Why Snapchat is the next big thing in digital marketing

Snapchat is still a relatively small, 'niche' social network, at least compared to Facebook or Twitter, but its more than 100 million seemingly addicted users represent piles of potential customers, and today's savvy digital marketers want in on the action.

Snapchat plays by its own rules. The video-centric social media app recently invaded mainstream consumer awareness, especially among people under the age of 35, by fusing its "disappearing" video with unique design, addictive content-delivery methods and a fresh twist on marketing.

During a private presentation with investors last week, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said its users now view 8 billion videos a day, which is a fivefold increase from a year ago, according to Bloomberg. Snapchat also has more than 100 million users who spend an average of 25 to 30 minutes on the app each day. In contrast, Facebook has more than 1 billion daily active users, roughly 10 times as many as Snapchat. Yet the platforms are neck-and-neck on video views, with each reporting around 8 billion views a day.

Any service that runs parallel to Facebook on key engagement metrics is bound to attract marketers, and sure enough, marketing pros of all kinds are taking notice of Snapchat.

Snapchat real-time nature is compelling for marketers

Snapchat is reinventing social media and, as a result, it's also redefining how marketing can be used in more nebulous forums, according to David Berkowitz, CMO at creative and technology agency MRY. In less than five years, Snapchat created a platform that is "absolutely loved" by a massive core user base of predominantly teens and 20somethings, he says. That means Snapchat is "fully mainstream" today, but some marketers are still hesitant to embrace the service. "[Snapchat] is a leader in private social media, which was a hard concept for marketers to grasp initially, as the default for socially sharing content used to be public."

Snapchat's fleetingness and temporality are two of its most compelling marketing components, according to Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst and advisor. "Messages on Snapchat demand to be looked at now and have an expiration date," she says. "I think there's an element of focus and concentration that Snapchat enjoys that other channels don't."

Snapchat's immediate focus also dovetails with the rise of real-time marketing, according to Lieb. "There's just that crystallization of attention, and capturing attention in a multi-screen universe where we're all living in a virtual time square of media and messaging is very potent for marketers," Lieb says. "Real-time attention is very important, and Snapchat is capitalizing on that."

Snapchat is different than other major social platforms, because it lets brands be more genuine without having to build digital identities for users to parse through, according to Ted Dhanik, CEO of digital-ad firm Engage:BDR. It may be more difficult to track engagement on Snapchat than on other channels, but the "lock it has on ad-weary millennial consumers is compelling," he says "There is more room to be real" and "it's quick to participate in, meaning that it slips easily into users' day-to-day activities."

Snapchat presents unique marketing challenges

Snapchat is on many marketers' minds, but use of the social network as a marketing tool is still relatively low, according to Misha Talavera, cofounder and head of marketing at social marketing company NeoReach.

Many social media marketers today have intimate understandings of Snapchat, according to Talavera, but they face two major roadblocks: pressure from the higher-ups in their organizations; and dysfunctional internal processes. Marketing executives are often hesitant to sink funding into Snapchat, and convoluted approval processes can impede the real time nature of the service, he says.

Some marketers also hold off on Snapchat, because they think the cost of entry for ad partnerships is too high, and the core user too young, according to Len Kendall, vice president of communication at Carrot Creative, a digital marketing agency. However, daily use and frequency have "already rocketed Snapchat into the top three social networks," he says.

"Snapchat's community and user experience encourage in-the-moment content, not the typical highly polished and pre-planned marketing communication that most brands have adopted on social," Kendall says. "As a result, marketers have to move faster to capitalize on cultural events, but the benefit is a sense of authenticity that other more-developed networks are starting to lose."

Brady Donnelly, managing director at digital-creative agency Hungry, agrees, and he says Snapchat brings a sense of "weightlessness" to any marketing effort. "Because 'Snapchats' are understood to be of-the-moment, unpolished, and personal, they add an insider dimension and a human touch to the outreach of global brands." However, these same characteristics also make it difficult for marketers to integrate Snapchat into large-scale campaigns, he says.

If Snapchat's audience continues to grow and evolve as it has during the past year, it will increasingly become a "must-include part of any marketer's media mix," says Carrot Creative's Kendall. "My personal prediction is that within three years, Snapchat ad buys will be assumed much like Facebook or YouTube."

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