Snapchat is doubling down on its biggest differentiator by turning its personalized avatar Bitmoji into a revenue stream and a new source of content. Snapchat is launching a Bitmoji merchandise store you can customize with you and your friends’ cartoonified faces, Bitmoji Stories comic strips featuring you and friends’ avatars in fun scenes and a new Friendship profile that collects all the content you and a friend have saved from your Snap message thread.
The new features could help earn Snapchat money to reduce its still-massive quarterly losses, get Snap’s brand out in public and give people new ways to spend more time on Snapchat when it’s otherwise been losing users.
Snapchat, the e-commerce company
The Bitmoji merchandise store opens Thursday in the U.S. on iOS only with $2 stickers, $15 coffee mugs, $16 standard t-shirts and notebooks, $22 triblend t-shirts, $27 sweatshirts and more that users can personalize by adding their Bitmoji, one of their friends’, them and a friends’ playing together, or any two of their friends. Phone cases, towels and pillows are also available. You can access the Bitmoji store from Snap Store in the Settings menu of Snapchat’s app. Snapchat first launched its Snap Store in Ghostface Chillah logo merchandise back in February to sell Dancing Hot Dog dolls, ghost pool floats and puppy selfie-filter shirts.
The new merch could help Snap show off its name and brand, reminding people to use the app as they can’t get the true Bitmoji anywhere else. Snap could also use the revenue given that it lost $325 million last quarter and might have to take outside investment or be acquired as it may not break even before running out of cash.
Back before it settled on the idea of turning personalized emoji into stickers you could use in chat, Bitmoji parent company Bitstrips started as a comic strip creator. You could make an avatar and then create little scenes for them to star in. The idea was inspired by co-founder Jacob “BA” Blackstock’s school days when he and friends would draw comic strips when they were bored. Now Snap is getting back to Bitmoji’s roots.
Bitmoji Stories launch tomorrow in the U.S. A Snapchat spokesperson tells me “Bitmoji Stories will tell lighthearted stories in the form of short comic strips. Bitmoji Stories are created by Snap (from the Bitmoji content team), and will star the Snapchatter solo or with a friend.” They’ll be constantly updated with new adventures, and they’re quite reminiscent of lifelike avatar startup Genies’ scenes. By creating a new form of Discover content in-house, Snapchat could draw more time and therefore more ad views out of its audience. And because there’s no outside publisher to pay, Snapchat can keep all the ad revenue.Snap’s big competitors have largely failed to field a viable Bitmoji competitor. A year ago I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and in May, we broke the news that Facebook Avatars were in the works — though the prototypes were pretty ugly. Each day Facebook delays, Bitmoji becomes more entrenched as the avatar standard. Two weeks ago, Google launched its own Gboard Mini avatars that you can automatically create with a selfie, rather than having to configure them manually like on Snapchat. But when it comes to an illustrated version of you, even tiny missteps can make you look monstrous. Plus, people love wasting time customizing avatars. Snap’s version still reigns supreme.
Besties are Snap’s best shot
And lastly, today Snapchat begins globally rolling out its Friendship profiles. Accessible by clicking on a friend’s Bitmoji (or blank avatar if they haven’t made one) from Chat, Stories, Discover or search, Snapchat says they “make it easy to find your favorite memories and the important information you’ve saved over time.” That includes, photos, videos, messages, and links saved from your otherwise ephemeral chats, plus a quick way to see that bestie on the Snap Map.
None of these features is so seismic as to change the overall momentum of Snapchat, which has been struggling lately with shrinking user counts, a battered share price and non-stop executive departures. Its VP of Content Nick Bell left yesterday. Having talked with him, he’s one of the smartest minds in modern mobile content, and Snap’s hopes to get rid of the clickbait and messy design of Discover may be more difficult without him.
The strategy of focusing on best friends is smart, though. The one thing Facebook and Instagram can’t copy is Snapchat’s tight social graph of just your closest pals. Those competitors allowed their networks to bloat with acquaintances, family and colleagues that can make people less comfortable openly sharing. Now that they’ve copied Snapchat’s Stories broadcasting to a wider audience, Snap must refocus on best friends if it wants to stay unique and turn its smaller size and graph into an asset instead of a liability.