Staff Reporters
Aug 4, 2020

Should brands rethink their TikTok strategy?

SOUNDING BOARD: As uncertainty and confusion dominate headlines about TikTok’s future, we ask industry experts if this could mean a shift in strategy for brands.

Should brands rethink their TikTok strategy?

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for TiKTok. A ban in India, a potential ban in Pakistan, a switch of platforms in Hong Kong, and now, a precarious future in the US and the ANZ region. Last weekend, Microsoft swooped in to strike a potential purchase deal for TikTok from Chinese parent company ByteDance.

On paper, much of this is said to be because of suspicion around TikTok’s data collection processes, as well as safety and security issues. The unique point of contention for TikTok is whether it hands this data over to the Chinese government if requested to do so. Despite the social media platform repeatedly saying that it has never handed over any information to the government, the potential ban in the US is observed by many—including our own tech editor—as a consequence of political flexing due to rising Sino-US tension.

Amid this disarray, should this affect brand or influencer strategy and campaigns on TikTok? We ask experts in the region to weigh in.

Charles Lankester, executive vice president, risk management, Ruder Finn Asia

Welcome to another new normal for the West and China. Tectonic economic plates are shifting and TikTok is now front page news for aggrieving the current occupant of the White House. Should Chinese brands outside of China rethink their global strategy? In one word: no. Just the opposite: they should double down.

If TikTok was not so good, it would not be a threat. Same for Huawei. Same for Ant. Same for Alibaba. These corporations are miles ahead of anything close in the West which is why they are such a target. There is also a grumpy White House resident aspect to all of this.

The only reason Trump wants to ban TikTok is because their users ruined his much-touted Tulsa rally and caused it to be massively underattended by deliberately applying for tickets en masse and not showing up. This part is plain tit for tat. The other reason is wanting to distract voters and the media from his disastrous handling of COVID-19. It’s a classic playbook: deflect blame and misdirect. Rinse and repeat. That's why China is the US bogeyman right now. It won’t last.

As the US GM of TikTok, Vanessa Pappas, said so well, “we are not going anywhere”. Bravo. The China value and innovation machine is now at full speed: making and doing bigger, better, faster. Instead of complaining, the US and the West should just build a better TikTok. Then everyone would use that. Simple.

Justin Peyton, chief transformation & strategy officer, APAC, Wunderman Thompson

My sense is that in the near term, these actions will give brands confidence that TikTok will be bought by an American brand—most likely Microsoft—and so the geopolitical questions that have been hanging over it will end. This means that making a long-term investment into the platform will be seen as something that can offer lasting value and so I would expect brands to increase their efforts.

I think brands who see value in the audience they could potentially access through TikTok will now start to see ease in terms of how they could work with TikTok, leading to greater focus on developing a strategy for the platform.

Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst, eMarketer

TikTok has massive appeal not only in the US but in many countries around the world. Carving it up into pieces would put a huge damper on its overall growth. The better strategy in my opinion would be to work out a deal where the entire business (except China) is acquired. That would preserve TikTok as an international company serving many markets.

From an advertising business standpoint, the value of TikTok to Microsoft could potentially be very large, but I want to emphasise that it’s just potential at this point. TikTok is very early in the development of its ad business, and there’s no guarantee that it will attract a large share of ad dollars.

What TikTok has going for it is that it has already proven to be attractive to a wide range of marketers (not just those targeting the youth audience) and its ad formats are highly creative and unique. But to build a lasting ad business, TikTok also needs to develop easy self-serve tools that allow marketers to buy ads in bulk, using automated buying tools. Microsoft could help with this, although it’s not particularly well known for its ad technology.

Rohit Sharma, chief operating officer, AnyMind Group

There are two “paid” facets when it comes to marketers reaching an ideal audience on TikTok: advertising and influencer marketing. The former has some really interesting ad formats that other social media platforms can learn from, and the latter is a new opportunity for marketers to jump on if they want to reach TikTok’s user base.

As with any new platform, marketers need to fully understand the benefits and risks involved, and map their objectives accordingly, including how they can reach the desired audience on the platform. The best course forward is for marketers to continue planning a macro-level approach to TikTok the same they would any other social media platform, but at the same time, keep a close eye on developments and pivot accordingly. At the very base level, marketers should have the appropriate user, influencer or performance data to make the best decision on which social media platforms to leverage.

Charlie Baillie, co-founder and CCO at Ampverse

Against other social media behemoths, a core reason TikTok stands out is because it boasts an audience profile that is similar in every market. Brands that have successfully engaged with Gen-Z’s in one market can replicate their tried-and-tested campaign in another and achieve a similar level of success.

With Microsoft seeking to acquire TikTok to keep it operational in the US, it is safe to presume that brands will continue to power through their TikTok strategies. India’s TikTok ban will undoubtedly have negative effects as brands have fewer ways to engage with younger Indian audiences, but in a market as large and varied as India, it is not impossible that we might see the emergence of a native Indian short-form video entertainment app.

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