Have you heard of Snapchat? If you're a teenager, the answer is "Definitely!" For the non-teenage demo of the ClickZ readership, I'm guessing the answer is a mix of "Yes, something with disappearing images," "Yes, and I'm not letting my kids anywhere near it," and "Snap-what?" If you're not familiar, get ready - Snapchat has "potential marketing juggernaut" written all over it.
Snapchat is a simple app that allows you to take photos or short videos and send them immediately to a friend. You can also use some simple tools to write on the image.
So what's special? You set a timer for one to 10 seconds when you send each image (or video), which determines how long the recipient can see it. Your friend gets the photo, views it for the allowed time, and - poof! - it's gone. Off their phone, off the Snapchat servers; gone.
It's mobile-only, and it has caught fire. As of Jan. 1, the app was seeing 50 million "snaps" (as messages are called) per day and had topped one billion sent in total. This has bewildered many professionals who don't totally understand the appeal of sending an image that disappears seconds after you've viewed it, but clearly Snapchat has struck a nerve. According to one 10th-grader, "It's a way to connect with friends when you don't really have anything to say." The category is known as "self-destructing messages."
Facebook certainly was a believer, launching a Snapchat clone, "Poke," in December, and other services like Wickr and TigerText have made it a somewhat crowded space.
The appeal isn't so hard to fathom. Snapchat provides a more personal connection with an audience than Twitter because each message is sent directly through the app and doesn't have the stigma of belonging to the Facebook machine. It's something that should have been expected - a backlash against the "everything is stored and available forever" paradigm that has caused a variety of well-documented negative consequences. People want their privacy.
And of course, while it's easy to make jokes about services like Snapchat coming too late for personalities like Anthony Weiner, along with the assumption that it's primarily for sexting, most people use it because it really is fun. There's a special "of the moment" quality about the snaps, and perhaps most of all, it's different.
You could also make the argument that Snapchat is for an audience that's interested in as little advertising as possible. So how can marketers use a phenomenon like this to provide a lift to brands?
It's not an unprecedented idea. It wasn't too long ago that social networks like Facebook and Pinterest were brand-and advertiser-free. Twitter jumped into brand-supported content more quickly, but in every case, the trick was finding out what features of the service customers might find valuable.
Facebook stumbled through a variety of phases. It started with brand pages nobody went to as marketers were checking a box to show they were "on Facebook." From there it became a sort of "race for fans" for those of you who remember the awkward "Become a Fan" that pre-dated likes. Brands provided incentives for consumers to say they liked a brand, but no reason for them to stick around. As my company has proven to clients with our Facebook monetization modeling, we now can understand the dollar value of every action on Facebook and know that the greatest lift in sales comes from sustained relationships where brands work hard to provide valuable content and dialogue.
While these relationships inevitably take time, we've done some initial research to suggest ways in which Snapchat can be harnessed to build brand relationships. We were inspired by a 50-store frozen yogurt chain called 16 Handles that did the first recorded Snapchat promotion in January of this year. Consumers were asked to send a snap of their yogurt purchase to the company's Snapchat account. The company would send them back a snap that functioned as a point-of-sale coupon ranging from 15 percent to 100 percent off a purchase. The catch? Because snaps disappear, the customer has to use the coupon immediately (she can't forward it to 1,000 friends or post online). When the customer presents the snap to the person at the register, she finds out how much money off she gets. She also must commit to the purchase (thus having something to take a picture of) before finding out how much she'll save. The snap acted like a scratch-off ticket and held the twin benefits of immediacy and surprise.
Here are some ideas on how marketers can use the service:
The critical factor for the brand to understand is that when you solicit snaps from your customers or potential customers, you don't get to keep them. That means Snapchat needs to work with other channels to support the Snapchat channel. Unlike Facebook, there is no record of what is happening on Snapchat, so you have to talk about the activity. Key metrics are number of snaps, taking screenshots of key snaps, promoting people's Snapchat screen names, etc. It also means that consumers who are registered on a company's website can add their Snapchat handle to their profile, allowing the company to send them snaps with offers.
Every service that hits critical mass gets utilized by marketers because we need to put our clients' messages where the eyeballs are. 2013 is going to be a huge year for Snapchat, and innovative brands are going to be able to leverage the platform and take advantage of the newsworthy and new.
Thanks to my colleagues Erna Adelson and Chy Lin for their research around this column
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Andrew Solmssen serves as managing director of Possible's Los Angeles office, leading the firm's West Coast client teams and determining best practices for engagement management.
He previously served as managing director at digital firm Schematic, where he played a key role in developing some of the earliest advertising models for delivering broadcast content via the Internet. Andrew was also responsible for providing strategic guidance to clients such as Comcast, ABC Television, and NBC Universal in the areas of digital strategy, content distribution, mobile entertainment, and Internet TV. Before Schematic, Andrew served as executive producer at Web design and consulting firm Kaufman Patricof Enterprises.
A frequent speaker at industry events such as Digital Hollywood and CES, Andrew is also regularly quoted by business and trade media on the topics of digital advertising and technology innovation. Prior to his involvement in digital media, Andrew lived in Namibia as part of the Harvard Institute for International Development.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @asolmssen.
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