“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert.
Monetizing a revenue-starved app requires a delicate balance of creativity and business savvy. Companies need to sell ads to make money, but they risk alienating their prized user bases if they take disruptive or inelegant approaches.
Snapchat’s answer to this dilemma is Discover, a new section in the app that features curated content from prominent media companies and brands. The attention-grabbing content is brief, a little random and, true to Snapchat style, only lasts a day.
The content in Discover is created specifically for the app, and it’s being presented as news and entertainment, sort of like receiving a dozen mini magazines in the mail every day. The focus is not on the ads, which is clever because it’s sponsored content that doesn’t feel sponsored.
By shunning traditional approaches such as banner ads and creating a new form of advertising on a social platform, Snapchat guides its sponsors to tell their own stories one day at a time. While Snapchat and its brethren are clearly moving away from traditional ads toward sponsored content, the ads themselves are also content.
This carries big implications for the eroding line between content and ads, which may affect companies and ad agencies whose campaigns rely on storytelling, rather than features, benefits and price. What if a burger joint doesn’t want to participate in a drawn-out saga and simply wants to tell customers that burgers are on sale tomorrow? Now everyone – even advertisers – can be a media company, and Snapchat Discover may be just the outlet they need to provide a brief, albeit compelling, story.
Breaking The Advertising Mold
Social platforms have historically functioned like digital magazines, where advertisers can purchase ads adjacent to user-created content. But with the move toward sponsored, integrated content and storytelling, especially using video, social platforms are trying to function more like TV networks and make money by connecting content with audiences.
This change is especially significant as the percentage of social content that is viewed on mobile devices continues to grow. Because of the space limitations on mobile screens, this shift has presented some distinct challenges for advertisers. But as mobile viewing becomes the norm rather than the exception, advertisers need to move to sponsored native content that’s less disruptive to the user experience.
Snapchat minimized disruption by moving Discover to a separate part of the app. This avoids turning off people using the core Snapchat functions, but it means Discover stories must succeed on their own merits. To help achieve this, Snapchat chose its partners carefully, and all content in Discover is being created specifically for the app in conjunction with Snapchat.
With its pleasant, multi-tiered layout, Discover may be the most successful form of native storytelling on social apps. It offers snippets of video, text and photos and gives interested consumers the chance to dig deeper into a topic. The streamlined layout eliminates clutter to help maximize engagement for advertisers.
The Collective Push Toward Media Publishing
Snapchat isn’t the first social platform to transition to the publisher role and capitalize on the power of storytelling. Brands on Instagram often engage in native advertising, as well as some direct partnerships with Instagram, but the platform’s current strength lies in behind-the-scenes photography that incites brand passion, more so than episodic content and video storytelling.
Twitter recently unveiled a new native video feature that will provide users (including brands and new media celebs) the opportunity to shoot, edit, and post videos directly from the app. The new feature is Twitter’s attempt to get more video in the pipeline and boost engagement.
Facebook, meanwhile, is gunning for YouTube by prioritizing video. Facebook videos automatically play when you come across them in the news feed, whereas YouTube videos don’t. Facebook’s algorithms give preferential treatment to Facebook content, which marketers are figuring out. Facebook clearly recognizes the storytelling potential of video, and it wants brands creating that content to use Facebook.
Advertisers Need To Unlock Their Storytelling Abilities
Although Snapchat Discover is limited to select brands, advertisers in every industry need to hone their storytelling skills and be able to create short, captivating content for audiences who have come to expect this type of approach.
Brands are already enjoying success on other platforms. For example, the NHL packages daily highlights on Instagram, while Lowe’s offers “Fix in Six” videos on Vine. These are very different brands, but they’re both capitalizing on the power of short video to engage their audiences.
Snapchat’s Discover takes this approach a step further by creating a new model for storytelling. Because each piece of content lasts only 24 hours, brands must take an episodic approach to their storytelling. This requires creativity and consistency to engage an audience, day after day and week after week. But as this trend shows, brand attention is increasingly gained in small doses on small screens. Advertisers can’t afford to be left behind.