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What You Need to Know About Marketing on TikTok

8 minute read
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Marketing on TikTok is a must for brands targeting younger generations. But the video-based platform comes with some challenges you'll have to overcome.

As of September 2021, TikTok has more than 1 billion monthly active users. And according to Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president at Google, internal research indicated that nearly half of young people use TikTok or Instagram (rather than Google Search or Google Maps) for local searches.

Business of Apps reported that TikTok has been downloaded over three billion times and is expected to reach 1.8 billion active monthly users by the end of 2022," said Christian Brown, co-founder and CMO of Glewee, an all-in-one influencer marketing network. "And more than half of all users are between the ages of 10–29 (Gen Z and Millennials). If brands want to stay relevant among a younger generation, they must meet the user where they engage online.”

What does TikTok marketing mean for your brand, and how does it differ from using YouTube or Google? What are the challenges of marketing on TikTok, and how can brands keep their efforts organic and genuine?

TikTok Influencer Marketing

Although many brands have their own TikTok account and regularly post branded videos espousing their products or services, others are partnering with influencers who already have a following.

Partnering with TikTok content creators allows brands to develop short-form promotional videos. However, influencers promote these videos on their own channels, meaning companies can avoid coming off as gimmicky or disingenuous. 

“The critical success factor for the brand is no longer one-to-many communication but now many-to-many communication," said Brown. "And the power is in the hands of creators with massive followings who can make or break a brand's offerings."

One thing companies should focus on, he said, is making content that's entertaining or useful, as commercial-like content will likely go ignored. 

With creative and engaging content, you're "more likely to capture people's attention and get them talking about your brand,” Brown explained. “Of course, this isn't always easy, but it's worth the effort. After all, there's no better way to build a connection with potential customers than by creating content they will not only enjoy watching but also be willing to interact with. This is exactly why influencer marketing works so well."

Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok’s recommendation algorithm rewards high-quality, relevant content more than follower count, so relatively unknown TikTok creators still have a high potential to create content that could go viral. Additionally, the algorithm shows users content aligned with their unique interests, which means that brands can market their products and services to pre-segmented audiences.

Related Article: Is Influencer Marketing a Fit for B2B Marketing Plans?

TikTok Users Are Ready to Buy

An AdWeek report from 2021 revealed that nearly half (49%) of polled TikTok users have purchased a product or service from a brand they saw mentioned on the platform by an influencer. 

“If content connects with the Gen Z user, they are more likely to have an added affinity and excitement about engaging with a brand because they feel more related to it," said Brown. "In essence, content from a social media brand influencer allows the brand to borrow a little bit of the influencer's ‘brand halo.’ A brand influencer can make a business like a restaurant or a product like a t-shirt more relatable in 15 seconds to a consumer through authentic video-based communication."

One huge difference between campaigns on TikTok versus those running on YouTube or other channels is that TikTok users are more fully engaged and ready to make a purchasing decision.

“Our goal is to always connect to business owners and budding entrepreneurs but we didn't quite realize how engaged our following was until we jumped right in," said Emily Hale, social media marketing analyst at MerchantMaverick.com, a merchant account and credit card processing review site. "As far as engagement goes in terms of click-throughs, we are seeing that our audience is ready to click and make a buying decision a lot sooner than we thought.”

Compared to organic traffic and YouTube, TikTok has shown some of the highest engagement rates, Hale added. "We think it comes down to the creative connection and paradoxically the limits of the platform itself."

Types of TikTok Ads

There are five types of TikTok Ads, each with differing goals and prices:

  • In-Feed Ads: Appear as video ads in between user videos as people scroll through their For You page.
  • Brand Takeover: Show up as soon as the TikTok app is opened.
  • TopView: Similar to Brand Takeovers, but instead of immediately showing up, they appear in users' feeds after three seconds.
  • Branded Hashtag Challenge: Provide brands with opportunities for both organic and sponsored opportunities, and are an excellent way for brands to share fun, lighthearted content.
  • Branded Effects: Enable brands to design their own custom filters on the TikTok app by providing users with branded shareable stickers, AR filters and lenses in their advertising content.

“On TikTok, brands are encouraging consumers to create their own video content in response to a branded piece of content," said Jim Tomancheck, VP of global strategic alliances for social and messaging channels at Sprinklr, a SaaS customer experience management platform.

"This is very different from the way brands think about marketing on other channels," he added. “The brands that encourage customers to create their own content by initiating hashtag challenges, producing video responses to customers, etc., are the brands that succeed at connecting with the TikTok community.”

The Challenges of TikTok Marketing

Because TikTok revolves around very short videos, and the userbase is very specific — used by more women than men, with 63% of users 29 or younger — there are many challenges for brands who wish to engage users without coming off as overtly pushy or sales-y.

Learning Opportunities

“The biggest challenges brands face with TikTok marketing is the need for almost real-time implementation and connecting with the creators who represent very specific target audiences," said Brown. "It is almost inconceivable to imagine a brand trying to find, target and connect with all the micro audiences required to attract the massive Gen Z and younger Millennial generations without help from influencers."

He added that it isn’t just about identifying the type of content that aligns best with a brand, it also involves optimizing that content for the TikTok platform. “This can be anything from understanding how to make a short-form video of 15 seconds or less to creating unique creative content with subtitles and trending hashtags."

Even brands with an expert TikTok marketer on staff might need to connect with an influencer marketing platform to find niche content creators, according to Brown. 

“This is the absolute most cost-effective way to use TikTok to connect authentically with generations that have known social media since birth and rely on it so completely that it has replaced local search — once a formative and bedrock tool on the internet."

Related Article: TikTok Has the Power to Overtake Facebook — But Will It?

TikTok Offers No Time for Red Tape

Alli Harris, social media marketing expert and senior coordinator at Next PR, told CMSWire that although they have seen success from marketing on TikTok, it does not come without challenges.

“TikTok trends come and go quickly, so the window to participate in trends is short and you need to act accordingly," said Harris. "Unlike most other content, TikTok videos can't go through lengthy, drawn-out approval processes. Companies that operate that way run the risk of missing out on the trend by the time it's posted."

Harris added, "TikToks are often about 60 seconds, meaning you have a lot less time to get your message across than say a YouTube video, so making sure it's succinct enough while still delivering the message can be challenging, but is crucial for success."

Traditional marketing techniques can make a brand seem archaic and outdated on TikTok, as the social network is more about fun, personally engaging content. “On TikTok, companies are able to show the dynamic of their company, while also keeping it more lighthearted, organic and genuine compared to LinkedIn," explained Harris.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges is creating content that is both informative and entertaining, especially if a brand’s focus tends to be a topic that most of the younger generation may consider to be dry and technical.

“[TikTok’s] robust engagement is promising and makes it worth the effort," said Hale, "but the challenge is to take somewhat dry business concepts — in our case, that's payment processing, loans and other backend software — and create content that really delights and connects. By keeping in mind who your audience is, what they are trying to accomplish and wrapping that up with the shared human experience, you can develop content that genuinely connects and feels natural for your audience. Keep it simple and honest."

Final Thoughts

With over a billion users, TikTok is one of the most relevant social media outlets for reaching younger generations. By enlisting help from TikTok social influencers, brands can showcase products and services in a way that is engaging, uplifting and genuine.

Additionally, brands can create hashtag challenges that enable TikTok users to create content that is fresh, targeted and has a huge opportunity to go viral and attract new customers.