Solving the real-time paradox

June 11, 2014

[lead]Real-time is an important concept at Signal. We’ve blogged about it previously, and we’ve invested countless hours developing an Open Data Platform capable of collecting, connecting, and taking action on data in milliseconds. The ability to understand and interact simultaneously is a fundamental tenet of Signal’s marketing and technology ethos, and we believe that real-time is a component of our mission to build the infrastructure for the next 20 years of marketing.[/lead]

Joe Stanhope headshot

Despite Signal’s view, there’s been a degree of industry backlash against real-time. Some marketers have noted that they simply don’t need real-time all the time. They posit that real-time marketing has too few practical use cases to justify the investment. They think it simply isn’t necessary for every single customer interaction to occur instantly.

We agree with the last statement; it is 100 percent true that not every interaction needs to be in real time. Relevance always wins and great marketing is right-time, meeting customers anywhere, anytime they desire. In many cases this involves a longitudinal series of communications over a period of time with appropriate spacing.

But let’s be clear, there are many situations when real-time matters more than anything. Anticipating and acting on customer intent is the most powerful form of marketing, such as when a customer is on your website, when they are completing a transaction, or when they need support. These situations will only become more prevalent; the world isn’t slowing down, and consumers have sky-high expectations for brands’ reaction times.

And this is the crux of the real-time paradox: without real-time capabilities, there’s no way to understand whether you need to interact with customers in real time. And if you don’t know that, it’s already too late. Real-time marketing now imposes an opportunity cost on brands because they can’t afford not to know.

The paradox stems from a simple misunderstanding. Most often, real-time invokes visions of sheer speed, a technical challenge focused on the ability to move information from point A to point B very, very quickly. This is a limited and dangerous misconception, and the root of why real-time is often pushed into the background or ignored. Real-time is more than a data transmission benchmark, it’s the integrated ability to ingest, synchronize, apply intelligence to, and act on data.

So real-time is necessary, even to support non-real-time interactions.
Simply put, real-time is the POWER TO KNOW. Real-time capabilities give brands:

Choice. Real-time is the ability to understand whether it is appropriate to act in the moment or wait while there is still time to act.
Relevance. Real-time is the ability to create relevant interactions with a full understanding of each customer’s activity and preferences across channels.
Accuracy. Real-time is the ability to act on customer behavior before it decays into irrelevance.

Can your business afford not to know how to treat customers? Of course not. As you plan out a marketing and technology roadmap to make the most of customer relationships, remember that real-time makes marketing better at any pace.

Joe Stanhope was formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing at Signal.