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Leveraging TikTok As a Marketing Platform for Your Brand

December 12, 2019
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Possibly the world’s quickest-growing social media app, TikTok is now angling itself as a notable social media platform for brands to advertise on. But, as the social platform continues to grow in popularity, there is confusion on how the TikTok  app actually works, and why it could be beneficial for brands remains unclear, particularly since the vast majority of its user base is a younger audience like teenagers.

Does your brand fit into the TikTok marketing machine? Today, we’ll discuss everything you need to know so that you can unlock the power of this wildly popular social platform for your digital marketing company.

What is TikTok? 

In 2014, Musical.ly created a lip-singing app in the same vein as the once trendy Vine. Just a few years later, it was acquired for a reported one billion USD by the Chinese internet giant Bytedance and consolidated into one company—TikTok. According to Pamela Bump:

 For those who remember Vine or Musical.ly, TikTok is like a mix of the two. The social platform allows you to film short videos that play on a repetitive loop, just like Vine. But, like Musical.ly or Snapchat, you can add fun effects, AR filters, text, and musical overlays to zest things up for your TikTok content. Like similar video platforms, it has been primarily adopted by users under 30 years old.

Since this consolidation, Gen Z’s take on Vine has caught on like wildfire. On the surface, it was simple, seeing as most videos featured teenagers doing karaoke or dancing to their favorite songs. Despite that, users loved the fact that they could film, edit, and share 15-second videos with filters, music, and other creative elements, and then see how others used their creativity in such a narrow time constraint. 

Such limitations were brilliantly leveraged by TikTok when they created the “Challenges” tab, in which users are prompted to propose a challenge with a themed hashtag. One such challenge that you are likely all too familiar with is LiL Nas X’s “Old Town Road” challenge, which the rapper self-promoted, spammed, and memed to death in order to leverage himself from a completely unknown rapper into superstardom. In a few months, TikTok helped catapult him to the top of the Billboard, iTunes, and Spotify charts. 

The Numbers are Insane 

 Over the past few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular apps in existence. According to Medium

  • TikTok has been downloaded over 1 billion times and has more than 500 million active users.
  • It has experienced 275% Year over Year growth in monthly new users.
  • Users spend an average of 52 minutes/day on the app.
  • 41% of users are between the ages of 16-24. 

This is a massive marketing pool waiting to be utilized. Why, just in the U.S. alone, “There are 30 million-plus monthly active users in the U.S., it says. To put that into perspective, Snapchat has 83 million daily active users in North America, according to its second-quarter financial report.” In addition, it was the most downloaded app worldwide in 2018. 

Although the audience skews younger, celebrities and brands quickly realize that there is a rich opportunity to leverage the app’s collaborative and creative space to market themselves, and, in turn, allow users to engage with the brand by posting their own videos. Also, because this platform is relatively new, there’s a bevy of opportunities to get in before the market becomes oversaturated. 

Marketers Are Diving In 

TikTok is a uniquely engaging app. When brands can tap into the ethos that inspires such engagement and participation, it can be a tremendous way to boost brand awareness. As AdAge writes:

While marketers don’t always intuitively understand the language of new online platforms—they have had a hard time grasping the popularity of Snapchat for years—they know they want to be a part of it. So, brands are lining up to work with TikTok: Guess Jeans linked with it last year with the hashtag challenge “in my denim” that invited people to show off their jeans in videos. Walmart promoted a “savings shuffle” hashtag challenge with TikTok last month. The National Football League has a TikTok account, as does its star quarterback Tom Brady and many other players.

Simply put, Brands are realizing that this platform can’t be ignored, especially since it contains a user-base demographic that is relatively untapped in the form of Gen Z. This allows them to boost their cultural relevance and reach an audience that is unreceptive to traditional advertising methods. That said, doing so isn’t an easy feat. Brands struggle with creative ways to utilize the video- and audio-based medium to show off their product. This is made more difficult if your brand doesn’t have appropriate video assets or music rights. 

In order to get around their own limitations, some brands are taking alternative routes such as:

  • Brand takeovers
  • Hashtag challenges
  • In-feed videos 

For example, hashtag challenges like Chipotle’s #ChipotleLidFlip garnered 110,000 video submissions and 104 million video views. Elf Cosmetics approached this from a different direction by sponsoring in-feed posts featuring popular TikTok’ers mouthing the words to a song called “Eyes Lips Face” (the brand name’s acronym). This was a subtle way for them to build brand awareness and show off their products.  

How to Leverage TikTok for Your Brand 

These days, there are six different ways that you can leverage the platform to boost your brand’s reach; the first is free, and the rest will require a sizable investment. Your options include:

  • Create Your Own Viral Content – This is likely the hardest method, but can be the most cost-effective and impactful when done right. If you have a creative marketing team, there are endless opportunities for you to reach an audience, especially since you already have an established name. The best way to do this is to avoid in-your-face advertising and instead look for ways to create content that is funny, unique, and makes audiences come back for more.  
  • Hashtag Challenge – You can partner with TikTok’s marketing team in order to create a sponsored hashtag challenge. It will generally run for a week and will encourage the user base to create and share content on your behalf. According to AdWeek:

Alessandro Bogliari, CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory, which helps brands with TikTok campaigns, said that currently, a hashtag challenge’s minimum investment is around $100,000 to $150,000, which varies based on which markets the brand wants to target and other features.

  • Brand Takeover Ads – This relatively new feature was added at the beginning of 2019. Takeover ads will cost a pretty penny but can ensure that you get users to see your brand. According to Digiday, “In-feed ads are sold at $10 cost-per-impression with $6,000 minimum campaign spend. Brand takeover ads cost $50,000 per day with a guaranteed 5 million impressions.” Typically, takeover ads can be purchased for: A brand’s landing page or hashtag challenge Category exclusives
  • In-feed Video – Recently, TikTok has allowed brands to pay for in-feed video ads based on one of three action models: CPC (Cost per click), CPM (Cost per thousand impressions), CPV (Cost per view for 6 seconds). It also allows specific targeting in regards to gender, age, and geo-targeting.
  • Influencers – Just like with YouTubers and Instagrammers, by partnering with TikTok influencers, you can leverage their creativity to represent your brand and reach a target audience that trusts the influencer. Per Forbes:

Although influencer marketing is not yet a common practice on TikTok, many brands have realized its potential and have already dipped their toes in testing it as a new marketing channel. Guess launched the first-ever U.S. brand collaboration with TikTok with its #InMyDenim campaign, where it partnered with  TikTok influencers to promote its denim. Other brands like Coca-Cola, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, and Google have already worked with popular TikTok users to raise brand awareness.

  • Branded Lenses – Quite similar to the AR lenses you can purchase in Snapchat or Instagram, TikTok lets you use a special face filter or 3d object associated with your brand. This encourages users to engage with the brand in an organic and fun way. 

Knowing this, you should be aware that all of these methodologies come with their fair share of challenges. For example:

  • There are a few metrics that can define success. 
  • It can be difficult to definitively target a specific audience, which means that views and likes may not translate into direct sales. 
  • Because TikTok defines one of its missions is to “Enable everyone to be a creator,” brands could be misrepresented by inconsistent branding and messaging. 

Taking Advantage of TikTok 

In a world of digitalization, brands have been forced to eschew outmoded models of advertising in favor of newer, more creative methodologies. If trends are any indicator, TikTok marketing isn’t going to go away any time soon. This is why you must take advantage of and leverage the platform’s unique capabilities before your competition can beat you to it. 

So, download the app, create an account, and start getting familiar with it. Only then can you truly understand this exciting new marketing opportunity to reach a new audience and spread the word about your brand. 



Bump, P. HubSpot. 5 New Social Media Platforms Marketers Should Watch in 2019. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/new-social-media

New York Times. YouTube. How Lil Nas X Took ‘Old Town Road’ From TikTok Meme to No. 1 | Diary of a Song. (2019). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptKqFafZgCk

Viner, J. Medium. How To Develop a TikTok Marketing Strategy (And Why You Need One). https://medium.com/the-dopamine-effect/how-to-develop-a-tiktok-marketing-strategy-and-why-you-need-one-d4a43c922018

Sloane, G. AdAge. A Leaked Pitch Deck Reveals How TikTok is Trying to Woo Brands. (2019). https://adage.com/article/tech/leaked-pitch-deck-reveals-how-tiktok-trying-woo-brands/2205906

Jennings, R. Vox. The Brands Finally Understand TikTok. (2019). https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/10/11/20908844/tiktok-ads-elf-cosmetics-eyes-lips-face

Alcantara, A. AdWeek. Ralph Lauren’s TikTok Campaign Around the US Open Is a First for the Platform. (2019). https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/ralph-laurens-tiktok-campaign-around-the-us-open-is-a-first-for-the-platform/

Flynn, K. DigiDay. TikTok’s Ad Load Has Increased, But the Quality Remains Low. (2019). https://digiday.com/marketing/tiktok-ad-load/

Qudsi, I. Forbes. Is TikTok the Next Big Thing in Influencer Marketing? (2019). https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/06/17/is-tiktok-the-next-big-thing-in-influencer-marketing/#6c3f575613ba


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