Whoa. Introducing: The Real-Time Marketing Matrix

Welcome back to RTM Tuesdays—where we explore the theory, data, and practice of real-time marketing. Today we're going to dive one level deeper into real-time marketing by walking through a framework of content that brands and media companies can use to interact with consumers.

Real-time marketing is usually discussed with wide strokes, but as we get more sophisticated as marketers, we generally find that narrowing our lens expands our view of reality. Just like everyone’s favorite movie (?), The Matrix, there’s more happening behind the scenes than we think. I explore real-time marketing, and the data behind how it works, in my new book Trendology (available on 11/4.) Today’s the day we take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Real-Time. Lots of Real-Time.

As it turns out, real-time marketing isn’t just one big thing—it’s has different approaches, all of which require unique planning and process. Understanding the different types of RTM will help us to make better decisions as marketers—how we can engage with our audience using relevant conversations. Creating a framework helps us bring known approaches and tactics to this crazy new world.

More importantly, a detailed framework, helps us to create infrastructure and methodology around planning for RTM. Each quadrant represents different opportunities to take advantage of, and risks to manage, for any brand or media company. With a framework, we can make sure that we are truly jacked in to all the benefits that real-time can provide.

Nobody Can Be Told What Real-Time Is, You Have to See It For Yourself

In every event, every trend, and every moment, lies an opportunity for real-time marketing. Let's try to wrap some structure around this beast by breaking down the variables of what makes up an event.

Known vs. Unknown: some things we can see coming. Some events we know will happen at a certain time and place, with specific details that we can anticipate. Other events come from nowhere—random, cosmic sucker punches that we need to react to instead of anticipate.

Big Events w/ Set Timing vs. Small Events w/ Unknown Timing: The size of the event is also a variable we need to work with, and those events also include timing that we have on our calendar vs. events that we don’t have a set date for.

If we combine these two concepts, we come up with a Real-Time Marketing Matrix that looks like this:

Now we can start to see the world behind the world of real-time...via a Matrix. What we end up with is four quadrants to help us plan out our social activities, resources, and infrastructure. Within these quadrants we're able to categorize when we should be proactive vs. reactive. The RTM Matrix also shows us that the real-time opportunity is much bigger than sitting around and waiting for the Super Bowl to come each year (it's still important, but it's only one piece). Let’s walk through each quadrant:



Planned content can be created before it happens. It involves a big event, but content about that big event that is known. Weeks before the Oscars, you know the time the show starts, the host, the host’s background, the categories for awards, the nominees for each award, the musical guests, etc. These are topics that will be top of mind for your audience during the event, but your take on the known events can be created ahead of time and posted when the event is taking place.


This is the type of RTM that most people are used to - small, unknown events that are happening during big events. The blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl. The World Cup player biting another player in 2014. It's a big, worldwide event that's attracting a lot of attention, yet within that big event it's still an unpredictable micro-event. To take advantage of these opportunities, you’ll need a team ready during the event.


These are events you can kind of see coming. There are topics that pop up now and then that you can keep on your radar (like certain celebrities that will remain nameless) where something’s bound to happen, you just don’t know when it’s going to happen or all the details around it.


This quadrant represents RTM opportunities that no one can see coming—everyday trends that come and go within hours, but shouldn’t be ignored. Real-time, trending topics reflect what’s on the mind of your audience, and are a big opportunity for brands to take advantage of. This quadrant simply takes more methodology, team, and process to make sure you’re balancing the rewards while managing your risk—which is a simple thing to do with the right tools, people, and processes in place. Every-day RTM allows brands to react each day, even coming back into the conversation again and again. I could make a reference to one of the two Matrix sequels here, but I won’t, because those are both terrible.


So now we know—not all RTM is the same. We’ve looked behind the curtain to understand what is really powering RTM, and the world looks very different from what we'd originally envisioned. Some real-time marketing can be planned, other types have to be created in the moment.

But let's not forget the basics—all four quadrants of the RTM Matrix can work for your brand IF the content around them resonates with your audience. You might've posted great real-time commentary during Sunday's game, but if your audience doesn't watch football, who are you even talking to? And while each type of RTM takes a different approach and process by your marketing team, all can work to your advantage to stay relevant with your followers.

Once you start becoming a real-time brand, you’ll figure out the approach that works best for you. It’s like Morpheus said, “Nobody can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.”

Want to know more about how your brand can use real-time, all the time? Download the free introduction to Trendology today!

Trendology: Download Introduction

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.