Digital Marketing Pioneer Jeffrey Dachis Aims to Set the Record Straight on RTM


Conventional marketing wisdom often dictates that we rush to judgment on new innovations when they don’t reach our lofty expectations on day one. Such may be the case with the recently maligned term RTM (real-time marketing), which has come under fire from some industry insiders who believe it corrupts social dialogue between brands and consumers.

To get an inside perspective from a leading industry source, we recently caught up with Jeffrey Dachis. He’s been at the forefront of digital marketing for decades, having founded Razorfish, one of the world’s largest digital advertising firms, back in 1995. Today, he is CEO of real-time marketing and social analytics firm Dachis Group.

Real-time marketing has been in the news recently with a couple people in the industry arguing that RTM might actually be detrimental to communications between brands and consumers because many brands’ RTM attempts lack authenticity and relevance. How do you respond?

I can’t imagine any serious person arguing that marketing is going to become less timely or less targeted. I think we should try to move past the silly question of whether real-time marketing can work and instead focus on how to make it work.

It’s true that some efforts at real-time marketing haven’t been very good. But is it really the fault of this new tactic or just a consequence of the fact that this is new and difficult? Targeted and relevant real-time marketing requires businesses to move faster than they are used to, acquire technology that we’ve just barely invented, and use creative capabilities that brands don’t yet have. Just because a few pioneers have struggled doesn’t mean we should indict this entire approach to marketing.

How do brands embody these best practices? How do they get there?

Brands and agencies can get started very simply. It starts with an attitude shift from publishing content on the brand’s terms, to participating in trending conversations where the brand doesn’t set the agenda. This tends to first manifest with a focus on listening to real-time consumer conversation and brainstorming simple ways to participate. The next thing teams tend to do is adapt content calendars around predictable long-lead events – things like George Washington’s birthday or Arbor day. As they become more sophisticated, they need to begin to understand the importance of key groups in their audience – most importantly brand advocates. Brand advocates are responsible for a hugely disproportionate amount of brand engagement online. As such they are the perfect seed environment to spot trends that are important for a company, and are also the perfect group to target with real-time content.

Once you know what trends you want to target, and have the organizational will to do so, the rest is a matter of technology and business process. You need the ability to spot trends as they emerge in real time. You need the business capability to create, approve, and launch content rapidly so that you aren’t late to the conversation. You need sophisticated analytics to tell you whether your tactics are working and driving the brand benefits you desire. The good news is that all of this is maturing rapidly and organizations like Dachis Group and others are rapidly gearing up to help.

What is driving the real-time marketing trend in the first place?

Consumer behavior has changed dramatically even in just the last few years and that is really what has opened up the window for real-time marketing. Every single moment, no matter how trivial, is now accompanied by a river of real-time social activity from tens of millions of people. This means trends blossom more quickly than ever, have larger audiences than ever, and disappear more quickly than ever. It also means that brands can analyze and join those trends in real time – word of mouth for major cultural events has never had this level of data associated with it before. The advent of big data technology like what our company has built, enable brands to see the trends that matter most to their prospects, customers, advocates, and influencers in real-time. This was literally impossible even just one year ago. Now it’s up to marketers to harness these trends and drive business results.

How does Dachis Group’s social analytics platform uncover real-time marketing data? Can you provide short examples of how this data can be used by marketers today?

Just because someone bought your product last month, or likes your brand on Facebook, doesn’t mean they discuss your brand frequently. There is a 100% chance they are discussing something online, but a near 0% chance they are discussing your company. Our platform automatically finds the adjacent conversations that a brand’s target audience is talking about, but that have nothing to do with the brand. It points you to the trends and content your audience cares about and surfaces an endless set of conversations and content ideas you can use to build engagement and brand affinity. For example, a brand team could discover that their target segment is suddenly all focused on a specific viral video on YouTube, and then develop their own video or other related content to enter that conversation in an interesting and engaging way.

Which brands are doing real-time marketing right today and how?

There are two early areas of success for real-time marketing. The first has actually been around for a few years now – social customer service. We’ve helped a number of companies bring call centers and customer service departments into a social environment. It’s a lot of work, but it’s no longer a magic feat. In the process, parts of these large global organizations have acquired the ability to meaningfully engage in near real time with their audiences online. Those conversations tend to be built around service issues and existing customer upsales, but they are an excellent proof of concept for real-time marketing.

Countless brands are getting started with content and marketing that aligns to specific predictable events – Starbucks and the Royal Wedding is a great example from recent months. However, in terms of brands moving aggressively toward the future of real-time marketing, it’s cliche to say it but Mondelez (the company that makes Oreo) is the most sophisticated. The company has assembled an entire team that focuses on real-time marketing and they are working really hard to solve for the scalability and quality issues that much of the industry hasn’t even recognized exist.

Conversely, and this gets back to some of the recent bad press about RTM, what’s the common mistake you see today in how brands are approaching real-time marketing & social engagement? 

The first mistake is that they are over-planning their activities. A laundry list of templates and pre-made quips will often miss the mark for unpredictable events like the Oscars or Olympics. Another issue is that brands are attempting to “culture-jack” these massive events, when there are actually opportunities for real-time marketing happening all around them every day. In less than a week, 15 million people watched the GoPro video of a fireman saving a kitten. Not one brand (that I know of) participated in that trend, meanwhile 100 brands will try to hijack Halloween, I’m sure. Why go where all the competition is?

The last issue is simply that brands are failing to maximize their natural resource advantage. These are massive organizations with tremendous creative assets, but they have not yet figured out how to bring those assets to bear on the problem of real-time marketing. As a result, a great deal of the content stinks. To be fair, a lot of content always stinks so this isn’t a new problem, but when the eyes of the world are on an event and you step forward to try and join that conversation, it is important to be creative, interesting and unique.

Are we as an industry going to move beyond some of this reticence toward RTM? What will it take?

Yes, we are going to move beyond some of the cynicism and RTM will indeed be a standard form of marketing. Getting there requires first a willingness to experiment and speed up the way marketing happens inside big brands. Second, marketers will need a big data solution that can analyze trends, track advocates, and deliver real-time reporting on what is happening at any given moment. Lastly, getting wise about RTM is also going to just take practice, plain and simple. The early brands will reap first mover advantage, but over time all of these things will become routine. The world is becoming more real-time, that macro trend isn’t going anywhere.

Where is RTM going to be a year from now? Five years from now?

A year from now we’ll see almost every agency with an offering that helps brands become more real-time. This is how brands, at least initially, will acquire the capability – with a lot of help from their agency partners.

In five years, I doubt we’ll talk about real-time marketing. It will just be how business gets done and it will seem strange to plan an entire marketing calendar and media plan months in advance.

Lastly, if you could take an aspiring social community manager aside what advice would you give him or her?

Find your advocates. Figure out why they love your brand and how they want to interact with you, and then feed those inclinations by joining the trends they care about. We actually do a daily e-mail where we give away 10 free trends brands can tweet about. The idea is to make it easier for community managers to be relevant and near real-time. You can sign up on our blog.

Leo Tignini is a freelance writer and communications consultant specializing in media and tech sectors.  You can follow him on Twitter at   Jeff Dachis can be found at

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