Ask your average person born around the turn of the century, meaning this one, about 'real time marketing' and you're likely to get a moralistic ear-raid.  

They'll talk about the theoretical evils of the NSA, randomly but comprehensively gathering personal data about any number of individuals supposedly in the name of our collective well being.

Even though almost everyone with a smartphone makes tracking their every move relatively easy with constant check-ins and status updates, there remains a deeply entrenched paranoia when it comes to any organization 'spying' on us citizens, even if we're part of the problem by being so carefree in our digital communications.

'We' don't want 'them' to be intrusive, but 'they' don't want 'us' to remain elusive. Therein lies the philosophical paradox.

In short: How can an honest marketing scheme be pervasive without being invasive?

That is the rub, of course and it’s a sea of gray area that marketers must learn to navigate..

Basically, the goal is to sell your product (in a world where nobody reads much, but everybody blocks pop-up ads and fast forwards through commercials on TiVo) by creating a personalized experience that can grab their attention without annoying them or scaring them away. It requires a delicate balance.

The delicate balance

The key is to know when to back off, a la Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood), “A man has got to know his limitations.” And you need to understand your audiences’ limitations before approaching them, because once you drive them away, winning them back is ridiculously difficult - and often impossible.

It's like meeting someone via an online dating website and proposing marriage without even buying them dinner first, because you have so many common interests. 

Sure, you may have a lot to offer but how much is too much, and how soon is too soon?

Some considerations:

  • Sending new, highly targeted coupons every day (too much).
  • Giving them the option for weekly or monthly targeted coupons (just right).
  • Emailing them immediately after they purchase a super pack of diapers with an offer for more (too soon).
  • Sending a free sample of a related item the week after they buy (just right).

You want to be timely in your targeting, but not aggressive. Personalization has its place, but you need to be respectful of personal boundaries if you want to win trust (and you definitely want to do that!). 

Polite, helpful, nonintrusive (and, somewhat subliminal) suggestions have become today’s touch points, and mastering how to do so is critical. And it all revolves around forward-planning.  

Forward Planning

Always be up front when collecting private data, both what you're obtaining, and why you're obtaining it. It's best to offer them a choice at the beginning (and don't be disappointed if they initially opt out of the offer), just having them respond in any way is a win.

Why? When future choices are presented to them, even if they decline each one, you’ll be building a profile of dislikes and that will eventually bring you to something they DO like. Eventually.

Do not send rapid-fire options in an attempt to narrow this list down quickly. Patience is an expert marketer’s hard won skill. Practice it.

Make sure you think through what data you plan to collect before you start. Do you really need to know their home address? Zip codes work just as well for most purposes and they feel much less intrusive.

You should know exactly why you’re collecting each piece of information before collecting it, to be sure you’re not asking for information you don’t need.

Design your data gathering in steps

Asking participants to fill out a long form asking for their address, phone number, email and a bunch of preferences around your product besides is a fatal mistake many businesses make.

Get their email address first

Or better yet? Their phone number (if you’re ready to move forward with SMS marketing, which you should be!) – if that makes sense for your demographic.

And when you email or text them with an offer, require another bit of info, like their zip code, to unlock said offer.

Understand your demographic

Some audiences really respond to SMS marketing (for example), but others aren’t 'there' yet.

Others may respond well to brand advocacy type requests, where you offer coupons and ask for a brief review in exchange, with tiered levels for more involved participation.

This way they feel like they’re part of your brand and not just an information set.

Move two steps forward by taking one step back

Listening in the most important piece of advice here – and not allowing your business to get bogged down in process when something needs to change.

Building in time each quarter to review how things are going is a must, as is the ability to take a step back and fix something that isn’t working, and quickly.

Time is not your friend in the real-time space. 

Combine all of the above and you’ll be well on your way to creating a targeted, real-time system that is selective, succinct (and, again – somewhat subliminal), allowing your product or service to do the talking without coming across like you’re stalking!


Published 9 October, 2014 by Murray Newlands

Murry Newlands is CEO at Murray Newlands and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter

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Comments (3)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

I think this is largely about keeping mutual engagement levels in step, and not over-personalizing if engagement is low. Here are some examples...

*** Your engagement level: LOW; site's engagement level: VERY HIGH; result: CREEPY.

For example, you visit a site once and its adverts follow you all around the Web.

*** Your engagement level: LOW; site's engagement level: HIGH; result: ANNOYING.

For example, you go to the theater one time on holiday in a foreign city, provide an email so you can receive the tickets online, and get emailed with details of every new play forever, until you subscribe.

*** Your engagement level: LOW; site's engagement level: LOW; result: GOOD.

For example, you buy from a fashion site. You receive transactional emails as your order gets delivered, then are contacted a few times a year with the new season ranges.

*** Your engagement level: HIGH; site's engagement level: LOW; result: ANNOYING.

For example, you are buying a second hand car and register with a dealer website. You visit them every day to keep track of the market, but they only send you details of cars weekly, after you've already seen them online.

*** Your engagement level: HIGH; site's engagement level: HIGH; result: GOOD.

For example, you are looking for houses and register with a property website. You visit them every day to keep track of the market, and they send you a list of new houses every day too.

almost 4 years ago


Taylor Stockwell

Great article. Progressive data capture is a great tool, but, can be challenging to implement at some larger enterprises. That's probably a blog topic to cover right there!

I recently read an interesting article from ION Interactive ( about "reciprocal" marketing ... the idea is that you give people some great content for free and they will reciprocate. We often force people into the form, then the content.

In terms of being up front, I wrote a blog post recently about IBM's Watson Analytics launch and how my team went about the form design process ( One overarching goal of the project was to be very clear about what users get when they sign up. Definitely some important lessons to follow.

almost 4 years ago


Gary Arnold

Excellent point by Pete Austin... he has hit the nail on its head. The challenge is being able to determine a consumers engagement level and have strategies that support that engagement as it evolves... that requires good understanding of your consumer and a well thought out plan... only then should you both with "real-time".

almost 4 years ago

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