Brace yourselves, fellow marketers. But whatever you do, don’t let a fear of change buck you out of one of the most disruptive advertising opportunities in the last 20 years.
Snapchat is currently rolling out a refreshed app experience, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that power users are expressing a bit of frustration with the change. Some advertisers have already been spooked this year; a report this week from Cowen analyst John Blackledge found that ad buyers overwhelmingly preferred Instagram to Snapchat, citing concerns around metrics like return on investment, user targeting, and campaign measurement.
Although there might be disruption as the update rolls out to Snapchat’s user base during this transition, everyone will embrace it in 2018—advertisers included. If the evolution of social media advertising has taught us anything, it’s that we MUST be patient and not panic as these updates roll out.
Snap, Inc. reported lower-than-expected user growth for the fourth straight quarter in its Q3 earnings call. The good news for everyone came when CEO Evan Spiegel announced a major redesign was in the works.
“One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” Spiegel said. “As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.”
Spiegel also predicted the update would help Snapchat “appeal to a broader audience.”
The new Snapchat app that’s started rolling out since then is dramatically simpler. Swipe left for the “social” epicenter, Friends. Swipe right for the “media” section, Discover. The biggest change is an algorithm update meant to better curate the experience.
There’s a risk here, but it’s not unprecedented.
Bold steps in this direction are exactly what helped Instagram break its user barriers in the months and years following its acquisition by Facebook.
In March of 2016, Instagram’s newsfeed shakeup, which put algorithms in charge of the order in which posts appear, initially drew fierce criticism from daily active users and influencers. Even moms in ‘80s jeans freaked out. But the move successfully improved the overall experience and fueled user growth for Instagram. As of last fall, Instagram has grown to a staggering 500 million daily active users.
Along with new Snapchat designs revealed in December in multiple publications, an op-ed by Spiegel appeared in Axios describing the underpinnings of the redesign. In it, Snap’s CEO revealed a similar step. Snapchat has applied a different approach to curation in the new version, but one that will amplify the personal relevance experienced by users in the app all the same.
Instead of taking cues from the close connections of each user, Snapchat will take an approach similar to Netflix’s, according to Spiegel, selecting new content to display based on the past behavior of the individual user only. At the same time, Snapchat will begin deploying human curation—the same good old-fashioned editorial approach that the modern media industry was built on.
How Will This Impact Advertisers?
First, users will experience a more personalized Snapchat experience. The redesign will surely provide a more integrated advertising solution to brands, offering advertisers access to a more contextual environment. Ads delivered in the app could feel more like an extension of the Snapchat experience and less like a “commercial break.” This improved “native feel” will pay off for brand awareness and direct response advertisers, alike.
Turning the focus to targeting, the new algorithms recommending content should quickly fuel interest-data expansion inside Snap, deepening the opportunity for targeting segmentation on the advertiser side. More importantly, the esoteric user experience that made Snapchat feel clandestine and cool to younger demographics could give way to make room for a new wave of users—the adults looking to get in on the youthful trend that’s evaded them so far. As new users in untapped demographics download the app, a broader user base will ultimately lead to larger audiences and even richer data for better segmentation.
What Will Come After That?
There’s a chance this redesign will also lead to further borrowing from pre-existing playbooks, making Snapchat a friendlier place for direct response advertisers. The end result of a more personalized experience will likely be a more focused delivery for advertisers to an audience that’s in the right mindset and ready to take action. Again, there’s some precedent.
In March of 2015, Instagram undertook another step that its power users spurned before ultimately welcoming the change. The app expanded from a self-contained mobile experience to one that enabled clickable ads, a move that coincided with Instagram’s user boom to 400 million monthly users in the spring of 2015.
Snapchat already offers “swipeable” ad units, but swipes remain an arcane gesture type for the populous, unfamiliar to a generation that came of age after the Tinder and other apps popularized the swipe. While it’s unknown whether Snapchat is experimenting with it, true clickability could be a boon to advertisers in much the same way it was for Instagram advertisers.
As Snapchat evolves, other sweeping changes to the experience will most certainly pay off for advertisers.
Time will tell.
If we’ve learned anything in the Social Media Era as marketers, it’s that fear of change will do more than buck us out of opportunities to beat our competitors. It will buck us right out of our jobs. Fear of change is the reason many of today’s boldest marketing leaders started rising in the ranks 10 years ago—when our old bosses were too stuck in their ways to push hard into digital. On the other hand, willingness to change is how Facebook, Netflix, and other disruptive channels have rewritten our job descriptions.
Viewed through that lens, a change like this app redesign is a good reason to be bullish on Snapchat, while many of your competitors step back and reassess. And that’s a recipe for performance on any digital channel.
Ultimately, Snap is a risk-taking company that has stood out by daring to be different. Now that the company is daring to be similar, it may be just the move marketers need.