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TikTok 101: A Marketer’s Guide to the App Taking Gen Z By Storm

In 2009, TikTok was just a hit song by pop musician Ke$ha. Fast forward ten years, TikTok is now a viral video platform that has grasped the entire world’s attention. The short-form video app reminiscent of Vine boasts over 1.2 billion global installs and 500 million active users, surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.

As with any hot new social media platform, it’s important for marketers to build a strong presence on the app before it becomes saturated and more expensive as an acquisition channel. And as always, we’re here to help you get in early on the action.

In this blog, we will tell you everything you need to know about TikTok, including its user demographics, ad features, and examples of brands that are crushing their marketing campaigns on the platform. Let’s get started.

First things first — what is TikTok?

TikTok is the new and improved iteration of the previously popular lip-sync video app, After Chinese parent company ByteDance acquired in 2017, it rebranded to TikTok to mirror its existing short-form video app, Douyin, as a way to enter the US market last year. The company’s move seems to have paid off, as TikTok is now one of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide — and notably the only one not owned by Facebook.

Here’s how the app works. Users can film 15-second videos of themselves lip-syncing or acting out comedy sketches, and then choose from a database of songs and effects or upload their own sounds. TikTok creators can also collaborate in a “duet” by replying to another user’s video, which will split the screen and start an endless chain of reactions among their audiences. Users can simply swipe vertically to move on to the next video, or they can find freshly curated content on the “For You” section of the app.


Who’s on TikTok?

The majority of TikTok users are Gen Zers between the ages 16 and 24. This comes as no surprise, as this demographic consumes and shares more videos than any other age group. If your brand is trying to target Gen Z, TikTok is a must-explore platform.

TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app. And while most of them are on the platform to view other people’s videos, 55% are getting creative and uploading their own content to the app.

Creators on TikTok have figured out how to gain loyal followings and monetize their content. Here are some ways they have earned money on the platform:

  1. Influencer marketing: posting an #ad video in partnership with a brand
  2. Gifting: receiving a virtual currency that users can donate during live sessions
  3. Merchandising: designing and selling their own merchandise
  4. Events and partnerships: being invited by companies to be a special guest to events, music festivals, concerts, and TikTok meetups

What kind of content should you be creating on TikTok?

Gen Zers prize brands that go the extra mile to provide quality content. In fact, 82% of Gen Zers are more likely to purchase from a company that provides consistent and relevant content. So, what kind of content works best on TikTok?

Short and sweet

TikTok is designed for short-form video consumption. “Make every second count” is not only TikTok’s slogan, but also a crucial tip for marketers to grab their audiences’ attention on the platform. And because Gen Zers have an average attention span of just 8 seconds, short, yet entertaining content is the key to success on TikTok.


From the beginning, TikTok’s landscape has allowed users to easily create content by shooting directly on the app in a vertical format. Unlike YouTube, which tends to favor long-form videos with high production value, TikTok lends itself to shorter, less-polished content.

Dan Thorne, Guinness World Records’ social media manager responsible for garnering over 2.8 million followers on TikTok, echoes this statement with this advice. “Keep things authentic — not too many cuts and not too slick and polished.”

Follows hashtag challenges

Every day, TikTok releases new hashtag challenges that creators and brands can attempt to complete. Videos that are relevant to these hashtags are the ones that the algorithm favors, which means tying your content to the challenges will likely push your video onto users’ “For You” page. Below is an example of one of the trendiest hashtag challenges to date, #TheGitUpChallenge.

What kind of ad features does TikTok have?

Shoppable Ad Offerings

In April, TikTok created new shopping opportunities within the app with the launch of a couple of new ad offerings. The first allows brands to run in-feed video ads, from which users can tap on a “Shop Now” button to launch a microsite experience where they can browse and shop without leaving the app. Additionally, the company created brand takeover ads, which launch a full-page ad when users first open the app.

Source: Adweek

Both ad formats can now include links to shoppable pages hosted outside of TikTok, where brands can encourage users to purchase their products on mobile.

Sponsored Hashtag Challenge

Similar to the daily hashtag challenges created by TikTok, companies can own branded hashtag challenges that encourage users to make their own videos using the promoted hashtag. Users participate in the sponsored challenges to show off their favorite products from a brand, or take part in a viral trend.

Hashtag Challenge Plus

This e-commerce feature allows users to shop for brand products associated with a Sponsored Hashtag Challenge without leaving the app. In addition to creating and viewing videos featuring the brand’s sponsored hashtag, a separate tab features an in-app experience where products from the campaign can be purchased within TikTok itself.

How do brands market on TikTok?

Brands across all industries are experimenting with TikTok, and many of them see amazing results. Here’s how Chipotle, Kroger, Ralph Lauren, and the NFL have engaged the coveted Gen Z audience through the platform.


This past spring, Chipotle became the first restaurant in the US to partner with TikTok by launching its first challenge campaign under the hashtag #ChipotleLidFlip. According to Stephanie Purdue, Chipotle’s VP of Brand Marketing, the TikTok campaign led to the brand’s highest digital sales day. In July, Chipotle kicked off its second TikTok challenge that encouraged users to dance for free guacamole under the hashtag #GuacDance.

Purdue explains, “Our digital sales have grown significantly — we’re up 99% versus last year — and they now represent about 18% of our sales. Half of our customer base is Gen-Z and millennial, so it’s important for us to show up where they are. We really like being in unexpected and uncluttered spaces, and we felt like TikTok was one of them.”


Source: Adweek

Kroger became the first brand to use TikTok’s Hashtag Challenge Plus offering when it ran a back-to-school campaign in August. The brand worked with four influencers, who helped the company run a Sponsored Hashtag Challenge called #TransformUrDorm. Kroger’s challenge urged college kids to post videos of their cool and essential dorm room transformations under the hashtag. Then, users who chose to engage could also shop for Kroger products on the dedicated brand page.

Ralph Lauren

Source: Adweek

Following Kroger, Ralph Lauren also activated a Sponsored Hashtag Challenge and used the Hashtag Challenge Plus feature for its campaign surrounding the US Open. The campaign consisted of a series of three videos with Booksmart actress Diana Silvers, a call to action with a hashtag campaign encouraging users to participate, and a shoppable aspect that enabled consumers to shop US Open-branded Ralph Lauren products. In addition, the brand worked with a handful of TikTok creators with at least 11 million followers.

For Ralph Lauren, this campaign was a brand awareness play and a full-funnel campaign that measured engagement rate, video views, likes, comments, and amount of sales on TikTok.


Recently, the NFL signed a two-year partnership deal with TikTok to bring new content to the platform every week. The league will post game highlights, sideline moments, and behind-the-scenes footage, along with several football-themed hashtag challenges that encourage users to create their own themed videos. The hashtag challenges will be centered around popular events like the draft, NFL Kickoff, and the Super Bowl.

NFL VP Blake Stuchin said, “The NFL programming and hashtag challenges are a perfect way to kick off the NFL’s 100th season — with fun, new content that will entertain fans and invites them to celebrate and experience their NFL fandom in a way that’s authentic to the unique experience of TikTok.”

How should brands measure success on TikTok?

So far, it’s hard to say what truly marks marketing success on TikTok because it’s still a relatively new platform. But here are some components marketers are keeping track of as they run TikTok campaigns.

  • Video views — Unlike other social platforms where virality is rare, on Tiktok everyone has the potential to be influential. Videos with high engagement are featured on the “For You” page or the Discover tab in the app, allowing your brand to get in front of even the users who don’t follow your account. Because of the viral nature of TikTok, an increase in video views exponentially increases potential impressions.
  • Sentiment of comments — As marketers, it’s important to know what consumers are saying about your brand. Luckily, users on TikTok are open-minded and excited to share their thoughts and opinions. Dan Thorne of Guinness World Records explains, “The tone of the comments is especially important for us. We tend to attract some cynical comments from our older Facebook fans and YouTube subscribers, but younger users on TikTok tend to engage in a much more positive, excited way. TikTok’s also all about celebrating differences and inclusivity, which fits well with us as a company.”
  • Sales from TikTok — Since Hashtag Challenge Plus just launched in mid-August, there is no data on how much TikTok’s in-app purchase feature has been producing in terms of sales. But as time goes on, this metric is one that marketers must keep an eye on.

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