Throw out the rulebook: TikTok business marketing defies all conventions

Throw out the rulebook: TikTok business marketing defies all conventions

Many B2B marketing managers now face a terrifying prospect: how to come up with impactful creative strategies on TikTok, a popular and lucrative platform which is defined by – brace yourself – young people.

With the launch of TikTok for Business in 2020, a purpose-built marketing platform, the opportunity has become clear for brands to achieve genuine cut-through and achieve a real sense of cultural currency. 

Many B2C businesses are already getting it right on TikTok. Now is the time for B2B brands to bravely conquer social media’s latest undiscovered country.

But why bother?

TikTok has the proven ability to bring low-cost, organic content to the attention of very large audiences, and their ads blend in far more seamlessly than on other platforms. Crucially, though, TikTok is excellent at driving organic engagement – an area where it already outperforms Instagram.

And there’s real money to be made. In January 2021, user spend on TikTok was up by nearly 400% compared with the previous year, making TikTok the top-grossing non-game mobile app in the world.

So let’s consider the cardinal rules when it comes to making your mark in the world of short-form video sharing…

1. You weren’t invited

A hard sell in TikTok stands out like a Boomer at a bottomless brunch. People use this app to unwind and have a good time, not have products rammed down their throats.

Your main goal should be to entertain and, by doing so, generate positive brand awareness – showing yourself to be engaged and up to date with the content that people are enjoying and talking about.

Of course, your products can feature in your videos – just don’t lead with them.

TikTok users are starting conversations about brands, like this one about Amazon – why not get involved?

2. Follow trends, don’t set them

It may seem counterintuitive, but the ethos of TikTok is in fact to copy other people’s ideas. Essentially it’s one big, funny echo chamber, powered by an idiosyncratic language of sound effects, buzzwords and editing styles.

Coming in and imposing an established brand strategy on TikTok reeks of marketing guff and suffers accordingly. The key to standing out? Do your mimicry better than anyone else, by repurposing viral trends in fresh, unexpected contexts. It’s about getting a one-up on what’s been done before, being smarter and funnier than the competition.

Brands like RyanAir and the Washington Post have done really well by skewing popular trends with an industry-specific twist. Plus, the very fact that these big brands are joining in is entertaining in itself.

@ryanair

Surprise! I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #ryanair

♬ Crowd Cheers – Johnny Buchanan
RyanAir joined in with this Ariana Grande audio trend to highlight their low prices
Washington Post jumped on this relatable trend to help humanise their content creators

3. Act, don’t think

There’s nothing worse than when a brand – after countless, lengthy rounds of internal review – releases a video that jumps on a trend that already peaked months ago. These cumbersome delays scream ‘slow’, ‘old-fashioned’ and, worst of all; ‘out of touch’. 

You’ve got to learn how to be quick on your feet. Be the brand that’s unafraid to act fast and jump straight onto a trend. This means trusting your content creators and believing they know what they’re doing, even if you don’t immediately (or ever) get it.

@madisen.dewey

Sincerely, someone who goes through approval processes at work #tiktoktrends2021

♬ original sound – Mady Dewey
Brands can’t afford to hang around on TikTok
@annaxjames

i only use it when I’m busy but usually ppl have no clue anyway 😂 unless u use it too then u know lol #foryoupage #fyp #foryou #socialmediamarketing

♬ sHEsrEALLY gOOD – joshua bautista
Content creators are urging brands to trust them – even if some things are lost in translation

4. Embrace the imperfect

If your content looks polished to perfection, it’s probably wrong for TikTok.

Many TikTok users express a sense of alienation from platforms like Instagram and their false, unrealistic depictions of what life and work is really like. On TikTok, instead of seeing glossy, perfect people talk about their superficially perfect lives, we’re watching people dance in their pyjamas, and own their most embarrassing moments, unfiltered opinions and worst habits.

Influencersinthewild is an account that takes aim at the many foibles of influencers

To fit in with this new mentality, brands have to be unafraid of producing something a bit raw or even slapdash. Innocent, for example, have produced videos that look like they were made in about 5 minutes in someone’s garden. Their audience are lapping it up. So put away your high concepts and flawless execution – the more DIY your content feels, the better you’ll fare.

Also: if you’re working with influencers, don’t script them. Give them the space and trust to share their honest perspective on your product. Your customers will thank you for it.

@sweetnniceicecream

Ok what’s better for marketing? IG or Tiktok? 🍦 #familyrunbusiness

♬ original sound – Matthew Rincon
A perfect demonstration from Sweet N’ Nice of the difference between content on Instagram and TikTok
Innocent Smoothies Ireland show that they’re up for a laugh – especially about their DIY approach

5. Lighten up

TikTok’s skyrocketing popularity during a global pandemic is no coincidence. It’s literally been a coping mechanism for people feeling stressed about everything going on in the world.

What people are looking for is lighthearted escapism in a place where humour and memes reign supreme. And the best brands are those who step up to the challenge – from the NBA posting silly dance videos to Crocs being the butt of their own joke.

Humour and a down-to-earth attitude are in TikTok’s DNA. If you want to set a more serious tone, perhaps TikTok isn’t the best place for your message.

The NBA presents dancing as a competitive sport
@crocs

Hey ladiesss @jadenhossler #crocnation

♬ original sound – Crocs
Crocs crack a joke about their *questionable* style status

Tik your audience’s boxes

As is so often the case with ascendant social media platforms, what was once the laughable – and ignorable – province of tweens has fast grown into a global phenomenon with genuine clout and reach, across a spectrum of ages and backgrounds.

TikTok’s vast potential has yet to be brought to life by B2B marketers, but you can be absolutely certain that the brands that get in early to surprise and entertain their audiences will be the ones that reap the rewards.

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(Photo by Olivier Bergeron on Unsplash)

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Beatrice Alabaster

Copywriter

I am a copywriter and, because you are what you eat, I maintain a strict daily regimen of nutritious and diverse words, with taste ranging all the way from Immanuel Kant to Kim Kardashian.