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Real-time marketing is constantly evolving, and it's more competitive than ever now that finding new ways of engaging with consumers has become more important.

In recent years, a wave of new software technologies has swelled, and technology, data, analytics, and advanced marketing expertise have become more accessible. Those factors have paved the way for innovative organizations to enter the marketplace to enhance the customer experience—both in stores and outside of them.

Consider these new scenarios:

  1. With a swipe of a consumer's credit card, an in-store associate can determine that consumer's purchasing habits and automatically identify that she qualifies for a 20% discount if she buys certain merchandise that day.
  2. A retailer can prompt a consumer to come into its store by texting her a "buy one, get one 50% off" coupon as she window-shops.

Retail marketers are seeing the value in enriching consumer interactions by creating such personalized offers. Technology can now help recognize a customer's interests and provide usable intelligence in real time to any customer channel. The goal is to respond to the customer in a relevant and engaging manner. A mere decade ago, such real-time interaction did not exist.

Real-time marketing is not limited to the retail industry, however. An offer presented by an ATM machine, for example, might seem intended for everybody who uses the ATM. But if the company is using real-time marketing software, the offer is personalized. The analysis happens in real-time, in a fraction of a second, and the customer is given an offer or message specifically designed to appeal to her. Some analysts assert that such technology is moving from a niche capability, offered by a few best-of-breed vendors, to a standard component of larger suites, offered by mainstream vendors.

Retail marketers can initiate better engagement with customers by taking these five primary action steps:

1. Know the customer

Companies know a lot more about their customers than one might think. They have a record of all customer purchases and relevant customer-support conversations, which provides a baseline of useful information.

Real-time marketing allows data to be augmented with other information available from third-party vendors (e.g., whether customers own or rent their homes, where they work and approximately how much they make, what they have recently bought from other vendors). By using such information, a retailer can provide a customer with an instantaneous, unique, one-to-one shopping experience.

2. Propose a relevant offer

If a customer has ever been turned off by cross-selling or upselling, it's because the offer was not pertinent to her specific interests or recent behaviors. Real-time marketing takes into consideration information specific to that customer to create an offer or message to which she can personally relate.

3. Consider various channels

Today's retail marketers are often focused on using email, direct mail, and, in more instances today, social media. But other, untapped channels are also available for interacting with current and prospective clients, especially in the mobile space. And what about your customer support channel? Retailers can and should train customer-service agents as sales agents, providing them with the necessary tools to effectively upsell and cross-sell, depending on customers' particular circumstances.

4. Enhance the customer experience

The overarching goal of a marketer is to reach customers in a way that is significant and engaging, creating an enhanced experience. If customers feel like they're being heard, they will be more receptive to offers, suggestions, and messages, which will ultimately drive profit.

5. Maintain sophistication

As technology and marketing strategies continue to demand more collaboration, marketers must not forget tried-and-true database marketing principles. That includes using control groups, A/B testing, and experimental designs that lead to accurate incremental sales equations.

Launching real-time marketing strategies doesn't mean that the intelligence behind those strategies has to disappear simply because they are associated with a new technology or channel.

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Joshua Smith is co-founder and CEO of Toovio, a SaaS-based real-time marketing (RTM) solution provider. Contact him via

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