TikTok trends: What brands need to know in 2021
Many of us would not have imagined TikTok as a powerful marketing tool when it came into the social media scene in 2016.
However, one of the few people who recognised its value was Matt Schlicht, CEO and Co-founder of Octane AI, a platform with a suite of tools for Shopify merchants. He told the entire audience at Klaviyo’s conference in 2019 that TikTok would become massive, and that they should be paying attention to it.
“With commerce being integrated even deeper into the native TikTok experience and creators building audiences faster on TikTok than on any other platform, it’s only a matter of time before TikTok is producing more new fast-growing commerce brands than Instagram.” -Matt Schlicht, CEO & Co-founder of Octane AI
If you don’t agree with this sentiment, remember this: a simple TikTok with nostalgia-inducing music breathed new life into a 90-year-old brand. You know the one—a man named Nathan Apodaca was happily cruising on his skateboard while lip-syncing Fleetwood Mac’s feel-good song “Dreams” on his way to work. And let’s not forget—he’s sipping on Ocean Spray’s cranberry juice the whole time.
When the video went viral, Ocean Spray earned 15 billion media impressions in less than a month.
Brands who want similar results on TikTok don’t have to wait until a creator inadvertently thrusts them into the spotlight. Instead, companies can get ideas for content there by learning what’s trending.
Current TikTok trends, according to experts
Getting your brand’s TikTok off the ground will require some work. It’s smart to start by using some tried-and-tested content formats.
Which ones? We talked to some marketing experts to find out what they recommend.
1. Leveraging user-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) is content that fans or customers create about a brand and its products. Most brands take advantage of UGC because it’s efficient: there’s no need to constantly develop new content internally when there are users constantly generating material on their own.
How do you get people to start creating this content? One way brands can encourage customers to make and share videos on TikTok featuring products is by promoting a branded hashtag. From there, brands may select UGC to feature on the brand page (thus boosting the creator’s exposure) or even incentivize things with a giveaway or contest.
Just look at this example from one BarkBox customer.
Using the hashtag #barboxtoys, the video highlights the forward thinking that makes the brand’s products stand out from other dog toy makers—and BarkBox didn't even have to lift a finger.
2. Getting raw and real
TikTok’s culture is one of many things that makes it different from other platforms: Its appeal lies in its authenticity.
According to Janira Planes, a Project Manager at CreatingREM, “Posting a lot of content without really caring about it being high quality works for most brands and creators on TikTok.” Planes cited TikTok star Victoria Paris as an example of someone who does this, posting as many as 60 TikTok posts a day.
The first five videos were all posted on the same day, but Paris still managed to garner a lot of views. You can see from this snippet of her TikTok account that she doesn't get caught up in quality and lets her content feel more natural and real.
The same approach helped Peace Out, a DTC skincare brand, gain popularity on TikTok, too. They keep things real and don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations about acne, blackheads, and other skin issues. Why? Because they're real and relatable. The TikTok audience is here for it, too: Peace Out has over 1.6 million likes on the platform and 10 million views for videos with #peaceoutskincare.
Real content created by real people is the essence of TikTok, and it’s also what TikTok audiences appreciate and love about the platform. The platform commissioned a Nielsen study and found out that three out of four respondents said TikTok allows people to express themselves freely.
3. Trying out augmented video and branded effects
Leann Abad, Project Manager at SLOPE agency, says that he’s seeing a lot of augmented reality (AR) trends on TikTok lately—using the word “augmented” as a loose term to describe any video that isn’t simply filmed with the camera and edited in a standard fashion.
That makes sense, because using AR in your content can increase brand awareness and engagement. According to a Zappar report, brand awareness can increase by as much as 70% with AR.
You can create AR filters allowing users to test new products on themselves—or have your followers tag you every time they use your filter.
If using AR isn’t part of your strategy just yet, you can also leverage branded effects on TikTok as well. Take a look at this impromptu fashion show featuring fashion brand Shein’s 2D facial + 2D foreground branded filter.
Tiktok user: @nagmaa
AR branded filters make your video more appealing and engaging. In fact, the average time spent on AR filters is 75 seconds, which is four times longer than mobile videos.
4. Putting out aspirational content
TikTok expert Savannah Sanchez said she’s noticed certain brands finding success by sharing their stories and walking audiences through the timeline of how they got to where they are now.
The main idea here, she says, is to focus on emotions and not needs. Doing so expands brand reach by tapping into relatable, emotion-driven experiences. And it doesn’t have to be about the history of a brand, either. It can be about sharing small wins, talking through obstacles, or again, UGC that shows customers finding success with products.
Just take a look at DTC sportswear brand GymShark’s TikTok channel to see this approach in action. This GymShark TikTok video has generated almost 30,000 views in just 20 hours. Why does it work so well? It’s simple and not salesy, but shows viewers that what they’re after is within reach...so long as they put their minds to it. Bonus: it spotlight’s the brand’s clothing, too.
Now is the perfect time for aspirational content. Post-pandemic, consumers are still rethinking everything.
“There was never a better time than a global health crisis to reorganize our communities around new influencers, aspirations, social rituals, and habits” –Ana Andjelic, Ph.D. in Sociology
5. Participating in conversations
Discourse is something to be expected on text-heavy sites such as Twitter and Facebook, but for a video-driven platform? Not so much. However, things took a turn in 2020, and TikTok didn’t fail to demonstrate a knack for raising awareness about social injustices.
Vox Senior Reporter Rebecca Jennings observed a new behavior among TikTok users in recent months: “People are much more willing to criticize platforms, trends, art, etc.—and people seem to be a lot more interested in hearing it,” she said.
As a result, it’s important for brands to share their authentic support of different social and political issues. Beauty brand Eos is one of the first ones to post about #BlackLivesMatter. This simple video reminds their TikTok following that it’s important to take action on these issues, and along with this campaign, the company also put its own money where it’s mouth is by donating $10,000 to Color of Change, an organization that creates champion solutions and campaigns to combat unfair practices against Black communities.
6. Promoting educational content
Lately, it seems like TikTok wants to dispel the notion that it’s only for a young audience of users who are constantly dancing around and having a good time. In fact, TikTok might even develop a dedicated page for more educational types of posts.
“Rumor has it that TikTok may launch a whole page right next to the ‘for you page’ that will go by EduTok or something similar.” - Janira Planes, a Project Manager at CreatingREM
It’s a good idea, then, for brands to create educational content around its products. This could mean doing video responses to comments on organic posts or ads, product use tutorials/demonstrations, life hacks, or even getting into the ever-popular trend of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt.
Fashion brands, for example, can offer their followers style inspiration and instructions they need to achieve a specific look by providing step-by-step instructions. Here’s one example from ASOS educating their audience how to get the perfect knot when tying a long shirt( which has been viewed 50,400 times.)
7. Making the most of social commerce
Shopify and TikTok announced their partnership in late 2020. This integration should result in more traffic to both platforms, as well as increased sales. It’s something brands should look forward to because it will likely give live shopping a whole new meaning.
In the meantime, brands are taking advantage of TikTok’s Hashtag Challenge Plus, a feature that makes hashtag challenges shoppable. Users can watch and create videos as usual—the only difference is that there’s a separate tab where advertisers can showcase their products directly within the app.
One of the first to take advantage of this feature in 2019 was the grocery retail chain Kroger. They created the #TransformUrDorm challenge, encouraging users to post dorm makeovers using the hashtag. Kroger's challenge included a brand-specific shopping page, and videos associated with the hashtag accumulated more than 477 million views.
“I think this is a great move both for creators (DTC merch, and brands), small businesses (that are finding A TON of success on TikTok, just take a look at the #smallbusiness or #smallbiz hashtags on the app), and brands in general.” - Janira Planes, a Project Manager at CreatingREM
8. Partnering with content creators
For most brands without large budgets, a wise approach is to hire TikTok creators that aren't extremely famous yet, but that a brand’s niche community loves.
Unlike the Instagram Influencer videos we're used to seeing, TikTok mini-infomercials will not work, says Tanya Thompson. She elaborates further by saying that on TikTok it's just people doing what they have always done on the platform, regardless of their "niche."
As a result, brands are able to seamlessly integrate their products into TikTok videos that already do well with their target audience, as long as they use the right influencer.
Savannah Sanchez cited keto-friendly brand Outer Aisle as one of the best examples of a brand that does this well. To promote their brand and products, they work with top Tiktokers known to create healthy recipes. This strategy works because you’re pitching your product in a more organic manner, especially since it’s coming from a known influencer your target audience recognizes.
What brands are doing wrong on TikTok
Not everything you put out on TikTok will go viral—even if you adopt the trends listed above. That’s because there are certain behaviors on the platform you need to factor in. Here are some of the most overlooked mistakes we see brands making on the channel.
1. Not understanding how the TikTok algorithm works
Trends come and go, and it’s even faster in the TikTok-verse. Brands often over analyze their strategies and don't take risks. And if you know how TikTok words, you’ll understand why. “Where I see brands go wrong is not understanding TikTok; not understanding how the TikTok algorithm works and that it is ever-evolving,” Tanya Thompson said.
The channel bills itself as the destination for mobile videos in short form. Think of it as a place where you can post short YouTube videos ranging from five to sixty seconds. And because TikTok videos are shorter, there is less effort involved than in making successful YouTube videos.
“Brands that plan too much about what to put out and end up hopping on trends too late. Unlike the popular saying, TikTok is all about ‘better sorry than safe’." - Janira Planes, a Project Manager at CreatingREM
Not only that, TikTok’s algorithm differs a lot from YouTube (as well as other platforms). For example, YouTube solely relies on the user's preferences. This isn’t the case for TikTok. The platform also pays attention to user’s behavior, so it measures things such as how fast you scroll through each video. TikTok is different in the sense that if you like a certain video, the platform will show you videos featuring the same music or sound. So essentially, you can use them like hashtags.
2. Over-selling your product
Younger audiences (73% of GenZ and millennials, in fact) favor experiences over the actual product itself. How does this affect your marketing? Well, if you’re pushing for your product so hard, you’ll turn most of your TikTok audience away.
Almost 86% of American audience on TikTok is below 44 years of age. And 60% of the overall number of users are between 16 to 24 years old. These are the individuals you’re targeting on TikTok, so you should make sure your campaigns sit well with them.
Your goal is to tell stories in the videos you put out. Make sure to highlight lifestyle benefits more than your product features. Your brand will become more memorable if you sell the experience well. Plus, you’ll do well to incorporate narratives in any of your marketing strategies, anyway. It rarely fails, anyway.
3. Repurposing your content too often
TikTok stands out because it is a platform for creatives. After all, you have to snag your customer’s attention in less than a minute.
For this reason, it’s easy for TikTok users to identify repurposed content that doesn’t fit the channel. Planes explained that one of the biggest mistakes brands make on the platform is to repurpose content the wrong way (horizontal) or edit it too much, making content look unnatural and more IGTV than TikTok.
It might go against traditional marketing practices, but TikTok is the perfect place for your brand to let loose: It's not the place to hammer home corporate messages. It’s where you show the audience your fun side and all aspects of your brand personality.
Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t reuse existing content. You just have to be smarter about it. Thompson believes there are ways for marketers to organize existing content and plan for future content that will allow them to take what they already have (if they have a lot of good video content already) and apply relevant trends to it.
This is essentially true, but it can take up more time and effort than just building TikTok content from scratch. She shares that, “I think the idea of repurposing content is much harder to do on TikTok. I think you can “repurpose” messaging, but TikTok content is very different from what you see on other platforms.”
The growth of TikTok as a social media marketing tool is making it a priority for many brands to use. The platform will grow further if it captures brand engagements and may come out on top of other social media platforms in the near future.
But even without that, marketers think TikTok is here to stay. In the future, brands will likely hire content creators without any real marketing experience or education because these content creators are changing the game for marketers. Organic growth on TikTok works unlike any other platform--and it’s free. Things might change in two years’ time.
Leann Abad also thinks that advertising-wise, TikTok will become the next Facebook, and brands should start testing TikTok as another paid channel. If this were to happen, now more than ever would be the best time to take advantage of TikTok’s organic reach. Start creating TikTok videos that go viral using the top trends suggested by experts.