Merchant Advance Blog

Blog Article: Taste, Timing and Tact: Small Businesses and Real-Time Marketing

With Great Power…

Some would say that the modern small business is blessed with access to a wealth of information: news and data, headlines and trends, updating faster than you can refresh your news feed, 24/7. Savvy businesses can take advantage of this rushing stream of news and feedback, using it to tailor their delivery of services and products to the evolving needs and interests of their customers. Through clever use of social media, it can appear that a business’ real-time marketing strategy moves at the precise speed of internet trends and developing news stories – however, as Spider-Man might remind us, this great agility and power comes with great responsibility.

Many businesses have seen their real-time marketing efforts backfire in spectacular and embarrassing fashion: we hate to call them out like this, but Spirit Airlines has made news for just this reason, after designing and promoting an advert making light of a widely known string of phone hacking and explicit photo leaks perpetrated against female celebrities. 

This blog is not the place to debate the leaks in question, but the advert raises some important questions. Namely: how far is too far when it comes to reaching out for viral appeal? In Spirit’s case, the backlash from the ad’s intended market (web-savvy folks with an ear for memes and the latest news, not to mention a bevy of social connections,) as well as from major industry and web-culture commentators, was swift and merciless. The company’s attempt to appear sharp and “edgy” clearly fell on the wrong side of the line.

It makes perfect sense that any small business would want to try their hand at engaging with customers and the world they inhabit in real time. Here are a few key things to remember when setting out a plan for real-time marketing:

  •  Look Both Ways. Information is a two-way street, and traffic moves fast. When a newsworthy event relevant to your business occurs, you may be seized by the impulse to grab the laptop and hit “Post!” as quickly as possible. Rather than doing so, take an important moment to observe the traffic moving between makers and readers of news before offering your own take – this may help you avoid making an overeager pratfall instead of a real-time marketing smash.
  •  Be Specific. Large-scale businesses may be able to play off of equally large events and happenings – think of the Super Bowl – but for a small business, real-time communication may be better suited to the needs and interests of your community. Understand your audience – don’t just throw out hail-mary attempts to be witty or topical in the hope that anyone might hear them. Rather, focus your efforts with more precision by keeping an eye on the demographics, interests and trending ideas prevalent among your customers and immediate followers. Use the tools and awareness you have at hand to address the needs and desires in your community with engagement and precision.
  • Stay Personal. There are amazing people at the heart of every small business.  Finding a way to show your unique personality encourages the all-important two-way communication between businesses and customers that makes real-time marketing worthwhile in the long run. If a situation could cause problems for your followers, offer help. If questions arise, be a guide. And most of all – reflect the open and positive attitude you would show to a physical customer in your online communications.

Remember the three T’s of this article- Taste, Timing and Tact – and your real-time marketing strategy will go far! 

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