How brands can stand out on TikTok for the right reasons: A guide

Holly Kay is social account manager at Tug.

All eyes are on TikTok; from users who can’t get enough of its content to the US companies making a bid for acquisition — and brands are waking up to the potential.

High on the list of attractions is scale. In just two years, the video app has gone from 55 million to almost 700 million monthly active users globally. Much of that growth is down to the pandemic-driven spike in demand for digital media, but it’s also fuelled by the specific appeal of TikTok’s short-form content, with the immersive, bite-sized experience appealing to all, but particularly to younger audiences.

This means TikTok is fast becoming an essential marketing platform. But while the opportunity might be obvious, how brand marketers should be leveraging it isn’t. So, in a rapidly developing environment that prizes engaging, authentic content, how can marketers stand out for the right reasons?

Aim for a refined brand niche

Before diving into TikTok, marketers must understand its unique landscape. This is a space shaped by its creators and activity revolves around building connections through snappy, quirky, and humorous content. As a result, marketers must carefully consider whether their brand fits the platform’s culture and — if so — how they can ensure videos resonate.

Put simply, they need to do their homework. Liking content within their niche is one way to go about this as it will trigger algorithms to serve tailored video selections, giving them an idea of what is popular in particular categories and how they can develop similar content. Additionally, branching out into wider topics will offer insight into how other brands have harnessed or started challenges in ways that chime with their identity; see, for instance, the now infamous ‘Eyes Lips Face’ challenge by Elf Cosmetics.

But while relevance is the prime consideration when tapping emerging trends, it’s also vital to recognise the importance of speed. Marketers must be able to move rapidly, which makes it essential to ensure the creation, approval, and upload processes runs smoothly.

Build for TikTok, not mass reach

Blending in and following the latest conversations is a good first step, but it’s not enough to drive true engagement. TikTok is all about people, and if marketers want to effectively capture individual interest, they must tell people-centric stories that prioritise user value over pure product promotion. What that looks like will vary for each brand depending on its individual focus, but there are core factors every marketer should keep in mind.

Above all, content needs to be native. Editing existing content to post on TikTok is unlikely to fuel positive results, with users highly skilled in identifying videos that don’t feel intrinsic to the platform. Marketers can use the platform’s in-built editing tools — such as overlaying stickers and text boxes – to make content less jarring, but the best route is to go bespoke. This is highlighted in the recent ‘Don’t make ads, make TikToks’ initiative, which urged advertisers to recreate iconic advertising messages.

When it comes to the more specific aspects of creative, instant impact is crucial. Challenges must work with the fast-paced nature of TikTok by using clear messaging that’s easy to understand and immediately hooks user attention. In much the same way, utilising what’s arguably the driving force of TikTok — catchy audio — can help create speedy recognition and increase shareability. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, for instance, is the latest in a long line of songs to enjoy a massive streaming boost thanks to its use in viral TikTok videos.

Prepare to harness the long game

As an environment fuelled by an ever-replenishing flow of new content, marketers might assume TikTok’s rewards are short-lived. But this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.

For example, the efficient labelling of videos can have a lasting positive effect. TikTok operates on the basis of automatic classification; sorting content by sound, hashtags, and captions so it can be accurately matched with user tastes. By deploying search engine optimisation (SEO) principles and picking caption keywords wisely, marketers can improve the short-term ranking of their videos, while also maximising the chances of future success. With TikTok filtering by relevance rather than chronology, well-labelled videos can rise up the newsfeed as soon as their topic starts trending again — so marketers should resist the urge to delet low-performing videos.

For any marketers still mulling the pros and cons of TikTok, the recent upsurge in usage has removed all doubt. As the platform pulls in ever-greater audiences across the globe and offers a direct line to lucrative demographics, marketers need to step up their short-form video game. But to stand out for the right reasons, they must proceed with caution. To make best-use of TikTok’s endless marketing possibilities, marketers must ensure brand content is relevant, tailored, and accessible.

Read more: TikTok has a ton of potential – and brands are only scratching the surface

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

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