It’s a pretty basic concept: Listen carefully to your customers and you will learn more about them. The more you hear, the more likely you will meet their needs.

To do this effectively in today’s always-connected world, you must now listen to the massive amounts data generated from customer interactions with your brand.

Data gathered from customer web browsing, purchasing history and social media are being supplemented with new streams of data arriving all of the time through the Internet of Things (IoT). Although still early days, everything from fridges to cars will become routinely connected to the internet.

This wealth of real-time information and the ability to instantly analyse and act upon it will become an essential part of successful marketing.

Leverage Real-Time Data to Lift Sales

Like it or not, we live in a digital world where purchase decisions that once required some consideration, are now made with the swipe of a finger.

Many consumers now expect the brands that they deal with to engage with them on a more personalised basis and demand promotions based upon their interests, preferences and locations. While their interests and preferences are relatively easy to monitor using behavioural analytics, the location of that person is often ‘time-sensitive.’ Delivering a personal experience needs real-time engagement if you are to capitalise on a consumer’s context.

Consider a woman who is on her daily commute by train browsing shoes on her mobile device. Her online engagement is interrupted by the train reaching its destination before she’s able to place goods in the basket. The propensity she will purchase reduces significantly as the day takes over. If that brand sends an email or SMS message with a tempting offer within 15 minutes of closing of her earlier session, the likelihood of the purchase being made increases. If left for 12 hours or more, then the chances of re-kindling the potential sale are likely a longshot.

Taking the example above one step further, the ‘as-it-happens’ data resulting from the interaction also provides immediate insight into questions such as why did she buy, add to her basket or look elsewhere? Pricing and positioning on new items can be changed with immediate feedback to test elasticity – a key value for launching new products and content. Real-time data streaming could also be used to monitor internal stock levels to ensure stores are replenished or even allow marketing departments to suspend promotional campaigns if demand starts to exceed supply.

The key concept is that any customer can browse your products, as well as your competitors, but the speed of marketing is going to be the difference between a firm sale and one that just attracted casual interest.

Overuse Risks the Wrath of the Customer

From a brand’s viewpoint, the use of real-time information has very few downsides. But for a consumer, there may be resistance/annoyance if real-time information is used too often or out of context.

Consider the use of geo-location on a mobile device used to tell you when an existing customer enters your retail store. Sending him or her a SMS welcome could be seen as invasive – bordering on creepy – especially if your brand promotes a product that the individual recently viewed on your website. Use of this type of tactic may cause annoyance akin to websites that remarket to you with products you view online and then follow you aggressively for days.

The savvy consumer is likely to become either immune to these approaches or become annoyed by overuse.

Think Fast and Get It Right

The use of real-time data has to be balanced with providing the right information at the right time within the right context. Consider for a moment the person behind the personalised experience and apply common sense: How would you feel if you were the recipient of that in-the-moment experience?

My suggestion: Use real-time data sparingly and only leverage 1st party data that doesn’t spook your customers.

There is no doubt that contextually personalised experiences will increase over time and become much more accepted as consumers demand to be treated as individuals. Brands that ignore personal preferences will suffer and operating at the speed of the consumer will become commonplace.

Real-time marketing is built on a foundation of rich customer data and making the most out of that marketing information. Think fast to take advantage of the opportunity that real-time data has to offer.