Trends & Features

Paul Sherratt looks at the growth of real-time marketing within the sporting goods industry

Thanks to social media, we’re getting used to big companies talking directly to us, instead of just advertising next to what we’re reading.

Today, tools such as Twitter and WordPress have led to an explosion of brands producing and spreading content, competing with traditional media for audience attention and employing journalists as creative storytellers.

The concept of real-time marketing is certainly nothing new, but the speed at which it’s being executed and the importance attached to it continues apace.

adidas, Nike and Puma
In 2014 adidas Group announced that it was to roll-out its digital newsrooms for all its brands in order to tap into trending topics and, according to the company, build on “moments of celebration and acknowledgement”.

Nike and Puma made similar moves to, in their own words, “exploit sporting events”.

Formed for the London 2012 Olympics, adidas newsrooms are already in 12 cities across the world in the belief that they are where trends start. Marketers in those hubs are internally likened to DJs ‘being on the decks’, spinning the brand against cultural shifts without having to wait for approval.

They are able to freely interpret global briefs for their cities because adidas executives realise the business has to publish five great pieces of content a week, not five great adverts a year – a fundamental shift for which it is not built.

But is this approach sustainable or practical for most brands and how does it fit into the overall marketing mix?

Anticipatory planning
While it’s true there are many elements of our industry reliant on the now and the news that happens there and then – not least a sporting achievement by a particular endorsee – effective real-time marketing doesn’t always require 24/7 brand newsrooms. Marketers adopting an anticipatory planning approach can pre-plan particular content and adapt to real time only if required.

In this scenario, real-time marketing can be considered as part of a larger strategy that focuses on creating relevance and value, with brands anticipating and planning for a range of scenarios around real-time events.

In simple terms, if the marketing strategy focuses on an endorsed club or athlete participating in a particular event, there are a number of scenarios that can be explored – they win, lose, perform a personal best, etc.

If particular strategies have already been established for each of these scenarios, the execution is a simple roll-out against whatever outcome, thus ensuring that, while it may appear to be reactionary, the delivery is commensurate with the overall marketing activity.

If plans are flexible enough, changes can then be applied across the spectrum of a campaign – this is real-time marketing at work in its best form.

Remaining relevant
If the anticipatory planning approach is not undertaken, it’s important marketers avoid getting carried away by the hype surrounding real-time and remember to approach each advertisement with the question: does this help to build the brand?

A large number of real-time efforts have been ill conceived and badly received by consumers. The reason for this is because marketers did not ask themselves whether putting out the content was relevant for their strategy and brand. The key point is brands must avoid groping for relevance and choose only the most appropriate conversations to join.

Brands don’t need to tweet something clever during big events but, instead, learn how to engage their audience meaningfully in the conversations and trends that matter to them in real time – and it’s technology that will ultimately assist in this process.

Technological advances
Real-time marketing is firmly rooted in the proliferation of technology and it’s for brands to come to terms with and reflect these developments in their planning.

Multiscreening is on the rise, which means every moment and event on a local and global scale is now accompanied by vast amounts of real-time social activity, to which brands have to adapt their output accordingly. Continued advances in technology in the next year will help to speed up this process.

adidas, both within and outside its newsroom strategy, is figuring out what part technology will play in all elements of the sales and marketing mix, so that it can stop using the platforms not contributing much and focus on those elements that work. Once achieved, many commentators predict brands will be able to build true customer relationship management into their businesses, giving what would effectively be a single customer view across its platforms.

Imagine the future where adidas could create a campaign for the 15 people who have bought the Messi football boot for the last three years. If you have that data and can match it to the social data, there are so many interesting possibilities that could be explored.

Getting closer to the end user
Content marketing ultimately means getting closer to the customer and, for adidas, newsrooms are the fastest way to do it. For other brands, an anticipatory approach in conjunction with traditional social communication may provide a more cost-effective solution.

It does seem that, within adidas, marketing had become disjointed and the introduction of hubs will allow it to promote new products at a much faster pace than its marketers are used to. The urgency behind the move stems from the company’s struggle to consistently meet investors’ expectations as Nike and Under Armour outpaced its growth.

It remains to be seen if this approach will enable adidas to catch up. However, as a key partner to UEFA EURO 2016 this summer, it has an excellent opportunity to drive this strategy forward and for the results to be seen by the end of this year.

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