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Learn the Secrets of How These Big Brands Made Real-Time Marketing Work for Them Real-time marketing can boost your brand as long as your efforts are genuine, on-message and a natural extension of your existing communication strategies.

By Heather Whaling Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the race to stay relevant, brands have tried (and tried … and tried) to create real-time marketing magic. But very few succeed. At best, their efforts come across as feeling forced or "gimmicky." At worst, they're downright disastrous. As a result, the value of real-time marketing has come into question and PR pros are wondering whether it's a viable tactic for spurring meaningful online chatter and social sharing.

If you limit your real-time marketing efforts to haphazardly jumping on trending hashtags or trying to insert your brand into popular topics of conversation, you're probably not going to love the results you see.

Instead, focus on delivering the right message at the right time – and that's when you'll really reap the benefits.

Let's look at a few examples to see how brands have made real-time marketing work:

Related: 4 Warning Signs Your Brand Is a Terrible Teacher

Integrate online/offline campaigns.

As their Super Bowl XLIX ads debuted during the game, Budweiser and McDonald's took to Twitter to activate their online audiences. Budweiser responded to people mentioning their commercials with GIFs from the spot, while McDonald's gave away prizes that tied in with each advertisement. Both brands were relevant, engaging and on-message, and, thanks in part to their smart social activations, they were both named advertising "winners" of the night.

Takeaways: Communication campaigns are much more effective when they combine online and offline tactics. Online real-time conversations or campaigns can be amplified to reach even more people when supported by traditional advertising or other "offline" tactics. An integrated approach will maximize the value and investment.

Listen for opportunities.

After the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon, we (the marathon is one of my agency's clients) noticed a lot of people tweeting their excitement for achieving their PRs, or personal records. Spotting an opportunity to tap into the post-race excitement, we began congratulating people sharing their PRs from the marathon's Twitter account, adding the #PRParty hashtag to each of those tweets. Other finishers noticed us using the hashtag and began using it to share their PRs as well. It quickly evolved into an impromptu virtual party for marathoners to celebrate their major milestones. Nearly 100 marathoners participated in the community-strengthening celebration, simply because we identified and bolstered a conversation initiated by the community.

Takeaways: Planning in-the-moment marketing before an opportunity actually presents itself isn't always possible. After all, there's a reason it's called "real time" and not "planned time." While pre-planning is helpful, being nimble and responsive is just as important. Closely monitor which conversations, memes and events spark engagement and reactions from your online community. When you notice something bubbling up, consider if there's a meaningful, natural way to insert your brand.

Related: 9 Marketing Mistakes That Cost Your Business Money

Create your own adventure.

Last summer, Evian launched a real-time marketing campaign to distribute product samples to people during hot times of day. A person simply had to tweet their location with the hashtag #EvianBottleService, and then a member of the Evian street team would deliver water within seven minutes. According to Evian, the campaign generated 2.8 million impressions on Twitter, while helping their network grow 11 times faster than it had the same time period in the previous month. In short, the promotion generated major brand buzz for Evian and helped the company get its product in the hands of new and existing customers.

Takeaways: Real-time marketing shouldn't be limited to major events that everyone else is already hoping to leverage, such as the Oscars, the Grammys or the Super Bowl. Instead of getting lost in the overly saturated online chatter generated by those massive events, opt for a time and place where your brand can stand out. This may involve less popular, but highly targeted events, such as industry-specific events and conferences, or even creating your own event, as Evian did.

Reinforce your brand values.

When LeBron James announced his return to the Cavaliers in July, Ohio-based T-shirt brand Homage jumped on the chance to spotlight its Cleveland collection. They introduced a new version of one of their already popular shirts, plus announced that 23 (LeBron's number with the Cavaliers) percent of all proceeds from its sales would go to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. By acting quickly and launching the promotion during peak excitement, Homage sold T-shirts and reinforced the brand's commitment to supporting local, community causes.

Takeaways: Simon Sinek's book "Start with Why" explains that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. For brands, that means your real-time marketing efforts should align with your why -- the values and beliefs that define you -- in order to be perceived as sincere and believable. If real-time efforts seem forced, it can damage brand perception and credibility.

As demonstrated by these examples, real-time marketing can boost your brand as long as your efforts are genuine, on-message, and a natural extension of your existing communication strategies. Jump too quickly into a conversation without making sure it's actually a good fit for your brand, and I can promise you things won't play out so well.

Related: 3 Key Areas Where a Strong Corporate Brand Adds Value

Heather Whaling

Founder/CEO of Geben Communication

Heather Whaling is founder and CEO of Geben Communication, a PR firm that helps emerging brands and forward-thinking, established companies excel in a social world. Known for taking a fresh approach to traditional and digital PR best practices, she has been quoted about technology’s impact on communication and business and is considered one of the most influential voices in PR 2.0. Named one of the top entrepreneurs in Columbus, Ohio, Whaling also serves on the board of directors for The Women's Fund of Central Ohio. Connect with her through her PR blogcommunication trends e-newsletter or Instagram

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