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5 Ways Brands Can Win with Gen Z on TikTok in 2022
Hindsight is 2021.

While brands adjust to an ever-changing digital landscape in 2022, it’s increasingly clear how crucial it is to reach Gen Z where they’re engaging the most.

While Gen Z is only roughly 25 years old, these consumers have already amassed a buying power nearing $150 billion, and more than half of this audience has yet to enter the workforce.1 With potential for enormous growth, the opportunity for brands and businesses to establish meaningful relationships with these consumers can’t be understated.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z culture and the digital landscape are virtually inseparable. Brands that do not adapt to meet people on emerging platforms (where they are spending the most time) will face irrelevance, especially as digitally-savvy generations gain spending power.

As youth-culture, pop-culture, and tech become more integrated, the opportunity cost of ignoring trends is much higher than it once was.

It’s increasingly evident that TikTok is the social platform of choice for Gen Z, as they spend more time on the app per day than any other platform, including YouTube, Meta (Facebook & Instagram), Twitter, and Pinterest. Further, Gen Z spends 35 percent more time on TikTok than other generations.2

At Empower, our Paid Social and Influencer teams work closely with our dedicated agency partners at TikTok to tailor cutting-edge strategies to our clients’ unique needs. We also use a variety of third-party tools to analyze, plan, and report across platforms to understand how to best utilize TikTok, whether that means working with partners and creators or running a full-funnel paid campaign.

If you’re wondering how to best activate on TikTok where even quick wins can be impactful, we’ve provided our top recommendations for what brands can do immediately.

#1: Lean into TikTok’s Trendsetting Capabilities

Often, trends that start on TikTok become ubiquitous and far-reaching–achieving social relevance beyond the digital realm. This is especially true for trends among Gen Z, who are 30 percent more likely to share videos both on and off of the platform than other generations.2

Further, 9 out of 10 of Gen Z users on TikTok agree that trends are set on the platform. This is a 37 percent increase compared to Gen Z statements on other social networks.2 As such, creating topical content to capitalize on an existing trend is a quick way for brands to build relevance and engagement on the platform. In 2021, brands of all industries and sizes were able to capitalize on the broad array of organic and paid content tools available on TikTok to inspire audiences to take action.

For brands that want to be part of the cultural conversation, paid solutions like Branded Hashtag Challenges can spark the trends of tomorrow while ad formats, such as TopView (ads that appear at the top of a user’s feed when they open the app), can help bring out the very best in creative ads.

Above: TikTok TopView Ad from Balenciaga (Driving to a Shoppable Landing Page)


#2: Optimize Content for TikTok’s Search & Discover Functionality

Ensuring that content is optimized for search is particularly important for Gen Z audiences. 89 percent of Gen Z TikTok users agree that TikTok helps them discover new things. These users are also more likely to follow and share content from their favorite brands and content creators.2 Nearly half of Gen Z users have followed a new creator in the past month, which is 30 percent more than TikTok users of other generations.2

Even more staggering, Gen Z users are 52 percent more likely to browse the Discovery page or search for something than other generations on TikTok2, meaning they are more likely to find and engage with content that comes from creators or brands that they don’t already follow.

Using captions with relevant topics, keywords, and hashtags boosts the odds of a brand appearing on the Discovery page, especially as it gains traction via engagement, shares, etc. Find appropriate keywords and hashtags by searching terms related to your brand or the video content and use the same hashtags as the most popular videos in the category.

Paid Ad Solutions like the Branded Hashtag Challenge help brands reach users on the Discovery page by placing sponsored banners in between editorial content and garner a median engagement rate of 17.5 percent!3

Above: In-Feed Ad from Costa Coffee


#3: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Traditional creative production, noble in the pursuit of the perfectly crafted message, often lends itself to paralysis by analysis. Brands and creators that inspire and achieve success on TikTok are creating and adapting in real time, adjusting creative and messaging to meet the changing capabilities of the platform (like filters and effects). While creative and messaging is of the utmost importance, fast-paced production can help brands capitalize on in-the-moment trends. At Empower, we develop content at the speed of the modern attention span with our in-house production studio.

1-in-5 Gen Z users have followed a brand on TikTok in the last month (10 percent more than other generations), and brands that fail to efficiently execute risk missing eyeballs altogether.2

Brands with a nimble team are able to respond to relevant, in-the-moment trending conversations or efficiently produce high-quality content at scale, allowing them to capture share of voice when it matters most.

For example, when a recent graphic design graduate went viral with a video sarcastically recreating popular logos, the NFL’s official account was quick to respond with a redesign of their own–which racked up more than 750k likes without paid support!4

Advertisers can even take advantage of Branded Effects to make content unique and eye-catching.

Above: Branded Effects Ad from VinFast


#4: Find Your Community

Collaborate with the right partners to establish a voice.

While TikTok (and its predecessor Musical.ly) is best known for music and dancing-related content, the platform has evolved to host a diverse array of content and communities, including (but not limited to) topics like cooking, DIY home renovation, makeup tutorials, dating advice, sports highlights, acting, and more. These communities include influencers and brands alike that have built strong relationships with fans. These relationships translate especially well to natural product placement and testimonial messaging.

Finding the right influencer or creator partners isn’t just about the number of followers. Working with agency partners with specialized Influencer teams (like us) allows for proper vetting using quantitative tools and quantitative analysis.

Quantitative access is key with the TikTok Creator Marketplace to ensure potential partners are reaching your target and confirm they are getting consistent views, not just one viral video.

Evaluating a potential partner’s creative is also crucial to the success of the collaboration. Peruse their other branded content posts to decide if they are a fit and won’t overburden your team for creative development (beyond standard guidance and approval).

With 8 in 10 Gen Z users find TikTok content inspiring (significantly higher than other platforms2), nearly all industries have the opportunity for inspiration and thought leadership.

#5: #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt

It’s not just upper-funnel awareness.

TikTok is the trusted resource for infomercial-style content with Gen Z. They are 1.7x more likely to purchase products they discovered through the app compared to other platforms5.

Don’t be fooled by the eyeballs–TikTok advertising is more than just an upper-funnel solution, as viral hashtags like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt benefit large-scale eComm brands and mom-and-pop establishments alike, generating 7B+ views worldwide and helping brands like Peter Thomas Roth sell six months of inventory in one week4 using influencer partnerships.

From new shopping integrations to new ad formats to Live Shopping events with Creators, the platform is poised to be the leader in “Trend-eRetail.” This is a term we’ve coined to describe the compressed version of traditional retail sales funnel emerging across social platforms (especially pertinent for Gen Z).

Brands that are set up for DTC success are already well-poised for immediate growth via TikTok, but companies of all business models and types have the opportunity to take advantage of the scale it offers with young audiences. Determining a brand’s niche and where TikTok fits into the sales funnel are crucial first steps towards refining a content strategy.

Each time a new platform emerges, media buyers scramble to evaluate the level of opportunity. Depending on the popularity of the platform, planning and activating can be the Wild West with varying CPMs according to audience scale. Luckily, Gen Z makes up more than half of the audience on TikTok2, so younger audiences do provide the largest opportunity to efficiently drive prospects through the funnel.

Brands that activate before the “gold rush” is over will benefit from significantly more efficient media buys. As more and more users (of all ages) flock to TikTok and Fortune 500 advertisers start to allocate larger budgets to the platform, we would naturally expect costs to climb. That said, there’s no better time than the present to activate a paid program on TikTok.

Hedging your bets by leaning into TikTok’s paid and organic strengths can help a brand achieve full-funnel success as efficiently as possible.

Advertisers on TikTok are particularly well-poised to build relationships with users, as 71 percent of Gen Z find ads on the platform creative and trendsetting (compared to just 53 percent of other platforms2). Hedge your bets with a combination of organic and paid activation before TikTok’s gold rush ends, resulting in more expensive CPMs and less-efficient targeting!

No matter the platform, we look forward to helping our clients and partners evaluate the ever-evolving landscape and planning for long-term growth.