consumer culture, take advantage of more, less-obvious opportunities, and ensure a smooth overall process. And, let's face it, marketers no longer have the luxury of time on their side as consumers grow to expect brands to operate in real time.

Oreo's agency, 360i, created a command center specifically for the Super Bowl, complete with a 15-person social media monitoring team plus artists, strategists, and brand executives with the authority to green-light content on the spot. However, for nearly two years prior, Oreo had cultivated its real-time strategy and teams, making the brand a well-oiled real-time marketing machine and ensuring that Oreo was primed to turn that tweet around in under five minutes.

Another popular consumer brand, Gatorade, runs a permanent war room out of its Chicago-based marketing department, featuring six large monitors and five employees maintaining constant oversight of the social media landscape. A year-round war room like this isn't necessarily guaranteed to produce a "tweet heard 'round the world" like Oreo's, but Gatorade has maximized its benefits and justified the operating costs by using it to regularly optimize landing pages, boost day-to-day engagement and interaction, and reduce exit rates, in addition to leveraging important cultural events.

On the heels of Oreo's success, as is often the case in our industry, many brands are looking to jump on the real-time marketing bandwagon. But is it a strategy that can be successful for every brand? For companies willing to invest in corporate flexibility and rethink how they approach marketing decisions, the long-term branding and loyalty benefits can be far-reaching. Don't have the resources for a full-fledged war room? The new generation of social listening and monitoring tools can help small and large marketing departments alike run their own year-round mini war rooms by keeping them up-to-date on real-time social activity and chatter to guide paid, owned, and earned media strategies.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Dilip Venkatachari

Dilip is CEO and co-founder of Compass Labs. He previously led Google's mobile ads business and ran PayPal's risk and fraud management, financial services, and compliance. Dilip has co-founded and led two successful start-up companies -CashEdge and CommerceSoft - after stints at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. Dilip has an MBA from the Harvard Business School, M.S. in electrical engineering from Rice University, and a B.Tech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

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