As marketers, we fight and claw for the consumer’s attention -- blood, sweat, or pixels, we will shed whatever we need to for a minute of mindshare.   

If that makes the self-destructing messages of social media platform Snapchat seem counterintuitive, I get it.

After all, a platform built around disappearing content feels more like a tool for teenagers to hide things from their parents than it does an advertising platform.

But Snapchat has gone mainstream: 100 million active users and 7 billion views, daily.

Yea, that mainstream. Too much of an audience for brands, celebrities, media outlets, and even politicians to possibly ignore.

So how did what was once mistakenly described as a “sexting app” become the world’s hottest social platform?

Why Snapchat?

The exploding growth of Snapchat is best explained as a push back against every other social network, as a comfortable return to the fleeting nature of a face-to-face interaction.

On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we carefully cultivate and curate a “social self.” Our feeds are reflections of who we are, visible and open to critique and comment by all.

The problem being, we are different people in different contexts. Different selves at work and at play. We have inside jokes with our close friends that we wouldn’t dare repeat at work or to our sweet grandmother.

Snapchat enables realness; it puts authenticity back in our interaction.

As an entrepreneur, I have to censor myself. That’s not a complaint, but I don’t have the same brand as Kanye West. I’ve been fortunate to cultivate a decent-sized following on Twitter who value my original thought leadership and the curated content I share with them. I put a good amount of thought into each tweet because I want to provide value to those that have chosen to follow me.

But on Snapchat, I can goof off with my closest friends, coworkers, and family. If I feel like sending a five-second snap bumping Kendrick Lamar in my car loud enough to make my ears bleed, I can do that without worrying if my followers will find the content useful. I can do it knowing it’s just a moment that I want to share.

Snapchat puts social media back into these personal, organic moments.

In the context of a brand, think of a snap as A brand experience, not The Brand Experience. Unlike a website or a flagship store, a snap isn’t the be-all, end-all of your branding.

The constraints of only having 10 seconds or less to communicate a message frees brands to shoot for small, authentic interactions.

For the viewer, these constraints create a sense of urgency. If a brand shares something cool on its Stories that you want to show your friends, you only have 24 hours to do so before it’s gone forever.     

One-to-One Brand Connections

There is a simple beauty to a great conversation. You say something, someone acknowledges they’ve listened, and says something back. A back and forth happening squarely in a moment two people have committed to share.  

Much of digital communication can feel detached. We send out emails, texts, messages typically unsure if they’ve been received, if they’ve been given proper attention, and when we can expect to hear back. With Snapchat, you can you see when your friend has viewed your snap, you can expect to hear back shortly because there is a sense of urgency (unlike an email or text which often sit unanswered), and perhaps most importantly, you know your message has been given attention because the person has taken the time to snap a picture to reply.

Moments are shared just as quickly as they erase, making Snapchat the closest digital messaging interaction to a face-to-face conversation, aside obviously from Skype or any other video conferencing tool.   

Some of our best stories, folklore, urban myths, and legends all come from a drawn out game of telephone. A message is repeated but shifted and transformed over time and from person to person to person.

The incredible growth of Snapchat is proof that people miss conversations; they miss the game of telephone.

Smart brands realize this and are rushing to the platform to join the conversation. Snapchat allows brands to foster in-the-moment authentic experiences that are all about creating small tribal conversations that are deleted by default.

Brands need to run there, and they need to run there now. It’s less about advertising, or marketing, or spam, and more about messaging. It’s about being able to foster one-to-one intimate connections that allow consumers to connect with brands.

Snapchat’s Storytelling Tools For Brands

Ease of Use

Taking a snap is super simple, it’s fast, and it’s free (unless you are advertising through Snapchat’s 3V advertising platform that places video ads inside premium and curated content on the platform’s Discover channel). All you need is an image or video, a couple words, and if you choose, to pick a filter or lens. For brands, there are really no barriers to entry, outside of the time investment to learn the platform.  

While the features for content creation are still relatively basic, I anticipate Snapchat’s content creation tools will become more sophisticated. Snapchat will evolve, as most social media platforms do. Facebook started with simple text, followed by images, then video, but now they are posting immersive 360-degree videos and heavily investing in VR with the purchase of Oculus.

Lenses and Geofilters

Two content creation features that Snapchat does have are lenses and filters.

Lenses are fun overlays that animate your snap. Snapchat initially opened a lens store that sold lenses to users, but has since closed the store in favor of offering its users 10 daily free lenses that include brand sponsored lenses. Gatorade sponsored a lens for the Super Bowl that animated the Gatorade bath traditionally given to the winning coach.

Given that it generated more than 100 millions views, it isn’t surprising Snapchat reportedly sells lenses for upwards of half a million dollars. While this sounds steep, I believe it’s actually a very efficient media spend when you factor earned media and consumer engagement. A lens is a much more powerful brand experience and interaction than a passively viewed image or video.           

As for filters, Snapchat does offer Instagram-esque filters that can be used to enhance pictures, but more important to note are the platform’s location-based geofilters. These geofilters can only be overlaid onto snaps within certain locations, giving users a unique artifact to share with their friends.

Snapchat allows anyone to submit community-based geofilters, but brands and businesses can pay Snapchat to have branded filters that are targeted to specific locations for specific periods of time. This creates another opportunity for brands to ramp up consumer engagement on the platform, but without the spend of a sponsored lens.  

The Future of Snapchat


The two scanning features we see most commonly used in Snapchat are the ability to scan your face so you can add a lens or to scan your Snapcode so that you can add someone as your friend. I believe the future of Snapchat is about expanding and leveraging the platform’s scanning features to unlock a retail experience ecosystem.   

The future of Snapchat is all about discovery. It’s about our ability to scan and request things. Snapchat can, and should, evolve into a tool for engaging in retail experiences.  

Imagine if Snapchat could do what Amazon Fire tried to do, which was being able to scan products in real time environments for purchase.

Imagine in Snapchat if when you can take a selfie of yourself in the shirt that you're wearing, your friends can purchase the shirt with the tap of a finger.  

Customer Service

There is a huge opportunity for Snapchat to evolve as a platform for customer service. While it’s an underutilized feature many users don’t even know exists, you can actually “Facetime” inside of Snapchat.

What if a customer service representative was one tap away on Snapchat?

Consumers could quickly snap photos or videos to provide context for their questions or complaints.  

Best of all, these self-destructing messages would remain confidential to protect consumers.   

Snapchat isn't a fad. It's the future, and smart brands will join the conversation.  


Originally published Mar 31, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Snapchat Marketing