'It can bottle our energy': Why Bloomingdale's is going all in on Snapchat

Bloomingdale’s looks to Snapchat to capture what other platforms, from Twitter to Instagram to Pinterest, can’t.

The department store joined the platform in the fall for September’s New York Fashion Week. This spring, however, is this first time Bloomingdale’s is testing original brand content not surrounding live fashion events on Snapchat.

The ongoing Snapchat campaign uses color schemes, special effects like sped up and reversed transitions, and text printed inside of envelopes that are opened, emptied, crumpled and discarded within a few stop-motion frames. It’s visually engaging content, curated but quickly digestible, and a contrast to retailers who use the feed as a sounding board for brand social media coordinators.

“Snapchat allows us to bring the energy and animation of what’s happening in our stores to our followers,” said vp of social media Jonathan Paul. “That’s something we couldn’t do on other channels.”

Paul said that the goal is to use an artistic approach to differentiate, and create an experience to show young consumers what Bloomingdale’s stores are about: even if they can’t get to a physical location (there are only 38 U.S. Bloomingdale’s), they’ll build a brand awareness associated with the account. The upscale retailer, owned by Macy’s, Inc., has an average customer age of 44 years old, with an average annual income of $150,000.

On Snapchat, it’s reaching out to millennial consumers, hoping to get the attention of the younger user that dominates the app (45 percent of those on Snapchat are between 18 and 24 according to BI Intelligence).

“We want to be one of the brands innovating on the platform. I see this as a big opportunity for us,” said Paul. “It’s something we’re trying to get a jump on by putting a ton of resources behind it.”

In addition to Bloomingdale’s internal social media team, help from freelancers and the assistance of a creative agency brings the number of people working on the retailer’s Snapchat story at any given time up to 15. He said he wants the production level of the stories to show that Bloomingdale’s is taking Snapchat seriously as a storytelling tool.

On weekends, Bloomingdale’s Snapchat stories follow a model on her way about New York City, making multiple stops for wardrobe changes throughout the day. The model will then present an option for viewers (which of these three pairs of shoes should I wear?). After followers respond via Snapchat’s ‘chat’ function, will carry on with the story based on those answers. Retailers like Birchbox and Urban Decay are also using Snapchat to gauge followers’ opinions, in their case using screenshots as a survey tool, over chat.

Other days, the company uses cut-out photos and solid backgrounds to announce new products.

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“This is an ambitious concept that we’re embarking on,” Paul said. “It’s a real-time adventure where the community is shaping the next step in our story. It’s not, ‘hey we’re going to the store to take some snaps.’ There are scripts involved, it’s a real production.”

Paul said that Snapchat’s challenge is driving engagement to stories. It’s not enough to amass followers, those followers then have to tap (sometimes twice) the Bloomingdale’s account in their story feed to see the content. Then, they have to keep tapping to get through the entire thing.

“We want to make sure that we’re bringing value to the people who graciously decide to follow us on Snapchat,” Paul said. “If I’m not creating compelling content, I’m not doing my job. So, we measure the relevance of our content by the way people are consuming it.”

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Right now, Bloomingdale’s measures Snapchat engagement by the percentage of their followers that view the stories, as well as the percentage of those who view them through the end. The company has also run contests, announced events and invited comments on the platform to gauge how many people were watching. On March 14, Bloomingdale’s announced its first winner from a Snapchat sweepstakes, who will make a cameo appearance in a future story.

Paul wouldn’t disclose Bloomingdale’s current followers or engagement rates for Snapchat stories (the retailer has 535,000 followers on Instagram and 500,000 on Facebook). Paul did say that the Bloomingdale’s Snapchat filter, which appears over users photos when they’re around or in a store, has surpassed the engagement benchmark of 10 percent, seeing 20 percent engagement.

Bloomingdale’s Snapchat filter outside of an NYC store.

That type of user interaction is a lasting function that the company can track, unlike stories, which disappear in 24 hours. Right now, Bloomingdale’s is putting a ton of effort into something that’s “essentially a black hole,” according to Joe Liebman, strategy director at Tribal Worldwide.

But Bloomingdale’s is willing to go all-in on the platform, as long as it’s still “authentic.”

“Things like Instagram, that’s a precious platform, beautiful and almost still and calm,” Paul said. “Snapchat can bottle our energy, that’s distinct to us, and help us share it.”