MarTech Landscape: What is RTIM?

Real-Time Interaction Management describes the central goal of digital marketing.


The last thing marketing tech needs is another buzz term.

But one recently-emerged concept — Real-Time Interaction Management (RTIM) — is useful because it defines a clear view of digital marketing’s central goal: immediate context.

In this installment of MarTech Today’s MarTech Landscape Series, we explain what RTIM is — and why it clarifies what modern marketing is trying to do.

RTIM = Right now contextual marketing

What customers most want is information and offers about product and services, exactly when they need them.

If you’re walking without cover in the rain, what you really want is to find one of those guys selling umbrellas on the street.

If you’re a parent with an inquisitive four-year old whose birthday is coming up, a discount on a fun and educational toy would hit the spot. If you’re a twenty-something at a nighttime sports event with friends, what you’d really like to see are after-game specials at a nearby bar/restaurant.

Marketers have always tried to reach the right audiences with the right product, but addressable channels, personalized data, and decision engines that predict your upcoming needs make it more possible to address what you want — even before you know what that is.

That’s what Real-Time Interaction Management describes.

In RTIM, a system delivers the next best offer or action at the right time and coordinated between channels, based on current conditions and a wide view of that customer’s behavior, history, and preferences.

In other words, hyper-sensitive contextual marketing.

‘Contextually relevant experiences’

The term itself was reportedly originated around 2012 by Forrester Research analyst Rob Brosman, although he was focused on computational decision engines. Another Forrester analyst, Rusty Warner, later picked up the mantle of RTIM and oriented it toward marketing in a series of reports in 2015, including the first Forrester Wave evaluation of RTIM vendors, where he offered this formal definition:

“Enterprise marketing technology that delivers contextually relevant experiences, value, and utility at the appropriate moment in the customer life cycle via preferred customer touchpoints.”

Later in that report, he offered key elements in an RTIM system:

  • Recognizing customers and orchestrating content delivery across channels (including contact centers and physical stores as well as digital delivery) and devices
  • Understanding the current context (including highly variable conditions like weather) merged with detailed customer history
  • Determining the appropriate action, offer or message. This would best be informed by predictive analytics (this customer is most interested in this next offer) combined with business rules (e.g., if this is recommended, it must be in stock).
  • Capturing interaction data for measurement and optimization

In practice, Warner told me, this kind of system can be implemented as next-best-action or next-best-offer, proximity-based marketing, e-commerce recommendations, ad targeting and retargeting, decision management in contact centers, and personalization for email, websites, mobile apps, and social media.

In other words, the key use cases of digital marketing.

‘Almost a state machine’

Most marketing tech vendors these days tout some variation of “the right message at the right time” and “a 360-degree view of the customer.” But breaking down what platform components are required, and determining how close the vendor gets to the goal, can be difficult.

That’s why RTIM offers some clarity. As Warner acknowledged, RTIM represents a spectrum of aspirations, with some vendors meeting some conditions on one end, and others getting pretty close to scoring every requirement at the other end.

RTIM requires a real-time decision engine that is preferably assisted by predictive technology and machine learning to predict next best action/offer and to see patterns in histories. And it requires real-time management of many kinds of data across channels, including offline, and a way to coordinate and deliver across channels.

In Warner’s 2015 assessment, only two of the considered 11 vendors were in the top Leader category — Pegasystems and Teradata.

As for industry-leading major marketing platforms like Adobe or Salesforce, which landed in the second-highest category of Strong Performers, he wrote:

“…vendors like Adobe, IBM, and Salesforce focus on digital requirements, and the majority of their customers use components of their RTIM solutions to personalize email, web, and social media interactions. Although these interactions occur in real time, the solutions typically execute offer analysis and content assembly beforehand, in anticipation of a customer’s behavior. By contrast, customers implement real-time decision engines from vendors like Pegasystems, SAS Institute, and Teradata to arbitrate multiple offers and manage two-way interactions simultaneously across inbound and outbound channels.”

In other words, for systems that best realize the RTIM vision, marketing is a continual negotiation — a kind of dance — happening in real-time between all available data and and all available offers/actions.

“The understanding of the customer is almost a state machine,” Warner told me, where new input immediately changes the state. This defines contextual marketing as a fluid process that could change in a minute because the rain stops and you no longer need an umbrella.

RTIM — and fully realized digital marketing – are not just about planning to send customers and prospects the “right message at the right time.” It’s “right message at this specific time,” with a small online or offline delivery window based on a large assessment of data.



[Article on MarTech Today.]


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