Social media marketing poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities for brands. The opportunities include a deeper connection with your customers, a personalization of your brand in the eyes of your target audience, and the development of a following that’s willing to share and promote your brand to an even wider audience. One of the biggest challenges, however, is finding new ways to connect with your audience in an increasingly noisy, crowded, and attention-addled environment.

Snapchat, a time-sensitive, image-based social media application offers a unique alternative to shouting above the crowd to get your message heard. But with its timed-to-disappear image content and one-to-few posting limitations, it might seem that it’s not suited to brand marketing at all. In fact, in its early adoption phase, some pundits dismissed it as nothing more than a veiled sexting app to send private pictures that would quickly disappear.

On the contrary, marketers such as Gary Vaynerchuk suggest that what others have deemed as Snapchat’s limitations can be utilized to make even stronger connections with hyper-targeted segments of your target market. To get a more detailed perspective on the brand marketing potential for Snapchat, we talked to two marketing professionals who see Snapchat as a viable marketing option for certain brands under certain conditions.

Immediacy Can Prompt Customer Actions

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Just as the 140-character limit of Twitter has become one of its defining features, the “voyeuristic” nature of Snapchat is one of the features that makes it uniquely effective for certain brands, according to John Ramirez, CEO of digital marketing firm IOKON Media. “If you only have a few seconds to see someone’s content before it’s gone, you’re really going to pay attention to that content,” says Ramirez.

He offers an example of how the immediacy of Snapchat can be harnessed by brands to offer unique marketing opportunities. “Let’s say you’re a clothing brand and you have a Snapchat campaign running in conjunction with a retail chain. With something as simple as a promotional sign in a changeroom, you can solicit potential customers to Snapchat a picture of themselves wearing your product to the brand — and perhaps to a few of their trusted Snapchat friends — in exchange for an instant discount on the product.” Because Snapchat images disappear shortly after they’re posted, people may be more impulsive and willing to take action on a Snapchat campaign, as opposed to using Instagram or other image uploading tools to do the same thing.

Ramirez points out that although this type of campaign is not scalable to thousands of people at the same time, the campaign can work over and over again at the critical point in the sales cycle — the point of purchase. “The fact that purchasers also get the satisfaction of knowing some of their favorite brands are responding directly to them, and only them,” says Ramirez, “that builds brand loyalty that’s hard to match.” He adds that a lot of savvy Snapchat users know how to screen capture replies from the brands they’re Snapchatting with. “They’ll often tweet those personalized replies to their friends on Twitter, or post them to Facebook, as bragging rights, so the brands end up getting even more social media exposure” by using Snapchat as the catalyst that starts a chain reaction of brand mentions online.

Ramirez cautions that although Snapchat’s disappearing content can make for a fun and compelling marketing mechanism, a brand should always have an existing social campaign in place onto which Snapchat can be integrated.

Connect With a Younger Demographic

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Stephanie Sciandra, social media strategist with New York agency Situation Interactive echoes the advice of John Ramirez. She says that brands can effectively use Snapchat to “help stoke a brand’s ‘superfan’ culture but it should always be used in addition to, not in place of, a wider, integrated marketing campaign.” She cites well established social brands like Taco Bell and Acura that have found success using Snapchat as one piece of their much larger brand marketing puzzles. For example, in Acura’s case, disappearing content on Snapchat was duplicated and reposted on Vine and Instagram in the days and weeks following its initial Snapchat campaign.

An advocate of the evolution of marketing tactics and techniques, Sciandra says that “the first incarnation of a social network is never the last.” She says that Snapchat, like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ before it, will likely develop additional features, or foster more mature, creative marketing expressions as both brands and end users become more comfortable with this unique platform.

Sciandra also mentions that Snapchat can be an ideal platform for brands that cater to its target demographic of 13-25 year olds. “This demographic can be hard to reach on other, more established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, so Snapchat provides a way for brands to potentially reach that audience in ways they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.” Of course Snapchat doesn’t have to be all about marketing products to young adults, according to Sciandra. It can be used as a platform to encourage younger people to influence the purchase decisions of their parents or people outside their age demographic as well.

Have you used Snapchat to market your products and services? Share your experiences in the comments below.

[Image credits: Vernon Chan]