The Rise of Ephemeral Content & What It Means for Marketers

Sprinklr Team

February 20, 20216 min read

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Humor me for a moment. Think of a photo that has sentimental value. Imagine yourself looking at it, allowing yourself to experience the same feelings you felt when it was taken. Now, close your eyes and visualize how you’re experiencing that photo. Are you holding a print in your hand, or are you looking at it on your phone?

Chances are, if you’re looking at a special photo, you have it preserved as a print. But that trend is rapidly changing, and in the future, it’s possible that Generations Y and Z won’t have any old, sentimental photos to reflect upon. But why?

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A Change in How We Interact with Photos

Before I delve any further into the topic of ephemeral marketing, I feel the need to reveal that I am not, in fact, an old fogey. I am a proud millennial, but I was also born in a year that lumps me in with the Oregon Trail Generation. In short, I love technology, but I also spent some formative years in a time when photos were taken on film and letters were written on typewriters. Those are distant memories now, but those experiences subconsciously shaped how I interact with digital content.

In a recent Shutterfly study, it was found that Americans now take more than 10 billion photos every month, and nearly 60% of respondents said their mobile phone is their primary photo-taking device. However, 50% of respondents haven’t looked at a picture more than 10 years old in the last month, and more than half of new photos aren’t being shared after they are taken. That means that billions of memories are at risk of being forgotten, lost in the shuffle.

Once upon a time, photos were taken to preserve memories of an event; now, they’re primarily taken to broadcast participation in an event. They’re rarely revisited; instead, they’re intended to be consumed in the moment. Building upon the aforementioned Shutterfly research, it was found that millennials take more photos than any other generation. On average, they take more than 100 photos each month, but they’re unlikely to have looked at an old photo in the past month.

Ninety percent of photo takers agree that revisiting and sharing the story behind a photo with someone else makes it more meaningful, with 84% saying they learned about their family memories from photos accompanied by verbal stories or detailed captions. Nearly half of those surveyed say that as a society, Americans are not spending enough time with family revisiting the stories behind photos.

A Future Without Shareable Memories?

The Washington Post recently published a story on how millennials are not interested in acquiring family treasures from the previous generation, including photo albums and scrapbooks. In the article, Scott Roewer, a professional organizer, is quoted as saying, “[Millennials] are living their life digitally through Instagram and Facebook and YouTube, and that’s how they are capturing their moments. Their whole life is on a computer; they don’t need a shoebox full of greeting cards.”

My mother-in-law has recently started to hand over photos from my husband’s childhood. I love them, but I feel like I’m buried in clutter. Beyond that, I feel profound anxiety that these precious memories only exist in an analog format. If I lose a photo, it’s gone forever. I know I should dedicate an afternoon to digitally archiving the photos, but I can only blame my sheer new-mother exhaustion for my complete and utter lack of motivation.

On the other hand, I feel a similar level of anxiety when my most precious photos only exist in a digital format. I have spent several nights awake, wondering where a particular photo is archived. Did I share it to Facebook? Or was it Instagram? Do I have the original, high-resolution version saved on Flickr or Dropbox? When was the last time I backed up the photos on my phone? This anxiety has only increased since having a baby. At this point, I would be devastated if I lost the thousands of photos and videos I’ve already taken of my child.

Then, of course, I start thinking about whether I’m committing an injustice by not getting prints made of my most precious photos. I have a hard time envisioning a future in which I sit down with my 30-year-old daughter, mobile device du jour in hand, and casually peruse the hundreds of thousands of photos and videos I captured throughout her entire life. To cite a cliche, it’s like drinking from a firehose; by preserving every memory, I’ve made them matter less.

She’ll be drowning in nostalgia.

The Shift Toward Ephemeral Content

Luckily, the way we share and consume content is moving toward a happy medium. Apps like Snapchat, Periscope, and Meerkat enable users to create content that is worthy of sharing, but not quite worthy of preserving. With 87% of millennials with smartphones using the camera function weekly, this shift means that millennials will share more content intended for temporary consumption, while taking fewer permanent photos of things that matter more.

This results in a very particular curation of permanent memories that is, surprisingly, not unlike the approach my parents took in the ‘80s and ‘90s: take a few photos of big events, but leave the rest to be enjoyed – or in this case, shared – in the moment.

Think of it this way: we all like to see footage of dogs running around at the park, but do you really want dozens of photos and 15 minutes of footage cluttering up your mobile device or cloud-based storage plan of choice? Clearly we do not, so the alternative is to take one or two permanent photos of especially exciting moments – like when said dog jumps into a huge mud puddle – but leave the rest to be broadcast ephemerally via your app of choice.

What Ephemeral Content Means for Marketers

In the wake of the paradigm shift, marketers face a huge opportunity to reach a young, progressive audience. But the traditional methods of content creation – and the metrics that were historically used to measure their efficacy – simply won’t fly in this new world.

More people are using ephemeral content apps to share, so they’re a captive audience for what marketers want to show them. With millennials’ spending power set to surpass $1 trillion by 2020, now is the time to jump in and start reaching them.

When publishing to ephemeral content apps, make sure you create content that users actually want to see. Yahoo and Tumblr, in partnership with Razorfish and Digitas, recently published a study that guides marketers through content marketing best practices for connecting with millennials. One of the most relevant takeaways is that marketers should create native content that is relevant to the environment it’s hosted in, but does not mislead the viewer.

For even more insight into the value of creating ephemeral content, see Jill Jankowski’s recent post on the Inkhouse blog. It contains some great examples of best-in-class marketing content on ephemeral platforms.

So what are you waiting for? The time is right to start ephemeral marketing by creating content that is intended to be consumed in the moment, whether you’re creating memories or sharing experiences.

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