Rugby World Cup 2015: the data-led brand battle will be fought in real time #DigitalSense

The 2015 Rugby World Cup will be seen as a huge marketing opportunity. Photograph: DAVID ROGERS/AFP/Getty Images

When the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Twickenham later this year it will mark the start of the biggest sports event on UK soil since the 2012 Olympics.

Global sporting occasions have a way of turning even the most passive spectators into fanatics and home-based ones have the potential to entirely dominate culture and conversation. For sports fans, September’s tournament will mean five weeks of epic international showdowns; for modern marketers it’ll be the latest major real time event to consider.

I was part of the team that led the Cadbury social media campaign of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and now work with the team that helped Adidas deliver itsaward winning campaign around the football World Cup in Brazil. Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way:

A Cadbury case study

Summer 2012 came six months before Oreo’s infamous Super Bowl tweet really cemented the notion of real time, but the Cadbury team were no strangers to this reactive approach. The climax of a three year campaign saw the brand’s own social journalists sharing live content from the Olympic Park across a range of social channels, at times breaking news before mainstream news media had even done so. More than that, they took their followers (and millions more who were reached with paid media) behind the scenes of the Olympic village and gave them direct access to light-hearted content that no one else was reporting.

This positioned Cadbury as the partner who brought consumers closer than any other to the playful side of the Olympics. Unlike in traditional campaigns the team was able to optimise its approach on a daily basis, using data on how consumers were responding to content to influence where they focussed media budgets and creative efforts.The approach paid off with strong business and brand results, the organisers declaring Cadbury the most successful digital sponsor.

Whilst the Olympics were surely discussed by marketing teams across the world, few will have faced the pressure to actually do something. They will this year. Real time marketing is now seen as an essential tactic by a broad range of marketers, and such a big event certainly does create opportunities to build brands and drive consumer engagement. Here are the three biggest lessons I’d suggest they take on board before jumping in:

Event-based marketing doesn’t guarantee you scale

There’s a big myth, perpetuated by stand out exceptions such as Oreo, that there’s an easy opportunity for brands to get mass viral scale by cleverly reacting to global events. Certainly a large audience is focussed both on the events, and on corresponding hashtags, but the reality is that this makes it a noisier and more cluttered time than ever.

Last year’s Super Bowl saw an embarrassing line up of brands investing heavily in reactive video creation only to see that content disappear without a trace amongst the noise. However wonderful your marketing response is, if no one sees it then it isn’t going to drive your business — it’s just as important for marketers to be looking at real time data and adapting their media plans & targeting as it is for them to be crafting witty creative. Cadbury and Adidas had great reactive content but the reason it worked was that they also had reactive media plans to push that content to millions of people, in turn making it much more likely it’ll be further shared.

It’s one route to mass relevance, but not the only way

The true benefit we’ve seen is in how real time allows brands to be truly relevant to millions of consumers’ lives, and to give an inspiring focus to creative development. When your entire audience is thinking about the Olympics, or theRugby World Cup, if your brand is talking about something completely different it can in fact feel a little out of place in their news feeds.

Modern digital tools mean you can create and target personally relevant creative to millions of consumers every single day by gathering and analysing the abundance of data out there, segmenting your audience around demographics, specific interests or even things they’re saying. Even the real time darlings at Twitter have spent the past year trying to convince brands to look beyond big event campaigns to how they can identify everyday moments to increase relevance. Maximising this opportunity again means mining the social data available to marketers: identifying the shared interests of their target audiences; looking for patterns in when & where people are talking about/searching for certain topics; and in turn using this data to target different creative executions at different audiences.

It has to be relevant to your brand

Which brings us to this crucial issue: just because you could come up with some clever, witty and relevant content and get it in front of millions of consumers with paid media doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The end result needs to build your brand. Marketers need to avoid the notion that they must do something to react to big events and instead simply consider the possibility that they could do so if relevant. Is the event obviously connected with your product? Does your brand positioning give you a clear, interesting and unique angle on it? Is your actual target audience likely to be paying attention to it? Just as with all traditional marketing, real time needs to deliver on a clear business objective, communicate key messages and help you reach the right consumers. You can begin working out what those consumers really are interested in using insights from platforms like Facebook or Google Search.

I’m sure we’ll see some fantastic campaigns and responses to the rugby later this year, but there’s bound to be many more which vanish without trace or get rightly ignored by the general public. These large-scale events are a great opportunity for brands to build personal consumer connections as part of a clear broader strategy, but they must be approached with rigour and ultimately still with budgets; social media marketing has never truly been free.

Originally published in The Guardian

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