Analysis: Clubhouse marketing 101

The hype around invite-only audio app Clubhouse is only growing. Ever since Tesla founder Elon Musk hosted an audio-chat on Clubhouse with Robinhood CEO Vald Tenev on the platform, the platform exploded with two million downloads on the App Store and about 10k downloads on the Google Play Store as of January 2021, market intelligence company Sensor Tower said.

Founded by Alpha Exploration Co. which is led by CEO Paul Davison, in Asia, the app has  become popular among industry players in Asia, including AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, Fave founder Joel Neoh, Grab group VP of marketing Cheryl Goh, CEO of Sinovation Ventures and AI expert Kai-Fu Lee, and co-founder of myBurgerLab Renyi Chin who have scheduled and participated in chats. Influencers including Malaysian Jenn Chia and Singaporean Wendy Cheng, who is also known as Xiaxue, have also joined the app. At the same time, Tribal Worldwide Singapore recently jumped on the Clubhouse hype by getting potential content strategists based in Singapore to pitch for a job at the agency via the platform.

According to Lau Kong Cheen, senior lecturer, marketing programme at Singapore University of Social Sciences, the appeal of Clubhouse is in its exclusivity. He explained that more than just being a platform that provides avenue for users to listen and participate in live conversations, interviews and discussions between interesting people on various topics, what really drives its appeal is the exclusivity for participation on events on this platform based on its “by invitation” feature, Lau explained.

It is a natural tendency for most people to be attracted to any event which is exclusive because it symbolises status and elitism. Apart from that, people just love to receive special attention at exclusive events.

Hence, Lau said this an area certain brands can tap on for their marketing.That said, Clubhouse is not an app for all brands to use as their marketing reach is limited based on its current business model, compared to Facebook, Instagram and TikTok where anybody can sign up. 

Rather, Lau said it is well suited for premium or luxury and niche brands. This is because the underlying appeal of these brands is dependent on their exclusivity and niche target audience. "For mass market brands, Clubhouse will limit their engagement with their target audience, that runs counter to the philosophy of mass marketing where maximising of reach is crucial," he explained.

Join us for our Content 360 conference happening 6-8 April 2021 to learn more about the marriage of content and technology in this new world.

How can brands jump on this trend?

Premium and niche brands looking to break into this space can take on several approaches - the first of which is to host exclusive branded events. For luxury brands, Lau said they could host talk shows with their celebrity endorsers and discussions with their celebrity artisans and designers covering topics related to the luxury lifestyles. They could also spruce the audio event up with live music entertainment by celebrity musical artistes. As for niche brands, such as those that focus on specific health topics could organise talks by experts concerning only a discrete group of patients. Furthermore, given the sensitivity related to certain health issues, Lau explained that the exclusivity feature will help protect the identity of these particular group of participants.

The second option is for brands to sponsor events that are synonymous to their product category or personality. For example, brands such as Singapore Airlines or Hilton could sponsor a discussion about tourism that is targeted at premium travellers. Lau added that live music of a specific genre can also be streamed to an exclusive group of audience and where sponsorships is an avenue for consideration.

"Brands could also run short advertisements during plan intervals in an event that is hosted on Clubhouse. Given that the format is only constrained to audio, this will call for more creative ways to bring the advertising message across in a tasteful yet memorable manner," he explained. 

Lastly, Clubhouse may also create a niche group of influencers which Lau said will give rise to another form of influencer marketing. While this is another avenue that brands can utilise to promote their brands, Lau said they need to be careful in selecting the appropriate kind on influencer that will not jeopardise their brands.  Last December, Clubhouse tested an invite-only creator pilot programme with over 40 Clubhouse influencers. According to the New York Times, the programme includes regular meetings with one of Clubhouse's founders and early access to special tools created for power users.

Pros and cons of jumping on the hype

Despite the recent chatter surrounding the app, Entropia's founder and senior partner Prashant Kumar said Clubhouse is still "a frontier trend" as the critical mass will require the Android version to catch on. He added that brands that are seeking to be seen at the bleeding edge of culture and technology have an opportunity to hold events there and sponsor. One way to give Clubhouse some critical mass, Kumar said, is to probably live cast it on a bigger platform. 

According to the description on the App Store, Clubhouse is "a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations", allowing users to interact with individuals they follow or hop in as a listener and hear what others are chatting about. It is also ephemeral in nature, but yet intimate.  Although Clubhouse in general is an unmoderated space, Kumar said after more than a decade of social media, brands are a lot more used to imperfections today, as long as it is authentic and transparent. "In terms of pros, I suppose what Tesla CEO Elon Musk said: 'Context switching is the mind killer' makes a lot of sense," he said, adding:

It is a space designed for focused undistracted information and experiences, which allows for depth of context, sustained attention and considered engagement. The space seems to focus on quality of audienceship and not just fleeting, fragmented low level impulse-led attention. 

Meanwhile, co-founder and CEO of Antsomi Serm Teck Choon said the spontaneity, interactivity and engagement puts Clubhouse at an advantage. "Brands can take the opportunity to have conversations with the audience and aggregate the feedback from the audience who might also be their customers. However, brands need to make sure the topic is also relevant to the audience, otherwise no users would join the room," he said.

In addition to allowing depth and drawing sustained attention, SUSS' Lau said brands can engage with their target audience more intimately in smaller groups. He explained that Clubhouse provides a unique social experience for users by giving them a voice to synchronously interact with each other and the brand involved with the event. This is unlike what other major digital and social media platforms such as YouTube, Spotify or podcasts have to offer, Lau said.

"Just like other digital media platforms, brands will be able to use it to profile their users and participants to their events. Coupled with data analytics, brands will be able to curate events and also develop products and services that better meet the needs of their customers," Lau explained. These insights can also be used to target specific users to invite potentially high value customers into their events, which Lau said is something similar to a referral programme.

However, the journey is not a bed of roses and despite the benefits, brands eager to jump on the Clubhouse trend need to align it with their brand identity and the category they represent. According to Lau, not doing so "may antagonise some of their customers".

"For instance, mass market brands that try to use Clubhouse may end up alienating some of the customers since they cannot possibly invite all their customers to their events. This could make some customers disenfranchised from their brands," he said.

Is ephemeral content a double-edged sword?

Ephemeral content is not new, with functions such as Twitter Fleets, Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories commonly used by consumers worldwide. Clubhouse, in fact, adds on to the phenomena of ephemeral content. According to Lau, ephemeral content builds perception of scarcity, which is the very key element that all premium, luxury and niche brands want to possess in order to retain control of the dream factor that their target customers yearn for.

Based on this, it creates a sense of urgency among users to participate in an event or they will be missing out on the exclusive information, content and social experience that will never be repeated again. "This is probably the strategy that Clubhouse is applying to get more users to come on board, particular when top entertainment and business celebrities are hosting or participating in events hosted on this platform," he added.

However, the downside of this is brands might find it harder to utilise Clubhouse as audio content might not be as easily reusable for content marketing. As a result, Lau said brands will have to make a compromise on when to use Clubhouse or podcasts. 

Similarly, Antsomi's Serm said that Clubhouse makes ephemeral content gold again. Since the content is instant and users cannot replay it after the sessions ends, audiences will join the room when a topic interests them, rather than keeping it on the backburner thinking they can listen to it later on.

While ephemeral content has become mainstream, Entropia's Kumar said "non-ephemeral is highly overrated", adding:

If there is one thing that last 20 years of digital media has proven is that, it is the rarest of content that deserves to be non-ephemeral. The fact that so much garbage is allowed to survive due to ultra cheap server space or valleykind’s general obsession with exabytes is counter-evolutionary.

According to him, it will eventually also be illegal, as right to be forgotten becomes more and more precious.

Will Clubhouse disrupt the podcast industry?

While Clubhouse is a new disruption to the podcast industry, Lau said it is unlikely to totally displace podcasts. This is because both have their unique features with their own strengths and shortcomings. In fact, Lau believes they may co-exist in the long run unless Clubhouse starts to evolve its business model.

There is longevity in content for podcasts and it is a service that is appropriate for people who prefers on-demand consumption of content. On the other hand, Clubhouse makes up for this with its interactive feature where users can actively get involved in discussions and to even network with other users during the sessions.

Therefore, the consumption pattern for Clubhouse is quite different from podcasts, and will appeal to different users' needs and context of usage. Likewise, Serm said since podcasts are not as spontaneous and interactive as Clubhouse, podcasters need to strategise on using both podcasts and Clubhouse as complementary offerings to their followers, leveraging on the respective advantages and strengths of both platforms.