Snapchat: Why marketers should believe the hype and take advantage of the platform

snapchat

Pity us, the poor marketers who learnt the essentials of our craft before 2012.

Five short years ago last month, the rest of the working world was alerted to the existence of Snapchat by CEO Evan Spiegel’s first company blog post.

As you read this, Snapchat will probably be able to boast an active user base in excess of 170 million people – a larger population than Bangladesh. If Snapchat were a country, it would be the eighth most populous on the planet.

The world used to be so much simpler.

For career marketers still coming to terms with the best way to insert brand messages into Facebook and YouTube, never mind the algorithmic mysteries of programmatic buying, the fact that Snapchat can now be considered a serious platform for brand marketing messages is more likely to provoke a weary sigh than anything more enthusiastic.

Yet Snapchat warrants a less jaundiced reaction.

There’s its sheer scale: though dwarfed by Facebook (isn’t everything?) Snapchat has more users than Twitter or Spotify – with about half its user base is in the affluent US. Snapchatters split neatly 50:50 male to female, and spend a credible 20 – 30 minutes daily on the platform. Three in 10 of them are in the Millennial audience coveted by Brands, and the same number again are parents (who tend to spend money). What’s more, well over half of Snapchatters can’t be found on Instagram (one of Snapchat’s closest industry competitor in terms of functionality).

On a given day, one in five Snapchatters won’t visit Facebook, and nearly half won’t visit YouTube. If you have specific days of the week, or year, that are important to your Brand, this ‘top-up-ability’ could be a useful tool to have in the kit.

For categories that are strongly impulse driven, like alcoholic drinks in the On Premise (bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants), Snapchat’s geo-location functionality in some modes allows Brands to message people in or near potential locations where they might buy or drink, or where a promotional event is happening.

Now that our marketer ears have pricked up in response to all this functionality and reach, how on earth do we take advantage of it?

Here’s how. The allure of Snapchat lies in letting anyone with a smartphone create a personalized, multimedia message, (a ‘snap’), consisting of a photo or a video of ten seconds or less. Your creation can be edited to include filters and effects, text captions, drawings and more. Once viewed, your snap disappears, in an apotheosis of disposable media consumption.

Even if your ignorance of Snapchat is blanket, you’ve probably still seen a photo of someone with the app’s ‘puppy’ filter activated – a cute cartoon puppy snout, whiskers and ears superimposed on a human face. Or even the ‘rainbow vomit’ filter – yes, it does that, and no, don’t ask me why.

Probably the most successful brand advertisers on Snapchat have gone ‘route one’, with a filter. Many have tried – but not many have succeeded as spectacularly as Taco Bell. A year ago, a sponsored filter by the US food chain was launched on Snapchat which turned your head into a giant taco shell full of salad, ostensibly to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The resulting filter frenzy resulted in a claimed 224 million views.

For Super Bowl 50 in 2016, PepsiCo’s Gatorade Brand notched up 165 million views after a Snapchat commercial played showing tennis star Serena Williams being ‘dunked’ by a filter. (It’s an effect, no legends were doused in the making of this story.) Gatorade claim the snap spawned 8 million consumer-generated versions of the dunk.

For marketers aspiring to go the filter route, then, you’ll have to come up with something that’s better than cute baby animals, delicious snacks, and celebrities goofing off – put together. Good luck with that.

If your brand is one where couponing has any track record of being an effective incentive, Snapchat may just be a surprise modern platform for leveraging this archaic promotional mechanic. US self-serve ice-cream store 16 Handles, and food delivery service GrubHub, have both successfully used digital coupons to drive sales off short-form Snapchat communications, to tempt hungry Americans into treating themselves with a discount. Coupons have the added benefit of being trackable, so you’ll learn even more about your marketing campaign with every redemption.

Combining a coupon with Snapchat’s ability to geo-locate users could be an even more lucrative combination, if you can find enough of them.

Snapchat’s view-and-it’s-gone experience also lends itself well to creating a sense of urgency, for brands that do well putting out a call to action. Fast food brands have used this to their advantage, including the aforementioned Taco Bell and GrubHub.

Last month, Snapchat announced that users could set the time of their snap to infinity, making it possible to loop a snap endlessly. If your brand has a piece of video or animated creative that works brilliantly as a loop, maybe it’s the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. (Once closed, the snap still disappears as always.)

Snapchat will run your brand’s messages together where you have multiple instalments – allowing Brands to tell simple, sequential stories. Last year Ben & Jerry's, a brand that is forever mindful of its millennial audience, revealed three new ‘Core’ flavors one by one with separate announcements on Snapchat, starting with Brownie Batter Core, and moving on to Cookies & Cream Cheesecake Core. You didn’t need to know the flavors – I just couldn’t help myself.

And given that a lot of human emotion is communicated through emojis and visual effects these days, Snapchat offers your brand a wide palette of ‘stickers’ alongside more familiar emojis, to help turn a more predictable brand visual into a message that connects with a millennial audience in a language it already speaks every day.

Snapchat campaigns often benefit from being publicized off-platform, creating a multiplier effect that boosts performance on Snapchat. In 2016 both Elle Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar changed their Twitter profile pictures to their Snapchat QR codes (these exist). Readers could check out both brands on Snapchat by taking a screenshot of the magazine’s profile pic, and adding it by ‘Snapcode’ on Snapchat. For the reasonably tech-savvy, it was swift and simple, with no typing required. Elle and Harper’s effectively created a whole new consumer touchpoint with this inexpensive interaction – suddenly putting their magazines into the pocket of consumers who could be messaged in new places and at new times. For brands like these this could translate into significant future value.

To marketers above a certain age, trying to advertise brands on Snapchat will feel a bit like trying to catch quantum ghosts with a fishing net from your childhood. Consumers feel like they’re there and not there simultaneously – gone before you can say, “And now, a word from our sponsors.”

Don’t let this put you off trying. Precisely because it’s so challenging to use, there are far fewer Brands competing for attention on Snapchat than on better-established platforms. Your brand has less competition in the struggle to get noticed on Snapchat than on Facebook.

So let go, have some fun, don’t spend a lot of money, experiment and cheerfully fail. Laugh and try again. Maybe your brand will score the next smash hit snap. Millions of Snapchatters tuned in to get a giant taco head.

It can’t be that hard.

Jason Chebib, is the vice president of consumer planning for Diageo.

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