Imagine you are walking out of a store where you just bought some jeans. As your feet hit the pavement, you get a text. The text reads, “Spend just $10 more and you will qualify for a $100 gift certificate!” Is this great? Is this creepy? Is this effective? No matter your stance, this is the very, very new reality of real-time marketing.

To Jeff Nicholson, VP of marketing at Provenir (a pioneer in Big Data listening and engagement solutions and provider of a cloud-based, real-time customer engagement hub), building a profile around an individual is what brands want. “Brands are really interested in going a level beyond the categorical segment into the individual that is behind the interaction.” According to Nicholson, the marketer’s longed for “segment of one” can be a reality.

In another solution, Taykey, a leading provider of automated media solutions for real-time advertising, is able to identify where a given audience group is moving right now. Imagine that your company’s ads-targeted to tween girls and usually aimed at fashion or media properties-find their way into travel magazines with content about South America. Suddenly, you see spikes in page completions and purchase intent. Later, you learn that Justin Bieber had just announced tour dates in South America. Shared by Taykey co-founder and CEO Amit Avner, this story is how the brand found its audience, without knowing why.

In this second scenario, the audience is the beneficiary of the technology behind real-time advertising. By assigning its inventory of ads to an internet destination based on trends analysis in real time, Taykey acts with unprecedented agility, catching audiences before content grows stale. Avner says, “We only focus on the right now.”

Taykey visits more than 50,000 resources, including major blogs and social media outlets, and analyzes more than 2 billion data points per day. Some day, muses Avner, the demand for this kind of real-time precision will “grow and entice TV money into online, then it will really get big.”

While analytics-based marketing and advertising is approximate but feels well-reasoned and sits comfortably on presentations in boardrooms, real-time is unfathomable, quirky, and a little bit out of control. Real-time marketing also operates on the accurate premise that the web is an unsentimental slayer of yesterday’s content and a demolisher of loyalties. Long-term relationships between media property and brand crumble in the face of Big Brother-like logic and heuristics that place ads where audiences want to go right now.

Critics of real-time marketing say that one big problem is losing control of the brand. Advertisers may lose control over where their ads are placed, which could compromise brand safety. Publishers also worry that the use of real-time bidding will lead to a race to the bottom in pricing of inventory. However, given the mechanics of real-time advertising, it depends on how highly valued the impression is. The implication is that real-time content (such as Percolate, which offers content creation in real time) is not far behind; soon, it will ensure the highest currency in the value of content and the highest ad bid.

As with any new space, there are some shifting sands underneath what is considered most effective in reaching customers. Nonetheless, there are certain overall goals and terms that now permeate the ecosystem of data-driven, agile, and real-time marketing.

1. Journey is in. We are no longer looking at the customer life cycle or even at a campaign calendar; we are looking at a customer journey and subjourney.

2. Individual company responses on social media to major events or news stories are not real-time marketing. That thinking is analogous to Google being a guy who answers emails. It lacks scale. It is not systematic, and it’s not sustainable.

3. Measuring real-time marketing requires the ability to parse through huge amounts of data quickly at all stages of the marketing process. Think on-the-fly report generation.

eMarketer, in its definitive 2014 report, “Measuring the Effectiveness of Real-Time Marketing,” asserts that a “steady stream of information from sources such as social media monitoring, web analytics and location analytics is a game changer.” Companies such as Taykey and Provenir, despite being applied differently, bring game changing capabilities to marketers. So the choice really turns over what a brand believes it needs more of: individualized, in-the-moment customer management or highly targeted, nimble advertising placement-or both.

What is clear is that today’s consumer is a moving target, jumping nimbly from device to device, never stopping too long at any one place. This is the ultimate convenience generation, needing to be met on its terms and turf. And yet, in an October 2013 joint survey by AMA (Association of National Advertisers) and Nielsen, 71% of advertisers surveyed noted that they were not managing multiscreen campaigns.

Back to my original scenario: you, the consumer, are up for spending the extra $10 to get the reward. However, instead of revisiting the store, you decide to get a latte and see if you can find something online from the same vendor. You open up the mobile app on your iPad. After a futile search, you decide to call the customer service line from your phone, which is usually an exercise that entails a degree of explaining.

In this scenario, according to Nicholson of Provenir, the customer service representative knows all about you, knows that you just made a purchase in the store, and knows that you were just browsing in the app. The store doesn’t have the scarf in aqua anymore, but she offers you the extra $10 credit just for trying (she can see how loyal a customer you are), and your $100 certificate is on the way.

Now ask yourself this: If the customer service agent on the phone doesn’t know that you have just spent more than 10 minutes on the app and just made a purchase in the store, isn’t that a little bit annoying? So to answer the question, “Is real-time the wave of the future?” Does the customer want you to know them, meet them, and greet them where they are? Therein lies the answer.