Is Your Real-Time Marketing Really Real Time?

Lots of companies think their email marketing is real time, but is it real time enough for your business's needs?

Every marketer needs to ask this question: “Is my real-time email marketing really real time?” If you haven’t started asking this question, you will soon. Email marketing has proven itself to be a prime real-time marketing tool. Still, many marketers are surprised to find that what they call “real time” isn’t so real time after all.

While real-time marketing is most closely associated with brands sending timely messages to a mass audience, one of the biggest impacts of real-time marketing comes in sending personalized messages to individuals. However, more personalization usually means more delays. The key to all real-time marketing is speed. But the very infrastructure of email marketing is based on a series of time-consuming tasks, such as list creation, data syncing, and batch delays. Each activity introduces another delay, any of which can quickly turn a real-time marketing opportunity into a real missed opportunity.

Most delays arise from how data is managed and stored, and many delays aren’t necessary. Fortunately, marketers can reduce or eliminate delays by consolidating data into a centralized database. Below are three signs that you have unnecessary delays impeding your real-time marketing efforts. We also present insights into data management practices that can help reduce or eliminate these delays. This means your real-time email marketing will truly be real time.

Does your data have to be synced or uploaded?

One of the challenges of real-time email marketing is sending a relevant message to specific individuals, instead of blasting out a general message to your entire database. This precision, though, requires developing custom segments that have to be uploaded to an ESP. Any time you move data around using a file transfer protocol (FTP) or application program interface (API) to sync data between databases, you introduce delays into the process.

In most cases, it takes hours for an ESP to make updates. However, in worst-case scenarios, it can take days — an eternity in today’s fast-paced real-time marketing world. By the time marketers are able to get data in the right place, the data can be days or even weeks old. Meanwhile, a real-time marketing opportunity has passed.

To avoid the delays caused by syncing and uploading large amounts of data, structure your database as a hybrid model. This allows your ESP to tap directly into your database without syncing or storing data in the cloud. This model gives you full access to all of your data. So, when a real-time marketing opportunity arises, you don’t have to spend precious time uploading data that might not be stored with your ESP.

Is your data integrated?

How well integrated is your customer data? Does it give you a complete view of the customer journey? A key step toward real-time marketing is transitioning from disconnected customer interactions to a unified view of customer engagement. Fragmented marketing, though, means many companies have data stored in silos that prevent a complete view of customers. This often results in customers receiving messages that are irrelevant. For instance, if you use a real-time marketing app, it may suggest another product if the first sold out. However, it may not tie back to your customer data showing that your customer has already purchased the product featured.

For businesses that want to successfully incorporate real-time marketing into their strategy, storing all facets of marketing data in a single centralized database allows marketers to gain a unified view of the customer journey; marketers then know how to take advantage of a real-time marketing opportunity. However, customer data is not the only data marketers need to access. Marketers also need to access data such as inventory levels that update in real time, geolocation data, shipment tracking data, etc.

In fact, the future of real-time email marketing depends upon the accessibility of your entire data set. Accessing only customer data won’t be enough. As consumers come to expect more timely and relevant content, marketers will have to become more adept at unifying departments and coordinating activities in a cohesive, calculated manner.

Does your I.T. team have to be heavily involved?

How many real-time email marketing opportunities is your company missing while waiting on the heavily burdened I.T. department for support? It isn’t fun for marketers to watch a marketing opportunity slip by while waiting for I.T. Real-time marketing opportunities are no picnic for I.T. either, though. In fact, real-time marketing may be seen as your I.T. department’s nemesis, because it completely disrupts existing I.T. projects. Uploading and storing data with an ESP requires I.T. to provide significant resources, especially when it must be done quickly.

The solution to help I.T. and marketing is to provide marketers with more access and control over customer data. The more access marketers have to customer data, the less I.T. has to be involved. An on-premises, centralized database can empower your marketing team to make changes to data sources independently from both an ESP and the I.T. team. By giving marketers more autonomy and control over customer data, I.T. can focus their efforts on the ongoing task of managing the internal database and making the data available and easy to access for marketers.

True real-time email marketing is marketing directly out of the source where data lives. No matter how quickly an ESP sends information back and forth to databases, it can’t match the accuracy of using fresh data directly from your company’s systems. By accessing data directly from a centralized database of record, it’s possible to create personalized, relevant, and immediate messaging using the freshest data available from all consumer touch points. The result is true real-time access (not near real time) to any and all customer data.