It’s a Tuesday night, and business is excruciatingly slow at the local pizzeria. So, the owner utilizes a mobile marketing service to send a quick text to the restaurant’s customer base, offering a generous discount to diners who visit within the next two hours.

In uncertain economic times, it’s particularly important to know your marketing is both timely and reaching the right customer base. Increasingly, real-time marketing technologies are helping small to mid-sized businesses nimbly adapt to the ebb and flow of consumer demand. These technologies also offer the ability to pinpoint marketing, providing more return on investment.

“Real-time marketing has emerged as a way for small and medium-sized companies to more easily and efficiently keep up with larger competitors,’’ says Manu Mathew, CEO of marketing business intelligence firm Visual IQ. “All marketers, especially those at companies with smaller budgets and greater accountability, are looking to make each dollar work harder in today’s economy.”

For the most part, these real-time technologies focus on mobile marketing, social media, and combinations of the two to reach customers. Here’s a look at several ways you can utilize real-time marketing tech:

Reach your regular customers

Companies such as Zingr and Jittergram are designed to help you reach regular clientele with offers through mobile messaging. Flexibility and immediacy are key, says Margaret Donnelly, vice president of business development and marketing for Jittergram. The company has focused its efforts in its home base of New Hampshire but plans to expand.

“With traditional couponing and promotions, it is kind of up to the consumer when they want to come in,’’ Donnelly says. “Jittergram allows the merchant to generate incremental business when they need it most.”

Zingr allows a business to narrow its focus, says spokesman Sarah LaLiberte. “As a business, you are able to target the appropriate customers with the appropriate message at the appropriate time,’’ she says. For instance, a hair salon that notices an open day on its books can define a search by customers who live close by, who’ve utilized the salon in the last year and who haven’t visited in the last five weeks. If 75 people fit the profile, says LaLiberte, the business could use Zingr to send a 10 percent coupon to 25 people. If the response isn’t sufficient, a coupon worth 20 percent could be sent to the next 25. If the salon still needs to fill a couple of slots, a coupon worth 25 percent off would go to the remaining 25 people.

“The difference between e-mail and this new mobile marketing is the level of customization and strict anti-spam opt-in rules, and the bonus to businesses is immediacy,’’ says LaLiberte.

While traditional couponing offers a 1 percent response rate, Jittergram’s Donnelly puts response rate to these text messaging offers at 7 to 14 percent redemption. Start-up cost is reasonable -- Jittergram customers can send as many as 500 messages a month for $75. And the Web interfaces for both companies are easy to negotiate.

The key to these services is establishing a strong subscriber base. Businesses usually offer incentives, rewards and contests to enroll their customers. It’s also important not to inundate clientele with messages. Jittergram suggests no more than one or two a week and allows businesses to segment their subscribers to reach targeted audiences, says Donnelly.

Track potential customers by interest

RunE2E, a customer relations management firm in Alpharetta, Ga., uses LeadLander, a real-time tool that shows which companies are visiting RunE2E’s website and what content they’re viewing. “As a B2B company, we find it invaluable,’’ says Alex Gramling of RunE2E. “If we see a company looking at our content, we can immediately follow up with a phone call and try to learn more about their interest. It’s a great way to identify new leads and even see if competitors or current prospects have been on your site looking for info.”

TwitterHawk uses the immediacy of Twitter to find potential customers by searching Tweets by location and topic. Using search terms and locations you determine, TwitterHawk then sends automated responses you’ve created. For instance, if you run a coffee shop in a certain town. You could search for Tweets using “coffee,” sent by people within five miles of your town. You’re also able to confirm matches before a response is sent and to even personalize a response. The company charges 5 cents a response. Controls help keep the annoyance factor down so that you’re not sending multiple responses to one person.

Attract customers by proximity

Proximity Blue is launching Bluetooth marketing zones in New York/NewJersey-area malls where Bluetooth-wearing customers are instructed to download messages and offers from businesses. “A small to mid-sized business can now have their ad sent out at these high traffic locations and drive traffic to their own location,’’ says Alex Teplish of Proximity Blue.  Floor decals, banners and signage let consumers know about the downloads, and the messages are limited to one every half hour. Once people leave the zone, they no longer receive the prompt. The plan is to expand to malls throughout the country.

MobiQpon is among companies enabling businesses to reach local consumers through mobile messaging. You create a coupon online that is sent to consumers who are able to categorize offers by location and type. Yowza, an iPhones app, operates in a similar manner. And Krillion, a real-time product search engine, lets customers know exactly where a product is in stock in their area. So, if you’re selling a certain brand-name grill and you use Krillion, your business’s information will pop up when a consumer visits Krillion to find a source for the grill.

Increasingly, businesses have the opportunity to market more effectively, using new technologies. The challenge is to react swiftly to information you receive through these new marketing technologies, says Sergio Alvarez, founder and chief operating officer of online advertising company Ai Media Group. “If used correctly, real-time marketing can help gain new customers at a time of a need and not a want -- think basement water proofers during a rainstorm,’’ says Alvarez. By presenting your exposure at the appropriate time, you maximize return on investment, Alvarez says.

Published on: Jul 1, 2009