Earlier this year, followers of @MarriottHotels on Snapchat were trusted with an important task: to decide where social influencer Casey Neistat should travel in the brand's Snapchat-based story. Consumers were invited to engage with Neistat and additional vlogger partners as they traveled the world in an event sponsored by the hotel brand. Each influencer took over Marriott's Snapchat account to create what amounted to a memorable and highly interactive campaign.
Marriot was the first major hotel company to use Snapchat, but it's far from the only brand investing in the platform. In fact, messaging apps are popping up in countless marketing campaigns. Why? They're ideally positioned to boost consumer engagement, particularly among Millennials. Millennials represent more than 70 percent of Snapchat's users, which number some 100 million users overall. According to reports, Snapchat's audience is currently watching about 2 billion mobile videos a day.
On rival app Kik, it's users under 20 years of age who are the most engaged. Kik recently released the findings of a study that found that young consumers spend more time on messaging apps than social networks, and that 26 percent of users have engaged with a brand (21 percent on Snapchat).
Meanwhile, GlobalWebIndex reports that one third of Millennials now use either Facebook Messenger or Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Seventy percent say they use instant messaging apps because they are "quicker than SMS or social media," but they're also showing a willingness to interact with brands and products.
Let's take a look at five ways that top advertisers are leveraging this invaluable medium.
Campaigns like those launched by Marriott demonstrate one of the major ways that companies are reaching users: through intimacy and interactivity. On Kik, The Washington Post engages consumers with games and polls, and offers content it hopes will appeal to Kik's 200 million users. "We're going on the great American road trip!" The Washington Post told its Kik followers. "Say the name of your state to get started." The user's response triggered an automated conversation that included images of different cities around the U.S.
Each conversation is an intimate, one-to-one exchange between consumer and brand. According to Kik, more than 10 million users have already opted into a brand conversation, and its users are voluntarily sending an average of 9.4 messages to brands.
Comedy Central uses Kik to promote its viral videos. In addition to driving traffic to its original series online, it shares links to online comedy sketches relating to timely events like the NBA Finals and Mother's Day. "Don't miss Comedy Central's salute to Memorial Day with a Drunk History marathon playing now," the brand said, including a direct link to the video.
With Kik, users "opt-in" to a brand conversation by typing a question or comment. That kind of hand-raising creates qualified leads. While most brands are currently using Kik for content marketing, its ad program continues to grow and now includes some 60 advertisers. In May, the company announced new capabilities that allow brands to target by gender, geography, and operating system (Apple or Android).
In March of this year, shoe brand Clarks chose WhatsApp as the platform on which to tell the edgy and innovative story of the role its Desert Boot design has played in three different cultural movements. The company created a character to represent each subculture and invited users to chat with them through the app.
"It's a well-liked brand, but it's a brand that has the opportunity to freshen itself up and present itself into the 21st century," the company said of Clarks and its "interactive documentary." In addition to "freshening up," the campaign allowed Clarks to showcase its rich heritage. "From Rats to Rudeboys" also included a Spotify playlist and social media promotion.
Because messaging apps present the opportunity for real-time marketing, they're also useful for introducing new products. When Taco Bell launched its Spicy Chicken Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos last year, it created a six-minute Snapchat-based film. Using Snapchat Stories, the brand timed the event with the MTV Movie Awards and sent snaps throughout the day that, when combined, became a short movie. "That experience showed us that people enjoy Snaps when they are endemic to the platform and tell an authentic story," Taco Bell's digital marketing and social media lead said. "We really felt this was a way to take our storytelling to a new level on this platform."
With apps like Snapchat, Kik, and WhatsApp, brands can humanize themselves and demonstrate the authenticity of their messaging. Because the format is so intimate and conversations play out on mobile, it's crucial that brands come across as genuine. If they can successfully establish themselves as trustworthy, they stand to build ongoing loyalty with the notoriously fickle Millennial audience. All three of these messaging apps have proven that young consumers will willingly converse with brands if the content is interesting, current, innovative, and perhaps most importantly, rings true to the user.
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"Group of young friends" image via Shutterstock.