Of the many social networks that have come to the fore in the past decade, none is enjoying quite the same level of buzz at the moment as Snapchat. The smartphone-only social network, whose auto-disappearing messages first made it popular as a sexting tool for teens after its launch in 2011, is now used by more than 100 million people every day — and more than a third of Americans ages 18 to 34 on a monthly basis, with a higher engagement rate than Instagram, according to Comscore.
Despite its rampant popularity with such a key consumer demographic, brands — especially high-end fashion and luxury brands — have been slow to embrace the platform relative to older social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. The reasons are manifold, ranging from a scarcity of resources — few of the brands we spoke to for this story had more than two people managing their social media communications across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. — to a lack of even rudimentary analytics, making it difficult for marketing teams to ascertain what, if any, return they're seeing on an investment in the platform. (Speaking of which, advertising on Snapchat ain't cheap, either.) The app has other major limitations as well: without a look-up tool, the only way to find a company is to type in its exact username; its aesthetic is naturally less polished, making it a tricky fit for image-conscious luxury brands; and unlike Facebook or Instagram, content creators can't save assets (and thus have them approved by superiors) to upload weeks or even days later.
These drawbacks haven't deterred fashion and beauty companies completely. Brands like Asos, Everlane, Glossier, H&M, Maybelline, Sephora and Warby Parker often post several times per week. Even luxury fashion brands, including Burberry, Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Mulberry and Valentino, have accounts, though with the exception of Valentino, they only tend to create Stories around a few key events a year, like a fragrance launch or runway show.
All of which is to say that it's still early days for brands on Snapchat — and if you remember what Facebook and Instagram were like before everything started to look exactly the same, that's a very exciting thing. We polled a number of marketers, digital strategists and social media managers about the fashion and retail brands doing Snapchat best, each of which, refreshingly, have taken a unique approach to engaging with followers.
For British high street retailer Asos, Snapchat is "increasingly important" to its business — even without proper analytics, the company knows its customers are on the platform and means to reach them there. Asos joined the app in mid-2013, snapping outfit ideas, office tours, discount codes, and behind-the-scenes clips from events ranging from photo shoots to fashion shows; the content that was included in Snapchat's roundup of Fashion Week Stories was viewed more than 20 million times in Europe, the company says. The retailer also creates a steady stream of Snapchat-related content on its blog — smart for engaging people already active on the app.
Burberry (username: burberry) is considered something of a pioneer in the digital marketing space: The brand was among the first to make its shows viewable (and shoppable) via livestream, and to engineer experiences like the "Tweetwalk" in 2011, whereby the label previewed its collection on Twitter moments ahead of its runway debut. The company joined Snapchat a year ago to build buzz around its one-off fashion show in Los Angeles, and has since used the platform exclusively to promote major events, including campaign releases and the launch of its most recent men's fragrance.
No matter what the channel, Burberry's image is always extremely polished, and the same can be said of the content it creates — or, rather, choreographs — for Snapchat. For London Fashion Week in September, it gave followers an early peek at the collection, as well as a cameo from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour; the following February, it one-upped itself by staging a break-in of its flagship Regent Street store, featuring models in the brands' wares. Both were positively received, though not everyone is a fan. "I think [the account is] entertaining, but it's so 'perfect' that it's no different than watching a Burberry ad — it just feels the same, it's the same experience," one marketer we spoke to observed.
Every single person we interviewed for this story pointed to Everlane (username: everlane) as a Snapchat account to watch — and for good reason. The five-year-old clothing brand's commitment to transparency has manifested itself wonderfully on the platform, with social media leads Red Gaskell and Isadora Sales offering frequent updates of what's going on at Everlane headquarters (this past weekend, Gaskell updated followers several times per day on the construction of the company's shoe pop-up in Manhattan) and hosting a recurring feature called Transparency Tuesdays, where the pair answer users' questions about the company. They've taken followers inside Everlane's partner factories, invited them to sales meetings and given them previews of upcoming products. Behind the scenes, Gaskell and Sales respond to private messages ranging from order questions to styling advice. "Everlane is really best practice at this point," says Sara Zucker, digital marketing manager at Origins. "I love to know as much as I can about what I'm wearing on my body, and they really tell you everything."
Sephora (username: sephora) was a relatively early adopter of Snapchat, going live on the app in 2014, a few months after Snapchat launched its Stories feature. To build its audience, the LVMH-owned beauty retailer has hosted sweepstakes and worked with influencers like Hannah Bronfman (who did a "day in the life" Story centered around beauty for Sephora). These days, the company posts about three times per week on average, focusing on products that align with Snapchat's core demographic of younger Millennials and Gen Zers, says Devon West, director of social media for Sephora. The retailer has also set up geofilters at all of its stores, allowing users to tag snaps they take on location with phrases like "Let's Beauty Together." "They do really well for us," says West.
Valentino (username: maisonvalentino) is the rare luxury fashion brand that actually posts on a regular basis. "[The account is] quite personable," says Rachel Arthur, digital strategist and founder of fashion marketing blog Fashion & Mash. The company frequently takes followers into its showroom and its stores to see product, often throwing down inventive fonts and emojis — which may not sound terribly exciting, but there's an informality to it that's delightfully unexpected. Plus, the company's willingness to post so frequently — and in the vein of the Snapchat aesthetic — keeps them at top of mind. "Because [it's reaching a] younger consumer, brands can be a bit more playful on Snapchat," says Arthur. "Fashion should be that way."
The Early Adopter Advantage
Where consumers are, brands will follow, and Snapchat's user adoption rate shows no sign of slowing down. Many marketers see the advantage of being on Snapchat early: There's less competition with other brands, and therefore less noise; there's still a lot of room to build an organic (rather than paid) following; and the novelty of businesses using the platform means that mega brands like Burberry and Dior get the added bonus of media coverage. Partnering with an influencer, like Gigi Hadid recently did with Tommy Hilfiger, or Sephora with Hannah Bronfman, has proven an effective way of amassing an audience quickly.
Still, it may not hurt to wait for the platform to develop a little further. "[Snapchat] isn't something I would be opposed to recommending [to my clients]," says Jessica Kia, co-founder of digital marketing consultancy RJK Project and the former head of global digital and social media at Kate Spade New York. "But we have no data yet. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook fan acquisition campaigns back in the day, but we should have burned that money instead, because now that we can measure the crossover between all the money we spent acquiring followers, and the number of those followers that actually shop, we know it's not impressive. On Snapchat, there's no tie to shopping, no referral traffic to your site... I'd rather see a brand wait and do it well."
Homepage photo, Burberry fall 2016: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images