It would have been easy enough for Dunkin' Donuts to dismiss the Internet phenomenon "Dressgate" as irrelevant to its brand. What, after all, could an online debate over optical illusions and the color of a dress possibly have to do with pastry and coffee?
Turns out, plenty. In a shining example of real-time marketing done right, Dunkin' Donuts quickly identified the viral trend and rapidly conceived and executed a relevant promotion to insert its brand into the conversation. On the morning of Feb. 27 -- just hours after the phenomenon erupted -- the company tweeted an image of a black-and-blue frosted doughnut alongside a white-and-gold one. "Doesn't matter if it's blue/black or white/gold, they still taste delicious," read the accompanying text.
The payback: More than 3,300 retweets and 4,700 favorites from those who saw it.
Dunkin' Donuts was one of more than 120 brands to seize the "Dressgate" opportunity, and most benefitted with significantly higher engagement levels than they usually get for their branded tweets, according to Chris Kerns, head of analytics and research with marketing-technology vendor Spredfast.
Xbox, Oreo, Miller Lite, Manchester United, Goldman Sachs, the ACLU, the Salvation Army and The Rolling Stones that got involved. On average, they saw a 539 percent increase in retweet rates and "favorite" metrics more than 8,900 percent higher than they historically got, he said.
"These are pretty substantial numbers," Kerns said. "No one knew 'the dress' was going to happen. It takes a quick creative effort, and the audience loved it."
Marketing was once a one-way effort conducted at a brand's convenience. Today, the Internet has changed all that, and marketers are turning to real-time marketing technology for help keeping up with all the events and trends that affect consumers' lives. Whether it is something expected like the Super Bowl, the Oscars or the arrival of Daylight Savings Time or surprise occurrences like "the dress" or significant weather events, marketers are paying closer attention than ever before and trying to get involved.
Real-time marketing is a matter of "systematically responding to your customers in the moment, based on your ability to know how a customer is interacting with your brand through any channel," said Joe Stanhope, senior vice president of marketing at technology provider Signal.
That requires the ability to continuously gather cross-channel data about customers' actions and respond to those customers instantly in the way that they prefer.
Marketers have been tailoring messages using customer data for decades, but "the concept of 'real-time' with today's always-on consumer has become much more critical and much more literal," Stanhope explained.
Technology, of course, is a big part of making that happen, with tools for everything from data collection and analytics to message delivery. Signal's platform, for instance, aims to enable brands to collect, merge and take action on data in milliseconds, Stanhope said.
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