A new trend is starting the emerge in the photo tech space : brand photo apps. In an effort to capitalize on the photography craze infecting all smartphone users, more and more brands are creating their own photo app.

Having a strong visual presence on hip photo platforms like Instagram, Pinterest or even Facebook and Twitter is a must for brands who want cheap yet effective marketing. However, those platforms offer a variety of challenges for them:

Cost : What was once free – posting on social media – is slowly becoming another budget expense. All top social  media platforms have or are in a process of charging brands to take advantage of their reach.  While not a surprise, it still adds  additional expenses to an  already cost heavy department.  Engagement numbers are promising but do not yet translate in massive  sales. According to Zenith Optimedia, more than $56.8 billion was spent on generating traffic for websites in 2013 while only 2-3% of this traffic  converted .

Control : Brands have absolutely no control over these photo centric apps. They can only participate in an overall cacophony of content that mixes crowd and competition, hoping that their messaging will not fall into the wrong stream. While sponsored post might offer some relief, it then becomes an obvious intrusion,  most often unwelcome, into an otherwise curated stream. That is not how brands want to be perceived.

Connection:  While it might be a great ego boost for some brands to count the number of “likes”, “pins” or shares one picture post gathers, it is not productive.  They cannot capture the audience , (via email, twitter handle, Facebook log in) in order to ultimately convert them. All they do can is passively witness  a flow of people demonstrating an obvious interest for their products and disappearing into anonymity. The frustration must be painful. None of the platforms have any attention of delivering that kind of information, obviously, unless if it is used exclusively on their turf. For example, for a brand to know who likes their post on Facebook, they have to use Facebook as well as to continue communicating with them. Same for Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Those list are not exportable and in most case very limited in information. Not conducive to agile marketing and somewhat of a mouse trap.

The Nestle Bunny-fier app lets you add ears to your photos and share them
The Nestle Bunny-fier app lets you add ears to your photos and share them
So what is a brand to do?

Well some are now exploring the possibility of creating their own photo app, capturing and managing their audience directly from the photo creation point. Nestle, for example, launched a bunny-fier photo app last fall, allowing their users to add bunny ears to their selfies. This week,  Adidas launched its photo mobile app for their users to showcase and share  customized sneakers.The goal is  to build up a group of consumers that have shown an affinity for the brand and from there convert them into repeat consumers / brand ambassadors. It’s cheap, easy to outsource and if well done, could reap massive return. We know from Gopro‘s examples that clients can be your best marketing channel. We also know that photography is extremely viral. Why not take control of the process?

The Adidas app lets you photograph and share your customized sneakers
The Adidas app lets you photograph and share your customized sneakers

A small step

There is a small step from migrating millions of Instagram followers into a branded photo app. Nike, with its 6 million followers, played around with the possibility when it introduced PhotoID, an online tool that permits users to customize shoes and share the result on Instagram. Adding a photo component to its already very successful Nike+ app would be very easy.  The result could become the most used sport photo sharing platform.

Sports and adventure related brands are probably the ones with the most obvious ease of entry but nothing would prevent a fashion brand to create a similar type of app. And car manufacturers, as well as Airline companies ( how many photos of clouds taken from an airplane have you seen lately?) and so on. In this era of app constellation, there is no reason not to see photo apps getting more specialized in one category, some own and operated by successful brands.

Large retailers have understood the opportunity of mobile photography, albeit in a different way. With the rise of showrooming, they have realized the massive opportunity to transform a seen object into a home delivered purchase. Amazon has Firefly built-in its mobile phone ( shouldn’t it be called a portable shopping device?), allowing users to match a physical product to their online catalog. Macy’s, just this week, has introduced an app that offers exact matches and similars to items you photograph. We can expect much more in the weeks to come, especially as we come closer to retailers’ yearly day of reckoning, black friday. While the usage of photography is different, more as tool than an experience, the approach is the same. A branded photo app.

It is too early in this trend to see how far it will reach and who will be the successful players. If anything , there will be a lot of trials and errors, as well as a massive resistance from the established social media platforms. Because if they lose the brands, as big as their user base can be, they are bound to failure.


Lead Photo by derekGavey

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.

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