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.
Snapchat is seeking to elevate its brand.
The tech company on Friday Sep 24th announced two major changes to its brand. First, it’s renaming itself Snap, Inc., which according to CEO Evan Spiegal will allow the brand to experiment and grow beyond the traditional app. In and of itself this is nothing special, as a number of companies have elevated and re-organized their brand architecture in recent years, Google being a prime example.
But this announcement doesn’t come alone. Snap also announced the unveiling of a new product called Spectacles: fresh, swoopy sunglasses that record videos on command.
All around the world, leading tech brands are ditching outdated assumptions of “software only” services and creating unified experiences that merge hardware & software together. These brand innovations let consumers enjoy the same brand experience in entirely new ways.
In this article, we’ll discuss how Snap is creating a unified brand experience, and what other tech brands can learn from it.
Spectacles: The First Toy of its Kind
Snap’s brand experience is all about capturing a moment, while still living in it.
To record a video on the Spectacles, the user simply taps a small button on the sunglasses, leaving hands free to flip a burger, reach out to a rock star, or high-five a friend. The “wall in front of your face" disappears and the magic of the moment is maintained.
Consumers capture a moment, while still living in it.
Spectacles also allow you to shoot and view videos in 115 degree circular format. When you watch a video shot in Spectacles, not only is it through your own eyes, but your entire field of vision is also the memory – allowing you to not just revisit that legendary Queen concert, but relive it.
Snap has taken a clear use case and built a product around it that encourages a more natural, unified brand experience.
But what can other tech brands learn from this brand innovation?
Why Will It Work?
Many tech companies have recently come out with product innovations that bring their online-only experiences into the physical world. Some, like Amazon’s Kindle and Echo, have been wildly successful while others, like Google Glass, struggled to gain traction and eventually failed. What makes a brand innovation work?
Google Glasses leveraged fantastical technolgoy that allowed users to access the web from anywhere -- but it had no place in consumers' lives. Thus, consumers didn't use it. Amazon Echo on the other hand focused on an established use case of buying online, and made this experience easier through technology.
Leading brands are always at risk of becoming irrelevant or commoditized as competitors catch up. To maintain leadership, brand innovations must be precisely targeted to boost Brand Differentiation and Relevance, constantly rejuvenating a brand’s strength to maintain leadership.
Focusing on these two pillars of brand equity means offering something new, while fitting naturally into consumers’ lives.
Snap is the only western social media company that has released a physical product. That alone makes Spectacles highly differentiated. Competitors Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, and more have no tangible product whatsoever, and certainly no similar offering.
Google Glass is a common comparison, but when we look a little closer at their functions, we see just how different the two products are: Google Glass was a headset that allowed users to communicate with the internet via natural language commands, and use smartphone features on an optical display. Spectacles are iconic-looking sunglasses that help people record and share memories on social media. One has impressive technology but not established use case, one is fits naturally into established behavior.
This ties into perhaps the most important factor in developing a successful brand innovation: Brand Relevance. Does it fit my consumer’s personal needs? Will it be meaningful to my target? Are there already established use cases? Kevin Gentle, Lead Strategist at MADJOR, comments that “Google had no idea what it wanted to do with Glasses; actually a big part of the marketing behind it was to ask people what they would do with it. In comparison, Snapchat is very clear.”
Many millennials and generation z members use Snapchat every day, in a social setting. Spectacles enable young people interested in being trendy to share better Snapchats – already a clearly defined use case.
Going deeper, the younger generation’s digital fluency also translates to situational awareness: when a friend takes out a phone and turns the camera on and points it, it can be awkward; the best Snapchatters do so seamlessly. There is a clear gap between how clunky the act of Snapchatting is and how understated consumers actively wish it to be. Thus, a product that enables seamless Snapchatting in a cool and convenient way is extremely relevant to the target.
It doesn’t hurt that the same target is usually on the lookout for the latest fashion trends.
Optimizing brand architecture is a common but crucial step in product and service innovation, as a wider product selection has the potential to confuse consumers. Clarifying with a Master Brand allows for clarity about your brand’s goals and value proposition.
Google, to give the tech giant credit, last year renamed itself “Alphabet”. This allows Google to focus on the search engine service, while Nest, Calico, X, and other arms can focus on their unique purposes. Perhaps not so ironically, this is critical for SEO: “Google” returns result about the search engine, while “Alphabet” returns financial reports and information about new business ventures.
Similarly, Snap’s new architecture shift has similar benefits: when a user searches for “Snap Inc” they find information about the overall brand and business, while a query for “Snapchat” or “Spectacles” returns information about the products.
As Spiegel says, “"When we were just getting started it made sense to name our company Snapchat Inc., because Snapchat was our only product! Now that we are developing other products, like Spectacles, we need a name that goes beyond just one product."
This may be a hint that Spectacles is the first of many new products & services from the tech company.
Takeaway: Be Different, Be Relevant
Brand innovation is essential to take the lead and maintain that lead. This is especially true for companies in the tech sector, where large investment in R&D naturally lends itself to new product and service innovation that is always upsetting the status quo. For brands that compete on this level, it is important to remember the two indispensable aspects of brand innovation: be relevant, and be different.
For brands that operate in industries yet to be disrupted, there is an opportunity to be the driving force that can shape the future of the category. From simple fitness bands and smart watches, to wearable payments and stress detection devices, to smarthome thermostats and smart clothing, connected devices are forcing brands to re-evaluate silo-based digital approaches and consider digital as a driver of strategic offerings.
As Google can tell you, this is best done from a brand-led approach.