When a lot of people talk about real time marketing, brands like Oreo come to mind -- brands that have had success in reacting quickly to external events. One of the most popular examples is when the lights went out in last year’s Super Bowl and Oreo quickly tweeted a “You can still dunk in the dark” image.

While that type of quick reaction time and cleverness is great and certainly boosts brand awareness, relying only on the current events approach to real time marketing is unreliable and not necessarily beneficial in the long term. What’s ultimately more impressive --  and results in bigger returns -- is the ability to succeed in real time customer communication.

Learning a Little Bit More, Every Day

For the past few years in the marketing world, we've used behavioral data, a.k.a. “online body language,” to learn more about customers and their interests; examples include knowing which keywords people are using, what web pages they’re visiting and which emails they’re clicking. Those insights have helped us craft increasingly relevant and engaging messaging, leading to more effective campaigns, less spammy emailing and better long-term relationships with prospects.

That’s a massive transformation compared to five or 10 years ago when the main data we had to rely on was demographic data, and it’s the same direction that real time marketing is headed today.

I like to phrase the direction of real time as “an ever-widening aperture of customer context.” This means having more and more access to what’s happening right now for each consumer, and using that rich set of information for relevant, real time customer communication. What content are they sharing socially? Where have they checked-in recently? Where are they located right now, and where are they going?

Internet of Things Magnifies This Knowledge

Going beyond this, the coming Internet of Things means unprecedented insight into customer context. Wearing trackers like Fitbit will report how many steps I've taken that day, how many stairs I've climbed, and how well I slept the night before. Those kind of insights will give brands a chance to react with real time customer marketing.

Maybe someone was particularly active one day, according to their tracker. Those fitness brands could then tweet at them or send an email congratulating them and leading them to an incentive on their site. Similarly, connected household appliances will let us know when we've run low on certain groceries and when we are watching television (and what we’re watching). The Internet of Things, combined with big data and predictive analytics, means we’ll have the opportunity to react instantly and in a more personalized manner than ever before, which is incredibly exciting.

Of course, the Internet of Things won’t arrive without its challenges -- chiefly, privacy. Those nuggets of customer information will surely enrich our marketing conversations in yet unimagined ways, but we’ll need to be extremely sensitive about not crossing the line from “engaging and relevant” to “intrusive.” We will need to draw new boundaries and keep our customers’ comfort in mind. Though it won’t be seamless, if we’re careful and thoughtful about how we use the information, I believe it’s possible.

Ultimately, real time marketing will become more than it is today. Clever responses to current events are great ways to draw attention in the moment, but unless you’re a well established household name, it’s unlikely those bursts of attention will result in long-term engagement.

Rather, it’s time to turn our attention to what real time marketing will become: relevant customer communication, the kinds of conversations and human interactions that stem from our daily lives. It’s that type of thoughtful marketing and leveraging of the Internet of Things that will usher in the new era of real time customer engagement.

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Editor's Note: Read more from Jon in Content Marketing for B2B and B2C: More Alike Than Unalike