Doing RTM Right: Stay Real-Time, but Stay Classy

Everybody loves a success story—when a hero fights against the odds to win the day. It reminds me of the now-classic movie Anchorman, in which newscaster Ron Burgundy went from fame to failure to fame again. But what happens when we don't get the results we're striving for, when our efforts fail to bring us the spotlight? Who will write THAT story? We have the answers coming to you live in today’s installment of RTM Tuesdays.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at a lot of different data-driven case studies that show brands jumping on relevant topics to engage their audience using a strategy known as real-time marketing. In fact, in those case studies, RTM shows a success rate that works for the wide majority of brands that jump in on topics (way over Brian Fantana’s legendary “60%” benchmark).

But today we’ll look at a trend that went the opposite direction, and try to figure out what went wrong. Let’s see what we can learn from brands that didn’t show increased results by engaging with a trend, and figure out what could've prevented the situation from happening in the first place. Should we dive into the data? Well, as Veronica Corningstone would say, “When in Rome.”

#ThoseThreeWords: “I Love Lamp”

The trend we’ll look at today was a daily trending Twitter topic on September 22nd of this year. It had all the elements of a compelling and rich trend: it was easy to join and participants simply had to write their own three-word phrases to grow the trend. The hashtag was “#ThoseThreeWords”, and it trended across the United States as more and more people jumped in, receiving about 150,000 mentions that day.


On that same day, I saw 30 brands (yes, 30) jump in on the same trend. If you’ve seen past blog posts or read the Trendology book, you’ll know that the distribution of success we usually see across brands is 1) far more brands show increased performance from RTM vs. decreased performance and 2) that performance bump is significant.

But with this trend, the performance distribution looked different.

Great Odin’s raven! What just happened? What we’re seeing is not the usual great performance we’re used to from RTM data, it’s actually quite the opposite. Of the 30 brands that created content for the trend, only 10 saw increased performance.

That Escalated Quickly. So What Happened?

Since you are a smart person (with many leather bound books and an apartment that smells of rich mahogany), you’re probably asking the same question. Maybe this whole RTM thing doesn’t work after all?

Well, if we dive a bit deeper into the data, we can see a pattern forming. I looked at all 30 brands posting related content that day, and divided the Tweets into two groups. The first group included Tweets that put the trend first, and the brand’s product or value proposition as a secondary topic. Here’s an example:

Homegoods Tweeted about coffee, and received a great response from their audience (a +1,700% bump in Retweets and +865% bump in Favorites over what Homegoods typically sees). The pictured sign is offered by Homegoods, but they aren’t actively selling it to their followers, they are just joining the conversation with a funny take from the brand.

The second group of Tweets put the brand or product as the central point of the content. Here’s an example from Swiffer’s social media team:

This Tweet didn’t perform well, seeing 70% fewer retweets and 93% fewer Favorites than normal levels for the brand. Why? The data shows that it’s probably because they put their slogan as the primary subject of the Tweet, and the audience was talking about something else: the trend.

If we look at all 30 brands who participated and color code them—green for brands that put the trend first in their message and red for brands who put their product first—we'll see a distribution that ends up looking something like this:

Of the 11 brands that jumped on the trend, 8 of them beat their past social performance for sharing and engagement including, on average, a +500% bump in retweets. Of the 19 brands that disrupted the conversation with a product-centric message on the trend, only 2 of them beat their base levels of success.

Or said another way, real-time marketing shows performance bumps, but you still have to do the work.

You’re So Wise, Baxter

So what have we learned today? The old label of “newsjacking” that used to be applied to RTM is probably something that we should reject. Real-time marketing isn’t about hijacking a trend with any message—the message still needs to resonate with your audience. Trends are an opportunity for a brand to stay relevant and talk about topics that are top of mind for consumers, but the audience will only respond (postively) when a brand joins a conversation, and not when it attempts to steer the conversation back to a commercial.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Thanks for stopping by, San Diego.

Want to see what else I cover in my new book, Trendology? Get a free copy of the introduction here.



Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.