Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen TikTok grow and grow, to become a key social media platform. But what makes TikTok so unique and, ultimately, so successful? And do we, as marketers, really understand its full potential?

To help answer these questions and more, Planning Director Werner Iucksch and Planner Meili Yeo from our Singapore office recently hosted a virtual masterclass - attended by almost 1000 guests from over 60 countries - looking at how brands can get the most out of TikTok. Here, our Global Communications Manager Ryan Dubras shares some of the key takeaways from the session.

To kick off the session, Werner Iucksch started by giving attendees an overview of the current state of TikTok as a platform, reminding us that a platform with two billion downloads worldwide has to be considered a mainstream platform and treated accordingly.  

According to Iucksch, despite there being a lack of familiarity among many brand decision-makers - something which often acts as a barrier to entry for brands, “if your organisation works in any area which has something to do with culture or produces culture, like TV, music, film, gaming...then you’re very likely to be selling to people who have TikTok in their home screen.” And this means that many brands around the world are not only missing out on the opportunity to build relationships and brand equity with consumers, but are also missing out on business opportunities as well.

Why brands can no longer ignore TikTok
Continuing on the theme of TikTok as a must-have platform for many, Iucksch explains that TikTok is rapidly becoming a key platform to drive brand growth and relationships with the next generation of consumers. 

A key piece of advice which Iucksch shared was to “avoid stereotyping TikTok” when considering the platform as a communications channel. While the user-base is largely Gen-Z, Millennials actually dominate the platform in many regions, which can often be a deciding factor when pitching TikTok to internal stakeholders. 

Similarly, in many Gulf and South Asian countries, the gender split actually leans far more towards a male audience than you might expect. 

If your brand has an older millennial audience as its core customer, Iucksch also suggests using TikTok with the goal of creating a favourable brand image in your next wave of consumers, as many Gen-Zers and younger Millennials don’t yet have favourite brands - especially for higher ticket items. So building that relationship early, and leaning into TikTok’s ability to humanise a brand, could actually help to grow the lifetime value of the consumer. 

In the shorter term, if a brand targets younger consumers and values lifestyle as an important part of its proposition, then it “probably should be on TikTok now”, according to Iucksch, “because this is where your target is.”

What is TikTok good for?
One of the key things to consider when starting out on TikTok, according to Iucksch, is that while there are a lot of people on TikTok, the platform is sometimes questioned for its power to generate business. “TikTok really is about culture and is incredibly influential in today’s culture...so we have to understand what TikTok can and what TikTok cannot do”. 

“TikTok is a catalyst for cultural conversations, meaning it’s about entertainment.” It’s about the “value we can provide as a brand to entertain our audiences, much more so than about products and ads”, he continues. So our “attitude towards it needs to be different to that for Facebook or YouTube”. 

He goes on to remind audiences that TikTok was designed to be a platform for people to create, rather than being a platform for brands to advertise, so human elements - and influencers, in particular - are extremely effective here. And brands should be considering co-creation as the primary method of engaging audiences. 

What makes this platform so unique?
Having touched upon some of the challenges brands may face when starting out on the platform, and how these can be overcome, Iucksch moves on to looking at the specific features of the platform. And what makes it so unique when compared to other social networks.

He breaks these differences, from a technical perspective, down into two distinct areas. The first is that content discovery on the platform is “supercharged”, with the second being that content on TikTok is “super easy” to create. 

One of the other key differences which Iucksch highlights is that on TikTok, nearly 70 per cent of time spent on the channel is done so on the ‘For You’ recommendations feed. This means users are spending the majority of their time on the platform watching content created by strangers, as opposed to friends or people they intentionally follow.

And for those of you reading this who are already Googling “how do I get my content onto the ‘For You’ page?”, Iucksch had the answer waiting. 

Simply put, your content will never make it into everyone’s ‘For You’ page, as everyone’s page is different. It puts forward recommendations based on a user’s unique interests and how interesting the algorithm thinks your content will be to that person. Of course, as with other platforms, audience engagement will have an impact on how this spreads beyond that.

His key recommendation here is to make sure you “design your content for user engagement, rather than designing it to drive awareness or to talk about specific product features”.

How should my brand approach TikTok?
For the next part of the masterclass, Iucksch handed over to Meili Yeo, who began by sharing three factors driving user participation on the platform and reiterates that people use TikTok to show off their creativity and unique style. 

She pointed out that almost three-quarters of users will use the tools to recreate and share a funny or cool video they’ve seen.

Building on this observed behaviour, Yeo adds that this remix culture has been a driving factor behind the hashtag challenges which have become synonymous with the platform, which is also the primary way brands have engaged communities on TikTok to-date. This is because they provide a creative opportunity to add the user’s own flair to make something new.

Emphasising the platform’s enjoyment factor once again, Yeo commented: “People want to have a laugh and be entertained”, no matter the genre. “TikTok content is unique and can sometimes be seen as completely random, but it definitely has personality.”

One key piece of advice Yeo shared was that “adapting content [from other platforms] does not work”. TikTok content shapes the trends we see bleeding into other social channels and is not shaped by what takes place on those platforms.

Her other recommendation to marketers was to ease up on branding and flex brand guidelines when it comes to creating content for the channel. TikTok offers an opportunity to show a more playful side, which means leaning into creative expression and not being bound by formal brand guidelines. 

She goes on to reiterate Iucksch’s earlier point that brands can approach TikTok with either a short-term or long-term approach, by creating a one-off activation (such as a hashtag challenge) or by developing a branded channel with an always-on content strategy. 

One example Yeo touched on was actually one of our own campaigns, the #ShakeItEasy challenge, created earlier this year for Vodafone by our team in Milan. Other case studies for short-term approaches included Levi’s shoppable ads, while examples for longer-term approaches included the NBA’s themed content pieces and The Washington Post’s behind-the-scenes creations, offering a different side to its newsroom fame. 

Understanding the role of TikTok
Before closing the session, Yeo briefly touched on the recent launch of ‘TikTok for Business’. She outlined the benefits for brands and how this move into supporting branded content would only help the platform become an even stronger contender in today’s digital landscape.

She also reiterated the platform’s unique positioning within the market, and a few key things brands need to keep in mind when approaching the platform for the first time.

Ultimately, the key takeaway for marketers is that TikTok is a platform for some risk-taking and new ideas. So take the time to test-and-learn, to understand the value of entertainment and what being more ‘human’ can do for your brand, and - most importantly - have some fun! 

A full recording of our TikTok Masterclass session, including the audience Q&A, can be found below. If you have any questions or would like to speak to one of our team, please contact TalkToUs@wearesocial.net.