Get Real Time

Gone are the days when you could plan out your marketing and public relations programs well in advance and release them on your agenda. The idea of working on new product launch schedules that target some distant point several quarters into the future doesn't work in today's always-on world of the web. We're living in real time now, and if you're not engaged, then you're on your way to marketplace irrelevance.

Real time means news breaks over minutes, not days. It means ideas percolate, then suddenly and unpredictably go viral to a global audience. It's when companies develop (or refine) products or services instantly based on feedback from customers or events in the marketplace. And it's when a business sees an opportunity and is the first to act on it.

That these ideas are foreign to many marketers in the econtent industry is perplexing because we are the people delivering real-time information to the world. And we have been for decades.

Since I worked on Wall Street in the 1980s, trading technology has advanced light years. Yet even what I saw then was remarkable: Technology was transforming financial trading into a game where instant information informs split-second decisions worth millions of dollars. The global financial markets have been the most voracious consumers of econtent products.

Traders desperately search their real-time newsfeeds and analysis tools for an angle, any angle. What's the president up to today? Any news from the Federal Reserve chairman? Any economic data due to be released this afternoon? Any large companies announcing quarterly earnings today? As they pore through data and news, the traders are poised, ready to commit huge sums of money when the moment is right.
It has taken a quarter century. However, in marketing and public relations the impact of the real-time revolution is finally beginning to be felt in all industries.

Think about this: There's probably nothing more impersonal or unfriendly than needing information from a company and hearing, "Please choose from the following eight options," followed by 10 minutes of hold music. Sadly, an automated telephone attendant, and perhaps an email form on a website, is all that connects most companies to their customers.

Today, though, any company can do better-and grow its business as a result. As smart companies are learning, social media and mobile devices create huge opportunities for real-time response and proactive contact with customers.

We can instantly react to what's happening in the news, just like a bond trader. However, we have to develop a business culture that encourages speed over sloth. The MBA-style approach of working off of spreadsheets that predict what to do months into the future are way behind the times-because news is breaking in your industry today.

As financial market players know, advantage comes from reacting to news first. The same thing is true for all companies. When you start the conversation, you are recognized as someone who is plugged into the marketplace of ideas. If you talk about an idea early, you naturally get more exposure because the threads of conversation stem from what you have said. If you come in late, you get lost in the cacophony.

With a new product, if you get to the market first in a hot category, your initial momentum may give you an advantage for many years. If you're an early adopter on a social media platform, you build a larger following than those who join later. If you're the first to engage the market, people notice and your offering gains valuable attention. If you react early and connect with customers as their concerns arise, they see you as thoughtful and caring.

Your accustomed methods and processes are likely out-of-sync with the world around you. The narrative of your business now unfolds, minute-by-minute, in real time. And it's driven by your customers, talking among themselves.

In a world where speed and agility are now essential to success, most organizations still operate slowly and deliberately, cementing each step months in advance and responding to new developments with careful but time-consuming processes. This time lag may leave your business fatally exposed.

As I write in my newest book Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business Now (which is out this month), scale and media buying power are no longer a decisive advantage. What counts today is speed and agility. While your competitors scramble to adjust, you can seize the initiative, open new channels, and grow your company even in a down market.