When Snapchat officially changed its name to ‘Snap Inc’ earlier this year, many took little notice. As the company gears up for a potential IPO and begins to court advertisers, it seemed like a functional name change, designed to appease or appeal more to Wall Street.
But it’s turned out to be much more than that.
It’s been a huge breakout year for Snapchat. The brand has come into mainstream consciousness and moved past the point of being a fleeting success story that might float off into the ether, like so many viral apps before it. It’s now a tech giant, with genuine claims around the honeypot that is digital brand advertising.
Snapchat’s ability to roll out lenses andUX improvements faster than we’ve seen before has resulted in plenty of talk ability . Perhaps the best compliment that you can get is when Facebook tries to steal and replicate your product features, a reoccurrence throughout 2016.
But Snapchat’s biggest marketing success story in 2016 hasn’t come from the app. With the name change comes a widened focus on hardware and products beyond mobile, and the first cab off the rank is the unforeseen and incredibly successful launch of Snapchat Spectacles.
Spectacles is a pair of Snapchat-connected glasses that can record a video with a duration of 30 seconds long. They may seem like your ordinary pair of cool sunnies, but each pair actually contains a camera with high-tech features like wireless charging, Wi-Fi and a Bluetooth. When you press record, a blue light flashes and it’s simple to instantly upload video to the Snapchat app.
The product looks cool (to my untrained eye), and it’s really fun. Unlike other ‘camera in glasses’ products (which we’ll get to later), you might actually get complimented for wearing these specs.
But it’s nothing earth shattering when it comes to technology, and a cynic might say Spectacles is a faddish product designed to lock people further into using the app regularly. (They’d be right too.)
So why the incredible hype?
The simple answer is brilliantly structured, carefully cultivated ‘viral marketing’.
Usually I hate that term, but in this case, the ‘v’ word is apt.
Here’s how they did it.
1) Understanding the quirks of their target audience
One of the main selling points is simplicity and friction removal.
Snap is aiming to remove the last layer of friction associated with recording video – having to hold your camera up and press a button.
This might sound minimal and trite, but to the most expectant group of consumer there’s ever been (Adam Morgan calls this generation the ‘children of Uber’, weaned on apps that do everything for them), a more immediate way to record video is welcome. It’s an extra 2-3 seconds saved from not having to fumble for your phone, open the app and record, plus it’s a handsfree experience, meaning you can record things without needing to hold a phone in front of your face.
The product also might actually help people to be ‘more in the moment’, because once you press the button, the recording starts, and that’s no intermediary between you and your experience, just a pair of lenses.
2) Perfect product positioning
Of course, the obvious comparison to make is Google Glass. A similar, albeit more expensive and expansive product, Glass used a completely different launch strategy, which many believe led to its ultimate failure. It quickly became uncool, something that your nerdy uncle might wear to dinner. And more importantly, because there were so many potential usage cases, it became unclear what Glass was actually for.
Snapchat have learned from that, and every communication from the company has been purposely very measured and clear with regards how the product is presented. They’ve done a great job of setting expectations from the get-go.
Spectacles are cool. They’re a fashion item. They’re a fun ‘toy’ and they’re not for tech geeks or CEOs, they’re for heavy Snapchat users like you. They’re a status symbol, but not ostentatiously priced.
And they’re not for answering email, watching YouTube videos on the go or anything else you can do with Glass. The use case is simple – record video and share it quickly to an app you already use – Snapchat.
There’s no confusion on the user’s part. People can make up their mind quickly, they either see a value in the product or they don’t. And that’s welcomed.
Like all great companies at the moment, Snapchat has made it easy for people to say yes or no and then move on. Simple.
That’s a great lesson to brand and product managers. While it’s often easy to fall prey to scope creep, often, a clear, pared back proposition is often most effective.
3) Identifying the right early adopters
Snap didn’t make the product available to just anyone upon launch. Google made that mistake and ended up with the creepiest middle age white guy photo of all time ruining their carefully cultivated brand impression.
Only the biggest Snapchat influencers have gotten access to the glasses, while all product imagery focuses on cool young ‘millennials’ having fun with the specs, another carefully choreographed detail.
Even the media have found it tough to get their hands on the specs, and the secondary market for them on Ebay is huge. Normally, not giving media access to your product would be suicide. But in this case, Snap weighed the pros and cons and decided that creating intrigue was the best policy.
4) Creating demand through artificial scarcity
Creating value through the medium of scarcity is a well worn path, both by tech brands and fashion brands. It’s a simple premise – when we are deprived of an option, we see it as more valuable.
Even if it’s irrational, we want something we can’t have.
The appearance of scarcity positively impacts our perception of value – it’s the tenet that the high fashion industry has based itself on in recent times, or why there are mile long queues to get into certain exclusive nightclubs at the weekend. Google have also employed similar tactics to launch tools like Gmail and Google+.
Snap has taken a leaf from this playbook. The strategy seems to be to only sell a limited number of glasses as a way to get demand pumped up. The product is, for now, only available through a vending machine called the ‘Snapbot’, which has predictably attracted enormous queues. The machine itself is an extension of the personality that Snapchat infuses into everything that it does. Equipped with a motion sensor, the Snapbot appears to be sleeping, then wakes up to display sample video clips from the glasses whenever anyone walks by. Three simple coloured knobs allow the user to pick their hue — coral, black or turquoise — before the glasses appear to vend out of the bot’s smiling “mouth” (after the payment of $130 of course!).
Already, the machine has appeared in various random locations, including Venice Beach, the Grand Canyon and a remote location in rural Oklahoma, stopping for only 24 hours before popping up in another spot.
All of this allows Snap to control the number of Specs on the market and the experience of purchase, in the same way retailers like Warby Parker strive to own every part of the buyer journey.
5) Baked in virality
Of course, this approach to distribution comes with its own PR benefits, in that every time the bot moves, the media interest gets re-inflated. It’s PR 101, but it sure is working to create hype.
That’s not the only way the brand has ‘baked in virality’ into the product. In a similar manner to how Vine gained traction by allowing frictionless sharing to Twitter and making its video clips immediately noticeable, all video shared from the Specs comes with a distinctive circular crop.
This too is a careful detail that plenty of thinking has gone into.
Because of the distinctive style, when video is taken from Snapchat and shared on another social network, it’s obvious where it comes from. In essence, Snapchat has branded every piece of video that comes from Specs by making it a distinctive asset compared to every other type of online video. That’s a smart ‘growth hack’. When video from Spectacles starts going viral (which it will) then they’ll reap the benefits of this ongoing built in brand reminder.
Another plus to this tactic is there’s no need for traditional media spend. If owned (Snapbot/product itself) and earned (launch coverage/Snapbot location coverage) media are doing the work for you, then why bother spending on ads? Snap can postpone media investment until they have wrung as much benefit as possible, using their tie instead to perfect the product experience before going mass market.
This is very much a prototype version of the product too, and given the old adage that ‘those adopting your product earliest will have the most tolerance for its flaws’, the metered rollout strategy is also a way for Snap to improve its hardware on the fly. Heavy media support is the last thing Spectacles needs to be a success at this stage.
Of course, Spectacles are at the lower end of the wearables category, and their primary purpose is to keep Snap in the public eye, while pinning existing users into the Snapchat platform even further.
The tactics used are a mix of old school P.R. and basic consumer psychology, so there’s nothing new here. But there are some good takeaways for modern marketers from the rollout.
Through careful choreography, Snap has managed to create one of the biggest tech launch stories of the year.
That’s a perfect tech marketing case study and more importantly, it gives the company serious momentum leading up to 2017’s potential IPO.
Now, anyone know where I can get a pair?