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How marketers can work with communities on TikTok to create work that is authentic and in tune with culture to maximise brands’ presence on the platform

TikTok experts discussed innovative strategies for keeping digital marketing fresh and effective, at the Contagious Villa in Cannes on 20 June.

Kinney Edwards, global head of Creative Lab, kicked off the session. Later, he was joined by Erika Lewis, head of cultural partnerships at TikTok, and creator Josh Williford, aka The Rapping Chef (@therappingchef), for a panel discussion on how brands can unlock the power of TikTok’s For You feed.

Edwards began by discussing how traditional 60-second TV ads are no longer sufficient and brands must create much more content to meet demands. While TikTok started as a platform for dancing and lip-syncing, primarily catering to Gen Z, the pandemic amplified its role, turning it into a space for creativity and community engagement.

He said, ‘There are more ways to create than ever before and more ways to actually connect with users, with prospective customers, with communities, but we've got to be really smart about it.’

Edwards stressed that TikTok should be seen as an entertainment platform that delivers content based on user interests. It’s a platform where culture drives content and brands have an opportunity to listen to and leverage this culture to become part of it.

To illustrate his point, Edwards used Grimace’s Birthday campaign by McDonald’s. ‘They listened to the community, they listened to what was happening in culture, they understood the assignment, they understood that it wasn't their job to tell people what they didn't want, what they want, what they shouldn't do. [...] they needed to allow the community and the culture to prevail.’

He noted that communities on TikTok influence how we do things, and brands must play into these interests – they need to tap into what's happening within the community and what people are saying.

Edwards expressed that now, brands are equals to the community but it’s the marketers’ job to help shape and give them things to do. The mindset needed to approach this differs from the linear TVC cut-down-only world to creating for the platform. He said, ‘We have to think about it full-funnel, not just awareness, not just conversion, but everything in between. TikTok can do that… When it comes to discovery, I'm looking for something new, I'm looking for something I'm kind of interested in or a different flavour of a different dimension of it. What does that look like?’

Campaigns from the likes of Amazon Prime, Hellmann’s and Walmart were also noted for leveraging TikTok for value-driven content and sparking diverse community engagement through creative video content.

During the panel discussion, the experts discussed what creative bravery means to them. From a creator's perspective, Williford said, ‘To me [creative bravery] means doing something unapologetically. Knowing that you're going to be critiqued, everyone's not going to like it, but also knowing that that comes with the territory.’

Edwards shared that marketers and advertisers can learn from this by being intentional with their work and creating work because they’re passionate about it, taking a stance even if they might be afraid to fail. ‘The thing that I love to see is people fail, but they also try a variety of things and that's what you have to do. You're not going to knock it out of the park every single time. So if you're intentional about what you're trying to do, and you keep trying, then eventually you're going to hit the note that everyone's going to align to,’ Edwards added.

The panel highlighted that the key is to lean into co-creation and that working with a creator opens the aperture for thinking and leads to truth because real people can offer brands real points of view.

Similarly, Lewis emphasised that a bit of bravery is about getting uncomfortable. When working with creators, it can be tempting for brands to make many edits and strip the creator’s originality, but Lewis encouraged marketers to lean into parts of the content that would usually be revised. ‘There's a lot of respect for just being authentic and being true,’ she said.

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