On TikTok, Gen Z, and Adapting Your Strategy

for the Future's Largest Consumer Group

Adaptation precedes innovation. The ability to change and adjust according to new circumstances allows species and companies to survive and thrive. Without it, they face extinction.

From Blockbuster to Blackberry, the graveyard of business is littered with the bones of brands that failed to evolve. The proliferation of digital media has only accelerated the pace of change, making it even harder for companies to keep up.

Besides, a new generation of consumers has emerged, one that is comfortable with digital media and accustomed to being in control. This demographic expects brands to meet them where they are, on their terms.

With $140 billion in purchasing power and a strong preference for value-oriented brands, Gen Z is slowly—but surely—becoming America's largest consumer group. Preparing for their ascent is no longer optional; it's a matter of survival.

A Look Into the Future: Purpose, Personalization, and Authenticity

The most successful brands of the future will be those that communicate a clear purpose. As a January 2019 WP Engine study found, Gen Z is looking for brands that “feel authentic in their messaging and support social causes important to them.”

To reach Gen Z, you must establish a connection and show that you care about the same things they do. It's no longer enough to be “on trend”; you need to be purpose-driven.

Personalization also plays a crucial role in winning over Gen Z. 44% of Gen Zers are willing to trade personal data for a more personalized experience. They expect brands to treat them as individuals, not faceless consumers.

Instead of using a standardized approach, brands must tailor their marketing experiences to the preferences of Gen Z.

Also, authentic brands are likelier to prosper in future years. In a world where “fake news” is rampant, and trust in institutions is at an all-time low, consumers are looking for brands they can rely on.

In popular culture, we often see this manifested as “anti-branding,” where companies deliberate efforts to distance themselves from the traditional trappings of corporate America.

Take, for example, the rise of “vegan leather” as a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to animal-based leather products. Or the popularity of “ugly” produce, which is grown for taste and nutrition rather than aesthetics.

Companies are capitalizing on the growing demand for authenticity by offering products that align with Gen Z’s values. And as Gen Z comes of age, we expect to see more brands following suit.

At first, these trends may seem like niche movements, but they stipulate a larger shift in how consumers view and interact with brands. Multiple crises and a decade of economic volatility have left many people feeling disillusioned and untethered. 

This shift is the beginning of the end for traditional marketing and the rise of a new era of purpose-driven branding.

TikTok and Gen Z: A Love Story

Gen Z's social dynamics are unique, and their media consumption habits are even more so. In particular, they have a deep-seated love affair with TikTok, the lip-syncing app that revolutionized social media.

TikTok has surpassed Instagram as the most popular app among Gen Z in the U.S., expecting 89.7 million installs by the end of 2023.

TikTok isn't just another platform; it's a Gen Z content ecosystem, a cultural touchstone that shapes how they see the world. Individual channels might come and go, but TikTok changed the game for social media and how Gen Z consumes content.

The app's success is primarily due to its unique format, which encourages creativity and self-expression. TikTok users love to experiment with new content and forms, pushing the boundaries of what's possible within the app.

This creativity is a significant draw for Gen Z, who always look for new and innovative ways to express themselves. Roughly four in ten Gen Zers say social media impacts their style and fashion choices, and TikTok is a major source of inspiration for them.

Naturally, consumer-facing brands have taken notice of TikTok's popularity and are starting to experiment with the platform.

Brands that crack the code on TikTok can expect a considerable boost in brand awareness and engagement. 67% of TikTok users are likelier to buy from a brand they see on the app, and over half of Gen Zers say TikTok has influenced their purchase decisions.

However, marketing on TikTok is not as simple as posting a few videos and hoping for the best.

To be successful on TikTok, you must understand the platform and its users. You must speak the same language as Gen Zers and create content that is authentic, creative, and relevant to their interests.

Adapting Your Social Media Strategy for a Gen Z Audience

Appealing to Gen Z doesn't mean making a few tweaks to your existing social media strategy. In many ways, you'll need to start from scratch and build a process designed to reach this unique and influential demographic. Let's explore a few key ways you can adjust your social media strategy for Gen Z.

Adopt a content-first approach.

TikTok itself states that “the path to purchase on TikTok isn't like the linear model of the past; it's an infinite loop.”

You must create a continuous content cycle that keeps users engaged at every stage of the buyer's journey. Observing how users interact with your content will help you understand what they're looking for and how you can better serve them.

Content-led marketing will be critical to success on TikTok and modern social media platforms. Creating informative, entertaining, and visually appealing content is essential to reaching Gen Z.

Jenna Labiak, the founder of The Silk Labs, advises that brands must create content that is true to their brand and will resonate with users. Instead of selling your products directly, Labiak recommends creating content that shows off the lifestyle your product can provide.

For example, a hair care brand might create videos about how to style your hair for different occasions or achieve particular looks. These videos would be interspersed with product placements and calls to action, but they would not be overtly sales-y.

Tap into entertainment and humor

Entertainment is the most popular TikTok category, so it's essential to consider how your content can be informative and fun. Humor can increase watch time by 24%, and 40% of users prefer brands that share entertaining content.

Of course, not all brands will be able to use humor in their content. However, consider how your brand can add an element of fun or excitement to your videos. For example, you can incorporate trending dances into your content or use popular editing techniques.

Invest in high-quality visuals

Studies found that TikTok videos with 720p or 1080p resolution can increase conversions by 312%. Although video resolution doesn't determine success, users respond well to high-quality visuals.

When creating content for TikTok, consider investing in a high-quality camera to ensure your videos look their best. In addition, use editing software to ensure your videos are well-crafted and engaging. Adding effects, transitions, and music can help your videos stand out and engage users.

Remember that your content should be true to your brand. If you're not a visually-oriented company, don't sacrifice your brand identity to create flashy videos. Instead, focus on creating quality content that is relevant and engaging for your target audience.

Infuse your content with positive emotions.

It's also important to infuse your content with emotion. TikTok research suggests that emotional ads have a positive effect on brand perception. “Great TikTok content often includes an undertone of lightheartedness and positivity. And sometimes, all it needs is an element of levity,” says TikTok.

For example, you can share your company culture or highlight personal stories to add an emotional touch to your content.

Consider your target audience and what they're looking for. Gen Z is a notoriously skeptical demographic, so your content needs to be authentic and relatable. This means ditching the polished, perfect images that dominated social media in the past and opting for a more genuine approach.

Involve your audience during the creation process.

User-generated content is an excellent way to show off your brand through the eyes of your customers. A stunning 78% of TikTok users say they are likelier to follow brands that collaborate with users.

You can encourage user-generated content by hosting challenges, competitions, and giveaways. Incorporating user-generated content into your marketing strategy is an excellent way to show that your brand is authentic, transparent, and down-to-earth.

Produce interactive content.

65% of Gen Zers love being in control of their destiny. It's no surprise that they respond well to interactive content.

Interactive content is an excellent way to increase engagement and get users to talk about your brand. It's also a great way to collect valuable data about your target audience. You can use this data to improve your marketing strategy and ensure that your content resonates with users.

Ultimately, appealing to Gen Zers is all about understanding how they behave and what they want to see. You can increase brand awareness, engagement, and conversions by putting yourself in their shoes and creating authentic, exciting, and interactive content.


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