Snapchat has treated Asia as an afterthought for too long

In the face of stiff competition from Instagram Stories, plus regional players including LINE and Snow, Snapchat is at the bottom of marketer’s priorities in Asia – and risks becoming irrelevant altogether – argues Khyathi Nirmal Kumar

Earlier this month, one of the world’s largest advertising groups WPP, announced their plans to double their spending on Snapchat. The same week, Instagram celebrated the one-year anniversary of ‘Stories’.

The latter recently hit 200 million daily active users, while the last count of Snapchat at the time of its IPO stood at just 161m.

Yet despite these flagging numbers,  Snapchat is still very much in the game in the United States and Europe. However, when it comes to Asia, it has become evident it is losing the battle for followers.

Over the last year, if my clients asked me if they should care about Snapchat, I encouraged them to at least explore that opportunity, especially if their target audience was in the 16-24 age group. However, since the launch of Instagram Stories last August, Snapchat is no longer a priority for me as a marketer in Asia – and hence makes me surprised to see WPP jump in so deeply.

Instagram is great at the ‘catch-up’ game

Instagram has been in the lead in most Asian countries, and while there is a small growing audience that is still active on Snapchat, when one looks at actual size of the audience, Instagram will always be a higher priority for brands and influencers in this side of the world.

For a while there, it did appear like Snapchat had the potential to threaten Instagram’s lead in Asia, but the launch of Stories, a feature said to be inspired by Snapchat, made it clear that Instagram is not backing down anytime soon. It in fact, its effort to catch-up slowed Snapchat’s overall growth by 82 per cent.

They have been aggressive with their updates to ‘Stories’ that started out as a basic version of Snapchat but within a year, it now has almost all the features that users loved about Snapchat – including features like the augmented reality filters.

Asia has been an afterthought for Snapchat

Snapchat took too long to give access to their features like the geofilters, Discover channels and ads to brands in Asia. Even after it’s announcement to launch ads in Asia, there is no easy way to run ads or create branded content on the platform yet. And now with Instagram constantly keeping up with features like Stories, it is going to be really hard for Snapchat to get the brands’ attention.

Brands in Asia have invested in growing their Facebook and Instagram accounts for a considerable amount of time now and ‘Stories’ just became another significant feature they need to keep up with and use creatively in their engagement strategies.

The Facebook family of apps is not just good at catching up with their competitors’ features, they are also faster in making them globally accessible and giving brands the attention and support they need. You need only look at the rapid growth of Facebook’s own effort at Snapchat Stories with WhatsApp Status: in the first six months since it launched in February, the platform amassed 250 million daily active users, again putting it ahead of the originator. Snapchat, it seems, just cannot keep up with the Facebook juggernaut.

Lack of localisation unlike its regional competitors

Snapchat’s Discover channels do not feature local publishers or content, much like their lack of local filters. And this puts its behind a lot of Asian-founded apps such as LINE and WeChat, as well as with copycat apps like Snow, a Korean app, which now more popular than Snapchat in Korea, Japan and China.

Given the influence of Korean culture (K-Factor and K-Pop.) in other parts of Asia like Thailand and Singapore, and their focus on localisation, there is a chance that Snow might even end up eclipsing Snapchat in these countries.

For example, Snow made a special-effects ‘Year of the Rooster’ lens for Chinese users during their New Year. Because of its regional focus, Snow has quickly grown to around 50 million active users and was most recently valued at over US$200 million.

With every competing app, becoming a clone of Snapchat, it will definitely be interesting to see how they differentiate and approach their expansion in Asia over the next few years.

It’s time for Snapchat to think beyond teenagers in the US and move much faster in Asia before it becomes irrelevant.

Khyathi Nirmal Kumar is an independent digital marketing consultant based in Singapore



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