There is no doubt that smartphones, social media, and the always-connected digital world have changed consumer behavior. The buyer’s journey has become more immediate, with consumers expecting brands to meet their needs whenever and wherever they are. And Google has given a name to this real-time trend: Micro-moments.

Micro-moments are those in-the-moment times where a consumer turns to Google or social media to solve a problem or address something immediate. They are the “I want to learn…”, “Is it worth the price…”, “How do I fix…” moments. And they are becoming a significant part of how consumers make purchase decisions.

AdAge describes the new connected consumer, who frequently engages in these micro-moments, as having extremely high expectations of brands:

“They want to take instant action and they want instant gratification based on personal agendas and goals. Their movements are comprised of mini-moments and their decisions at each is more unscripted and unpredictable than ever.”

The brands that will continue to win consumers’ hearts and minds are those that can respond to this demand for immediacy and personalization, taking real-time marketing to its pinnacle.

In the past, many brands considered having a customer service Twitter account that would reply to consumers within a day or two a “good enough” real-time marketing strategy. But this is going to become less effective as consumers take control of their social and digital journeys.

When a mother of three realizes her toaster is broken one busy morning, will she patiently wait for a response on Twitter from her preferred toaster brand? Probably not. It is more likely that she will send out a general distress call on social media – tweeting that her toaster broke and she has no idea what brands are good replacements – or conduct a search. The brands that capture this micro-moment and respond best (with a link to customer reviews, a place to buy online or the closest location where she can buy a new one, for instance) will win her business.

The unpredictability of when, where and how consumers have these micro-moments is going to be especially troubling for brands that lack awareness. Without a solid understanding of their customer and where their need fits on the buyer’s journey, it will become nearly impossible to respond fast enough to micro-moments.

Real-time marketing strategies must now include personalization, as consumers increasingly base their inquiries on their immediate needs. A mother of three may need a large, heavy-duty four-slot toaster, while a student experiencing the same need might prefer a smaller, cheaper toaster. Brands that have an inherent understanding of these needs will be able to fulfill them exactly when and where the customer wants.

For brands to capture these micro-moments and remain competitive in the digital world, they will have to emphasize real-time, one-to-one marketing. Brands need to learn about their customers and engage one-on-one in real-time, effectively meeting customers’ spur-of-the-moment needs.