Real-time vs. ‘Strategic Time’


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Long-term objectives simply cannot be met unless you measure performance, stop to consider all the implications of your results, and test these recommended tactics by taking action. We’ve been told this repeatedly by analytics practitioners and experienced business professionals alike, it’s nothing new. But on the other hand, the benefits of real-time data are also constantly heralded by its proponents. Therefore, you’re probably not alone in feeling a little bit overwhelmed. How on Earth can you make impactful and considered decisions whilst trying to address constantly changing indicators? It’s simple – you can’t, and you shouldn’t try to. Strategic decisions should be considered within their own ‘strategic time’ whilst operational decisions can be made in ‘real-time’. Both timeframes have their place, and each can bring you success, depending on your objectives.

Whilst real-time data gives you minute-by-minute access to key metrics, strategic time data actually allows you to act on Key Strategic & Performance Indicators to make positive changes. So what is real-time and what is strategic time? When can we use, or not use, each decision-making period?

The value of real-time data

Real-time data is an absolutely crucial tool for campaign marketing. Irrespective of the type of campaign you are running; whether it be via display, Social Media, search, offline media, email, etc., real-time data will help you to understand how your target audience is reacting to your communications. This in turn allows you to adjust campaigns on the fly in an attempt to optimise results, and even to personalise delivery to target segments or individuals based on monitored behaviour. And all this is absolutely fantastic for helping to achieve short-term campaign objectives.

Real-time data has a second great application in terms of monitoring operational data. If you are required to oversee data by the minute in order to confirm things are working as they should be, then real-time data is vital.

When not to use real-time data

When speaking about the monitoring of KSIs and KPIs, however, real-time data is not only irrelevant but can also be misleading.

Let’s consider an example: As CMO you might be interested in monitoring Brand Awareness after the launch of a new brand within your portfolio. Your KPI might be defined by the following formula:

Brand Awareness = consumer touchpoints + social engagement + content consumption

Each of these metrics can also be broken down further:

  • consumer touchpoints = tv ad impressions + display ad impressions + website visits
  • social engagement = Facebook ad clicks + Facebook likes + Facebook shares + Twitter retweets + Twitter favourites + Twitter ad clicks + Instagram hashtag used + Instagram likes
  • content consumption = app downloads + Youtube views

Your complex KPI ‘Brand Awareness’ may feed into a category of KSIs around brand health that includes Revenue, Profitability, Customer Experience and Customer Satisfaction.

This collection of high-level KSIs would be ill-served by the addition of real time information. Imagine that apart from these top 5 KSIs, your CMO also had access to distracting real-time data such as the website visits metric. Poor performance of this metric may be in no sense indicative of performance of the KPI to which it contributes and can distract the CMO from more relevant indicators of strategic performance.

Strategic Time for goal-driven indicators

Imagine that we were to try to view our KSI ‘Brand Awareness’ in real-time. Would it not be completely distracting to our CMO to open up his dashboard and see this indicator jump around from second to second, and sometimes quite significantly, as all those campaign actions influenced the value of the indicator? After watching for a few minutes and feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly irrational changing of the indicator, your CMO might decide to close his dashboard, or worse; to make a brash decision based on a snapshot from one second in time.

We can see here that real-time data is simply not practical or beneficial for a strategic indicator with long-term performance objectives.

So what exactly is Strategic Time?

Strategic Time is a period of time that allows you to make truly impactful decisions and undertake actions to incite change and improve performance. It is the greatest frequency possible to allow for the most up-to-date data whilst still allowing for performance-changing decisions to be made.

  • If you are able to make strategic decisions on Social Media actions and implement these daily, then daily data updates might be your Social Media Strategic Time.
  • Sales manager performance outcomes may best be measured weekly, making weekly data updates your Sales Strategic Time.
  • Where Brand Awareness may be best influenced by monthly decision-making and actions, using monthly Brand Strategic Time will be optimal.

We can therefore see that Strategic Time may differ between industries, companies, departments, decision-makers, assets and objectives. But in summary, Strategic Time data should be updated at the best frequency to allow you to make positive changes, and all those decision makers looking at strategic indicators should be relying on these frequencies rather than real-time data.

So what is your strategic time?


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Megan Wilcock

VP of Business Development for Sweetspot. Responsible for strategic brand development, marketing and business development. BA/BComm graduate from the University of Melbourne. My passion lies in finding creative solutions and encouraging collaboration.

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