The Evolving Marketing Landscape on TikTok
As someone who has frequently used TikTok since the year it came out, it has been amazing to see how the platform has evolved over the years. The app was initially very scarcely used, but it has now become as ubiquitous as other platforms like Instagram and Facebook. With the app showing no signs of slowing down, it poses an opportunity for marketers and influencers to discover new ways of advertising and promotion. This marks the age of a new generation of marketing, and being successful is contingent on a thorough understanding of the app.
How TikTok Has Evolved
The current landscape of TikTok looks drastically different than it did 4 years ago. For the most part, brands and influencers were scarcely present on the app, and from what I can remember, the most prominent content was fleeting trends propagated by mostly nameless users. It wasn’t until users started to “blow up” that people started to pay more attention to the app. During this time, many users rose to fame very quickly and were well-known on TikTok, however, many of them have faded into obscurity and are nowhere near as present on the app as they once were. However, this cyclical rise and fall of fame did not apply to all users, as one of the most notable celebrities, Charlie D’amielo, set a precedent for how TikTok can bolster careers. Her unprecedented rise in followers was the reason she became well-known, which I believe was the catalyst for the upsurge in TikTok influencers. Today, TikTok is filled with various influencers and brands, causing more and more businesses to follow. Seeing how TikTok has grown immensely since it first came out, and how it has managed to even jump-start entire careers, it is no secret that this app is not going to go away anytime soon.
Does this mean TikTok is the future?
Many older platforms such as Myspace and Tumblr are no longer powerhouses of media, while newer platforms like TikTok are paving the way for new-gen marketing strategies. There have already been clear signs of the changing times, as Facebook is not as popular as it once was, and platforms are rushing to adopt features akin to TikTok’s format. Although there is no guarantee that TikTok will continue to grow at its current rate, it is still likely to have a large impact on this generation's consumption of media.
The Good and The “Not-So-Good”
The following is a list I’ve created myself of what stands out to me as good and “not-so-good” marketing tactics. To start, I'll talk about what I’ve seen as effective, and I will often mention the account @duolingo, as it is well-known for it’s marketing strategy. Additionally, I will also briefly discuss what I see as less effective on the app.
Mascots seem to be an effective way of spreading brand awareness while also providing an account with personality. Some of the most prominent brands on the app utilize a mascot in some form, and they all follow a simple formula of using their mascot to participate in the latest trends. 3 examples are Duolingo, Angry Birds, and Ryan Air.
@duolingo - Perhaps one of the most notable brands on the app, Duolingo seems to be the precursor for other brands' mascot usage, while also setting the precedent for what marketing can be on TikTok. The majority of their content is entertainment, rather than advertisements, and their mascot is consistently shown in every TikTok. Because their mascot is featured in every so often, the brand has been able to build an entire personality that is both entertaining and memorable. Additionally, because they are a prime example of what creative marketing can be, I use their account’s engagement levels and overall strategy as a benchmark to gauge the success of other brands on the app. Here is their most viewed TikTok with over 27 million views.
Duolingo has amassed over 4.5 million followers and they consistently receive millions of views on their posts; their account is so popular that I was already well aware of their presence well before I became interested in TikTok marketing. Although some may argue that this brand’s growth was jump-started by its app’s popularity, I would argue that the popularity of a brand is not indicative of how many followers it can get on TikTok. If a brand's popularity and a brand’s TikTok growth had a positive correlation, then huge brands like McDonald's would already at least be on par with Duolingo's following. Therefore, Duolingo’s success can be attributed to its creative strategies and willingness to think outside the box.
@angrybird - Although Angry Birds is not as prominent as Duolingo’s account, this TikTok page utilizes a similar strategy of using a recognizable mascot to incorporate into many of their videos. Similarly, they also follow trends, however, their engagement levels aren’t as consistent as Duolingo’s. Below is an example of their mascot participating in a trend from a few months ago, and it currently has over 7 million views.
It seems that this brand is still experimenting with what works with their account, as they don’t seem to consistently post the same type or quality of content. Although they’ve been relatively successful with their over 2 million followers, they still don’t have the same strong personality that Duolingo has. A successful persona isn’t created overnight, so only time will tell if this brand will be able to successfully develop its own unique personality.
@ryanair - Unlike the last two examples, this account has a mascot in a non-traditional sense. Instead of having a physical mascot, they instead use a filter to put a face on top of their planes. An example of this is shown below.
This TikTok has over 5.1 million views, and their most viewed TikToks have over 11 million views. Despite not having a physical mascot, their strategy still proves to be effective in developing a personality for the brand, and their creativity and similar tactics to Duolingo are likely the reason they managed to amass over 1.6 million followers. Their account also usually performs well, proving that a bit of creativity can go a long way.
2. Using Trending Sounds and Video Formats
This should be a no-brainer when it comes to TikTok marketing, however, it is easier said than done. This strategy requires a bit of creativity, as trends on TikTok are not created for marketing purposes. When following trends, it is imperative to put a creative spin on your video without reaching a threshold that may be controversial. What’s most difficult is creating content that is professional enough that it won’t sully the business's reputation, while still being entertaining enough to get views. This may require experimenting, but with a bit of practice and the right social media manager, you can vastly increase the chances of posting a viral video. Below is an example posted by @paris2024.
This TikTok is a great example of a video that is entertaining but not egregiously unprofessional. Additionally, because this TikTok was posted while this format was trending, it managed to go viral and garner over 5 million views. Even if the video itself didn’t promote their business explicitly, it still managed to bolster their account from the engagement they received.
3. Appealing to Younger Generations Sense of Humour (...even if it makes no sense)
This can be difficult to accomplish as humour from younger generations can seem quite random, but it has shown to be an effective way of improving engagement and increasing followers.
One example of an account that utilizes this concept well is @paralympics. Their account consistently gets millions of views, and their technique is to simply post clips from their events while using popular sounds. This easy strategy may seem too good to be true, but the results speak for themselves, as their video below garnered over 62 million views.
Without context the video makes no sense, but to be honest, even with context the video still doesn’t make much sense. Regardless, it still performed extremely well. To recreate this achievement, it is essential to have a social media manager well-versed in popular trends. Hopping on trends without understanding its origin and/or proper use may come across as disingenuous or confusing, so it can be beneficial to watch several related videos prior to creating your own.
4. Engage With Your Commenters
Possibly the most notable account to do this is @slimjim. They are known for being active and replying to those that mention them, and there is a good chance they will comment on your post and follow you if you try to engage with them. Below is one of their TikToks, and it is in reference to a trend where users would try and get verified creators to comment on their post, in which @slimjim commented on seemingly every post.
For this account to go to the extremity of commenting on (almost) every single post they are tagged in is going above and beyond to interact with users. Regardless, it is a prime example of how businesses can grow their account outside of just making posts. In general, interacting with users by replying to their comments is a great way to show prospective customers how active you are, and it also lets users know you acknowledge them.
5. Be A Personality, Not Just a Business
Duolingo could be a great example of this, but another account that executes this strategy well is @scrubdaddy. In a sense, their large sponge acts like their mascot, and they are able to use it to create a personality for themselves. Their account is primarily entertaining content that features their sponges, and many of their videos use trending sounds and formats. Below is an example of their content.
In short, Scrub Daddy has been successful on TikTok because they don’t just promote their products, they give their products a personality. In doing so, they create a more enjoyable experience for their followers, making them more likely to watch their videos.
6. Show Off or Soft Sell
This seems to be effective for many different brands. Many brands create content for the sake of being entertaining, such as the aforementioned Duolingo account, however, when it comes to advertising a product, it seems that a soft sell can be quite effective. Here is an example that Samsung posted back in April.
They utilized a trending sound from that month to create a video showcasing their foldable phone. Videos like this can be quite effective, as users may become interested in buying the phone after seeing it in action, and they may be more likely to watch the video when it doesn’t feel like an ad. Additionally, the engagement levels on the post were significantly higher than Samsungs regular posts, so it is evident that the soft sell of their product was effective in gaining traction.
If it wasn’t obvious already, you don’t need a studio budget and professional team to market on TikTok. Having one may make your ad stand out, however, if a user can quickly register that the video they are watching is an ad, they probably won’t continue watching. Putting extensive effort into an ad for television may stand out to viewers who are forced to sit through commercials, however, the viewers on TikTok can scroll at any time, so it is best to appeal to them to increase the chances of them watching. This is why I believe that almost “blending in”, and making your ad almost seamless with the current content on the FYP can be way more effective than creating anything worthy of being on TV. This does not apply to every single brand, however, I strongly believe it is a general rule.
To summarize a few points, here is a short list of things I would avoid.
Not using TikToks features such as their text to speech
Being overly professional with content
Not being cognizant of where text will collide with captions and other buttons (such as the like button)
Not including attention-grabbing visuals in the first second of the ad
Not engaging with commenters or turning off comments completely
Even if a brand were to follow all of the best practices to a tee, there is no guarantee that the account will become successful, nor will it be an assurance that the brand will be able to maintain its engagement. Therefore, if all else fails, it is best to persevere, keep experimenting, keep posting consistently, and learn from your successes and failures. Successful accounts like Duolingo didn’t start off with their current strategy, rather they thought outside the box and tried new things, and it worked out in their favour. Their efforts and creativity are an ode to the fact that technology is changing, and the way brands market themselves is changing as well. Therefore, if you want to elevate your current marketing strategies by utilizing the most popular platforms, I would recommend taking the time to learn and understand TikTok.
In general, being malleable enough to adapt to different platforms is key to marketing your brand successfully. As with other platforms, TikTok has its own rules and format, meaning that you need to thoroughly understand how it works to promote yourself effectively. In my personal opinion, a general rule of thumb for advertising on TikTok can be summarized in 6 words: don’t just make ads, make TikToks.
If you enjoyed reading this post check out our TikTok account: @CapitalRegionDEP
[ https://www.tiktok.com/@capitalregiondep?is_from_webapp=1&sender_device=pc ]
If you want help with TikTok ads, or if you want to see what’s trending, checkout TikTok’s creative center: https://ads.tiktok.com/business/creativecenter
Author: Belle Boily
Christobelle Boily is in her second year of the Bachelor of Commerce Program at the University of Alberta, and she majors in international business and minors in marketing. Christobelle strongly believes that businesses that are able to persevere and think outside the box will find the most success in social media marketing.