The best opportunities for real-time marketing occur when target audiences are most open and receptive, and when the brand has a genuine contribution to make. Brands need to develop real-time radar to identify these targeting sweet spots.

In a world where digital technology has created seemingly endless new marketing possibilities, successful brands enlist these technologies in the service of a clearly defined strategy that helps them to identify the opportunities that really matter. Increasingly, these opportunities are moment-specific and can be accessed by using the right touchpoints at the right time. In this article, we identify a three-step approach to marketing to moments.

1. Identify the moments of opportunity for your brand

People's use of digital platforms is increasingly driven by habit and compulsion. It is triggered by different aspects of their daily routine, or by particular situations and environments that occur less frequently but result in predictable digital behaviour nonetheless. Some scenarios automatically trigger people to check their email; others to see if the headlines have changed on their favoured news site; others to check a weather app. The key to targeting these moments effectively and imaginatively lies in identifying which best align with a brand's objectives.

For some brands, whose ability to sell is enhanced in particular situations or times of day, these objectives will revolve around sales. TNS has pioneered an understanding of what we call Situational Equity, using mobile data collection techniques to get closer to different contexts and occasions, and reveal how brand equity varies between them.

Situational Equity identifies the moments when there is a gap between the share of equity people have for a brand and the share of consumption the brand has. If equity is behind consumption then the brand is at risk in those moments as its sales are dependent on the strength of its market factors, for example its weight of distribution, pricing and promotional strategies. In these at-risk moments, the brand needs to think about how to build its equity and increase its relevance to minimise its reliance on market factors.

In contrast, where equity is ahead of consumption, the brand has opportunity. To leverage this opportunity, the brand needs to unlock the latent equity by getting the brand into the hands of the consumers who desire it at that moment but to whom it is unavailable.

This is illustrated in Figure 1 for a breakfast biscuit brand. Looking at the share of snacking occasions that different times of the morning account for, late morning seems a smaller opportunity than mid-morning or lunchtime where much more snacking takes place. However, at these times of day, the consumption share for the breakfast biscuit brand is in line with its equity share. During late morning, however, the situational equity for the brand is running ahead of its share – a gap equivalent to a £20m opportunity if this latent equity can be unlocked. This type of insight can only be identified by mobile surveys that get us much closer to the moments when people are making decisions than do traditional online surveys.

The opportunity here for the breakfast biscuit brand is, in part, about finding distribution opportunities to get the product into the hands of consumers (e.g. vending machines in offices). However, it is also about triggering reminders to people to eat breakfast biscuits with context-specific advertising at this time of day. Web and social media analytics can help here to understand the digital channels that can be used to get this message across in this late-morning moment.

For brands whose usage is less occasion-specific, the opportunity is to identify when consumers are most likely to be thinking about their brand – and when they are most open to communication from it. Social media analytics helps map out the moments when a brand can most effectively align itself with its audience's agenda: when a tweet is most likely to be retweeted, a Facebook video most likely to be commented on, or a LinkedIn update most likely to be shared.

Figure 1: Mobile in-the-Moment Opportunity for Breakfast Biscuits

Mobile in the moment chart

We all know about famous real-time marketing that responds to spontaneous, shared moments as they develop (in the style of Oreo's Super Bowl tweet). However, the most powerful opportunities for brands often lie in the moments that are repeated on a regular basis, and don't need traditional TV coverage to help create them. Axe's alarm clock campaign in Japan, which featured a cheekily flirtatious alarm call message and dramatically increased the brand's repurchase rate,

Phil Sutcliffe has 24 years experience working with many of the world’s biggest brands on their market research challenges. At TNS UK he has overall responsibility for the research offer, leading a team of experts in brand, customer experience and new product development research. Phil also leads TNS UK’s innovation capability, focused on the integration of non-survey data such as social media and connected device data together with shorter, mobile enabled surveys. @SutcliffePhil