I was asked by Harvard Business Review France to contribute with an article on the latest trends in digital marketing. So, I wrote for them my thoughts on Snapchat and why it should be used by brands. Here is the English translation of the original article.
Launched in 2011, Snapchat has the highest penetration rate among teenagers and young adults, according to Statista’s latest figures. It has already clearly asserted its strength in certain regions like North America, and is now in full expansion in Europe.
Snapchat has now become the holy grail of media companies and advertisers are flocking this new platform. The reason for this craze is simple: Snapchat is one of the only media that truly allows capturing and maintaining the attention of the younger generation, thanks to two of its core characteristics: transience and authenticity.
Snapchat in figures
Snapchat’s target market is the 13 to 34 year-old segment, with a core target of 13 to 24 year-olds. In the United-States, 60% of this segment that owns a smartphone is a Snapchat user. With an expected revenue of $300 million for 2016, valuation at $20 billion and 150 million active daily users worldwide, Snapchat has nothing to be ashamed of, even in the face of the other big social networks which have existed for much longer. It even had the luxury to turn down the 3 billion acquisition offer of Facebook in 2014. More than just a fun network for teens, Snapchat offers real opportunities for marketers to engage with a highly captive audience and convert young users into consumers.
Snapchat offers various opportunities to brands. First, brands can pay to have their ads displayed in the Discover Channels. On these channels, media companies such as CNN, National Geographic or Vogue publish informational and entertaining content, in a digital magazine type of format. On these feeds, brands can display their ads, like they would on TV. Video format is the most popular, with more than 10 billion daily views.
Live Stories are published by users, often in relation with a particular event, and can be linked or sponsored by a brand. Coachella festival in California, for instance, saw its popularity peak with this technique, as they virtuality gave access to the festival to over 40 million young users worldwide. Practically, a Snapchat user attending the Coachella festival could make a video of his experience and submit it for review to Snapchat, which would then broadcast it on the Coachella Live Story, making it visible to all. Brands can also sponsor geographic filters, which are stickers with creative designs that can be pasted onto content posted by users. These filters use geofence and are thus only accessible in a designated geographic area.
Snapchat naturally monetises all these marketing actions, as none of them is free for brands. A brand can also naturally have its own Snapchat account and post content for free through this account. However, in this way, the content is only visible to users who are actively following the brand.
Two keys to success
Attention. Content disappears after 24 hours on the platform, and it can only be seen for a maximum of 10 seconds. For a manager, it can seem absurd to invest in content that is not made to last, however this transient aspect is precisely what makes the platform so attractive : content is instantaneous and rare. The reason for the success of transient content can be explained by the “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO), which is typical of generation Z. For them, happiness can never be reached because they cannot experience everything : modern day teenagers are thus constantly dissatisfied. This fear of missing out is so strong and deep for that generation that they try and consume as much content as possible to live as many experiences they can and stay « in ».
Thus, this functionality of a disarming simplicity is in fact the reason for Snapchat’s success : by making content ephemeral, they increase its rarity. Because of this, users are 100% attentive to what they watch, since they only have 10 seconds of their precious time to sacrifice to see it.
Intimacy. Since content is transient and because it disappear, shared content can be much more personal. In the same way in which it is consumed, content is produced rapidly, without fuss and with the emotions of the moment.
For these two reasons, brand have the ability to interact with an extremely engaged and receptive audience. By launching campaigns on Snapchat, brands can increase their visibility, reputation and relevance for young adults and propose innovative forms of content. WWF, for instance, launched a campaign called #Lastselfie, where they surfed on the selfie trend and aimed to raise awareness of endangered species. The campaign was one of the first international campaigns on Snapchat and it raised unexpected levels of attention and awareness, with over 5000 tweets seen by 6 million users in the first 8 hours following its launch. Their visibility objective was thus achieved and they won a Webby Award for the campaign.
Tips for businesses
The first crucial element of communication on Snapchat is creativity. The tool has developed a wide array of functionalities to increase creativity : emojis can be placed over pictures and videos to express emotions, as well as coloured text or filters. Young people look for entertaining content: using a light and humorous tone is thus key. In order to know and get to grips with what makes young people laugh nowadays, the easiest way is to recrute one of them internally. Many businesses now have Gen Z consultants in order to improve their Snapchat strategy. Companies such as GoSpooky in the Netherlands are flourishing: they were created by teenagers in order to provide strategic insight to business and manage their Snapchat campaigns.
On Snapchat, there is no complex algorithm that pushes specific content on people’s feeds: from the moment that someone is following your account, they have 24 hours to view what you have posted. Thus, contrary to platforms like Facebook where you have to publish regularly in order to be well positioned in people’s feed, Snapchat does not have that problem. As soon as there is content posted on your account, your followers can see it and decide to visualise it or not. This way, it is only relevant to post something if you really have something to share – otherwise, it would just be noise. For instance, if a music festival is happening during the summer, its Snapchat can burst with content during the event, but have much more spaced out posts during the rest of the year. Activity can then resume when pre-sales are opening, for instance, and this would not be a problem.
Posting on Snapchat means entering a logic of verticality, a little bit similar to magazine content, given that smartphone are most often held vertically. This means that creative content creation needs to be adapted to this new format. If Snapchat users have to turn their phone in landscape to be able to enjoy the content, it creates frictions and disengagement.
Snapchat, is a platform where content is not embellished. Like its target audience, Snapchat is raw, authentic. Therefore, a way to engage Snapchat audiences is to make them perceive the real and authentic aspect of a brand; to invite them to see behind the scenes. This makes exclusive content particularly appreciated on Snapchat: the most popular celebrities on Snapchat are those that let their fans enter their every day lives, posting selfies without make-up, with their real friends or families, such as Kylie Jenner or Macklemore. This genuine aspect sets Snapchat aside. In this line of thinking, brands can decide to launch a Takeover, whereby they give control of their account to a chosen influencer. Using consumers insight and (quite literally) their lens is a fantastic way to signal that your brand is authentic and bare.
These methods can help brand willing to engage the 13-24 year-olds on a relevant medium with high engagement potential. By telling a fun, authentic and relevant story, opportunities to differentiate on markets that are not yet « Snapchat mature », like France, should be grasped.
This article was initially published in French on the website of Harvard Business Review France on this page. You can reach HBR France on LinkedIn.