The difference today is the rise of mobile phones as the consumers’ tool to find or do almost anything. That has introduced several wrinkles to the way marketers can influence and track how consumers decide to buy something. Global Positioning System navigation provides precise location data, apps track people’s every tap and swipe, and sensors such as accelerometers can even tell if people are sitting, walking or driving.
The herky-jerky nature of app use, much lamented by marketers, has an upside, too: There are now many more times during the day when consumers are engaging in discrete activities, between which they may be primed to see a related message.
It is not just a matter of reaching people at a particular time of day, a capability advertisers have employed for decades. Randy Wootton, chief executive of the ad technology firm Rocket Fuel, which recently announced a “marketing in the moment” approach, refers to ancient Greek concepts of time: chronos, or sequential time, and kairos, a moment of opportunity independent of linear time. The latter, of course, is the one his company claims to employ for marketers.
Another key, said Brian Solis, a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a market research firm, is that the ads need to be more useful than they are attention-getting. According to a Google survey, 51 percent of smartphone owners have bought from a different company than they intended on the basis of information found online.
“There are more jump balls, and now we can capitalize on those moments,” said Jared Belsky, president of the New York digital agency 360i. One client, Red Roof Inn, linked flight data from the aviation software company FlightAware with Google’s search ad system to target travelers stranded at airports — but at very precise moments, such as when O’Hare Airport in Chicago experienced a major flight cancellation. Then, the system automatically raised the hotel chain’s bids for ad space enough to win the top spot in three-quarters of search results for queries such as “hotels near O’Hare.” The company experienced a 60 percent jump in room bookings from those searches.
However, to build brands, an effort that accounts for the majority of ad spending, companies need more than a moment. And few marketers currently have all the skills needed for moments-based marketing, such as ethnographic studies of their customers and the ability to match customer data to the right context, according to
released last July by
. Without those skills developing throughout the industry, the latest scheme to reach peripatetic consumers could prove, well, momentary.