Listening to and responding to customers isn’t exactly something new. In fact, doing research with your customers has long been a best practice when it comes to building a business and brand.

Customer insight is also a pillar of strategic planning. Understanding your customers’ wants, needs and preferences gives your brand and business an opportunity to serve them better. 

Surprisingly, many small and midsize businesses neglect doing formal customer research or strategic marketing planning. Often the excuse I hear is “it’s too expensive.” Or “we don’t have time for that” (meaning we need to act now). 

Operating a business in a world where consumers expect instant gratification, same-day or next-day delivery, and resolution to their online query or complaint within 60 minutes can create the impression among business leaders that action is more important than information. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

For example, I see a lot of companies responding to customer comments, requests or complaints via social media with canned replies i.e. e.g “we’re sorry …” or “we apologize …” While I applaud acknowledging a mistake, it’s an insufficient fix.

The reason your brand should be conducting customer research is to identify problems that need to be addressed or opportunities where you can serve your customers more fully. Once identified, solving these problems requires a strategy and plan.

Real-Time Marketing (RTM) is about seizing opportunities to allow your brand to stay relevant. In other words, capturing and holding the attention of your target audience based on what’s in the news or a hot trend. 

For example, Oreo did a great job at this when in 2013 the brand took advantage of a blackout at Super Bowl XLVII with a tweet that said “you can still dunk in the dark.” 

The huge global audience watching the Superbowl loved the fun, spontaneous and relevant way the brand interjected a little humor in a frustrating situation. The result has been history making positive publicity for the brand.

Another great example of real-time marketing comes from Wendy’s in 2017 when a fan tweeted “Yo @Wendys how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?” The chain quickly replied “18 million.” And then things got interesting. 

Shortly after Wendy’s response, the 16-year-old from Reno, Nev., took a screenshot of the conversation and asked fellow nugget lovers to help him because, as he tweeted, “a man needs his nuggs.” 

His plea was heard and over 3.4 million people re-tweeted his post, breaking the Guiness world record. Even though he didn’t hit the 18 million mark, Wendy’s rewarded him with free nuggets for a year and also made a $100,000 donation to the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption. 

So how can your brand and business use research and planning to find opportunities like this to relevantly engage with consumers? And maybe even become a social media sensation? 

Here are a few tips for using research and planning in the era of real-time marketing:

  1. Set-up a listening post. If you’re not tuned into the real-time conversation that is taking place online, via social media channels, via customer support (email, SMS, Phone), at events or in-store then you won’t be able to respond in a timely manner. 
  2. Prepare for the types of opportunities you want to act upon. Screening content and curating responses that align with your brand’s mission, charitable causes, operating values, etc. Don’t just try to comment on a trendy topic, make sure it’s relevant to your brand and business.
  3. Establish an action plan. Once you pull the trigger on a real-time marketing effort know who to get involved and enlist for support, what follow up needs to happen next, and how you can maximize any positive publicity and word-of-mouth that occurs.

The goal of real-time marketing is to join a conversation in a relevant and meaningful way. Be careful not to force your brand into a trendy discussion or conversation that may be popular but not really appropriate. Success doesn’t have to be a response that goes viral, it simply is a consumer who is delighted by your engagement. Positive word-of-mouth will come out of it.

At a time when real-time marketing is an excuse for many brands to avoid research and planning, don’t fall into the trap of believing it’s a good idea to skip these steps. It’s not. 

Social media and online conversation about your brand and your competition is a treasure trove of research. Data which can be seized upon to relevantly engage with consumers, in a timely manner provided that your company and marketing team are prepared with the right strategy, plans and process necessary to do so effectively.


About the Author:

Rich is one our fractional CMO’s and can be contacted at He’s held leadership roles at top agencies, directed marketing for a Fortune 100 company and been CMO at a leading regional retail chain. He’s also worked successfully in a number of start-ups and fast growth venture capital backed firms. Rich is an expert in integrated marketing, including analysis, strategic planning and campaign management, He is also co-author of “Authenticity: Building a Brand in an Insincere Age” which is available from Praeger Press in Jan 2020. 

Rich is based in the Greater Chicagoland Area and has strong experience working with clients in Retail, Grocery, Food & Beverages and Consumer Goods.