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2020 Marketing Trend You Can’t Ignore… Even If You Want To

The Rise of TikTok

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Matt Wujciak

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Maybe you’re an avid user, maybe you watch too many Gary Vee videos, or maybe you’ve only heard of it because your kids finagled you into buying them an iPhone X on Black Friday. Regardless of the reason, you’ve heard of the quirky social media app that’s commanding digital marketing analysts’ attention, TikTok. 

The TikTok origin

The platform’s parent company, Bytedance Technology, now hovers around a net worth of 75 billion, making it the most valuable privately owned company in the world. Founder, Zhang Yiming, the 35-year-old software engineer wanted to create a news platform whose results were powered by artificial intelligence, separate from China's search engine Baidu, as Business Insider's Paige Leskin previously reported.

"We push information, not by queries, by news recommendations," Zhang told Bloomberg back in 2017.

Despite the company’s initial focus on news, Zhang told Bloomberg's Lulu Yilun Chen and Mark Bergen that ByteDance does not have any journalists on its staff. For a company that sat on 20 billion at the time, hiring some would make too much sense. So they decided to redirect their focus from news reporting to social media engagement, and to Zhang’s credit, a market with higher barriers of entry, but far fewer competitors.

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"The most important thing is that we are not a news business," Zhang told Bloomberg. "We are more like a search business or a social media platform. We are doing very innovative work. We are not a copycat of a U.S. company, both in product and technology," just in case any TikTok skeptics wanted to fire accusations at China. 

How brands are capitalizing

Looking forward to leveraging the US digital platform's young user base, TikTok merged with (social media video platform that allowed users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos) in August of 2018 to create a larger video community, with existing accounts and data consolidated into one app. 

Now TikTok (which allows users to create and share 15-second video clips) is the No. 1 non-gaming iOS app in the U.S, Business Insider reported in September. TikTok is one of the most popular social networks among American teens (two-thirds of the app’s users are reported to be under 30, according to an analysis by the company), and has a total of 1.5 billion total users (making it an emerging hotbed for digital marketers targeting Gen Z consumers).

As Nation’s Restaurant News stated, “There is less polish with TikTok than with other social media apps. The app doesn’t adhere to the same algorithms as Instagram where it can be hard to organically raise a personal or company profile. Here, information sharing is democratized, and a quick scroll through the app will provide access to videos ranging from 100,000 views to 16.”

Read More: The Real Reason Instagram is Getting Rid of Likes and What it Means for Your Brand

As a result, “[Gen Z isn’t] just watching. They’re creating in response. You’re turning them into brand ambassadors without even doing any influencer marketing,” said Stefan Heinrich, director of U.S. marketing for TikTok, at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

But in order to utilize the digital marketing advantage that the platform provides, brands need to have the right target market, and the right personality to essentially produce content that’s algorithmically designed to go viral. Unlike traditional Instagram influencer marketing, TikTok favors authenticity, individuality, and quirky confidence, similarly to the origin of YouTube marketing. 


Chipotle, for example, (with a young fan base) has decided to capitalize on the platform in a way no other foodservice brand has yet to do—with an official TikTok account with multiple campaigns, which now boasts over 2 million likes and 212,000 followers. Their TikTok tagline is “Less Tok, More Guac.” …Ooo. 

Previously, Chipotle participated in a paid marketing campaign on the app by working with influencer David Dobrik for the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge. The goal of the challenge was to flip the Chipotle container and land it just right, garnering over 100,000 submissions and 230 million views.

“Almost half of our customer base is Gen Z or millennials, so social media is a fact of life. They just expect you to be in the places where they are,” said CMO Chris Brandt.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, recent initiatives by the chain include the #GuacDance challenge asking fans to show off their avocado-inspired dance moves. The challenge, with over 250,000 submissions and 450 million views in six days, led to Chipotle’s biggest guacamole day ever with more than 800,000 sides of guac served.

The #GuacDance is TikTok’s highest-performing branded challenge in the U.S. to date.

“When you can do something that engages your customers in a way they think is cool, interesting and new, and culturally relevant, people will flock to your brand. At the end of the day, we’re growing sales and transactions, and I would say there’s a correlation,” Brandt said. And he might’ve been the first to figure this out, but he’s not the last. 


I’ve written about it before in a previous article, but the NBA (dependent upon individual player branding and social media) probably has the most innovative customer experience marketing strategy of any professional sports league. As seen on HubSpot, unlike the NBA’s Instagram channel, which focuses primarily on basketball games and highlights, the NBA's TikTok posts show a lighter side of the organization. For example, they'll often post videos of players working out dramatically to music, dancing on the court, or adventures of team mascots.

Read More: NBA Marketing Taking Customer Experience to the Next Level

With a staggering 5.1 million fans, the NBA's marketing team will mix in in-game highlights with music montages and inspirational quotes/interviews, like RJ Barrett reflecting on being drafted by the Knicks. While you might expect the NBA to focus more seriously on stats and solely game footage, it uses the app's musical features to lighten up the branding and make its athletes look more relatable while incorporating motivational snippets of content throughout digital channels like TikTok. 

When a brand or company focuses on personalization, audiences might start to relate to it a bit more. Even if a viewer isn't a basketball fan, they might still consider following NBA players or rooting for certain teams if they saw and identified with a funny or motivational video about them.


According to Mobile marketer, Sony's campaign for the movie "Escape Room" immersed popular influencers in real-life challenges that they shared on TikTok. 

After first boosting the thriller with 360-degree video playable ads, Sony Promotions hired 30 influencers for a Madrid event in partnership with TikTok, where the creators escaped real rooms designed similarly to scenes in the movie. The users filmed over 75 short clips of themselves solving the challenges to share with their followers… a win for the individual influencers, TikTok, Sony, and their film… all through short snippets of video content designed to go viral. 

Apart from a Sony Productions video, most of the content was shared on an official "Escape Room" movie page on the TikTok app, (as well as through the influencers’ accounts).

Since TikTok is so quirky by nature, brands need to be creative to gain attention from their audience. Depending upon your target market, a simple ad or sponsored influencer endorsement might not cut it on the fast-paced app driven by organic content. In other words, paying models to take selfies doesn’t cut it on TikTok. But when a business has the ability to align core brand values with their target audience and strategically personalized digital campaigns, TikTok can be a marketing montage for any brand looking to stir up the pot.