Trend App TikTok – How Brands Can Prepare for the New SnapChat

Talking about TikTok, there are often two more names in the same breath: Musical.ly and Douyin. And indeed, all three are closely related. Forerunners for the rapid rise of TikTok and Douyin was the success of the Lip Sync app Musical.ly.

In short videos, users called “muses” move their lips in sync to a song of their choice. The app particularly inspired teens and prompted the Chinese provider ByteDance to bring the competition app Douyin on the market.

The imitator buys the original

Initially more or less a copy of Musical.ly, Douyin quickly evolved into a broader short video app. In addition to Lip Sync videos, Chinese users were also able to upload numerous other short videos, with gigantic success: within a year, the number of Douyin users grew from around 13 million to 263 million.

From January to May 2018 alone, the number of active users increased by 275%. In America and Europe ByteDance uses TikTok on a western branded version of Douyin.

In terms of content, the two overlap strongly, but there are also exclusive regional contents. Targeting is also adapted to the respective target markets. In the US, the app recently overtook the established platforms YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook for the number of downloads.

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The fact that TikTok was able to gain a foothold so fast is not least due to the fact that Musical.ly has been part of the TikTok cosmos since August 2018: For a billion dollars, the Lip Sync app was bought by the former imitator and, together with its 100 million users, completely in TikTok integrated.

Digital marketing on TikTok: China demonstrates it

TikTok offers great potential for Western companies, especially among young target groups. The official minimum age is 13 years, the majority of the users is under 23. Nevertheless, most companies have not dealt with the topic or are hesitant. Already at Snapchat, the last big youth hype, one had rather burnt the fingers – also because of missing role models.

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That could be different with TikTok: If you want to find out how digital marketing can work on the platform, you just have to take a look at the Chinese counterpart Douyin. Chinese and Western brands have been experimenting with different communication and cooperation approaches for some time now. From their mistakes and successes, marketing experts in this country can draw valuable conclusions.

The experiences of straight western brands are so far mixed. A prime example of successful Douyin marketing is often Adidas Neo, the young lifestyle brand of the well-known sportswear manufacturer: Million followers recorded the channel currently. The brand’s short videos work with celebrities from the entertainment industry. Dressed in Adidas Neo, for example, a well-known Chinese actor drones with neon thugs in the air – and the fans are thrilled.

The example also shows how difficult it is to catch the attention of Douyin users. A first campaign brought in more than a million Likes in February, the third impact in June just over 3,000. This experience had to make the Chinese luxury retailer Secoo.

In a hashtag campaign, users and popular influencers (called KOL = Key Opinion Leader in China) were gifted with luxury products in the company’s typical yellow packaging. The campaign was a hit, but tastes gradually. A similarly successful follow-up campaign is yet to come.

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Who is it worth?

Does that mean that local companies should rather stay away from TikTok? Not at all. Decisive for the success of a marketing measure is also to look at the platform and the target group closely and to tailor content to their needs. For a short video on TikTok to perform well, companies must adhere to a few principles:

  • variety: TikTok is an extremely fast platform, and the choice of content is huge. For companies, this means that they have to react quickly to trends, and long voting cycles are more of a hindrance – keyword: Real-time marketing. Also a certain joy in experimentation is needed. What works well for the first campaign gets boring on multiple repeats. Creativity is the currency with which you score on TikTok.
  • The entry counts: Videos on Douyin are no longer than 15 seconds – little time to tell an exciting story. Most important are the first three seconds. If you are not able to arouse user interest at this time, he has already scrolled on.
  • Address the target audience: TikTok users are usually under 20 years old. It is therefore important to set the tone of this target group. In addition, you should always think about how relevant your products or services are to this audience. You sell fashion or fitness products? Then you are probably right here. On the other hand, TikTok is less suitable for B2B companies – unless you want to approach apprentices in a creative way.

Cooperation yes – but how?

Companies have different options to get active on TikTok. A separate account is worthwhile, especially for industries that are very relevant to the target group and that can deliver continuously appealing and varied content. Conceivable here are, for example, the tourism industry, but also food products or consumer electronics.

Fashion and beauty themes with a creative twist are also very popular with TikTok users. Hashtags like #tshoechange are popular: more than 300 million users post videos under this challenge, in which they quickly present a whole range of different shoes and outfits.

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Even make-up challenges on specific topics are well received: In the #lipchallenge the users distribute their lipstick to the beat of the music – only by lip movements and over 400 million times. In such cases, co-operation with influential influencers from the industry can be effective.

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Outside of their own account or cooperation with influencers, the so-called Challenges provide a tried and tested means to trigger user-generated content for their own cause. A hashtag encourages users of the app to produce their own matching videos.

The US denim and fashion label Guess was one of the first Western companies to successfully launch such a sponsored challenge on TikTok. Popular influencers and normal users showed their first disheveled and in sweatpants under the hashtag #InMyDenim and then glittered in glamorous Guess styles , After all, almost 30 million videos were posted under the hashtag.

In My Denim Before
For the #InMyDenim Challenge, fashion label Guess brought among others the influencer duo @ourfire
on board (screenshot TikTok / @ ourfire)
In My Denim After
For the #InMyDenim Challenge, fashion label Guess brought among others the influencer duo @ourfire
on board (screenshot TikTok / @ ourfire)

The variety of possibilities for creative minds was also demonstrated by fast food chain Pizza Hut. She put on her own filter, the users put on their videos and, for example, can put on the red hat of the brand. Although this campaign ran on Douyin, there is nothing wrong with developing a similar model for TikTok.

Pizza hat filter
Douyin users can use a Pizza Hut filter for their videos.

Do not miss the connection

What does all this mean for companies? First, it should be noted that the hype surrounding TikTok is far from over. This means a lot of untapped potential, but the experience to date also shows that the royal road to successful digital marketing on TikTok has not yet been found. For all uncertainty, this can also be an advantage for companies. Because compared to other established platforms, campaigns on TikTok are still relatively cheap.

This could change quickly. Already “JingDaily” reports that companies have to pay approximately 120,000 RMB (equivalent to approximately 16,000 €) for Douyin influencers with an average of one million calls. Overall, however, the influencers on this platform are still less well-known and cooperations are therefore more affordable.

Also, the prices for direct cooperation with TikTok or the switching of advertising content on the landing page have probably not yet reached the level of platforms such as Instagram. However, the type of cooperation and the targeted range are also crucial here.

Having a good TikTok strategy does not necessarily mean opening your own account in blind actionism. Instead, companies should think carefully about what goals the app can accomplish in what way – and how relevant the targeted audience is at all.

For some, this may lead to the realization that TikTok is not the right platform. However, this should be a deliberate, reasoned decision, not an attempt to endure or simply ignore the TikTok phenomenon.

For everyone else: Be brave and try out what works for your business – as long as the platform is fresh and commercial collaborations are rare. The likelihood that failure will become exponentially more expensive in the future is high.

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About the authors: Nina Blagojevic and Sven Spöde work for the communication agency Storymaker. The agency focuses on supporting technology-driven companies in the areas of PR, digital communications and content development. In addition, Storymaker is active in East Asia with a focus on China and Japan.

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