Familiar with TikTok?
The social platform is exploding in popularity, and even if you don’t participate on the social platform yourself, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for your brand.
In this article, I’ll break down TikTok and the marketing opportunities it holds for brands.
What We’ll Cover:
- An overview of the TikTok platform
- What kinds of brands will be most successful on TikTok
- TikTok marketing strategies:
- Influencer marketing on TikTok
- Advertising on TikTok
You’ve probably heard of TikTok, even if you’re not quite sure what, exactly, it is.
TikTok is the fastest growing app right now, so successful that Facebook has developed a competitor product in an effort to claim that market share. And, as of February 2019, downloads passed the 1B milestone with 25% of those coming from US users.
The caveat? It’s a really young demographic; 66% of users are under 30, and the content that does well here might look a bit different than what you might post on other channels.
While the platform represents a major opportunity to reach Gen Z consumers on their terms, brands need to be really deliberate in how they approach their marketing strategy.
What is TikTok?
Let’s start with a bit of background.
In 2018, a Chinese company called ByteDance acquired Musical.ly, a popular app where users (mostly teens and kids) could upload lip-syncing videos. ByteDance merged Musical.ly with its own app, another lip-synching platform, Douyin and rebranded under the name TikTok.
The app is described by both its staff and its users as being a “positive, fun space” and a “collaborative” environment where just about anyone can go viral. And yes, that means brands too.
But brands hoping to connect with younger customers need to understand the TikTok culture. TikTok is often compared to the bygone social app Vine, in that it’s considered more of an entertainment channel than traditional social network.
According to Global Web Index, users say they like the app because it allows them to watch creative videos and offers a platform for creative self-expression.
The report also found that TikTok users value the entertainment aspect of the app more than things like the online community or the ability to stay in touch with friends.
But keep in mind, TikTok isn’t without its controversy.
Like social media giant Facebook, TikTok has recently been accused of security breaches and has even been under investigation as a possible national security threat by the US government.
While there doesn’t seem to be noticeable damage done to the platform’s reputation yet, brands who engage with TikTok should keep up with any new or ongoing security issues to avoid getting tangled up in user privacy breaches.
Here are a couple of things you should know about how TikTok works:
- Standard TikTok videos are 15 seconds long, but users can create multiple recordings inside the app and link them together.
- Users also have the option to upload longer videos, but can’t record them directly inside TikTok and will need to use a third-party app instead.
- Users can live-stream content and access a range of tools, filters, and other effects that enhance the experience.
It’s AI-Driven and Personalized
For better or worse, TikTok’s algorithm is set up in a way that makes it easy for any regular user to go viral.
The app’s proprietary algorithm functions as a personalized recommendation engine, which serves up content based on what’s popular and what individual users like most.
When you first download the app, the interface is populated with videos of teens joking around, sharing memes, music, and entertaining clips. So, it’s easy to write it off as a platform for kids.
However, if you’re interested in things like business or marketing, or want to follow the latest current events, it doesn’t take long to create a personalized feed that matches your unique set of interests.
If you’re considering using TikTok to promote your brand, keep in mind that the platform doesn’t display content based on follower counts. Instead, relevance is measured by how well creators can tap into trends and memes, while carving out their own voice.
UGC Rules the TikTok-verse
Building off of my last point, while TikTok does offer paid advertising opportunities, it’s not really the best platform for traditional advertising plays. Instead, adopting TikTok’s light-hearted vibe seems to be the key to connecting with users, regardless of age.
Where channels like Instagram have become more focused on curating a specific lifestyle, TikTok is about collaboration and authenticity.
What Kinds of Brands Should Use TikTok?
TikTok is literally the social media app “all the kids” are currently using.
So, the logical recommendation here is that TikTok is best suited for those brands that cater to a younger demographic.
As you might imagine, consumer products are a natural fit for TikTok–think food, fashion, and beauty brands that perform well with younger consumers.
Still, just because the demographic skews young doesn’t mean that only youth-focused brands and entertainers can benefit from embracing TikTok as a marketing channel.
The other thing to consider is that the platform will likely see more and more older people adopting the platform, as well. While it’s hard to justify using up your ad spend on a platform that few of your customers use, TikTok could present an opportunity to reach the next generation of customers.
For example, traditional media outlets like The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, and NBC are using TikTok to connect with a younger audience in a more authentic way.
Here’s a post from the Washington Post’s account, which uses popular TV show The Office as inspiration for their behind the scenes material.
Reporters use the platform to show off their personalities in behind-the-scenes clips, and draw on pop-culture references to connect with the platform’s younger audience.
In doing so, it uses the app as a new way to keep the public informed and engaged in discussions of the latest events.
This is a perfect example of how an established brand can effectively use TikTok to connect with an entirely new audience.
TikTok Strategies in Action
Challenges, UGC, and influencer marketing are among the popular strategies brands are using to reach their audiences.
The entire basis for the platform revolves around some type of video set to music, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. Influencers like The Rock and Gary Vee are using TikTok like Instagram, which is totally fine.
Here’s a look at Gary Vee’s feed. You’ll notice his videos look similar to Instagram Stories, featuring text overlays that offer up a few thoughts.
He’s not lip-synching, but he’s adapted his brand of content to the 15-second TikTok format.
Reverse Engineer What’s Working on Other Channels
While you need to learn the “rules of engagement” of the platform if you want to be successful, a lot of your successes on other social media channels can give you some ideas for how to bring TikTok into your omnichannel marketing strategy.
Like the Gary Vee example above, many brands will benefit from bringing what’s working on these channels, especially Instagram, to their TikTok.
This is a good strategy to use when you’re first starting with TikTok to test the waters. From there, you can develop more specific strategies for the channel.
Here are a few things you might try:
- Top-performing hashtags on Twitter or Instagram
- Repurposed content from Instagram Stories, IGTV, LinkedIn Live, YouTube, etc.
- Chop longer videos into TikTok’s 15-minute limit–if you’re reusing a longer YouTube video, that’s a lot of content.
ID Trends You Can Capitalize On
If you look at the Discovery section on TikTok, you’ll see a series of popular hashtags and the top posts in each of those categories.
For example, given that we’re currently in the throes of the holiday season, many of the current trends are seasonal–holiday hacks, ugly sweaters, and an entire hashtag devoted to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
While yes, many of these trends are light-hearted lip-syncing videos or memes, others like #fitnesstips and #holidayhacks could work for any number of consumer-focused brands.
Keep in mind, the hashtags I’ve mentioned here represent the biggest trending categories, not necessarily the niche categories likely to perform best with your audience.
But, if you regularly participate in Instagram and Twitter and use hashtags, you may want to enter your most popular hashtags into TikTok and see what pops up.
Go Behind the Scenes
Here’s an example from the account Food with Michel.
Here, users are treated to a mesmerizing video that shows the process of putting together a red velvet ice cream cone.
Yes, it’s set to music, but it doesn’t feel like the brand is trying too hard to tap into some of the sillier trends that go viral on the platform.
Influencer Marketing is Major on TikTok
Perhaps more so than any other social platform, marketers will benefit greatly from influencer involvement on TikTok.
TikTok offers a Creator Marketplace to business users, allowing them to select influencer partners from the same platform where they set up their ads.
Of course, you can always find influencer partners on your own, but the benefit here is that you’ll be able to easily identify relevant influencers who already know the ins and outs of the platform.
It’s not clear how much these influencer efforts cost, but I’m willing to bet that it has something to do with reach and reputation like any other social channel.
Below, I’ll take a look at some examples of brands doing this well.
Peace Tea teamed up with influencer Drea Knowsbest, one of the biggest names on TikTok. The video showcases Drea dancing with a can of tea against a series of summery backdrops.
While it’s hard to tie the campaign to any specific takeaway, the partnership was a smart move, as the post represents the types of content that tend to do well on the platform.
Plus, it’s fun to watch, which makes it a memorable brand awareness campaign.
Elf Cosmetics ran a TikTok campaign in August 2019 after discovering that #elfcosmetics already had 3.5 million views before the brand officially joined the app.
Recognizing the opportunity, the brand created an original 15-second song called “Eyes Lips Face” (Elf, get it?) and enlisted the help of some platform influencers and famous faces like Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Alba, and Ellen DeGeneres.
The campaign generated a massive 20,000 user uploads using the song, drawing in a collective 2.3M views. It was such a success that the brand is releasing a full version of the song on Spotify.
Chipotle has seen some massive success on TikTok by running contests like #guacchallenge and the influencer-led #ChipotleLidFlip challenge, which encourages users to try their hand at a trick involving flipping the lid to a burrito bowl.
Here’s children’s musician, Dr. Jean demonstrating the #guacchallenge’s signature dance:
Kroger was one of the first brands to test out TikTok’s shoppable ad campaigns.
The grocery chain created a challenge, #TransformUrDorm, which as you might imagine, targeted college students heading back to school.
The campaign leveraged influencers already familiar with the platform, garnered 854M views, and directed traffic to the brand’s website by allowing users to shop for dorm-friendly treats like granola bars and popcorn.
What About TikTok Advertising?
Advertising on TikTok is a relatively recent addition to the platform.
But TikTok’s decision to allow advertising means that it is indeed becoming better-suited for brands.
That said, I’ll lead with something of a disclaimer here.
Because advertising on TikTok is relatively new territory, it’s unclear what the overall reception will be.
The platform began beta testing in-feed ads in April 2019 and the other ad types are brand new, with brands just now experimenting with the new formats.
In-feed ads are pretty versatile and look similar to an Instagram Story.
Brands also have the option to create shoppable in-feed videos, which allow them to add CTA buttons, links, and send users directly to a landing page to complete the purchase.
Advertisers can attach a URL to their video, much like Instagram Shopping posts, to direct users to their store. The benefit of using shoppable videos is that you can track the ROI of your marketing campaigns in a more direct way.
Traditional videos don’t offer this option. Instead, brands must rely on the familiar “link in bio” workaround we’ve all seen on Instagram.
Brand Takeovers are ads that appear when a user opens the app and fills up the whole screen.
Here’s an example from GrubHub, which used the strategy to drive app downloads:
TikTok’s answer to the AR lenses found on Snapchat and Instagram, brands can pay for custom face filters, AR effects, and 3D objects.
One thing that’s immediately clear about TikTok is that its user base loves a hashtag challenge. They’re not always a paid strategy, and are often started by regular users.
Among the best-known challenges is Jimmy Fallon’s #tumbleweedchallenge.
While the segment began on Fallon’s late night show, it quickly became a TikTok staple. The challenge encourages users to upload videos of themselves rolling on the ground to Western music like a tumbleweed. As it stands, 14,850 users have shared their take on the popular meme.
Paid advertisers can also get in on the hashtag challenge trend for a fast track to virality.
Here’s an example of Clean and Clear’s hashtag challenge, a campaign launched in India to promote their limited edition bottles featuring five different personality types and five different songs.
The campaign targeted female teens, encouraging them to showcase their unique personalities in their own videos.
According to TikTok, the campaign generated 1.96 billion video views, 172 million likes, shares, and comments, and 2.62 million UGC posts to Clean & Clear’s official account.
Guess also did something similar.
The #InMyDenim Hashtag Challenge was designed to drive brand awareness ahead of the Fall 2018 back-to-school season.
The campaign centered around the idea of going from “mess” to “best dressed” and the brand posted several official videos to Bebe Rexha’s “I’m a mess.” They also enlisted the help of a few influencers to demo the concept and encourage users to participate.
The campaign generated 5,500 UGC videos, 12,000 new followers, and 10.5m video views.
TikTok presents a massive opportunity for brands to increase their reach on this new platform.
However, it’s essential that you work hard to get to know the TikTok “culture” before trying your hand at the #tumbleweedchallenge in an effort to humanize your brand.
Many of the larger brands mentioned above have tapped influencers to help them run campaigns. This is a smart strategy, though it’s worth pointing out that these ad campaigns and the influencers that promote them can get expensive.
So, while Kroger and Chipotle have no problem accessing these tools, smaller brands may want to start off with organic strategies to test the waters.