They say timing is everything. While that might be true of relationships and real estate, right now it’s the marketing world that’s perfectly in sync.

Brands are tailoring their social-media posts to current events and larger conversations, responding to consumers and cultural trends. The result is a more relevant advertising experience and, if marketers do it well, more followers and fans.

Responsive marketing is not to be confused with real-time marketing. Both are designed to deliver timely digital content, and both lend themselves to visual marketing — but the difference between them is huge. In the context of social media, real-time marketing necessitates a brand “war room” where social-media managers sit ready and waiting to update its social feeds. Think Adidas, which became the single most talked-about brand on Twitter during the 2014 FIFA World Cup by generating more than 1.6 million tweets, retweets, and replies mentioning the brand — all of which can be attributed to Adidas’ 40-person real-time marketing team in Rio de Janeiro.

In contrast, responsive marketing allows brands to prepare in advance while still weighing in on current events. It isn’t about creating content on the fly so much as anticipating what consumers will be talking about. In a way, it’s the digital ad equivalent of prêt-à-porter: ready-made, but still conforming to widespread trends.

The trick to getting responsive marketing right is knowing which trends are coming down the pike, along with how to foster online conversations that present an opportunity to interact with fans. What follows are five responsive marketing strategies that brands can leverage to produce more engaging visual content.

1. Comment on Major Events

From the Super Bowl to the Olympic Games and the Golden Globes, major televised events and the buzz they generate online provide an opening for brands to make observations that may be of interest to viewers. We saw this technique in action a few years ago at the Academy Awards, when Pantene prepped image-based posts for Twitter that referenced celebrity hair and style trends.

Pizza Hut took a similar approach on Twitter during March Madness this year. In advance of the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the restaurant chain anticipated what viewers would be doing and feeling and responded with purpose-built social content. With copy like “When your bracket busts, there’s always pizza,” and “Our eight are all lined up. Are yours? #MarchMadness,” the brand was able to make an on-topic contribution while also promoting its menu items.

2. Embrace Untraditional Holidays

Hop onto Twitter on May the 4th, and you’ll find a whole host of marketers sharing content related to the fan-driven Star Wars Day. Last year, brands from Quiznos to Campbell’s, Folgers, Volkswagen USA, and even paint brand Sherwin-Williams shared entertaining visual content that referenced this unconventional holiday.

Star Wars Day is hardly the only opportunity of its kind. There’s a National Inventors’ Day (Feb. 11), National Burger Day (May 28), and Back to the Future Day (Oct. 26) — along with hundreds of other holidays to choose from.

Knowing about these unofficial holidays allows marketers to prepare visual content ahead of time while still appearing topical in the moment. Every year, Krispy Kreme celebrates Talk Like a Pirate Day by sharing custom visuals across social sites and giving out free doughnuts to customers who talk and dress like pirates on Sept. 19. On National Pizza Day (Feb. 9) of this year, Coca-Cola shared a related animated GIF on Facebook. The perfect timing of the post earned the brand more than 800 likes.

3. Master Memes

Because of their tendency to go viral — especially when they address current news and events — memes really lend themselves to responsive marketing. Brands that create a collection of memes ahead of time will be ready to contribute to any manner of social-media conversation.

Fashion brand Gucci is the latest to attempt this strategy. Its recent Instagram campaign, which incorporates more than two dozen popular internet memes, has come under fire for being “pretty darn weird.” At the same time, though, the memes have received thousands of comments and shares, with some generating upwards of 100,000 likes in a matter of days. It may be weird, but based on the level of interaction and positive sentiment visible on Instagram, fans of the brand seem to be enjoying the campaign.

4. Use Custom Hashtags

Marketers know that using common hashtags in their social posts is vital to helping consumers find their content on cluttered social sites. Combine those well-known hashtags with custom ones, and you can increase your exposure even more.

Snickers maximized this responsive marketing opportunity during this year’s Super Bowl when it tweeted related images using both the event’s main hashtag — #SB51 — and #satisfying, which references its longtime tag line “Snickers satisfies.”

By pairing a custom hashtag with a popular one, the brand was able to expand its reach and increase awareness of #satisfying, which makes frequent appearances on its social media accounts. Snickers later used that same hashtag during the Academy Awards, driving home its value proposition while simultaneously appearing timely and relevant to its followers.

5. Respond to Social Media Comments

There are countless events and social conversations on which brands can comment, but don’t overlook the possibility of creating a conversation of your own.

The key to this strategy is social listening, which social-media marketing company Sprout Social defines as “the process of tracking conversations around specific phrases, words or brands, and then leveraging them to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences.” Beer brand Dos Equis has demonstrated its mastery of both social listening and responsive marketing on its Facebook page. After identifying noteworthy user comments, the brand sometimes responds by sharing a custom-made brand video.

Even negative comments have received custom visuals. In response to a Facebook user who criticized the new actor playing the brand’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” mascot, Dos Equis prepared a humorous YouTube video to share on Facebook, making the brand appear quick-witted and smooth — just like its spokesman.

Timing is everything; there’s no doubt about that. But responsive marketing also calls to mind some wise words from the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell:

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Image by Decorwithme