TikTok isn’t just for the kids anymore. If you’re a start-up or looking to grow your small business, you should strongly consider this platform that is going far beyond being a Gen Z darling. With over 800 million active users and a unique DNA, there are a plethora of opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs to build and grow their brands and reach a diverse audience on this video-sharing giant.
In fact, we’d be so bold as to suggest that it might even be riskier for brands not to be on the platform these days, as you could be missing out on reaching potential customers who are already using TikTok - and maybe even using it as a search engine to look for your brand! You could also lose market share to competitors who are already on TikTok and ahead of you.
So how should you get started on TIkTok, you ask? Keep reading for a comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know to get started on your own TikTok marketing strategy.
Other guides in this series:
- TikTok Marketing Examples You Need to See in 2023
- An Expert’s Guide to TikTok Influencer Marketing
- How to Run Ads on TikTok
What is a TikTok marketing strategy?
A TikTok marketing strategy is much more than posting cute dancing videos. Investing in this platform requires creating, publishing, and distributing video content when your goal is building brand awareness, engagement, and loyalty.
What makes Tiktok so unique is how it allows businesses to be more human and less polished, using humor, creativity, and authenticity to connect with users on a deeper, more real level, especially compared to other social channels. It’s more of a democratic space, with no need for a huge budget for high-quality production, as many popular TikTok videos are shot on smartphones and edited using built-in filters. And while TikTok may seem like it’s just a place for silly, random content, finding success is far from random. Without a clear strategy that capitalizes on the platform’s strengths and audience behaviors that you can test and learn through the right KPIs, you could get lost in the ether.
Why bother with TikTok?
As we shared before, TikTok has gone much further than its initial Gen Z audience, with scale and relevance that has grown tremendously over the past few years and has cemented its place as arguably the most interesting social platform out there (and yes, I’m including Threads in that assessment!).
The platform’s audience has expanded to all ages and demographics, giving startups and small businesses a variety of ways to build their brands by investing in the time and creativity to develop engaging content and to potentially supplement with its unique products.
TikTok also stands out from other social platforms through its unique algorithm and content distribution system, which enables any strong piece of engaging content to reach a massive audience - even if you're starting from scratch. (If you don’t believe us, just look at Stanley Brand, a century-old camping brand whose Adventure Quencher Tumbler became social media famous thanks to the platform.)
Types of marketing on TikTok
Whether it’s creating organic videos, collaborating with creators or partners, or running ads, there are many types of successful marketing opportunities on TikTok for start-ups. Self-generated content is the most cost-effective approach for startups. To create successful TikTok videos, businesses must be authentic, creative, and willing to engage with followers frequently. Creating your own TikTok videos also helps your audience learn more about who you are as a brand and can help push them down the marketing funnel to buying.
For greater awareness or to tap into new, like-minded audiences, you might consider collaborating with TikTok creators to help your brand tap into their pre-existing fan bases to drive stronger outcomes. TikTok is also continuing to develop their robust ad products through TikTok Ad Manager, allowing brands to create infeed ads, brand takeovers, hashtag challenges, and more to engage existing and potential followers to bring them into your brand.
Create your own TikToks
Before you go straight into creating your own content, take some time to familiarize yourself with the platform and see how other start-ups and brands within your space are successfully engaging their followers.
Use the TikTok Search function to find TikTok videos or even TikTok challenges that are relevant to your niche, which your own brand could join in on or take inspiration from to create videos of your own. Creating original challenges or unique takes on current trends that align with your products/services can highlight your relevance to your audience. Similarly, you can curate relevant music for your brand and experiment with sound effects that can engage your viewers. Adding a call-to-action (CTA) in the video's end can be a smart way to organically introduce your brand while activating viewers to engage with your content or visit your website.
TikTok creators often stand out from influencers on other social platforms for two primary reasons: 1) They can represent a wide variety of communities and topics, from healthcare professionals to home chefs and 2) because of how TikTok’s algorithm favors engagement, TikTok influencers must exemplify both creativity and authenticity if they want to stand out.
Partnering with a TikTok creator or partner can help start-ups expand their brand's reach - as long as it’s executed effectively. Creators with large followings and high engagement rates can help startups drive traffic to their TikTok page and ultimately other owned properties.
A good collaboration can give you access to a new, previously untapped audience while improving your audience’s perception of your brand through sponsored posts, dedicated content, or takeovers. And as users become increasingly suspicious of ads, working with the right Creators can help a brand build relevance and trust with their audience while driving increased awareness.
Advertising on TikTok has similar targeting features to other social media platforms, as businesses can set several demographic filters including age, gender, location, device, and interests. While TikTok offers a variety of ad options, In Feed options are often the best choice for start-ups as they’re perfect for smaller scale brands.
There are two types of infeed ads - Regular video ads and Spark ads. Regular video ads look just like regular TikTok videos and appear in the feed, with the end of the video directing viewers to a landing page, app install page, or another owned destination of your choosing based on your objective. Spark ads boost existing organic TikTok videos so that they appear in more feeds; these are especially helpful if you want to get more people to see a piece of content that’s organically performing well.
If you find yourself with more budget, start-ups can become “managed brands.” Managed brands work with a dedicated TikTok account representative and as a result have access to more types of ads, such as branded hashtag challenges and branded effects.
Branded Hashtag Challenges are guaranteed to show up on the TikTok Discover Page. When someone clicks on a Branded Hashtag, they will be redirected to a landing page on TikTok which can include the brand’s logo, link to the brand website, a description of the challenge, as well as all videos that feature that hashtag. This feature not only encourages engagement and participation, but enables greater conversion as well. Branded Effects are brand-designed Effects that can be completely customized by a brand, and can even allow them to incorporate logos or branded effects. Along with Branded Hashtags, Branded Effects encourage participation from followers and help your brand reach more people in a more interactive way.
TikTok’s ad platform uses an auction and bidding model, which allows start-ups and small business founders to decide how much you want to pay per video view, click, or impression. The minimum spend is $50/day. While there’s no set magic number for how much you should begin spending, you should make a decision based on your overall ad budget and business objectives. However, starting small will give you more room to experiment as you gain more experience with the ad platform.
Examples of Startups who've built their brand with TikTok
Many startups have successfully leveraged TikTok to build their brands, creating content that resonates with its global audience. One well-known example is Duolingo, who succeeded by following TikTok’s recommended “Flicker, Flash, Flare” approach, emphasis on Flash and Flicker. In this approach, content is categorized as Flicker, Flash, or Flare. Flicker content is more reactive and often based on trends, allowing for more frequent and easy to produce content. Flash content is more proactive and typically episodic, with a consistent content format that is posted regularly. Flare content is best for larger-scale campaigns with more ad spend available as it’s specifically for interactive content, such as Branded Hashtag Challenges and Branded Effects.
Duolingo’s content initially focused primarily on a consistent “flash” format; in their case, this took the form of regular educational episodes like this one about their platform. They then began engaging in more “flicker” by participating in trends, like this trending sound featuring Taylor Swift, which is where they started gaining more attention and engagement as they let their TikTok personality, the snarky Duolingo Owl, shine through. This effort meant that when it was time for a larger campaign, or “Flare” content, they had already built a significant following that helped carry their higher-investment campaigns farther.
Another great example of a successful start-up brand on TikTok is Popl, a startup accessory brand using near-field communications (NFC) technology to provide a fast solution to sharing your social media and contact information.They focused primarily on Flash content showcasing relatable humor to engage people about how to use their products (like in this video) , helping them to reach millions of people and achieving an incredible 200% increase in sales.
Finally, Olaplex, a haircare brand which began as a grassroots start-up and is now one of the largest independent haircare brands in the world, leaned heavily into Flare content. They used the branded hashtag #Olaflex to challenge TikTok users to show their before-and-after images illustrating how the brand’s hair products strengthened and improved their hair - a campaign that led them to garnering over 3 BILLION views in just 72 hours. They continue to drive brand awareness by balancing Flare content with appealing and informative how-to Flash content and participating in organic trends.
Creating your strategy
Now that you have a better understanding of TikTok marketing, it's time to create your own strategy. Define your audience, research competitors, craft a unique messaging campaign, and ideate TikTok content ideas. Contemplate whether to use your own resources or to collaborate with Tiktok influencers - or both!
Measuring your results, both through TikTok analytics and revenue streams, is key to ensuring your strategy's success. And perhaps most importantly, you should maintain a consistent presence on & commitment to the platform in order to reach your fan base with fresh and engaging content.
Immerse yourself in TikTok
Immerse yourself in TikTok by having fun and playing around with the platform. Follow brands, creators, and hashtags that are relevant to your start-up’s niche to get a sense of top trends and what works and what doesn’t work in your industry. But don’t limit yourself just to your own category - sometimes the best inspiration comes from somewhere unexpected, so be sure to follow people and brands that you personally like as well.
Define your audience
Clearly defining your audience is key to a successful TikTok strategy. Your audience cannot be general (eg: men 25-34) - knowing who your audience is both demographically and psychographically is key to finding the TikTok communities you can tap into, the type of content and trends your target audience likes to engage with, and how best to reach them on the platform. A great way to do this is to search for your brand on TikTok to see the types of users who are already talking about you and get a sense of their other interests and the style of TikTok content they engage with. This can help you get a deeper understanding of who your TikTok audience is and the type of content that would best suit them.
Once you start building your audience, you can gain deeper insights on them using Audience Insights within TikTok Ads Manager. This tool allows you to explore a variety of audience information and data, including their top 10 most-used hashtags, interest categories, language, country, and more.
Taking a deep dive into your competitors and like-minded brands should be a top priority, not just before you launch but as you continue to grow your start-up on TikTok. Keeping an eye on the landscape can inspire you with both what to do and what NOT to do, while also ensuring that your own content stands out from the crowd. The easiest way to do this is to simply follow the brands who you have identified as your key competitors on the platform to see what they’re up to. Pay close attention to what types of content are performing well for them, and the types of people they are successfully engaging to best identify learning opportunities.
When ideating content, you should always start with what your overall objective is for a piece of content. Are you trying to drive a specific behavior from someone viewing the video, like encouraging them to check out your website? Are you trying to make someone laugh and see your brand as more human? Are you trying to educate them about what your start-up is all about?
By beginning with your objective, you’ll have a clearer path forward when it comes to how you’ll create content to achieve that goal. You must also keep your end user in mind; as a start-up, you may have more than one audience (eg: an investor, a consumer, a journalist.) Make sure that when you’re ideating your content, you’re clear not only with what you want your piece of content to achieve, but who you are trying to reach in the first place. From there, it’s about experimenting – especially when you’re first starting. Test out different lengths, trends, styles, sounds, and effects. Test, measure, and optimize.
How to go viral
There is no secret to going viral on TikTok - or anywhere. (In fact, we kind of hate the “V” word - plus, if we did know, we’d probably want to keep that secret to ourselves!) What you can do is set yourself up for success by following the steps above - knowing your audience, keeping an eye on the landscape, staying active on the platform, staying on top of trends, and testing and learning to discover what type of content is the most successful at engaging your target.
How to run ads
If you want to advertise on TikTok, the first thing you need to do is set up a TikTok business account, which is super easy!
All you need to do is log in to the app, tap “Profile” at the bottom of the screen, then tap “Menu” at the top of the screen. From there you should see “Settings and Privacy” - tap that, then “Manage Account,” and you will be able to click switch to Business Account. TikTok will provide you with the instructions to follow to complete setting up your Business account.
Once you’re all set, you can then sign up for TikTok’s Ad Manager, where you’ll be able to set up your account and begin running ads.
Check out our guide on How to Run Ads on Tiktok for more detail!
Identifying and contacting influencers
If you’ve decided you want to work with creators, there are a few ways you can identify creators that might work well for your brand. First, look at who your audience follows and engages with. You can also go to the “Discover” page on TikTok and use the Search function to discover creators based on keywords relevant to your brand and category.
Already follow a Creator you’re interested in working with? Message them directly! Otherwise, many Creators will list their email addresses or how to contact them in their TikTok bios. Sometimes it takes a bit of sleuthing, but the good news is that if a Creator makes their living from TikTok, they’ll probably make it easy for you to find out how to reach them!
If you are able to invest more in sourcing Creators, there are a number of tech platforms that can help you find and connect with relevant Creators for your start-up, such as Creator.co, BrandWatch Influence, and Upfluence. And of course, you can always work with a Passionfruit specialist to manage your Creator recruitment for you!
As long as you have a Business Account, you can track your performance on TikTok by going to Settings & Privacy >> Account >> Creator Tools >> Analytics on mobile, or by hovering over your profile photo on the top right and clicking Analytics if you’re on Desktop.
TikTok Analytics allows you to measure your performance by Overall Engagement (Video Views, Profile Views, Likes, Comments, Shares), Followers (Number of Followers, Change vs. Previous Time Period), and Content (Number of Posts, Change Since Previous Time Period.) All of these metrics are available in the first “Overview” tab.
If you click deeper into the “Content,” tab, you’ll be able to see similar metrics by each individual piece of content. This will also show you which of your videos performed the best.
The “Followers” tab gives you more insights about your audience, including audience growth as well as demographic information. But perhaps most importantly, it will also give you insights into what videos your followers watch and what TikTok sounds they listen to - both of which can give you inspiration for creating future TikTok content that will be relevant for them.
A brand just starting out on TikTok should probably focus the most on Engagement and Follower metrics at the post level. Since we know Engagement is a key focus for TikTok’s algorithm, looking at these metrics to understand which videos you create are the best at engaging your audiences will help you test & learn different types of content and further optimize your strategy. At the same time, keeping an eye on what types of content are driving follower growth will provide insight on the types of content to post to scale your account.
TikTok provides an excellent platform for startups to establish their presence, drive brand awareness, and convert users into loyal customers. Creating TikTok videos that make your brand relatable and trustworthy to your unique audience should be the cornerstone of your strategy; leveraging creators, using paid ads, and exploring popular micro-attribution campaigns are all viable options. By being authentic and innovative, startups can use this platform and its vast user base.
Ultimately, TikTok is a valuable tool for start-ups looking to connect with a variety of demographics, and a cutting-edge strategy and creative productions can pay off in big ways. What are you waiting for? You’ve got nothing to lose.