What the rise of TikTok means for marketers

24 March 2021. Thoughts in Featured, Industry by

Social media platform TikTok has become one of the world’s favourites over the last couple of years. If this acceleration feels somewhat sudden to you, you are not entirely wrong. According to CNBC reporting on TikTok, the app had 54 million active monthly users worldwide in January 2018. By August 2020, TikTok’s active monthly users increased to 689 million worldwide. With 2 billion downloads so far, it is fast becoming one of the most downloaded non-gaming apps, according to Jenn Guidry from eclincher.

TikTok’s fast-rising popularity amongst younger users has resulted in brands considering redirecting marketing spend to this platform. Especially for brands targeting 16-24years olds. However, even brands that target older audiences are considering the possibilities of this platform. “TikTok is anticipated to become a frontrunning social platform worthy of sitting at the “cool kids” table alongside Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter”, says Jennifer Shaheen from technologytherapy.com

What makes TikTok different

Each social media platform offers its own unique advantages that brands can leverage to reach audiences in exciting ways. TikTok allows brands to connect with audiences without interrupting the user experience. No disruptive pop-up ads or unskippable videos ads mean that brands can integrate their marketing and advertising into a seamless user experience which, to the user, seems less like pushing product and more like simply being part of the community. Brands like Chipotle and Guess have already used the platform to connect to thousands of users. Brands are showing the lighter sides of themselves, and it is no wonder that TikTok has become somewhat synonymous with the ‘time of Covid’.

Brands struggled to remain relevant during 2020. They had to balance customer perceptions of seemingly capitalising on the crisis with perceptions of being individual and not appearing like empty echos of crisis messaging. Light-hearted content on the platform became one of the go-to’s during this time of immense emotional pressure. It also became a popular digital space to get content around wellness, DIY, cooking, and all other matters of interest that became very relevant in restriction times. The platform was even used to spread health information and combat false information about the pandemic. TikTok content also played a part in the USA elections, and all whilst being fun, funny and relatable.

The digestible format of the content on this platform is also what makes it appealing to both its users and brands. Brands that have had success, understood the platforms’ unique features and have created content that blends in effortlessly with user-generated content.

Part of the appeal for brands to use the platform is that it provides the opportunity to connect with audiences in more organic and unassuming ways. Good content often gets shared to other platforms, so even though native users are younger, reposting can still reach older markets and provide tremendous value.

Hashtags challenges is another way that can provide valuable opportunities for brands. These challenges allow brands to leverage existing traction on the platform and lower the entry barriers to advertising. This more collaborative approach means that brands don’t always have to create big-budget content that only revolves around their own offering. Still, they can highlight their own brand by creating content that speaks to other relevant touchpoints. This approach is why the platform considers itself a worthy contender to the biggest advertisers. As Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s head of global business solutions put it, “We think we can build our ads platform in a way that is consistent with where the world’s going rather than where the world’s been.”

Unlike most other social media platforms, success on TikTok does not necessarily require having millions of followers, which acts as a kind of equaliser for brands. Expensive production and macro-influencers are not a prerequisite for success. “Neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system”, according to TikTok.

Influencer Marketing on Tik Tok

One of our previous blogs – Influential vs Influencer, explored how influencer marketing is evolving, and TikTok is definitely playing a big part in changing influencer marketing. Some TikTok influencers have millions of followers, but TikTok influencers tend to be more ‘everyday’.

A lot of popular content on the platform during 2020 was created by micro or nano influencers, and at least on TikTok, this seems to have eclipsed macro-influencer content. Micro and Nano influencers ‘are often viewed as more authentic and credible than macro-influencers, and they tend to have deeper personal connections with their followers’ according to a Forbes article titled ‘Influencer Marketing’s Surprising Rise Of The Everyperson’.

A good example of micro-influencer impact on an industry is what’s known as – the skinfluencers. Some of these role models push accessibility within skincare, and as Caitlin King, marketing director of skinfluencer favourite CeraVe, puts it, ‘it feels good to understand the science. There’s no gatekeeping anymore’.

This content is driven by ‘relatability, honesty, and humour’. ‘It’s a backlash against standard influencer practice, which seems to feign familiarity despite being just as commercially driven as the brands they’re paid to represent’, according to Daniel Rodgers from British Vogue.

This shift echoes what we already know about Gen Z’s, that they prefer self-sufficiency and value genuine interaction and collaboration. Other demographics have increasingly started to demonstrate a preference for this too as a result of lower disposable income and global hardship. The DIY mindset has become both aspirational, as well as inspirational.

What this means for marketers

Communications agencies specialising in TikTok marketing are already sprouting globally. How new platforms will evolve is difficult to predict, especially in these topsy-turvy times. TikTok provides a fairly easy way to leverage this platform’s popularity, so it would be entirely possible to strike while the iron is hot.

As mentioned earlier, hashtag challenges can be a great way to reach audiences. This will require marketers to stay abreast of what topics their communities find interesting and what kind of content their audiences are attracted too. Marketers will expect less to set trends, but will instead look to consumers to dictate trends. Content will increasingly be crafted to appropriately merge brand messaging with those trends.

On TikTok, the key will be to keep it light-hearted and not to force synergy. A product-first approach to your content will not serve you here. However, the platform might be signalling a new frontier in social commerce with its shoppable in-app features.

Tutorial videos and hacks can also make for great content, and this is where using micro or nano influencers could prove valuable. Behind-the-scenes content can also work well on this platform. For industries like fashion that usually rely on polished content, this can be a welcome gear-shift that shows relatability and authenticity.

The apps’ smart video soundtrack feature takes away the additional and often costly step of purchasing copyright for ad music. This has resulted in some significant shifts within the music industry. Utilising these features could propel marketing efforts, without having to spend the big bucks. 

In our Marketing Trends 2021 post, we discuss how it will not always be the wisest move to spread your efforts to thin over too many channels. But seriously considering what TikTok has to offer and whether it could serve your brand is a must. Will Tiktok continue to rise? Experts seem to be divided on the matter. What does seem to be clear is that the shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations that TikTok has prompted, will most likely remain and pave the way for new types of engagements.

Chew Wee Ng, TikTok’s head of business marketing, predicts that ‘more marketers will experiment with user involvement and new ways of encouraging audiences to interact with their business’. Digital community spaces are here to stay, and it would be wise to understand how your brand fits in with them.


Jenn Guidry. How To Use TikTok For Business: Kickstart Growth In 2021. Eclincher.  https://eclincher.com/quick-guide-tiktok-for-business-2021/

Anna Dievendorf. (9 June 2020). TikTok Marketing: What Is TikTok And How Can You Market On It? Fanbooster. https://fanbooster.com/blog/tiktok-marketing/

Aaron Schnoor. (12 February 2020). How TikTok Is Changing Marketing. Medium.

Kimberly Garcia. ( 21 October 2020).  Here’s how TikTok is changing the way businesses advertise. Techinasia. https://www.techinasia.com/heres-tiktok-changing-businesses-advertise

Sofia Serrano. ( 8 November 2020).  New study from TikTok For Business shows behavioral shifts towards online shopping across its Middle East audience. Campaignme. https://campaignme.com/new-study-from-tiktok-for-business-shows-behavioral-shifts-towards-online-shopping-across-its-middle-east-audience/

Alex Sherman. (24 August 2020). TikTok reveals detailed user numbers for the first time. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/24/tiktok-reveals-us-global-user-growth-numbers-for-first-time.html

Jennifer Shaheen. (3 December 2020). 2021 Marketing Strategy Insights: TikTok for Business. Technologytherapy. https://technologytherapy.com/2021-marketing-strategy-insights-tiktok-for-business/

Danielle Wiley. (4 February 2021). Influencer Marketing’s Surprising Rise Of The ‘Everyperson’. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2021/02/04/influencer-marketings-surprising-rise-of-the-everyperson/?sh=70b1dd083b23

Daniel Rodgers. (20 January 2021). How Hyram Yarbro And TikTok Skinfluencers Are Disrupting The Beauty Industry. British Vogue. https://www.vogue.co.uk/beauty/article/tiktok-skinfluencers-disrupting-beauty-industry


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