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11 JAN. 2017

Branding Tech Companies: Snap’s IPO and Lessons for 2017

Benjamin Noyes

Corporate Branding Team

This article is part of our “branding tech companies” series, where we take a closer look at technology brands around the world, offering insights on their most impactful branding actions from our vantage point in Shanghai.

Recently, the tech brand Snap, Inc. (formerly known as Snapchat) has been in the news quite a bit: first announcing their IPO, then for the launch of their new ‘Spectacles’ product, and on Jan 4th for allegations from a former employee that they mislead investors. With a $25 billion valuation, many have touted the brand as overvalued platform and an underdog in the social media arena.

While Snap exists in the age of social media giants – such as WeChat and Facebook, which register 700 million and 1.65 billion MAU’s respectively – the brand has shown through the disruption of new products (Spectacles) and the consistent addition of subtle features to an expanding platform (user-designed bonuses, new content formats, branded ‘Discover’ platform, etc.) that it is a young growth company ripe for brand partnerships in 2017. 

Snap’s Brand Benefits

Snap Inc. made a splash early on by bringing a fresh approach to online connection via a unique format of social media sharing. As it matures into its IPO, its app Snapchat has undergone considerable growth from a novel picture-sharing app to a tech brand with a vision of reinventing photography.

From a brand analysis perspective, there are three main pillars we can point to that make Snap, Inc. valuable in the current social media space. 

Lead the Industry by Example

Snapchat’s relaxed brand experience manifests itself in many of the app’s subtleties: smoothly colored arrows that easily indicate content format to the user (nobody likes opening up a video in the middle of a library); full-screen photography (9:16 dimension) made available in the app by overlaying the camera button on top of the photography box.

Bigger features were also introduced with a degree of subtlety: the first “geotags” were geo-location logos designed in Snap’s headquarters, but Snap soon opened up the best user-submitted logos for all to use, with the best being publicly available around a given city and changing seasonally. As one of the first tech brands to introduce “live streaming” video (Snapchat’s ‘Stories’ allow users to view pictures and videos for 24 hours after they are posted), Snapchat gradually integrated it with the larger platform. These actions have been imitated by other Silicon Valley companies: Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that "Innovation happens in the Valley, and people invent formats, and that's great. And then what you see is those formats proliferate.”

Pushing Towards Future of Photography

Motivated brand actions from CEO Evan Spiegal are mapped out to shape how people will share images in the coming years. With an academic background in product design and past experience with Red Bull, Spiegal is not shy about pushing his vision of the future of photography, made clear with the introduction of the Spectacles sunglasses. 

Even prior to this, however, Snapchat was consistently striving to push the photography category forward: it was the first major social media platform to organically integrate Augmented Reality into its app, and the brand has made a clear stance against banner and pre-roll ads – the content of ads on Snapchat is similar to that of a Live Story. Spiegal is also a firm believer that photography will be shot vertically in the coming years, aligning with how we naturally use our digital devices which are increasingly equipped with powerful photography tools.

Fun, Playful User Experience

Snapchat’s playful and engaging interface, experience, and features allow for more simply positive interactions with its users. Bitmoji’s, or personal avatar emoji’s, can be designed based on the users own appearance and open up a huge library of user-featured stickers. Swiping each direction from the camera screen leads to another layer in the app: right leads to stories, left to personal snaps, down to memories, and up to the user’s account. Swipe up twice and you find yourself a trophy case.

Many of these features remain mysterious to users who may be less in touch with tech brands. Next to Snapchat contacts, for example, appear Emoji’s with hidden meanings – smiling emoji for a strong send:receive ratio, fire emoji for a ‘snapstreak’, baby emoji next to a new friend, and so on. In November, nondescript Spectacles vending machines began popping up around the United States with no explanation – first in line received a pair of the $130 glasses. These reader-responsible branding tactics allow for constant discovery among a younger demographic via a more premium experience.

Snap’s Main Competitors

Like many tech brands of the current day, Snapchat succeeds through a combination of unique features that are specific to its own platform and continuous learning from its competitors. While some social media platforms are easily complementary to Snap’s brand experience, others naturally produce more friction when compared with the Snapchat platform.

  • WeChat: As the most digitally-forward social media platform moving into 2017, WeChat has a very different target audience than Snap – based on geography and executive crossover with other countries – and fulfils a very different use-case: Snap is used mostly among millennials to share a particular moment; WeChat enables ubiquitous connection among friends, family and colleagues. With 1.1 billion accounts registered, WeChat is also a gateway to commerce with 83% of users purchasing products online.
  • Facebook: With a high number of MAU’s, Facebook’s news feed is an easy way for users to pass the time catching up on their network’s life events. The crossover lies in Snap’s ‘Discover’ news channels and Facebook’s constant stream of news – much of which is touted as fake. Facebook’s ‘live’ feature is another area of trouble, which has been taking heat recently after users were charged with a hate crime streamed live over the platform – dubbed by CNN as not “evil”, but rather the result of “bad home training”. Facebook attempted to buy Snapchat earlier in 2016, and there are rumors that in the coming months the company will try again.
  • GroupMe: Just recently acquired and a stand-out in smooth user experience features, the American brand specializes in group messaging that sticks around, therefore fulfilling a very different use case than Snapchat. The “Like” feature on GroupMe allows for easy communication in group messages.
  • Twitter: Often referred to as vital and at the same time failing, Twitter’s cat-like response times have made it known as the land of internet trolls. According to CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, the negativity that Twitter so staunchly defends as elements of free speech may actually be the reason that the company is having problems competing with Facebook, and ended the year with its stock 30% cheaper. Snap and Twitter have little crossover.
  • QQ: As an extremely local platform, QQ is a widely popular instant messaging service that registered a peak number of 241 million concurrent users. Early growth of QQ allowed China’s social media realm to reach a high level of quality, and the platform is very popular in tier 3 and 4 cities, while still being one of the norms for email addresses in China. Snap and QQ could boost each other’s presence as two culturally polarized social media platforms.
  • WhatsApp: Omnipresent in South American countries, WhatsApp is also the most popular messaging app in the world overall – leading in 109 countries and 55.6% of the world. The app offers free international calling, texting, and group messaging, giving users everything they need and nothing they don’t. While WhatsApp and Snapchat definitely have some things in common – they both target the younger demographic and allow sharing pictures in a fun way – the two platforms are complementary.

Brand Partnerships

While traditional social media companies like Facebook and Twitter focus on habitual ad-based revenue streams, Snapchat views advertising in a different light. Swiping right twice from the camera view brings you to the ‘Discover’ page, where the user sees brands that have partnered with Snap to share content.

Snap’s ‘Discover’ feature is a way to reinvent traditional advertising: getting rid of “banner ads” and “pre-rolls”, media companies make short-form articles and 10-second videos that users can explore on their own time. As Snapchat was originally built upon a 1:1 message sharing with the recent introduction of 24-hour live stories, users who are still hungry will turn to ‘Discover’ to see what’s trending.

Many brands, from Mashable to Food Network to National Geographic and more are already present in the ‘Discover’ section of branded content blocks from magazines, TV channels, and other brands. Forbes, for example, is choosing to release its “30 under 30” list of 600 top entrepreneurs (30 entrepreneurs in 20 categories) for the first time on an outsourced channel before its own website. When asked why, Forbes Chief Product Officer said it “connects with a young audience, it’s great experience for a video and social team to put these together, and it teaches us about new formats that we want to make part of a new mobile experience.”

Conclusion

As more people use Snapchat as a channel to share content, brands are realizing that placing content on this platform is an easy way to deliver important messages to a wide audience on their own time.

With social media companies and the wider tech world as a whole evolve along the exponentially increasing digital spectrum, and big data is no longer measured in GB or TB but in ZB (1021), applying that data in a timely manner – whether ahead of time, on time, or just in time – becomes increasingly important. Moreover as application of this data in different countries proliferates the impact of international channels and the opportunity global platforms present has never been higher.

Snap’s year of branding actions was a full one. As we move into 2017, we plan on seeing more brand partnerships extend across the social media platform towards the public. Social media space is growing – it’s time how brands deliver messages does as well.

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