What TikTok’s success can teach us about the future of content marketing

Jan 15th, 2020

TikTok is an app that has taken the digital world by storm in 2019. Although the app has only been around for 3 short years, it has already built an impressive online community of 500 million active users worldwide and accumulated over 1 billion downloads

With these landmark figures, it is no wonder that marketers want to include TikTok in their upcoming marketing strategy. However, TikTok is a highly innovative platform different from it’s counterparts, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

While TikTok’s unique business model has left some people baffled as to how the app works, others have deemed it unsuitable for their industry because of its young demographic and emphasis on video content.

Why TikTok is more than just an app

TikTok is often misunderstood by non-users, typically millennials or baby boomers, as merely a “cringey, lip-syncing” app. But upon closer inspection, the app is a demonstration of an evolved method of creating, publishing and distributing content. 

TikTok’s success has shown how the app was purposefully designed to address the latest digital trends and consumer behaviour, which means studying what the app has done right can help us anticipate what the future of content marketing could look like.

Who should we be targeting next?

Tomorrow’s target audience

TikTok’s users are mainly Generation Zs, which has created a window of opportunity for marketers to have a microscopic view of this mysterious age group. The surging popularity of TikTok has shown that this age group does, in fact, have an immensely impressive appetite for digital media.

TikTok has also highlighted that the time to engage with Generation Z is now. For the past decade and more, we have been adopting online strategies to reach millennials without realising that by 2020, the oldest generation Z will be 23. By next year, it’s predicted that this group will make up more than 25 per cent of the workforce and we will see a huge surge in their spending power meaning our marketing strategies need to cater to the ‘not-so-young’ age group too.

The first digital natives

The significance of this demographic cohort is that they are the first-ever generation to be surrounded by technology from birth and are therefore called ‘digital natives’. They’re indigenous to the internet and their interaction with technology is inherently different from previous generations. 

In particular, TikTok offers its users short, easily consumable clips in a ‘waterfall flow’ format which many assume that it is to cater for generation Zs attention span averaging at 8-seconds. However, from the success of the app, these digital natives actually have a sophisticated filter for content that interests them. As marketers, this means that the future of our content requires precision and ever better understanding when targeting these fluent digital consumers.

How will we be marketing to our audience? 

Creating opportunities for user involvement

TikTok has provided us with an insight into digital natives and their willingness to participate in brand engagements as long as there is an opportunity. Representation of this characteristic can be seen from TikTok’s integration of high technology augmented reality filters and its thriving ‘challenges’ culture. The filter libraries often act as an instigator for users to gain inspiration to create content. Whereas hashtag challenges allow users to make videos attempting to do the same thing, like the #TumbleWeedChallenge, creating an online community of people who share the same interests.

This shows that the future of content marketing would see a stronger emphasis on creating marketing campaigns that can initiate user-generated content. For businesses, this would allow brand names to have a wider reach but also to form and foster a sense of community which in return enhances brand loyalty. 

Personalising user experience 

Another prominent reason for TikTok’s success is its personalised feed. Mark Zuckerberg, a technological pioneer, describes this feature as ‘almost like the Explore Tab that [they] have on Instagram’. Except, it’s not. Unlike Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where your primary feed consists of content from people you have chosen to follow and the explore tab is optional to which most users tend not to use, TikTok prioritises a fully personalised feed using an algorithm to generate content based on your interests, preferences and previous content you have engaged with. 

This emphasis on user experience is fundamental to attracting and retaining its users. As content marketers, we should use the growing interest in personalised experience as a blueprint when considering marketing methods in the future. This could mean deeper research on audience traits and behaviour combined with a customised strategy for niche audience groups.   

What kind of content can we expect in the future?

Creativity will be the core of content marketing

Despite the integration of AI and machine learning, TikTok’s core function is to have its users produce and edit their own videos within the app. These videos allow digital natives to exhibit their desire for self expression and redefine what they believe is good content (as they then become viral by sharing, replicating and built upon). As technology becomes more and more readily available to help generate content, it will be much harder to cut through the noise. Content fueled by unique creativity will undoubtedly be the way to help gain more traction. 

Authentic marketing 

Other than creativity, there will be a greater demand for authentic marketing. When Instagram entered the market, we saw a rise in the polished, professional content and the importance of a carefully curated feed. With TikTok, we can see that trait has been reverted. The younger communities prefer creating candid, unfiltered content, which may seem like low-quality to the untrained eye.

This doesn’t mean that the future of content marketing is expected to stop producing high-quality content. Since digital natives grew up being highly familiar to overly decorated language and misleading statistics, there will be greater demand for authenticity from future content instead of forced perfection.

Emotional marketing 

For many users, TikTok feels inviting in a way that hasn’t existed since Vine. While humourous content may seem to be the only common denominator, it is actually the way it has allowed digital natives to utilise technology to interact and even form relationships that made both apps triumph. 

In fact, humour is not the only emotion that prevails on TikTok. For example, Fanbytes developed the #YouCanCryChallenge, which encouraged TikTok users to promote mental health awareness. 3000 people created a video displaying their raw emotions with the same soundtrack while stretching out their arms, giving the impression of a chain of people holding hands in solidarity. 

Despite the unconventional interaction, these forms of relationships are equally desired both in the physical and digital world. This is to show that a heavy emphasis on emotional marketing will soon become the new norm and content marketers should create campaigns with the consideration of appealing to the sentimental side of future audiences.

Although most companies might not find TikTok to be a suitable platform to market their content at the moment, their unique model has proven to be successful amongst our future target audience. By examining the elements that have made the app so favourable, we as content marketers will be able to create intentional content that will help you build greater cultural relevance, cognitive salience and consumer trust and formulate successful methods to market upcoming content. 

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