The Future Of Marketing Will Be All About Timing

Fred-Cook-headshotBy Fred Cook,  CEO, GolinHarris

In the future, all marketing communications will take place in real time. People will demand information at the exact moment they need it and ignore everything else. Relevance will depend primarily on timing. If someone wants to eat in a restaurant or buy a car, they will be very receptive to messages on those topics — otherwise, forget it.

The first trick for marketers will be how to know when people are receptive to messages from them. Big data will answer those questions. Future access to personal information and the ability to analyze it on the fly will tell us who is thinking about what. Using social media analytics and real-time monitoring, we will know when individuals are talking about burgers, baseball or Beyoncé. Then we can decide if we want to join that conversation.

 The second trick is knowing how to reach consumers when they are in a receptive state. Traditional media will be too slow. More nimble technologies and more flexible people will be required to take advantage of that special moment in time. Research has shown that if a brand wants to be relevant, it has a maximum of four hours to engage in a conversation on particular topic. If the Kings win the Stanley Cup, marketers will have to be on the ice. At the Super Bowl, Oreos proved that spontaneity trumps spending.  

 If consumers are angry, the response time is even shorter. If they tweet about an issue they’re having with their airline or their phone, one third of consumers expect that company to respond within 30 minutes. The next third will allow an hour to pass before they want a response. Those expectations place a lot of pressure on brands that enter into a dialogue with their customers. There is no time to obtain a supervisor’s approval or consult a lawyer. Real time requires real risk. But the rewards can be huge. If you can solve a customer’s problem in real time, they will be fans forever and convince everyone in their network to join the club.

 My agency, GolinHarris, has invested heavily in the future by building real time engagement centers in every office around the world. Called “The Bridge,” each one features cutting-edge digital technology combined with the latest social media analytics, alongside dozens of televisions tuned to every news channel and every type of print media.  

Every day, our social and mainstream media specialists, called “Connectors,” gather around the Bridge to review the trending topics of the moment and determine how our clients can participate in those conversations. Sometimes we are promoting products. Other times we are managing issues. But all of the time we are engaging our clients in what’s happening in real time. If Al Roker oversleeps, we offer him a cup of McDonald’s coffee. If a survey is released on Vitamin C, we engage our Florida orange juice dietary spokespeople. If we discover it’s Hug the Media Day, a costumed Mario does just that on Good Morning America. If fast food is trending on Twitter, we post an infographic of everyone’s favorite fries.

GolinHarris also organizes campaigns around major trade shows like E3, big cultural gatherings like Coachella, and international entertainment events like the Academy Awards. By doing, so we make our clients relevant to their customers when they are fully engaged in something they’re passionate about. At last year’s Lollapalooza, we monitored the social media conversations of 250,000 music fans from our Chicago Bridge. Anytime we found someone with a problem, like a dead cell phone or lack of sun screen, our client Fruttare ice cream solved it by sending a bicyclist to give them a battery charge or a new pair of sunglasses and, of course, an ice cream bar. Through real time engagement online and in person, Fruttare garnered the lion’s share of social branding for three days — and they weren’t even a sponsor.  Never before have brands been able to reach their audiences at the right time, at the right place, with the right message with such speed, precision, efficiency, and scale.

 We are confident that Real Time Engagement is the future of marketing and GolinHarris plans to be at the cutting edge of that trend.

About the Author:  Fred Cook is the CEO of GolinHarris (, an integrated communications agency based in Chicago with offices around the world. Three years ago, he led the agency’s transition to a new business model called g4, which is designed to deliver deep insights, bold ideas and broad engagement. He also recently published a book called “Improvise – Unorthodox Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO” (