As of June 2016, Snapchat ist the fastest growing social app in the world. It may soon take over the world, and then, as quickly, disappear.
The key to digital marketing is not understanding tools and technology, but understanding people. Likewise, basic psychology is the key to Snapchat's meteoric rise. It currently has 150 m daily active users, already more than Twitter, which has been around far longer. Why the sudden move to a new app, and what does it mean for the future of digital marketing?
According to Unthinkable founder Jay Acunzo, Snapchat understands the changing preferences of a new generation of consumers. On platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we are exposed to a barrage of content in a continuous stream, whereas Snapchat has perfected the art of capturing, retaining and growing attention.
"You open a snap, it's your whole world. If you look away you miss it" says Acunzo, whereas Twitter with its endless feed of items is basically saying "your world is anywhere but where you are looking."
For those of you who haven't tried it Snapchat has three screens: Camera, Inbox to the left, and Stories to the right. But the three screens are empty. The camera is useless unless you take a picture, the inbox is just a list of names, and the stories are just covers without the real content. That means despite the plethora of information out there, unless you consciously pay attention to a message in the Inbox or a Story, you won't see it. Also, Snapchat messages disappear after they are played. That means you HAVE to pay attention now or you will miss it.
Snapchat is "revolutionary": it actually forces you to pay attention to content.
Let's compare that with users of Twitter and Facebook: continuous feeds which almost entice you to glance over items. Something really has to capture your attention to engage with it, otherwise you will just keep scrolling down.
Snapchat means a move away from being bombarded with endless messages to a model where the consumer chooses which content to follow, and then actively call it up when necessary. It means that customers are actually paying attention to what they choose to see.
"In a time where we have unlimited choices as a consumer, the scarce resource is time," says Acunzo. On Snapchat you make that conscious decision, whereas on Twitter or Facebook, you spend much more time looking at content that is essentially irrelevant to you. Psychologically, Twitter and Facebook numb the senses, whereas Snapchat focuses the attention. That, in a nutshell, is why brands love it. "Snapchat is built only to use IF you pay attention."
Attention is the currently of digital marketing.
I think Jay's analysis is spot on. However, one problem with the Snapchat model for brands is that Snapchat users are essential shielded from new content. Once you follow a certain number of brands and friends, it will be much harder for newcomers to get your attention. That is exactly why big brands and publishers love it. It's a gated community, where new entrants have no place. Snapchat is perfect in retaining an audience, but because Snapchat demands your undivided attention for any one engagement, there is little opportunity for new entrants. Attention may be the currency of digital marketing, but time is the currency of life.
If you follow that logic, you will understand that in the brilliance of Snapchat's attention gathering and retaining strategy lies the seed of its downfall. Once a certain number of big brands dominate the Snapchat universe and new ones are effectively barred from joining the party, consumers - which are currently mostly 18-26 year olds with the attention spans of flies - will get quickly bored with Snapchat.
The other pitfall may be the Inbox feature. After all, what are those youngsters looking for in other people's snaps? You guessed it. It's the four F's of youth culture: food, fashion, fun and fornication. The fact that snaps disappear after being watched is the key to the app's success, for the obvious reasons. Therefore, if the Inbox features becomes dominant, Snapchat is nothing more than a chat app with little value as a commercial touchpoint. Unless ads start showing up in your Inbox, and then Snapchat will be abandoned by a generation used to getting everything for free and trained from childhood to ignore ads.
Either way, Snapchat, as brilliant as it is in its conception, seems nothing more than a flash in the pan. Or a snap of the fingers.
Martin Hiesboeck is an international branding, corporate strategy and technology consultant with a focus on Asia. He works mainly with companies developing international brands, developing new technologies, and guides multinational companies on their journey in the Asian marketplace. A sought-after keynote speaker in both Chinese and English, he also teaches university courses in branding, digital marketing, and technology management. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/@MHiesboeck