Now is not a good time

Have you ever asked somebody a question and quickly regretted it when the all too common, “Now is not a good time!” is the response?

The influx of COVID-19 emails that flooded my inbox from companies I don’t remember doing business with let alone signing up for their newsletter, got me thinking about an element of communication that despite our focus, we often get wrong.

It is the one thing we can’t control, and often referred to as our most valuable asset — time. Or more accurately, timing. And in customer experience, it is everything.


Real time or right time?

The ancient Greeks have two words for time, chronos — the time we associate as traditional, time that a clock measures and kairos — what we might call “the right time.”

According to the Salesforce State of Marketing Report 2019, the Top Marketing Priority and Top Marketing Challenge are one and the same  — “Engaging with customers in real time.” It is the latest obsession for CMOs and CTOs, and increasingly becoming harder, and more expensive. So, before embarking on a real-time adventure it is worth asking the question, real time or right time? Or rephrased, what does the customer expect?

Expectation is down to the individual. We know 65% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, but speed and timeliness needs to be use-case dependent.

Let’s take a look at some practical examples where real time is not only expected, but required:

  • Password Reset
  • Transaction Receipt
  • Retargeting (e.g. abandoned cart)

How about right time?

  • Lifecycle triggers
  • Macroeconomic driven communications (e.g. COVID-19 updates or a change in policy)
  • Detailed information (e.g. white papers for a considered purchase or new release info)

By looking at these examples, we can see a key driver is based on the need for real time is triggers – when the customer asks for something, they tend to want it at that moment. Whereas when the brand is pushing a message, timing is critical and various factors need to be considered in order for the message to resonate.


Inbound or outbound?

In Mathew Sweezy’s new book, “The Context Marketing Revolution,” he discusses the concept of triggers – of which there are two key differentiators: natural triggers (within the context of the customer’s day) and targeted triggers (pushed messages by the marketer to create a response).

We can separate these two distinctions and refine them as inbound versus outbound. An inbound trigger is when consumers go about their daily tasks and that may trigger the need for a response from a brand.

Let’s look at a practical example: lockdown has created a clear need for dinner deliveries in my household. When searching my favourite restaurants online, I am creating a natural trigger that brands need to respond to “in the moment,” in real time to capture my attention and win my business.

Where outbound can be brought to life would be the opportunity for a brand that I have previously engaged with, such as a restaurant that already holds my details, to push a marketing message (across multiple channels), with a “stay at home meal for two package” – thus, predicting my needs based on both context and previous purchases allows me to make a purchase with minimal friction.


Timing + context = opportunity

Timing needs to be considered with context. Whilst the barrage of COVID-19 emails were contextual, they missed the mark due to timing. I was busy trying to concentrate on my family, my work, and our impending lockdown rather than wondering how businesses were dealing with the pandemic. That said, contextual timing with the right tone, can be an opportunity for creativity.

Remember Super Bowl XLVII in 2013? Probably not. But remember the viral tweet from Oreo around the stadium power outage? You just might.


Timing and context combined allows brands to harness key moments and events and own them in a positive light. The winner of Superbowl XLVII? The Baltimore Ravens, or Oreo — with 15,000 retweets and a media spend of $0.


Customer expectations

To ensure a seamless customer experience across channels and provide contextual information in the moment, we need to put the customer first. Ask the question, what do your customers expect? The modern marketer needs to ensure systems and technology are in place to deliver on customer expectations, be that in real time or at the right time.

Before embarking on the real-time engagement journey, it is vital to map the feasibility of each use case on effort versus reward. How much time, investment, and resourcees will be required to make the use case real time. (Is it even feasible based on external systems beyond your control, such as DSP's). By understanding the use case, revenue generated, and the ease of deployment, the path becomes clear.

Read more about personalisation trends in 2020.