This spring, 20 staffers from digital agency PMG Worldwide huddled, virtually, with Snapchat’s team—piped in via videoconferencing—to learn the intricacies of the popular messaging app, with the platform’s best practices for advertisers topping the agenda.
Over the course of two hours’ worth of training sessions, the social media team at the Fort Worth, Texas-based shop—which has clients like Apple-owned Beats—got an edge on other mobile agencies, getting caught up on the constant stream of Snapchat’s new products and features. Moreover, in the coming months PMG will receive additional coaching and support from Snapchat parent Snap Inc.
This workshop is all part of the new Snapchat Certified Partners program, which the company is set to announce this week on the eve of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. When it comes to agencies, Snapchat won’t just be flipping the switch on its “Open for Business” sign—it also will be knocking on doors and inviting collaborators in like never before.
“[Snapchat is] in our office sometimes it seems like on a weekly basis,” said Angela Seits, director of social media and influencer marketing at PMG. “We’re very closely connected with them in terms of communication because the platform does change so much, so that allows us to be a little bit quicker and more responsive to how we stay up to date.”
One year after unveiling its ads API at Cannes, Snap is again set to make waves on the French Riviera. Snap execs will meet with clients along the Croisette to discuss the new Certified Partners program as well as introduce slick creative tools, a self-serve buying platform and talk about granular measurement tactics—which will take aim at sizable direct-responsive budgets from large and small advertisers.
Clearly, Snapchat has its eye on app-install dollars—a forward-thinking move, as apps are projected to be a $166 billion category in 2017, per App Annie.
If Snapchat’s presence at the festival for the past two years has been about warming up marketers to the app that mesmerizes millions of millennials every day, consider this year to be about proving that the Venice, Calif.-based company—which went through a buzzy IPO in March valued at $24 billion—is growing up and ready to seriously angle for ad dollars alongside Google, Twitter and most notably Facebook-owned Instagram. It’s incumbent on Snapchat to tackle the surge in popularity of Instagram Stories, which has been copying its Stories feature, lenses and graphics that overlay photos and videos. The rivalry may have contributed to Snapchat downloads falling 22 percent during the first two months of the second-quarter compared to the same period the year prior, according to data released by app-analytic firm Sensor Tower. Earlier, in Q1, Snapchat downloads had risen by 6 percent. Snap declined to comment on the report.
Moreover, during Snap’s first earnings report in May, the app missed analysts’ revenue expectations while year-over-year daily user growth slowed to 36 percent, down from a 48 percent yearly uptick during the fourth quarter of 2016.
“Instagram will remain a concern for Snapchat as long as they’re both hitting the same audiences with the same features,” said DigitasLBi’s Jill Sherman, svp, social strategy. “Snapchat has been largely focused on aging up to meet the reach and scale that shareholders demand. The real test will be their ability to reach down again, to compete with the new platforms like Musical.ly, Live.ly, YouNow and Houseparty that are attracting Gen Z in droves.”
Meanwhile, its ad play continues to forge ahead as aggressively as ever. Over the past year, Snap doubled its number of employees to 2,000 and now has sales teams in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.
“You really want to help your partners grow and learn,” explained Imran Khan, Snapchat’s chief strategy officer. “We’ve always been very focused on, ‘Let’s not onboard advertisers just to onboard. Let’s onboard them to be successful.’ And as a result, we have been very maniacally focused on measurement, ease of buying that brought in things like the API. Our view is that we have to take a long-term approach.”
That vision starts with taking marketers to school. Snapchat Certified Partners will help more than 25 agencies and vendors, including Omnicom’s Resolution Media, OrionCKB, SocialCode and Adaptly become fluent in Snapchat vernacular. Participants undergo two Snap-led training sessions before taking an online exam detailing ad capabilities, optimization strategies and vertical-specific best practices, among other things. After passing the test, companies receive a digital badge and will partake in ongoing coaching and reviews to remain part of the program.
“Our ad business is still relatively new, so educating people on our ad product, our creative, our measurement system—all of those things will help our advertisers to get better performance,” Khan explained.
Only agencies and tech vendors that buy ads can get the certification, and advertisers will be charged, according to sources, between 10 percent and 20 percent of a media buy. (So if they spend $100,000 on a campaign, for example, they’ll pay a Snapchat Certified Partner at least $10,000). Facebook has a similar agency program called Blueprint, which costs a flat fee of $150, while both Twitter and YouTube have free certification programs. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter also offer customized content strategy services for individual and top-spending advertisers.
While Omnicom and a few larger shops are part of Snapchat Certified Partners, it’s also aimed at midsize firms that may have limited budgets.
Direct response shop OrionCKB put its staff of 30 through Snapchat Certified Partners because it resembled “what Facebook did when they first came out,” explained Scott Briggs, co-CEO and managing partner.
Anthony Koziarski, head of media solutions at Resolution Media, added, “This isn’t something that we can enter into on a self-serve basis—it’s something that we need to do in full collaboration with Snapchat. As they continue to iterate at such a speed, it’s almost impossible to keep up. If you think about what’s happening within the platform marketplace at large, it’s critical for our teams to stay connected to what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, bigger agencies report that they’re now spending more on Snapchat because ad offerings have solidified after having received a peek under the hood.
“This [agency program] is a sign of some stability from them that they feel like they’ve codified the platform enough,” commented Noah Mallin, head of social, North America at MEC and MEC Wavemaker. “I would call it a deep dive where they’ve had members of their API team come and meet with our buying and strategic teams to understand what the implications are for the new targeting and how that fits in with the bigger ad ecosystem.”
Getting advertisers to mirror how consumers use the platform is central to Snapchat’s monetization future. When Gatorade wanted to promote tennis star Serena Williams during the U.S. Open last year, Resolution Media helped design a custom ad unit that let users play a virtual tennis game. All told, users averaged 196 seconds with the game with a 14.5 percent “swipe up” rate.
“Those types of advertisers are clearly fully vested into the platform, and they’re looking for repeat success,” Koziarski said.
Snap reports that 20 percent of ad impressions during the first quarter flowed through the programmatic-like API, so it appears that the next challenge will be convincing advertisers of all stripes to get comfortable with its automated systems. Tech vendor SocialCode reports that its advertisers spent 131 percent more on Snapchat in the first quarter of this year compared to the fourth quarter of 2016.
After testing Snapchat Ad Manager with 20 companies, the self-service platform officially opens today to all marketers, allowing brands with any budget to buy and track ads. Until now, spend requirements have limited the number of brands that could afford to buy ad packages.
“Over time as we’ve seen the platform evolve and [as] that cost of entry comes down, more advertisers are prepared to experiment and take a chance,” noted Resolution Media’s Koziarski.
The auction-based ad platform is powered by machine-learning technology that optimizes against campaign objectives and budgets. For instance, goal-based bidding zeros in on people whose behavior suggests they’re more likely to “swipe up” on an advertisement to download a mobile app or watch a video.