When Snap Inc. -- the camera company behind the popular photo-sharing social media site Snapchat -- first unveiled its Spectacles camera sunglasses earlier this year, it was immediately clear that it wouldn't be a typical tech product launch.
Spectacles were initially only available for retail sale out of "Snapbots," bright yellow vending machines that appear on street corners with little advance notice and disappear 24 hours later. The company has been revealing where and when the next vending machines will pop up in the "map" section of its website. Snap later opened a single pop-up retail store in New York City, but the location closed in the new year.
The unconventional marketing strategy has clearly worked so far, pumping up demand for the product. Users who haven't been lucky enough to live nearby a Snapbot have resorted to purchasing them off marketplaces like eBay (EBAY) for as much as double the retail price of $129 per pair.
"Crafting a message that drives organic social sharing is the Holy Grail of any marketing effort," said Chris Jenkins, chief digital officer at marketing firm the Symphony Agency. "By both limiting the number of units sold, and not announcing the location in advance, they created an urgency in that sharing."
Snap's plans, although successful, stand in sharp contrast to the typical marketing strategies for other technology companies. Names like Apple (AAPL) , Alphabet (GOOGL) and Samsung (SSNLF) have all been known to unveil their products in massive keynote events. Going forward, these companies might be forced to reexamine how they market their products.
"Tech companies should take this as a sign that you can successfully launch a product without spending millions in traditional advertising if you're willing to make your marketing social first, and if you keep the price point affordable enough that basically anyone can buy one," Jenkins noted.
"If you're a social media marketer, take note: Snap Inc. does a great job of turning its product into a viral social media moment," Bernazzani said. "The secrecy and exclusivity involved in the rollout make Snapchat users excited and curious."
Companies like Apple may not be creating the same level of viral hype for their products anymore.
Andy Hargreaves, an analyst at Pacific Crest, noted recently that Apple's newest device, the iPhone 7, has been seeing waning demand. Hargreaves calls the phone's momentum "OK, [but] not great," and "far from inspiring." The company has even reportedly cut production for the product in the first quarter of the new year due to sluggish sales.
Snap, meanwhile, still sees potential customers lining up for hours to get their hands on a pair of their brightly-colored glasses. The company hasn't released sales numbers for Spectacles -- and those numbers are likely low, since Snap has made supply so slim -- but the product is still creating a buzz online.
"As [Snap is] currently the only independent social network that is innovating and disrupting the sector, their value goes far beyond their immediate user numbers or revenue," said Luke Brynley-Jones, managing director at OST Marketing. "Their innovation is important for the industry, to keep it fresh."
"The larger lesson for marketers here? Use secrecy and exclusivity to generate buzz and make your audience more interested than ever in what you're up to," Bernazzani noted. "For Snapchat Inc., that meant introducing wearable technology vending machines."
For Apple, Alphabet or Samsung, the answer might not be that simple.
"Apple's brand equity is centered around being a premium product that not everyone can afford," Jenkins said. "Because of that, it's unlikely that Apple would take [Snap's] sort of approach."
While few people would be interested in purchasing a $600 iPhone out of a vending machine, employing some of Snap's guerrilla marketing style could still be the norm going forward in the technology world.
"What this represents to the technology industry is a signal that smaller companies with innovative and exciting products can bypass the traditional funnel, and reach out directly to consumers with their message," Jenkins noted. "I expect we'll see a lot of up and coming young companies take that to heart, especially in the wearables space."
Jenkins added that since the wearables sector is still young, companies eager to get a share of the market will have to communicate with customers what a product is, how it works and why they might want it. "Companies who make that the center of their marketing strategy may be able to repeat [Snap's] success," he said.
Snap's innovation will help not only the sector but its own bottom line as the company preps for an IPO in as early as March.
"It's going to be one of the more pricey IPOs in a long time," Kathleen Smith, chairman of Renaissance Capital, a manager of IPO-focused ETFs told TheStreet recently. Snap is rumored to be looking to raise around $4 billion in an offering, translating to a valuation between $25 billion and $35 billion.