How Brands Are Winning on TikTok

By Salvatore Ciolfi July 23, 2020

The How Brands are Winning on TikTok panel discussion, the latest in BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series, took place on July 22nd, and thousands of professionals tuned in to learn how leading brands have adopted the world’s fastest-growing social media platform. 

You can watch the full panel discussion here:

In Q1 of 2020, TikTok was downloaded more than 315 million times worldwide, which is the best quarter ever recorded by any app. 

The platform is known for its unique style of video – including dancing and voiceover comedy – and has become a key channel for digital marketers to reach Gen Z customers. Much of its growth is down to its simplicity – it is arguably the easiest social media platform to use when it comes to video editing, using music, and adding filters – and the fact that’s impossible to put down; TikTok’s algorithms quickly learn user preferences by capturing likes, comments, and time spent on each video. 

But as with any new social media platform, there is a steep learning curve for brands hoping to create content that feels natural and engages users. And when attempting to connect with the most media-savvy generation in history, this can be trickier than ever before.

Here are some of the ways leading brands are building their brand on TikTok.

Create for TikTok

Chipotle was the first restaurant to partner with TikTok in the U.S., and the brand has been praised for its use of the platform through campaigns like the #GuacChallenge and #ChipotleLidFlip. 

The latter was a “challenge” that asked TikTok fans to dance to a song by Dr. Jean about guacamole. The campaign was successful because it felt organic and natural to the platform, mixing music, dancing, pop culture, and a sense of silliness. 

“We were the first restaurant brand to do a hashtag challenge, and 59 thousand people ended up doing the lid flip,” said Candice Beck, Senior Manager, Social and Digital Marketing at Chipotle, explaining that the brand has also run TikTok-specific campaigns on National Burrito Day, among others. “We often find pretty big success when we can align a brand moment with a cultural moment like that,” she said.  

Chipotle’s efforts have paid off; they now have more than 800 thousand followers and 11 million likes on TikTok.

“We get so much more engagement on TikTok than other social channels. It’s by far a priority channel for us,” said Beck, explaining that her team has daily 15-minute meetings to discuss content for the platform. 

“People are really coming to TikTok right now for happy content. I go there to get some of that uplighting, fun, user content that’s been necessary to bring a bit of joy recently…we’re using our channels pretty similarly. We’re not using organic presence for PR so much, even driving new products. We’re taking insights that we’ve learned from the platform itself and applying that every time we share a new piece of content.”

Jason Berk, Head of Social and Digital at Sid Lee, believes this is the best approach when it comes to developing a content strategy for TikTok.

“What I constantly tell [clients] is you cannot repurpose your content from other platforms on TikTok. Not only will not work; it’ll backfire. It needs to be quick, relevant content as well. There needs to be a willingness to move fast,” he said.  

Understand What TikTok Is

You might think TikTok is nothing but teenage girls lip-syncing in their rooms, but according to Berk, you would be mistaken. 

“Tiktok is not a singular platform with a reputation, it’s a lot of different communities and a lot of different people talking in a lot of different ways…I think that’s the reason why it’s become this de-facto trend factory. Once something goes big in a community, it catches fire and everyone supports that,” Berk said. 

Kaleb Ruel, Head of US Consumer Marketing at Spotify, explains that this trend-setting ability makes TikTok stand out from other media platforms.  

“TikTok is a place where we go to participate in that cultural narrative, and success looks a lot different in that sense. We’re not looking at the same media metrics and bottom line impact on the business,” he said, adding that Spotify has seen success mixing organic and paid media. 

“The biggest lesson for us is that when you have a TikTok challenge alone it’s fantastic, but when you have a challenge that’s coupled with other harder driving media, like larger ad placements that are more marquee, that’s when we see the highest impact.”

Focus on Authenticity 

Another way TikTok has stood out from the crowd is for the supposed “realness” of its content. 

“Instagram is hyper-filtered and the content that brands partner with there tends to be as well. TikTok tends to be the complete opposite. I’d say authentic and raw are common terms that I hear,” Ruel said.

Berk agrees. 

“There’s a lot of realness on TikTok – like the LGTBT community coming out and talking about their stories. That creates solidarity and it’s a little more serious, it unites a community,” he said, adding that this creates an unvarnished, safe place. “On Instagram you have to look your best, you have to be the prettiest, you have to be the envy of your circle of friends. On TikTok, it’s a little safer to show some of your fears and concerns and losses and some of these universal emotions.” 

TikTok may, therefore, feel riskier than other platforms from a brand’s perspective. 

“I don’t think every brand belongs on TikTok. I think you really have to know your brand ethos and what you stand for and how you stand for it. The ones that do a good job are unapologetic about being there,” Ruel said. 

The most successful brands on TikTok are also vigilant about keeping up with trends. 

“The team is constantly mining for UGC about Chipotle, new trends, new insights, specifically on TikTok…we’re looking for any new posts from other users that we can comment on or anything we should repost or a trend we should consider. So, we’re in deep,” Beck said, adding that this shouldn’t scare brands away. 

“Get on there experiment, see what your followers like. […] Don’t be intimidated by creating the perfect video; we’ve found a lot of success with some of our comments on other people’s posts about Chipotle. It’s not about creating the perfect TikTok that meets Gen Z’s liking.” 

For Berk, it all comes down to remembering what you’re trying to do: make videos to connect and have some fun. 

“Make the channels and start putting videos out. A lot of people on my team have become pseudo influencers…It doesn’t cost a lot to make these kinds of videos, so I would say just do it.”