TikTok?!? ...the next trend, the next shiny toy for marketers, the next phrase to be added to everyday language or a phrase to be used in the world of business and politics? Probably all of it, but what is it and how does it impact the way companies market to their audiences?
As a start, TikTok is a short video app that makes it easy for users to post engaging, trend-based video content. It has quickly become a sensation amongst Gen Z’ers and Millennials with 66% of its users under 30 years old. In 2018, TikTok disclosed that it had approximately 55 million users worldwide, by December 2019 it had gone up to 507 million and by July of 2020, TikTok has surpassed 2 billion global downloads and reported an estimated 700 million monthly users, 26.5 million of which came from the United States.
So what caused TikTok to grow so rapidly? The most popular answer would be the global COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst TikTok was undoubtedly growing pre-lockdown and pre-COVID, by June 2020 the app’s monthly active users in the US soared to more than 91 million and - according to data from SensoTower - last month it generated more than 6.3x it’s earnings of this time last year, bringing in an estimated $88.1 million dollars in August alone.
Unsurprisingly, this has had an impact on the world of digital marketing. The coronavirus pandemic is changing how brands work with influencers; not only is it accelerating existing industry trends, but it also presents new challenges and opportunities for influencer partnerships. Influencers and brands have begun to shift their communication toward brand values and away from their product or services, using popular platforms such as TikTok to do so. In the current economic climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to push merchandise. Instead, relationship-based influencer marketing has been gaining traction over transaction-based. Brands have been loosening their grip on the content they put out by giving influencers more leeway in their delivery when they promote a brand, arguably this is the TikTok effect on influencer marketing.
Marketing on TikTok is different from regular social media and influencer marketing. It is rooted in enhancing brand image and increasing brand awareness with far less focus on pushing an actual product or service, making it the perfect tool for digital marketing during a pandemic and an excellent opportunity for brands to reach a highly engaged demographic.
The platform itself is fun and content creators do not take themselves too seriously; top influencers include Addison Rae with over 50 million followers, Charli D’Amelio with over 80 million, Lil’Huddy with 20+ million followers and many more. The content produced by these influencers is diverse and created to entertain not in relation to any particular topic or industry niche, therefore brands choosing to market with TikTok need to be open-minded about the content that will be created to promote them. Covering more niche topics, there are influencers such as @humphreytalks, a personal finance influencer making videos about finance, stocks and investing.
TikTok has great marketing potential; it can truly enhance consumer-company relations as it allows companies to show a new side to themselves, one that is relatable for customers and humanises the brand, which in turn increases customer retention rates. On average, TikTok’s top influencers’ videos get over 1 million views per day and are available in 155 countries; that is the highest average engagement rates per post on any social media platform and a digital marketers dream.
Aside from marketing through influencers, TikTok also has an in-app shopping feature called the ‘Hashtag Challenge Plus’, it allows users to browse company products under a sponsored hashtag in-app; essentially it is a smaller and mobile-optimised version of a website that spreads awareness of a product and increases the online presence of a brand. Marketing via TikTok is a relatively new concept and TikTok ads are not yet widely available to all brands. However, it is hugely beneficial for those that it is available to, with an in-app spending increase of 500% between 2019 and 2020. With the combination of these e-commerce capabilities and a huge base of highly engaged users — 90% of TikTok users use the app more than once a day — a company or brand can expect to garner a lot more exposure around brand taglines, products and services.
As a business looking to begin TikTok marketing, there are a few things to consider. The platform from which you market is just as important as your marketing campaign itself, therefore, you need to consider whether your marketing efforts will be effective on TikTok.
Begin with asking, who is your audience? TikTok is most popular amongst Gen Z and millennials so if you are looking to market your products or service to the 30+ age range, perhaps this isn’t the right tool for you. However, this is also industry-specific; whilst the biggest influencers on TikTok have 20 million + followers, it is unlikely that every company has the budget, or desire, to market to such a wide audience. If your target market is interested in financial services, there is still space to market on TikTok; the audience will be more niche, with a significantly smaller pool of viewers than one could expect from a major influencer, but this is not necessarily less effective. A personal finance influencer with a highly engaged audience of 100,000 followers is a valuable marketing tool.
Another factor to consider before TikTok marketing is whether the tone of the platform is right for you. TikTok is a highly informal social media app and the main appeal to viewers is the humour and viral ‘challenges’ the videos offer. This means that in order to run an effective TikTok marketing campaign your videos have to be light-hearted, trendy or engaging i.e. creating a ‘challenge’ for viewers to recreate and post under your company hashtag. This approach to marketing does not suit all companies, you have to ensure that your desired brand image matches whatever TikTok content a marketing campaign on the app would entail.
TikTok marketing takes time and a lot of thought. Do you have the time to allocate to filming and editing these clips? Furthermore, due to the nature of marketing on TikTik, you must have the time to keep up with what’s trending in order to put out relevant content. Your videos cannot simply be about a product or service you are offering, they need to be fun, humorous or contributing something new to the platform such as a dance challenge similar to one Hollister & Co. created, or the campaign run by video-chat app ‘Houseparty’ during lockdown which involved dance challenges and live-streams using major influencers. This can be time-consuming and require a lot of brainstorming and creativity.
The question is, are you looking to directly increase sales or brand awareness? TikTok is not necessarily optimised for sales marketing and is more of a tool used by brands and companies to enhance brand image, increase brand awareness and strengthen customer relations.
Companies in the US or with a large US audience and a plan to market on TikTok need to account for the possible implications of the US’ TikTok ban. Amid accusations of the app collecting user data for the Chinese government, the US wants to ban TikTok from being downloaded via the app store effective from the 20th of September, 2020. Although, there has been recent talk of US based Oracle and Walmart acquiring large shares in TikTok which would enable more US control over security measures regarding the app, a deal that the US has publicly supported. This means that TikTok marketing plans should be kept flexible; as mentioned earlier, marketing on TikTok entails a different approach than what works on most social media platforms, companies should aim to keep their content flexible and adaptable to other social media platforms should there be developments in the US’ proposed ban. For instance, if your brand plans to reach out to a TikTok influencer for promotional content, it would be advised to also have a plan for adapting the content to instead be used on the influencer’s Instagram platform, given that they have a substantial following across social media accounts.
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