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:
- Brand gamification. Snapchat already has gamification built in – you have to view and interpret the messages you receive within a matter of seconds. Snapchat can mobilize a scavenger hunt based on self-destructing clues sent from the brand, ideally built around a specific day or leading up to a specific event. The snaps can eventually take the consumer to a more brand-permanent destination (website, Facebook, etc.)
- Contests. Contests with Snapchat provide an immediate way to reach out to interested consumers and get a fast reaction back. Clues get sent out by snaps and correct answers can receive prizes in the form of discounts or product codes, or be awarded through Facebook or the brand site.
- Discounts. As discussed above, 16 Handles has come up with a great model, and it can work for any business. Again, by requiring viewers to make their order before checking the snap, it provides a bit of a thrill at the cash register.
- Building buzz. If you’re marketing a film that’s opening, a highly anticipated book, or a TV show, it’s an amazing way to get sneak peeks. Imagine the ultimate behind-the-velvet-rope access of getting snaps with behind-the-scenes videos and images, “pirated” video clips of a phone recording a snippet of the movie, or mark-ups on the images from stars providing some clues.
- Event. At a concert or other live show, snaps from backstage that feature the artist and the sponsor can get sent out to fans. Get a snap of Lady Gaga getting ready to go out or just finishing a show and you’ll screenshot it and send it far and wide.
- Insider marketing. Think of the value that someone like Taylor Swift would provide if instead of tweeting or Instagramming, she sent snaps via Snapchat to her most loyal fans through a “secret” Snapchat handle. A consumer product like an apparel brand could “leak” images of their new products to a select group of influencers. The screenshot feature could function as a measurement tool; screenshots indicate that the recipient is most likely planning to redistribute or share the image to her own networks.
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