TikTok Marketing: How Can Brand Marketers Plot Their Next Move?

Any media channels ultimately becomes a marketing channel. Social or otherwise, every new channel brings brands a new opportunity to engage consumers. With every new channel, however, the same old marketing playbooks don’t necessarily apply. 

Most brand marketers treat network and cable TV differently. They treat Twitter and Facebook differently. TikTok is taking up more and more screen time among Gen-Z consumers (the average user spends 52 minutes each day on the app). It can’t be ignored, but it also can’t be treated with the same social playbook most other channels have adopted. 

In this article:

What’s Changed Since Vine?

How Does TikTok Marketing Start with the Lessons of Vine?

The Tools of TikTok Marketing

Getting Started in Any New Marketing Channel

Fortunately, there are some lessons out there that can help: TikTok has many of the same qualities that the much-beloved (and grieved-for) Vine did, but its community places more value on authentic content and experiences than ever before. What’s more, for a variety of reasons that weren’t in Vine’s favor, TikTok doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. This all means that TikTok marketing is a priority for any brand looking to engage Gen-Z, and soon enough might be a priority for brands looking to engage almost any kind of consumer. 

On 500 million global users, a greater share are coming from the United States. Global and regional marketers need to take notice of the new platform and the engagement it’s generating. Sources: Oberlo & Mediakix


What’s Changed Since Vine?

Today, content makes the world go round. Whether it’s binge-watching, clickbait or just general social media engagement, the average consumer spends most of their waking hours engaged with content. Digital channels are also continuing to accrue more and more of that time. 

The comparison between TikTok and Vine (the short-form video platform that peaked in popularity between 2013 and 2015) is often made and sometimes disparaged. Endless numbers of Twitterati are trying to place and define TikTok’s similarities to Vine. If you’ve spent more than a few minutes either platform, similarities emerge, but differences also become quite clear. 

Yes, TikTok can be this simple.

Vine users generally tried to entertain whatever communities of followers they had. Similar to story-formatted social sharing, they also basically offered irreverent or excited takes on daily life, documenting whatever cute thing they might come across in an easily digestible format. 

The average TikTok user does much the same, but TikTok funnels users through exploratory features (almost similar to Instagram’s explore tab), making it easier to see a lot of different types of content in any short TikTok session. Vine relied on users following each other to a much larger degree. While that created strong community, it made for less diversity and reach.

Anybody who’s been down the Instagram “explore-hole” knows that this dynamic can cost you hours in what might otherwise be a productive day. However, users are more willing to engage in this type of behavior than they were 5 years ago, when Vine was at its peak.

Back then, in 2014, time spent with media was 1.5 hours less per day, and only about a quarter of it was digital. Digital media has gradually grown both our time spent with media and then begun to cannibalize time spent with traditional channels. Social media platforms that offer you a constant stream of easily digestible content play into this trend perfectly.

Does 2014 media time look anything like the way you (or your teenage offspring) consumer media today? Source: MindShare

So, the question is, did Vine come too soon? The “first one in” doesn’t always get killed, but Vine was likely only a forerunner of the media environment – one that’s more interconnected, sometimes a little less playful, and much easier to commodify – that we have today.

How Does TikTok Marketing Start with the Lessons of Vine?

The one thing that killed any brand on Vine was inauthenticity. The app was content and community driven, not based on loose social connections or the idea of exclusivity. That’s what differentiated it from Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and also seemingly made it harder to monetize.

Now that the influencer economy is in full swing, TikTok is starting to overtake the likes of Youtube as the new way to access audiences looking to be entertained. The way influencers work in these channels, however, has to be authentic to the idea of entertaining consumers before promoting products or drawing them into educational content. 

You could call this “marketing by association”, where influencers increase consumer purchase intent or other core metrics. However, it’s not simply by association – brand need to entertain consumers in the same way non-branded messages do in order to succeed.

In many ways, this speaks to broader changes in the media environment, where engagement marketing is critical for brands to generate any sort of above-average response from their marketing. It also speaks to a need to tap into partners like influencers and creative teams that think in a channel-first way to achieve any given marketing goal.

More influencers and content creators are looking for a way to benefit from TikTok, a promotional cycle that is both enabled by and benefits brands. 


The Tools of TikTok Marketing

Brands don’t necessarily need to tap into influencers to get started. There are a variety of tools available – “challenges”, “duets”, leveraging influencer audiences, creating content themselves and a variety of forthcoming ad products that promise to be “content-based”. It’s not clear how exactly these formats will be deployed on a daily basis, but TikTok promises to use AI and machine learning to “get your ads in front of users who will find them interesting.”

The most straightforward way to  influence an audience on TikTok is through content creation. Given that TikTok is still just starting to monetize its user base, this is easier to practice for sports and entertainment brands who, by their nature, only need to feed their core audiences in order to profit from marketing themselves.

The Chicago Bulls are one brand that has seemingly gotten off to a hot start with this. They’re focused on youth, energy, irreverence, physical expression and lean heavily on TikTok’s music overlay feature. Their mascot-based TikTok account has 3 times the followers it does on Twitter, and gives it massive exposure to a huge base of potential jersey-buying, game-watching fans. 

Like the video says, Benny the Bull, everybody.

This obviously isn’t the work of a brand executive with decades of experience, but a prodigious, content-obsessed 20-something who is being guided and enabled by a forward-thinking brand executive. That’s where authenticity on TikTok can exist while still getting a brand’s message across.

As for the other ways to influence consumers with TikTok, challenges and duets are the only other options to get started right now. Challenges are hashtags that are, on a paid basis, pushed to users by the TikTok platform and prompt them to interpret the challenge in their own way. The most popular one so far has been Chipotle’s #GuacDance challenge, which played on a challenge that had already gone viral on the platform. 

The challenge generated 250,000 videos from users and 430 million video starts (the equivalent of an impression, in this case). Chipotle has followed up this campaign with various offers, promotions, content and challenges that drive greater traffic to their restaurants – an easier way to get a share of the Gen-Z audience’s disposable cash.

“Duets” are similar to challenges, and another way to grow and influence an audience on TikTok. They let brands publish a type of content that then allows users. Below, you can see an example of a duet TikTok promoted to drive overall engagement with the platform, tied to a promotional campaign that touted DJ Khaled as the platform’s Chief Motivational Officer

It comes down to this: if you promote your brand on TikTok, it has to be authentic, embrace its audience and give them a way to love you – if not just get their attention. TikTok is promising a variety of new advertising features across regions, but in many regions they’re still in beta or only available to select advertisers. 

The limitation for brands here is not access, but time to value. Accessing and scheduling a TikTok ad product is a big bet, generating content and starting a branded account may not take as long to see results. And, realistically, if you’re considering an ad campaign, wouldn’t native content also need to play it’s part in maintaining engagement with your brand?

Getting Started in Any New Marketing Channel

For any marketing leader, starting on a new channel always has some cause for concern. You don’t want to make an investment and build an audience only to see the platform shut down by the time you’re supposed to start seeing ROI. 

That’s ultimately what sealed the fate for many brands on Vine, but TikTok is just a little different. Not only was its user base smaller and squeezed in many ways by Snapchat, but it’s owner – Twitter – wasn’t seeing profitability on more than $600 million in quarterly revenue at the time. 

ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, just recently reported $7 billion H1 revenue and posted a profit in recent months. As far as guarantees go that the platform will stick around in one or another form, this is as good as it gets outside of any social media property not owned by Facebook. 

The engagement provided by platforms like TikTok are essential to driving more awareness and interest in a brand, particularly among its overwhelmingly Gen-Z user base. Ultimately, you can make the most of this by introducing more engagement or interactivity in product discovery and across your customer journey – all in ways that are authentic to your brand of course.

Want to learn more about how to engage and convert consumers? Check out the related resources below.