We need to talk about TikTok. Don’t worry, this isn’t another pearl-clutching article about those youngsters and their scandalous TikTok trend. The majority of those “youngsters,” most commonly associated with those TikTok legends aren't even kids anymore. They're in their mid-20s now, their TidePod experimentation days a distant memory. 

What we really need to talk about, though, is the fact that TikTok and those “youngsters” may have completely upended the way we think about marketing. The latest social media marketing statistics are certainly worth examining, and if you're one of the holdouts who has not created a TikTok account, you are definitely going to want to create an account and get up to speed fast. 

TikTok’s Phenomenal Growth

If your primary knowledge of TikTok has been filtered through major news networks and the government, you could be forgiven for thinking that TikTik was a foreign-owned web app popular with adolescent kids with too much time and not enough adult supervision. After all, this curmudgeonly “get off my lawn” messaging has dominated the official narrative since the popular Chinese app first entered the U.S. market in 2018. If you haven’t experienced TikTok for yourself, do yourself a favor and give it a spin. Just be forewarned, a quick visit to check out TikTok can easily turn into an hour or more of scrolling for even the most disciplined of adults. 

That is precisely why TikTok deserves our attention. The U.S. is a subsidiary market for TikTik creators and Byte Dance. Because of that, the analytics data on the app’s performance has been slow to trickle out and too sparse to draw any concrete conclusions. We have only had access to robust data since 2020 and have only recently been able to assess the app’s true performance. What we have learned is a game changer for those looking to market to the younger generations, especially Gen Z. 

Many Americans still hold the mistaken view that TikTok is a kid’s app geared toward adolescents and teens. While the platform’s audience does generally skew heavily toward the under-40 crowd, 31% of TikTok’s global audience is now in the 25 to 34-year-old age cohort and well into adulthood. Eighteen to 24-year-olds make up the next largest demographic. The app and its audience are all grown up. But TikTok’s aging audience is not the news here, it's the behavior of this particular cohort that has lit a fire in the marketing community. 

TikTok’s Unique Audience 

It is no secret that Gen Z has a dramatically different approach to commerce and industry than previous generations, but they have not yet had enough runway to make any significant changes to the status quo…or so we thought. It turns out that this younger cohort has already remodeled the relationship between businesses and consumers in the online marketplace, and this is where Gen Z is spending its dollars on everything from weeknight dinners to vacations, clothing, and entertainment. 

This is where it gets interesting. Reports show that 36% of Gen Z  and  22% of millennials now seek out short-form video content on TikTok to help them make buying decisions. This means that brands who are counting on tapping into the buying power of these two generations will need to pivot and reorient their marketing strategy to fit TikTok’s engaging, low-pressure content marketing style. 

TikTok Content Marketing Strategy

Spend less than 15 minutes scrolling TikTok and you will see dozens of short-form videos of everything from viral dance routines to serious news reporting and calls for activism. What you won’t see is obvious advertisements breaking up the flow of the content. You won’t hear creators interrupting their content to recite dry sales scripts provided by their sponsors. TikTok takes a decidedly different approach to advertising. Businesses are plentiful on the platform, and TikTok has an entire division — TikTok for Business — dedicated to aiding businesses in launching and managing advertising campaigns on the app. 

So where are the advertisements? They are built right into the content.

TikTok users want to interact with the brands they like on a peer-to-peer level. They want to know who the brand is, they want to see the staff acting silly, and they want to know the owner is a part of the same fandom that they are. In short, TikTok users want to do business with people they know. 

This is a dramatic shift from the traditional marketing sales funnel and aggressive marketing messaging that has been the standard for generations. Here’s the crucial takeaway from the most recent social media data reports: this new style is working. In fact, it’s doing more than just working, it is producing better results than traditional marketing strategies. 

The latest data shows that TikTok users were 27% more likely to exhibit strong brand recognition after interacting with the brand’s organic content versus being shown paid advertising, and short video content with brief mentions of the brand offer (six seconds or less) were more persuasive than longer advertisements that “sold" the offer for 20 seconds or more. 

Even more compelling, Material reports that TikTok users are more likely to be in the know about the latest trends and brand offers long before those who don’t use the platform. Market Cast reports that a full 71% of respondents who took action on an offer credit their interaction on TikTok with guiding their decision to commit to a purchase. 

This means that your brand content marketing strategy for TikTok is no marketing strategy at all. TikTok users are looking for brands that can be a part of their community. They want to see you being silly, and they want to hear what you really think about current events. They don’t want an authority figure or an aggressive sales pitch. These traditional tactics will send them right into the arms of your competitors. They need to see the real you, and the real team that makes your brand work. 

The idea of setting aside the carefully crafted brand identity and the carefully sanitized persona is not going to be easy for many who have been trained in the standard business marketing model. In fact, being authentic and open can be downright terrifying in our society. 

Fortunately, TikTok seems to be aware that connecting with an audience on a human level would be challenging for many business owners. 

Their TikTok for Business department provides the “boot-camp-style” TikTok Ads Manager to teach brands the ins and outs of being human and taking the time to develop an organic relationship with their audience rather than striving to “close the deal.” 

TikTok Ads Manager

TikTok Ads Manager provides all the familiar tools that marketers will need to set up and track a brand marketing campaign. The guidance and instructions found here will feel far more familiar to most traditional brand marketers. You will recognize most of the options like ad spending budget, campaign objective, audience targeting, and KPI tracking that you would find on Facebook Ads or the Pinterest for Business platform.  

But you will also find plenty of video instruction from top TikTok performers teaching you how to craft entertaining, professional video content to maximize audience engagement.

Audience Engagement Tips

The most important takeaway from this article should be the realization that traditional marketing “tips & tricks” are out, and building a genuine human connection is in. Still, we know that this is a big adjustment and there is going to be a learning curve. 

Here are a few tips that you can use to jump-start your audience engagement in TikTok and make it a bit easier to make new friends. 

Trending Hashtags

Trending hashtags are one of the simplest ways to draw attention to your brand and your content. Attaching a popular hashtag to your TikTok posts gets them shared with a much broader audience, naturally boosting audience engagement. 

TikTok Challenges

TikTok challenges are incredibly popular. Participating in these fun challenges is a great way to showcase your team’s personality and unique “skills.” It also highlights your willingness to be an active participant in the community. 

Interactive Features

TikTok offers a variety of interactive features designed to ease introductions and build audience engagement. The "duet" feature lets you create a split-screen video featuring yourself interacting with another user’s content. The “stitch” feature lets you remix another user’s content. Most content creators are thrilled to be acknowledged, and both them and their followers will often repay the favor by showcasing your content or giving your brand a friendly shout-out. 

The New Normal

Use one or more of these tools to get your foot in the door and make those first crucial connections. Just remember, the secret to mastering brand marketing on TikTok is ultimately to master the art of being yourself, building authentic relationships with your audience, and allowing sales to happen naturally. 

The marketing world is changing and this new way of doing business is likely to become the norm over the next decade. Mastering authenticity now will put you far ahead of the curve in the future.

Written by Mercedes Holmes.

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