Snapchat Is All Grown Up and Ready for Marketers

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Founded in 2011, Snapchat didn't quite take off until 2013. Back then, Snapchat was an app for teens and tweens wanting to share "selfies" with friends behind the veil of Snapchat's unique value proposition—that shared photos would be deleted after two, five, or 10 seconds. But what started as a tool for sharing silly or salacious photos has transformed into a mature content-sharing channel for consumers and brands. Though it continues to evolve, Snapchat is opening the door to a fresh take on marketing and should not be overlooked.

Since the October introduction of Snapchat's first official ad format, Brand Story, the company's advertising platform has become increasingly lucrative. Each story is a 10-second to 20-second spot that contains advertisers' photo or video content and appears in Snapchat's organic story feed. Ads cost brands up to $750,000 and expire within 24 hours.

Some of the world's biggest brands, including McDonald's, Amazon, Samsung, and NBCUniversal, are using Snapchat to drive engagement by creating urgency through the disappearing ads. "Snapchat takes back the intimate feeling of having one-on-one conversations between a customer and a brand due to its here-and-now style, which leads to [a] key advantage—its extremely high open rate," says Ulrik Bo Larsen, CEO and founder of Falcon Social, a social media management platform. "It really is a medium, where if you pitch your messaging correctly, you will enjoy far better engagement than on the other networks."

But it's not just the open rate that keeps marketers coming back—it's also the promise of getting customers into stores. McDonald's Norway recently experienced success with a smoothie giveaway called Snapchance. It sent out snaps to fans containing a free smoothie coupon. Because the coupons would disappear shortly after opening, recipients needed to go to a McDonald's to view and use them. Within two weeks, it had 2,700 followers. "More important, it got people into McDonald's and upped their relevancy," Larsen says.

Other brands have seen results as well. When NBCUniversal released Brand Stories for its Ouija and Dumb and Dumber To movies during their opening weekends, it found a 13 percent increase in turnout among those who viewed the story."Snapchat's platform was a key component of our overall marketing for these films," Doug Neil, executive vice president of digital marketing at NBCUniversal, said in a statement.

Yet despite the promising results, there are still caveats to experimenting with Snapchat. For one, its analytics can only be performed by Snapchat itself and a few partners, such as Millward Brown. This presents a problem, says Michael Baliber, senior vice president and director of media strategy at ID Media, a creative agency. "Snapchat will likely see a lot of pushback to this, and I expect that over time, they may open the analytics up," Baliber says.

There are other limitations as well. Ads inside Snapchat are not clickable, so click-throughs can't be measured. This means that both online and in-store conversions can only be attributed to campaigns through correlation.

Still, the biggest concern for marketers is that Snapchat has historically attracted young users. According to Baliber, 71 percent of Snapchat users are under 25, which can be off-putting to brands that want to target older or broader audiences.

Determined to silence this concern, Snapchat launched Discover to attract new audiences through partnerships with a number of major content providers, including National Geographic, CNN, the Food Network, Yahoo, and Cosmopolitan.

Marketers are also excited about Discover because "discovery of new content is led by user interests and exploration as opposed to forced interruptions that occur while users are focused on doing something else other than watching mobile video content. This is a big deal," says Kurt Lohse, chief marketing officer at Vizy, a video crowdsourcing company. "Any time you can embed your video ads into choice-based viewing activities of your target audience, you greatly improve your chances of being accepted for the intrusion," he adds.

Discover could be a game changer for Snapchat, which reportedly has more than 100 million monthly active users, two-thirds of whom claim to use the app every day.

But don't treat Snapchat as "just another channel," Lohse recommends. Because ads served through the Discover platform expire within 24 hours, "new snackable video content should be developed specifically for Snapchat's Discover channel, and you should have a plan or calendar for releasing new content regularly if you want to achieve the best results," he says.

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