What do CPG Brands Need to Know About TikTok?

TikTok has quickly become one of the most prominent new social media platforms of the past few years. It was only launched in 2016, but it reportedly still managed to become one of the most downloaded apps of the last decade. Despite its huge popularity (especially among young consumers), many brand leaders still aren’t clear on the kind of impact that TikTok could have for their business.


Non-Influencers Play a Big Role

On a platform like Instagram, brand leaders can get a straightforward idea of which users might make good partners to bring awareness to their products. Audiences typically only see posts from people that they already follow, so established influencers with large amounts of followers and a distinct personal brand tend to be safe bets.

Because of its own unique algorithms and platform structure, TikTok works very differently as a social media channel. On TikTok, there is much more room for “discoverability” – finding and sharing content from smaller accounts. While this can make it tricky to predict what types of posts will have an impact, it does also offer brands the freedom to get creative with how they pursue audience engagement since they aren’t tied to working exclusively with major influencers.

For example, a 37-year-old farmworker living in Idaho is about the last person that you might expect to become a food influencer on Instagram or YouTube. But on TikTok, Nathan Apodaca recently amassed over ten million likes for a video that shows him skateboarding to his job on a potato farm while drinking Ocean Spray® juice and listening to Fleetwood Mac. The video has garnered so much positive press for Ocean Spray® that the company gifted Apodaca a brand-new truck – which is cranberry colored, of course.  


Social Media Needs Shift from Aspirational to Educational

Many Instagram influencers have cultivated aspirational personas over the years, often focusing on areas like fashion and travel. However, the pandemic has completely changed the way that audiences respond to this kind of ambitious and expensive content. According to the Washington Post, “Even smaller choices, such as whether to post luxury good ads amid catastrophic unemployment, might feel out of touch and could drive followers away.”

Audiences who are feeling cautious about their spending in the pandemic don’t want aspirational content the way that they did a year ago, when the economy was strong and the future felt more secure. However, a new shopper need has emerged to take its place. Now that social gatherings have dropped off, consumers are missing out on word-of-mouth opportunities to learn and share information about new products. Since TikTok is built around short videos, it’s a perfect platform to host haul videos, product reviews, unboxing experiences, etc.

The toy industry in particular is seeing significant gains from the app. For example, Renee Lee, vice president of global marketing at the toy company Zuru, told CNBC in an interview that their toy “5 Surprise Mini Brands” has enjoyed massive success thanks to TikTok unboxing videos. “A combination of fan-generated and TikTok influencer videos ignited the craze,” he said. He added that “TikTok is unique in the fact that a user does not require a large following in order for a video to go viral. So, we actively look for super creative, brand fans to work with versus just looking at high-profile influencers.”

Some companies are being especially innovative by turning to TikTok creators to help them develop new products. For instance, Mattel recently launched a new Barbie® line in collaboration with the users behind the popular account WeWearCute. Dolls in the “Barbie® Color Reveal” line are coated in a solid color, which washes away when shoppers submerge them in water to reveal the doll’s true design. This is a great example of a toy that provides a highly shareable experience that inspires users to upload their own videos.  

TikTok has managed to change the social media landscape in a remarkably short amount of time. While brand leaders and product marketers already know how important social media is for building brand awareness and growing consumer engagement, they will need to understand the unique opportunities and challenges that TikTok presents in order to stay ahead of the game.

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