TikTok is here to stay. What was once seen as just-a-Gen-Z-app is now an all-inclusive, explosively growing cultural supernova with over 1 billion users. And Brand marketers are rightfully joining in the fun. TikTok marketing now is an opportunity like Facebook marketing was back in 2009-2010.
Don’t miss the boat.
A strong TikTok marketing strategy can give your brand extraordinary exposure, help disseminate your brand voice, weave your brand into the fabric of popular culture, and bring in a ton of new customers.
But TikTok is its own world, and to be successful, you have to understand the world.
First: why eCommerce brands are embracing TikTok marketing
The early eComm adopters of TikTok hopped on in 2019 and 2020. But it wasn't until 2022 that brands started going all-in once marketers started realizing that TikTok offers a great mix of organic reach and powerful ad targeting (that isn’t too expensive).
TikTok is the Fastest-growing Social Media Platform
TikTok has seen immense growth in the last few years. In the first half of 2021 alone, TikTok was downloaded 383 million times. As of 2022, TikTok has a billion active users worldwide, which is larger than Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest:
Additionally, TikTok users have high engagement levels.
- On average, users spend 52 minutes per day on the app
- A typical user opens TikTok 8 times per day
- 90% of TikTok users open TikTok every day
TikTok ad costs are more cost effective than Facebook
Facebook ads are still a part of a balanced ad budget, but there's no doubt the ad costs and unreliable targeting have decimated advertising efforts. With the iOS updates that make hyper-targeted advertising nearly impossible, brands are shifting their budgets toward other channels.
Compared to Facebook, TikTok has lower CPMs: TikTok CPMs start around 10 dollars, and Facebook’s CPMs are about 40% higher as of the middle of 2022. This allows for more cost-effective testing as you begin marketing on the platform.
TikTok isn't just for Gen Z
There's a widespread misconception that TikTok is only for Gen Z. While 43% of TikTok's users are Gen Z, 32% are Millennials. And the remaining 25% are made up of Gen X and older demographics. With an increase in diverse demographics expected over time, there's a high chance your audience is on TikTok.
TikTok Shopping makes it easier to sell products
TikTok is making serious investments with eCommerce platforms to offer shopping features while using the app—TikTok understands that in-app trends lead to purchases (just look at the “Feta Effect”!).
Although this feature is still in its pilot stages, we expect TikTok to introduce full-featured shopping capabilities in late 2022 (we’ll be keeping this updated to reflect TikTok’s changes). Here are a couple current features worth testing:
- Product Links: Brands can highlight products directly from a TikTok video, sending users to product detail pages on their website. This is similar to Instagram's product tags and stickers.
- LIVE shopping feature: This allows brands on TikTok to run livestreams and share links to products and services while the content is live.
Getting started as a brand: How to create a TikTok Business Account
To get launched, you need to set up a TikTok business account. A business account gives you access to analytics, commercial music licenses, and additional features.
Here's how to set up a TikTok business account.
If you’re starting as an individual from the mobile app
- Go to your Profile page. Click on the menu in the top right, then tap Settings and privacy:
- Then, tap Manage account:
- Under Account Control, choose Switch to Business Account:
- Follow the flow and choose what category best describes your business, fill in your business information, add your website and email to your profile, and you're set:
If you’re looking to start a business account on desktop
- Head to the signup page in TikTok for Business:
- Then, follow the business setup flow, which is the same as the mobile experience
The nature of TikTok content (and thinking about how to fit in)
First and foremost, TikTok videos must be immediately engaging. Because of the quick-swipe nature of the platform, users can move to the next video with a flick of the finger. A qualification here, however, is that different videos will be more engaging to different users. A cat lover may stop their video flicking and watch a video with a cat, but an anti-cat TikToker will probably immediately move to the next video.
Past that, as an eCommerce brand, your biggest challenges are:
- Figuring out where you can fit in terms of video categories
- Creating both organic content and ads
- Maintaining an awareness of what is culturally expected and relevant
Video categories on TikTok
Broadly, TikTok videos fall into several categories (where there can be a bit of overlap, depending on the content):
- Dance and/or lip sync videos: These are what made TikTok famous. Users improvise or perform choreographed dances, and/or they lip sync to songs in the background.
- Reaction videos: TikTok allows users to record a video over another video, where they can “react,” i.e., provide feedback/commentary/humor to the initial content.
- Mini-Vlogs/Day in the Life videos: These can be travel vlogs, any other experiential vlogs (e.g., a trip to a museum, event, etc.), or a typical daily experience for someone
Here’s an example of a mini-vlog/day in the life video by Harper Wilde (click photo for video link):
- “Satisfying” videos: This is a quirky category that plays on people feeling comforted or reassured by completeness, precision/exactness, or particular textures and/or sounds. These videos can include experts showing off how good they are at something (e.g., a potter making a perfectly symmetrical vase or a cook rapidly cutting a cucumber into a hundred paper-thin slices), to popping perfectly spherical ice cubes out of a mold, to someone using a power washer to clean an filthy wall.
Here’s an example of a “satisfying” video with tens of millions of views (click photo for video link):
- Animal-based content: Pets, wildlife, zoos, and anything else featuring our mammalian brethren and sistren
- Fashion and Beauty videos: Outfits, makeup tutorials, fashion shows, cultural dress, general tips
- Other general content: There is a broad “other” category, which covers everything from cooking videos, to fitness content, to comedy sketches or routines, to people sharing stories and/or venting, DIY building or crafts, room/house decor ideas, and much more.
- TikTok Live: People doing any of the above RIGHT NOW!
(Note: The above breakdown is subjective and a non-comprehensive list.)
On your end, think about where you fit in. For example, do you make products for pets or animals? If you don’t, you may not necessarily want to try to force a cute animal into a video. Is something about your product or its production “satisfying”? How can you showcase that? If you’re a makeup brand, is there a really fantastic tutorial for a particular look that you can show off in a short video?
What umbrella(s) do you or could you fall under?
Organic TikTok content vs. TikTok ads
We’ll cover TikTok Ads types later in this article, but we recommend building a TikTok marketing strategy around both a consistent organic content stream as well as a spending strategy to show those videos to chosen audiences in the platform. So, we recommend that you think about how to create good videos first, rather than good ads.
Cultural awareness & keeping up with the TikTokTimes
A key theme in many TikTok videos is authenticity, whether they’re ads or not. Think less about highly produced TV or YouTube ads that can cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and more about a person with an iPhone camera being compelling, down to earth, or showing something captivating.
We won’t be overly prescriptive, but a couple main ideas to keep in mind are:
- Keep the sound on: Almost all TikTok videos have sound (or music) of some sort, even if it’s just the sound of a stream in the woods.
- Trends: TikTok trends, jokes, and memes have a short half life. You probably don’t want to drink milk that’s been sitting in the fridge for three weeks—likewise, you don’t want to make a video on a trend that’s a month old. As a brand, you don’t want to take a big swing at a joke but launch the video after the JokeShip has sailed.
With these fast moving trends Tik tok creative (ads especially) die out much faster than other channels. Volume is much more important for this channel than highly produced content.
We’ve set the stage a bit, but let’s go a lot deeper on TikTok culture—and within it, places for brands like yours.
A deep dive on TikTok culture: understanding your potential customers and audiences on TikTok
Running with our theme of organic content’s importance on the ‘Tok, we want to thoroughly cover TikTok culture and how non-ads you create can fit neatly into the TikTokverse (ads will be the next major topic).
As we mentioned at the top of this piece—you should be thinking about how to weave your brand into the fabric of TikTok culture rather than putting out glaringly obvious and/or incongruous ads that users are going to skip over (and cost you money in the process).
So, let’s examine the fabric.
TikTok Interests, niches, sub-niches, and how your brand can fit into each
Thinking about your customers in terms of high-level demographic data and general interests can be a starting point. But to be truly successful on TikTok, you have to research (i.e., watch) more content, and therefore spend a lot of time on the app.
TikTok has well-developed and rapidly evolving interest categories with unique in-app cultures, video styles, and humor. The interests break down into more specific interest categories (just as they do in reality), which also have their own unique (and well-developed) in-app cultures, video styles, and humor.
As with any marketing, the better you can get at understanding, talking to, and blending in with each group, the better, particularly in terms of the more specific interest categories.
To facilitate your research and planning, we put together a simple framework to categorize what you’ll see in the app: an interest and engagement vertical.
If they use TikTok enough, users will eventually be presented content around the most specific interests they have, which we’re referring to as sub-niches. Tiktok does this:
- Based on the content users watch more of (as opposed to skip by)
- Based on the creators the user follows
- Based on the content they engage with (like, share, comment on)
- Through user searches in Discover
So, TikTok users who happen to really dig mushroom foraging will at some point regularly see content around mushroom foraging in their TikTok feed. Over time, they’ll be presented with content from other sub-niches, too, which they will more likely fully consume (i.e., watch to completion, or watch repeatedly).
Sub-niche content is what users watch that allows them to beautifully nerd out to the max, just as we all do in our own particular ways.
The sub-niche content can be about anything (The TikTok content universe is vast and reflects the breadth and depth of international cultures and interests. We chose mushroom foraging, but we could mention videos about anything: sports bra reviews, fountain pen testing, filling glasses with sand, experimentation with cocktail bitters, making maple syrup, painting restoration, ASMR…really, anything!).
Besides their sub-niche content, they’ll also likely see content related to each broader interest category within the particular sub-niche vertical.
So, these fungi enthusiasts will also see content on foraging at a broader level, and likely something related, such as organic farming: these categories are among their niches. Relative to their sub-niches, their niches are a broader interest, and if they see content about them, they’ll still be quite likely to watch, though perhaps not quite as likely as their sub-niche.
And so on up the line.
On the TikTok marketing end, it’s your job to identify and map out where your brand fits in within these verticals, by thinking most broadly, and then mapping out increasing levels of specificity.
By identifying niches and sub-niches that you fit into, you can create highly-targeted and high-engagement content that folks will consume and follow your account for.
Although the example of mushroom foraging might seem random and silly to some, consider the possibilities for showing organic use of a product. If you’re in the woods foraging for mushrooms, you’re…
- Probably tromping around on moist leaves and unstable ground: you don’t want to twist an ankle, so you need good boots, or waterproof shoes combined with ankle supports, or even a knee sleeve to avoid injury on dangerous terrain.
- Probably in need of something like a towel or brush to wipe off dirty mushrooms.
- Probably wearing a backpack to carry hiking snacks, and other hiking gear, like a thermos or water bottle, a grat flashlight, a knife to pare the rotten or inedible parts off mushrooms, or even a sleeping bag and tent.
- Probably carrying your mushrooms in some kind of bag. But what about a semi-porous basket or carrying case? This allows picked mushrooms to release spores as you walk along and replace what you foraged.
That’s a non-exhaustive list, and there are a dozen and a half potential products that could be highlighted in this sub-niche. How many knife manufacturers would otherwise consider making a video that shows someone talking about how helpful a particular knife is at paring mushrooms in the woods?
By seriously learning about interest verticals, you’re bound to find dozens of potential use cases on TikTok.
TikTok helps you out by providing the broadest interest categories when you sign up for the app:
The next steps are to choose those that relate to your brand, start watching videos, and explore.
Things to be tracking closely:
- Language used by content creators
- Memes and jokes
- Video effects
- Color schemes highlighted
- Sounds and music (or intentional lack thereof)
Going even deeper into TikTok with aesthetics: what they are, how they work, and how they can help your TikTok marketing
The broad-interest-to-sub-niche spectrum is one way that you can start to tackle the seeming limitlessness of TikTok, but an equally important research area is on aesthetics.
To which you may reasonably reply, “What are you talking about?”
Answer: In the broadest sense, an aesthetic is a visual category (photo, artwork, graphic, piece of writing, illustration, video) that captures, creates, or evokes a mood, feeling, or preference.
To which you may reasonably reply, “Make this make sense.”
Answer: a few well-known aesthetics are cyberpunk, goth, and afrofuturism.
- Cyberpunk: Blade Runner, grungy dystopias, neon lights, or endless and twisted cityscapes
- Goth: dark clothes, dark makeup, fashion accessories such as chains, and bands like The Cure and Joy Division
- Afrofuturism: Black Panther (movie, and comics), science fiction authors such as Octavia Butler, musicians like Sun Ra or Black Thought of The Roots
In practice, someone’s “aesthetic” might be referred to as such, or it could be more vaguely and casually called a “vibe,” “style,” “look.”
Now, let’s bring ourselves back to TikTok marketing…
TikTok is a haven for the creative expression of aesthetics, and there are hundreds of aesthetics out there. In the same way that you may never have thought of your brand (or a brand you like) being potentially associated with mushroom foraging, you may find an aesthetic or multiple aesthetics that your products can slot right into.
Here’s an example of a TikTok video that elegantly captures an aesthetic called Cozycore (also referred to by several names, but we’re going to keep it to the one):
In this video…
- The music is soft and nearly faraway (like a record player on low on the opposite side of the room)
- It’s a rainy day
- There is only candlelight, and there are multiple kinds of candles
- There’s a lot of wood decor
- There are crystals
- The content creator is drinking hot cocoa or a latte
- She’s reading
- She’s set up a comfy sitting space, with a fuzzy blanket and pillows
How many products are or could be related to this 15 second video?
Based on this single video, you can probably extrapolate and fill in what else is associated with Cozycore: the fall, weekends, relaxation, quiet, de-stressing, self-care, comforting food and drinks.
Consider this visualization:
We picked 4 broad interest categories (Food/Drink, DIY/Home Decor, Pets, and Fashion) and about 30 products related to those categories and Cozycore as an aesthetic. Again, this is not an exhaustive example.
If you can create organic content that accurately captures the Cozycore aesthetic while highlighting your products, you’re winning. You’re building the association between the products and the aesthetic. TikTok users will follow you for the content they love, and check out your brand so that they can achieve the Cozycore aesthetic for themselves.
For some other inspiration, here are some aesthetic rabbit holes to go down:
- Light Academia
- Dark Academia
- Styles by Decade
Now, with these TikTok culture & organic content ideas in mind, let’s move on to…
Types of TikTok Ads and how to use them
TikTok offers an ever-expanding list of ad formats you can run. For most eCommerce brands, the first category of ads we cover, In-feed ads, are going to be the most financially accessible. However, we’ll run through the other major categories of ads, too.
In-feed ads appear on TikTokers’ video feeds: users see them as they are flicking through videos. The three ad formats include image ads, video ads, and spark ads.
- An image ad is a timed still single frame (.JPG and .PNG supported), and you can send users to a CTA screen, or have a CTA pop-up at the bottom.
- A video ad has a maximum length of 60 seconds, though TikTok recommends keeping ads between 9 and 15 seconds. Below is an still from a video ad produced by vegan food brand Camp with the product front and center as well as a clear CTA (this is more like a short TV or YouTube ad), driving people to purchase:
On the other hand, the ad below, from Windows, uses an organic-style video, though it still has a CTA at the bottom (“Learn More”):
- A spark ad is TikTok’s version of a boosted post or image on Facebook/Instagram. Spark ads allow brands to use their own videos (often successful ones), or a content creator’s videos. To pair with a content creator and leverage their content for an ad, you connect with them in the TikTok Creator Marketplace.
Below is an example from underwear brand Parade leveraging UGC in a spark ad, also showing the flow from the ad to a CTA page:
In-feed ads use cases: All three in-feed ads are going to be worth testing, and they are likely going to be the ads most accessible to non-enterprise brands. In-feed ads start at $10 per CPM, though sources vary, and report lower CPMs, such as around $6, though this may vary based on your audience, your content, and your brand. We recommend the use of spark ads, because they’re the best way to leverage great organic content on TikTok in ad form: again, that content can be your own, or someone else’s.
TopView ads appear at the top of a user's For You Page for when they open TikTok, and they appear only once per day.
TopView ads allow your ad to be up to 60 seconds long, and they offer an immersive viewing experience without any other competing content. Rightfully so, TikTok calls TopView “TikTok’s biggest billboard.”
TopView ads use cases: TopView ads are great for increasing brand awareness because they guarantee a broad reach and a high number of impressions. They tend to be engaging and polished videos that leave your viewers with a lasting impression.
In that sense, they stand in stark opposition to much of TikTok’s content, but that works to their benefit: they seriously stand out.
TopView ads are generally used by huge brands with correspondingly huge ad budgets: think Mercedes-Benz, M&Ms, and McDonalds (those three M-brands were not intentional, but we’ll leave them). They are more like TV ads, in that they tend to be polished and well-produced, and they’re often flashy.
Brands can create hashtags that TikTokers use in videos. The goal for brands is to leverage UGC (User-Generated Content). For example, computer brand Lenovo created the hashtag #LENOVOJUSTBEYOU:
Since it was launched, 32.4M videos have been created using this hashtag, which means that Lenovo has gotten an enormous amount of exposure from the hashtag.
Branded hashtags can appear in three places:
- In-feed: users will see content creators’ videos where the hashtag is used, and these videos will crop up organically
- At the top of the Discover page (pictured): an image featuring the hashtag is shown as one of the images in a carousel of options
- Within the Discover page (also pictured): the most-trending hashtags show up here, and in this case, Lenovo’s is popular enough to be trending.
Branded hashtag use cases: As with TopView ads, branded ads tend to be used by enterprise brands (Lenovo is worth over $10B) to promote UGC and enormous brand or campaign awareness building via the hashtag.
Brand Takeovers let one brand per day get a serious spotlight in TikTok. Brands can leverage all of the above ad formats and get an extreme level of exposure in front of millions of users.
GUESS, for example, did a brand takeover to promote a hashtag:
The results were impressive: they gained over 12k new followers, had a 14.3% engagement rate, and a 16.5% clickthrough rate.
Brand takeover use cases: Brand takeovers also tend to be used by enterprise brands with deep pockets, and can run brands $50k/day.
They are used in a variety of ways: to promote hashtags (as GUESS did), new products or product lines, lifestyle marketing pushes, movements and social causes, and more.
The next step: how to create a TikTok ad campaign
Depending on the type of ad campaign you want to run, creating an ad may require using the TikTok ads manager or speaking to a TikTok representative.
The steps outlined below apply to ad types like in-feed ads, which you can create entirely on your own, using your content or UGC (with consent).
Create an Ads Campaign
Once you’re in the dashboard, create your ads campaign by clicking Create an Ad. You’ll be given the option to choose between Simplified Mode and Custom Mode.
True to its name, Simplified Mode makes it easy to create ads with a step-by-step experience to get your campaign up and running. But both modes actually function the same–they just look different. So feel free to choose the mode you prefer.
Set Your TikTok Ad Placements, Details, and Targeting
Here, you’ll choose your targeting placement, promotion type, audience targets, and other details. When you’re just starting out, we recommend starting out by using TikTok’s automatic ad placement (called Automatic Audience), as TikTok’s algorithm is great at targeting:
However, if you’re more comfortable with Audiences to target, you can add custom dimensions (targetable dimensions shown in table below):
You can also set campaign objectives: video views, reach, traffic, lead gen, app installs, and conversions.
Set Your Ad Spend & Duration
TikTok Ads can get expensive if you don’t control your spending limit. You have the option of choosing a Daily Budget or a Lifetime Budget (we highly recommend choosing a Daily Budget):
Note: In-Feed ads have a minimum budget of $500.
Design Your Ad Using TikTok’s Video Creation Kit
TikTok has easy-to-use video creation tools users can leverage to create content for their audience. Just remember that your images or videos must meet predetermined specifications before you can launch a campaign on the platform:
Some hot tips on ad specs:
- Aspect ratios: 9:16, 16:9, or 1:1
- Supported file types: .mp4, .mov, .3gp, .avi, .mpeg
- Video size: less than 500MB
Wrapping up: a couple bonus TikTok marketing tips
Use challenges to engage with your audience
Challenges are an enduringly popular element of TikTok culture: one user challenging another to do something (e.g., “do 100 bodyweight squats in a row”), to a hashtag that is centered around a challenge, or a company challenging its audience to do something. That said, challenges also don’t necessarily have to be challenges (what?).
They can be ways to participate in the community: they’re trends to take part in, or mass participation events.
For example, Feastables, ran a golden ticket campaign where a lucky winner has a shot at competing to win a chocolate factory. Yes, we’re serious.
While we’re not saying (nor suggesting) that you have to run a Willy Wonka-style giveaway in your challenges, they can be a great way to drive engagement.
Create Content Suggested by Your Followers
It feels great to be "seen." You can make your followers feel special by asking them what types of content they want to see (in effect, this is a form of zero-party data). It makes your brand seem more relatable and further increases engagement, boosting your chances of being seen by other users.
Here's an example from Death Wish Coffee. They regularly post videos of them mixing their coffee with other drinks as suggested by the comments in their previous posts.
With that, we’re done.
Thank you for reading our TikTok marketing guide.
For more on the creators of this content: we’re Daasity, the eCommerce data and analytics platform for the fastest-growing consumer product brands. Our customers leverage Daasity to centralize all their data, which gives them a head start in planning their marketing campaigns and preparing to scale their business.
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