Recording or Experiencing?

What SnapChat can teach us about advertising planning

This article was written with the help of Saul Colt.

Photographer: Bob Knorpp

Is the camera a recording device or a seeing device? Is this even an important distinction? Well, a little social unicorn called Snap, Inc. thinks that it’s the latter — and maybe it’s important that we understand why.

Consider for the moment that over the entire scope of human history we’ve always sought ways to record our lives. Whether we’re talking about cave paintings or handwritten notes or all of those photos on your smartphone, it has been a distinctly human trait to want to document and preserve important moments.

But as recording and storage technologies improved, a funny thing happened. What was initially a discerning act of choosing which moments were important enough to record, instead became an assumption that all moments would and should be documented.

You hear facts like, more pictures are shot and posted to Facebook in a single day than were taken during the entire time before Facebook was created, and you can almost feel the crushing weight of all that visual information. And that’s just the PHOTOS…on ONE social platform! Add to this equation the emails, videos, Tweets, posts, and on and on, you begin to recognize an uncomfortable truth: Our need to record has outpaced our ability to process and retain even the smallest fraction of that information.

I’ll be the first to admit, that I didn’t get SnapChat initially. I’m probably not alone in this. If anyone asked me during its initial launch, I joked that it’s only good for nudity and insider trading. Photos that disappear? Stories told today that are gone tomorrow? It simply makes no sense to those still caught up in a record-and-preserve mindset. But still, 158 million daily active users regularly message each other on the platform, then allow those images to disappear and think nothing of it.

The way that I see it, the founders of Snap, Inc. — and now Facebook and Instagram with their own disposable moments — stumbled upon a basic truth that many of us had lost sight of: Just because you can save everything, doesn’t mean that you should save everything.

While recording remains important for a variety of reasons, recognizing the value of a shared moment that is experienced once and then remembered fondly is equally important.

What’s the value of this to the average person?

I can posit many reasons, but the most poignant one is this: In a world where every action we take may be documented in some fashion, it’s almost a relief to know that there are places we can go where (at least to our perception) no record remains. And understanding this consumer insight is essential to the future of planning and executing successful advertising and marketing efforts, because we remain woefully ignorant about what this desire to celebrate the, “moment,” might mean for brands.

Take the simple act of data collection, for instance. Some of the brightest researchers and data scientists I know are starting to balk at the unbridled desire to record, collect, and document everything about a customer. One of these individuals, research and strategy consultant Farrah Bostic, was on The BeanCast recently and flatly stated that brands need to stop asking for data that they don’t need. After all, why assume the risk for maintaining the privacy and security of information that is not necessary for any current marketing or customer service strategy? It’s not like all that excess data is giving us any additional insight into the customer anyway, nor is it helping us to improve consumer experience. In fact, many times intrusive data collection makes customers feel less special and more like…well…data.

The same is true when it comes to ads. We spend so much time and money trying to craft lasting monuments of advertising or content, while relatively little resources toward creating incredible moments that live on only in the customer’s heart and mind. Ads are still important, but this disproportionate focus on them at the expense of customer experience is way out of touch with consumer desire. It’s a disconnect of epic proportions, leading savvy online-focused consumers to rebel against the constant tracking of their behavior and to block all ads just to get relief from the intrusive barrage.

Clearly this is a problem that has no easy fix within the current operational structures of the advertising world. Brand marketing departments and their agencies are built almost entirely around the premise of making, “stuff,” not moments. But as this celebration of unique moments begins to captivate consumers, the best ways to breakthrough will be ideas where the consumer’s own experiences become the vehicle for delivery.

All of this is not easy, either. It requires much more than simply amping up your earned media strategy. I’m advocating for creating a seemingly endless series of positive experiences that are wholly owned by the consumer — which is just as much about a renewed dedication toward product design, retail presentation, product usage, and customer service, as it is about creating compelling communications. But ultimately we need to allow the customer a buffer or safe space to experience why they love us, without be constantly told why they should love us.

Fewer ads that are more meaningful, balanced by improved experience? Intentional collection of only the data we need, balanced by respect for consumer desires in how we use it? These are the important insights behind the success of moment-based technologies.

So, yes, a camera can be used to both see and to record. But since we only remember the things we want to see anyway, it may be time to record a little less so consumers can enjoy their moments with us a whole lot more.

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