TikTok: The Official “Everything In One Place” Guide for Advertisers

Matt Wurst

VP, Client Management

Even as I start to write this post, with just the title you see above as the only thing on my screen, the millennial guy sitting next to me on the plane just rolled his eyes and sighed audibly. Well sigh away, Mitchell (caught a glimpse of his boarding pass), but TikTok was the second-most downloaded mobile app in the world in 2019. And guess what, Mitchell? Now that TikTok has introduced and improved a robust suite of advertising features for marketers, the time is right to break it down for you.

The Basics: How Does it Work?

One of the apps that brands mostly ignored was something called Musical.ly, despite 100 million users (mainly Western teenagers) filming choreographed dances against a musical background. It was bought by ByteDance, a Chinese media company, who rebranded it as TikTok in 2018 to mirror its existing short-form video app, Douyin, as a way to enter the U.S. market. Just over a year later, the short-form video app is fast approaching 1.5 billion global installs and 700 million active users, surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. 

TikTok offers a wide variety of features for users (filters, video effects, music…), allowing creators to upload short videos (15 to 30 seconds) without requiring any editing skills. The vertical format, already widely used on Instagram or Snapchat, appeals to Gen Z’ers between the ages of 16 and 24 who already consume and share more videos than any other age group. “Freedom” and “creativity” are the pillars on which daily challenges are issued, uploaded and broadcasted to unite and excite an entire generation in a flood of ingenuity. 

Music matters, and TikTok can win here as 80% of videos on Facebook are viewed without sound. The tone is lighter, quirky, younger and more spontaneous. Creators are gradually removing all the barriers that stand in the way of their community… no restrictive algorithms showing the same media, the same brands and the same publications from the same social group.

Most brands want to reach Gen Z, and this group has proven to be skeptical of brand involvement on most other platforms. Yet TikTok users don’t view branded content as much as an obstacle, as long as it’s entertaining. Engagement rates are high and the community is very reactive, which allows for significant test-and-learn opportunities. TikTok wants you, dear advertiser, and is offering new ways to monetize its content with an integrated purchasing system that does not require leaving the application.

What Should Brands be Doing?

Just a decade ago, brands were beginning to think about how they might leverage fledging social networks and platforms to reach new and target audiences. Few brands or agencies had digital teams, let alone content creators, for these limited social canvases. Investment in Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Google Plus and YouTube channels went from a question of “why” to “how much?”

And the race was on… Or races: The race to reach consumers, the race to create better content for consumers, the race to understand consumers, and the race to convert consumers. People like me wanted an inside track, an edge, a hint, a first-mover deal with the platforms as they launched, expanded and evolved. The first to try a new feature, a new ad format, a new tool, a new metric to justify all of it. We wanted to become a pioneer in using consumer insights to drive conversion. Go fast, figure it out later.

For many brands, the clock has run out on this act-then-think mentality, and accountability is the new innovation. While many brands are jumping right into content creation for TikTok, most are still treating it as an experiment… if they’re doing anything on the platform at all. For those brands wondering whether or not they should utilize the platform, understand that although content is what will increase your reach and, therefore, conversion, the content has to be purposeful. Prioritization, strategic purpose and maximizing impact are still keys to success in content marketing. Even with evolving audience behaviors, brands have tight budgets and tighter timelines to achieve measurable business objectives. No matter what anyone else tells you, the creation of more content for more platforms without a sound strategy just isn’t the smart play for most brands. Strategic and quality-driven content that serves purpose will help a brand achieve these objectives. 

The takeaway? TikTok is a must-explore platform, though remains far from a must-activate platform. But… If you’ve got the strategy, a creative budget, the media budget and a target audience that is eager and willing to engage with your brand, keep reading.

What Does Good Content Look Like?

As we’ve said, Gen Z will interact and show loyal affinity for brands that go the extra mile to create a meaningful value exchange. They have proven that they will purchase from a company that provides consistent and relevant content. That means: 

  • Short and Sweet: TikTok is designed for short-form video consumption, so grab attention early, and don’t expect to keep it for very long. On a platform where videos are the star, text descriptions are limited to 80 characters.
  • Authenticity is Still A Thing: From the beginning, TikTok’s landscape has allowed users to easily create content by shooting directly on the app in a vertical format. Unlike YouTube, which tends to favor long-form videos with high production value, TikTok lends itself to shorter, less-polished content. Even some of our favorite artists, such as Maroon 5 and Selena Gomez, who have access to the latest and greatest production teams, are shooting their music videos with an iPhone to create content that allows them to become more intimate with and authentic to their fans. 
  • Answer the Challenge: TikTok posts new hashtag challenges for creators and brands to complete. Videos that are relevant to these hashtags are the ones that the algorithm favors, which means tying your content to the challenges will likely push your video onto users’ “For You” page. 
  • Stop, Collaborate and Listen: The whole substance of TikTok is collaborative content and sharing. It is the source of its uniqueness and its growth. TikTok constantly brands and advertises those who venture onto the platform to embrace a lack of control and be willing to surrender ownership of the relationship with customers. 

The Ad Advantage

Many brands rushed to establish a presence on TikTok before it became saturated and more expensive as an acquisition channel. We know organic acquisition is fleeting, and even while there are a handful of brands that have created successful marketing campaigns on TikTok, the platform is changing faster than the speed of strategic content creation and production. 

Advertising on Tiktok IS a good idea… provided that several conditions are met. B2C brands within passion verticals like music, sports, fashion and gaming – and who also have a sizeable target consumer base under the age of 25 – could see real benefits. If conversion isn’t a priority, but awareness and engagement are more what the brand needs, go for it. 

There are currently four formats available to advertisers:

  • The Heater: An in-feed video ad that redirects traffic to a landing page. Brands can team up with users to encourage others to go to the landing page of their choice via a short video.
  • The Fanbase Booster: Another video format, but focused on acquisition and growing the brand’s account on TikTok.
  • The Hashtag Challenge: The most famous format, this gives brands the opportunity to leverage a defined hashtag and associate with user creations for six days. 
  • The Splash Page: The user sees a short video upon opening the app for 3 to 5 seconds. By clicking on it, she finds herself on a landing page chosen by the brand.

Before you can resonate with your audience in an authentic and strategic way, you must create a blueprint that lays out and segments exactly who your target-market is. Refining audience targeting criteria can help maximize content and purpose. Age, gender, language, geographic location, interests, and hobbies should be included in this blueprint. Advertisers can also import up to 5 videos, 5 ad texts, 1 call-to-action and 10 images in the TikTok ad creation tool. Their algorithm will then create the option best suited to meet your criteria.

The ads are still new and rare, so the entry cost remains high. On average, brands will have to pay $10 CPM, and each TikTok campaign requires a minimum investment that could discourage small and medium-sized enterprises from jumping in. 

So, How Do We Measure Success?

Ummmm. Good question. So far, it’s hard to say what truly marks success for marketers on TikTok. It’s still just too new, so to compare certain metrics to how other content and ads perform on more mature channels may not be fair. That said, here are some things that marketers are keeping track of as they run TikTok campaigns:

  • Video Views — Unlike other social platforms where virality is rare, on Tiktok everyone has the potential to be influential. Videos with high engagement are featured on the “For You” page or the Discover tab in the app, allowing your brand to get in front of even the users who don’t follow your account. Because of the viral nature of TikTok, an increase in video views exponentially increases potential impressions.
  • Sentiment of Comments — As marketers, it’s important to know what consumers are saying about your brand. Luckily, users on TikTok are open-minded and excited to share their thoughts and opinions. Dan Thorne of Guinness World Records explains, “The tone of the comments is especially important for us. We tend to attract some cynical comments from our older Facebook fans and YouTube subscribers, but younger users on TikTok tend to engage in a much more positive, excited way. TikTok’s also all about celebrating differences and inclusivity, which fits well with us as a company.”
  • Sales From TikTok — Since Hashtag Challenge Plus just launched last year, there is limited data on how much TikTok’s in-app purchase feature has been producing in terms of sales. But as time goes on, this metric is the one that marketers must keep an eye on. If advertisers don’t ultimately see and feel some ROI in terms of conversion, TikTok’s time may ultimately be up.

Ultimately, TikTok download volume has been most impressive, but it still faces stiff competition from well-funded, established competitors. Facebook and Instagram are fast followers… and finishers, meaning they don’t wait long to incorporate and launch similar features. Amazon drives direct business growth. Twitter is where people talk. So whether TikTok continues to grow outside the Gen Z demo remains to be seen, but for now, nothing seems to be slowing down TikTok’s success with teenagers.