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Phoebe O'Connell

21 July 2020

TikTok means business for brands 

TikTok's head of marketing and global business solutions, Trevor Johnson, explains how brands can use TikTok For Business to connect with vast, highly-engaged audiences

‘Culture starts on TikTok,’ according to Trevor Johnson, head of marketing and global business solutions in Europe for the video sharing platform. And now so do business results: TikTok For Business, a platform for all of TikTok’s brand marketing solutions, launched last month.

Johnson delivered a talk at Contagious’ annual Bootcamp event on 14 July (I/O members can view it here) and shed some light on the opportunities TikTok represents for brands, what helps it to stand out from other social platforms, and how brands can get the best out of it.

Every platform claims to be unique, so what’s different about TikTok? ‘Everyone’s here,’ said Johnson. The platform surpassed 2 billion downloads in April this year, outperforming Instagram. ‘We’re in about 150 markets across 75 different languages. There is no video app that is available on more mobile devices – one in four TikTok users can’t be found anywhere else.’

We think that there’s nowhere else that represents culture and the zeitgeist today [like] TikTok.

Trevor Johnson, TikTok

But it’s not just about reach. TikTok is a platform for self expression, explained Johnson. It prides itself on the diversity of its creators – mostly fuelled by Gen Z and ‘the Millennial mindset’ – who directly influence popular culture. They invent the dances you’ll try out and the memes and jokes you’ll share with friends, said Johnson. ‘We think that there’s nowhere else that represents culture and the zeitgeist today [like] TikTok.’

First and foremost, TikTok is a content-driven platform. Engagement is high, and average usage is around 56 minutes a day. ‘TikTok loves good content,’ said Johnson. It’s a ‘sound-on, full-screen’ experience that brands can leverage to engage an audience that is accustomed to ad skipping and blocking. But don’t come to it with ready-made ads, he warns. TikTok For Business’ strapline is ‘Don’t make ads. Make TikToks’ – and that’s exactly what the most successful TikTok campaigns have done.

Last year US beauty brand e.l.f Cosmetics and creative agency Movers+Shakers launched #eyeslipsface, the most viral campaign ever on TikTok. The brand launched an original 15-second song on TikTok that got 4.5 billion views and was later released as a three-minute song that got 16 million streams outside TikTok. e.l.f.’s hashtag challenge (one of TikTok's signature offerings where brands ask TikTok users to film themselves doing something and tag their videos using a specific hashtag) generated almost 5 million videos in response and resulted in 1.5 billion earned media impressions.

The #eyeslipsface illustrates how brands can best utilise TikTok to engage their audiences. The platform is all about music, video, and sound, explains Johnson, which is ‘the most immediate way to create an emotional response’.

On TikTok, he said, ‘creativity rules and you can be discovered in a way you never thought possible’. Gucci is another brand that has successfully put its advertising ‘through a TikTok lens’, Johnson remarked. The luxury fashion brand has incorporated the imagery of its #accidentalInfluencer print campaign into a series of TikTok videos, in which doppelganger models don the Gucci Tennis 1977 sneakers.

TikTok For Business makes it easy to get started, Johnson told us. As well as hashtag challenges there are other units, such as TopView (the ad that appears when you first launch the TikTok app), Brand Takeovers (three to five-second ads ads in video or image format), In-Feed Ads (sound-on videos that are 15-60 seconds in length) and Branded Effects (a filter-like effect where products or brands are added to a video in a 2D, 3D or AR format).

Brands can also discover creators to partner with on TikTok’s Creator Marketplace platform – ‘creators are a core part of our proposition,’ said Johnson. He then offered some advice for brands for how to approach TikTok.

-       Leverage creators.

-       Think about how you use sound.

-       Be creative and bold. Don’t be afraid to show a different side to your brand’s personality.

-       Keep it simple and make it fun.

-       Bring elements to your brand and product to life.

-       Quality of content beats quantity of followers.

‘Do not make content to get followers,’ he concluded. ‘Make content for the emotional response.’