TikTok Marketing: Your Ultimate Creative Guide (2023)
This guide to TikTok marketing is part of our Ultimate Guide series on social media video marketing best practices. Learn more about how harnessing the power of video marketing helps brands stand out on other platforms, from Facebook and Instagram to Pinterest and Snapchat.
TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media apps on the scene. This short-form video platform began in 2016 but quickly rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as people looked for ways to entertain themselves during stay-at-home orders.
TikTok gives users a slate of creative features to produce an endless stream of short-form video content. Similar to Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok allows users to add filters, text, and effects to their videos, but it goes beyond the limitations of these other platforms. As a video-focused, sonic-oriented app with a vast library of popular songs, users can seamlessly integrate music directly into their original videos. This makes the user-generated content feel slick and professional.
Many brands are hesitant about leveraging TikTok marketing for a few reasons, including the notion that the platform isn’t conducive to typical campaign goals or target demographics. But as the platform continues growing, this argument holds less and less weight. TikTok has grown to over 1 billion daily active users, and the platform is on track to see 1.5 billion users by the end of 2022.
And it’s not just those meddlin’ kids on the platform either! The average TikTok user ranges from 10 to 49, and 11% of the platform’s users are over 50. With so much content on the platform, nearly anyone can find something to suit their interests.
Even if TikTok marketing isn’t immediately apparent for your brand, there’s a wealth of opportunities for your team to lean into the rising social platform to build community and awareness for your business. And as they introduce new features — like TikTok Pulse, which allows brands to place their ads next to the hottest organic videos on the app — those opportunities are only growing.
You may not be as fortunate as Ocean Spray, which saw a surge in visibility when the brand was organically featured in a wildly popular TikTok video, but it’s a success story that proves the power of the platform. With one simple video, you can make a significant impact, which can potentially reverberate across the pop culture spectrum. In a swelling sea of competitors vying for domination on the social platform, it’s high time to start exploring what opportunities TikTok marketing holds and how the platform can help you achieve your business video marketing goals.
This guide will give you an overview of TikTok advertising, the suite of ad placements you can utilize, as well as creative best practices (for paid and organic) to give you a leg up on other brands as the race to embrace the new social platform continues.
TikTok Marketing: Platform Overview
TikTok Marketing: Ad Placements and Specs
TikTok Marketing Creative Best Practices
What is TikTok? Platform Overview
TikTok began its life in 2016 as Douyin, a video-sharing app developed by the tech company ByteDance for the Chinese market. In 2017, ByteDance acquired Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app with many of the same social video features that typify the TikTok experience. When Douyin integrated Musical.ly’s functionality into their app, the global version of the social platform, TikTok, was born.
Flash forward to today and the app has boomed, growing to over a billion monthly active users across 150 countries. A large part of this rapid adoption is how easy TikTok makes it for users to create and share original native video advertisements on the platform.
As TikTok states, “Our mission is to capture and present the world’s creativity, knowledge and moments that matter in everyday life. TikTok empowers everyone to be a creator directly from their smartphones, and is committed to building a community by encouraging users to share their passion and creative expression through their videos.” As we all know, TikTok is more than accomplishing its mission. The app has been downloaded over two billion times, and 83% of users have posted at least one piece of video content.
The platform has played a vital role in turning everyday people into viral content creators. TikTok’s users are already fluent in the tools of visual storytelling, and brands need to know they’re advertising to an audience of content aficionados in order to effectively plan their marketing strategies.
The sheer amount of videos produced daily means the platform is saturated with content, mostly from — and targeted to — younger demographics, like Gen Z and Millenials. While we think of TikTok as a social channel geared toward younger audiences, there is a balanced representation of users across all demographics, including Baby Boomers. As older generations tap into the fun of the latest social platform, brands have an opportunity to connect with their target audience in new, innovative ways.
The potential for brands to drive sales with TikTok marketing will only grow more apparent as the platform pivots to meet the demands of social commerce. With the ever-increasing popularity of TikTok Made Me Buy It (seriously — this search term has 7.4 billion views on TikTok) and the introduction of TikTok Shop, product advertisements are only becoming more essential. As the platform continues to embrace the emerging eCommerce trend, TikTok is setting itself up to become a true full-funnel marketing channel for brands.
TikTok Organic Video Specs
Before we dive into the ad placements that exist for marketers, let’s take a look at what specs user must follow when posting to TikTok.
- Resolution: 1080×1920
- Aspect ratio: 9:16
- Length: Up to 10 minutes long
- Maximum size: 287.6 MB
- Format: MP4 or MOV
Organic TikTok Videos: What to Keep in Mind
In addition to running TikTok ads, creating an organic profile is critical. While improved engagement and conversions won’t happen overnight, establishing your brand’s organic presence on the platform can help build trust and familiarity with current and potential consumers.
Since TikTok is optimized for mobile use, you can shoot your videos using typical dimensions. Now, TikToks can be up to 10 minutes long, but the most popular videos are significantly shorter. As reported by Wired, the most recent data shows the most popular TikToks are between 21 and 34 seconds.
TikTok Marketing Ad Specs & Placement Types
As the social platform’s audience grows more diverse by the day, TikTok is an attractive buy for advertisers looking to target a wide array of demographics. With the unveiling of TikTok for Business in 2020, the platform has eased the barriers to entry for competitors of all sizes who want to get in on the TikTok game. Here are the three main ad types you need to know about.
Related: TikTok Video Ad Specs & Placements
Need help with other networks? Check out our complete Social Media Video Ad Specs & Placements Guide
In-Feed Video Ads
TikTok In-Feed video ads appear in the For You feed. For You is an algorithm-based feed that shows users videos targeted to their interests. If you’re familiar with ads on Instagram, you’ll have an idea of what an In-Feed Video ad will look like.
Users can engage with and share the ads natively on the platform. This ad placement can be further supported through calls to action (CTAs), which help drive traffic to internal landing pages, your website, or an eComm store.
Video Ad Specs
- Aspect Ratio: 9:16
- Max File Size: 500 MB
- Video length: Can support 5 to 60-second videos. We recommend 9 to 15-second videos for optimal performance.
- File types: .mp4, .mov, .mpeg, .3gp, or .avi
- Description: 1 to 100 characters are supported
- TikTok ads should be supported with sound and/or music as the app defaults to a sound-on experience.
In-Feed Video TikTok Ads: What to Keep in Mind
Keep in mind that since these in-feed ads are quick bursts of content, they can be easily swiped, so make sure you grab users’ attention in the first few seconds. Out-of-the-box creative video campaign ideas, like animation production and stop-motion, can make a TikTok marketing video stand out.
This ad for Self, created by QuickFrame, taps into the creative culture of TikTok while promoting Self’s app by framing the ad as a behind-the-scenes look at digital animation.
Make Your In-Feed Videos Shoppable
TikTok allows you to use In-Feed Video Ads and turn them into Video Shopping Ads, which are exactly what they sound like: shoppable video ads! This feature is available to all TikTok Shops.
When users are scrolling through the platform, they can click your product link, view your TikTok Shop to see all of your products, and explore your brand. This is a great option for businesses in countless industries to showcase their products and benefits!
TikTok TopView ads work similarly to Brand Takeovers in that they are one of the first ads a user will see when opening the app. According to TikTok, 71% of users agreed TopView ads grab their attention, so this is a great opportunity to get your brand in front of your target audience.
There, users can like, comment, share, or follow your brand. If you want to raise brand awareness or drive immediate conversions (by featuring a promo, for example), TopView can be a great way to make an immediate impact.
Optimized for full screen, TopView ads can also run up to 60-seconds long, allowing more room for your creative to sparkle. You can further engage your target audience with CTAs that direct users to websites and eComm landing pages.
Video Ad Specs
- Aspect Ratio: 9:16
- Max File Size: 500 MB
- Video Length: 5 to 60 seconds, though 15 seconds is optimal for TopView ads
- File Type: .mp4, .mov, .mpeg, .3gp, or .avi
- TikTok ads should be supported with sound and/or music as the app defaults to a sound-on experience.
TopView TikTok Ads: What to Keep in Mind
By getting views before users even begin to scroll through TikTok, you can have their undivided attention — even if it is only for a few seconds. Keep in mind that TopView ads are managed on TikTok through reserved media placements and have specific location and budget requirements.
Related: 5 Best eCommerce Product Videos to Boost Conversions
This native ad format allows you to create ads from your own TikTok videos or videos from other creators (with their permission, of course).
While Spark Ads initially seem similar to In-Feed Ads, there are some notable differences, including the metrics you can track. These additional metrics include music clicks, paid profile visits, anchor clicks, and more.
This new feature allows you to elevate different types of videos — even UGC from your loyal fans! Whether you want to boost your own video, an unboxing of your products from a fan, or another video entirely, you can do it with Spark Ads!
Video Ad Specs
- As long as it’s uploaded on TikTok as an organic video, you can use it as a Spark Ad. Otherwise, there are no restrictions on video ratio, video resolution, file type, video duration, bitrate, or file size.
- Account tagging, emojis, and hashtags are allowed in Spark Ads’ captions.
Spark TikTok Ads: What to Keep in Mind
Maybe one of the most popular features of Spark ads is that all actions revolve around your (or another creator’s) organic post. According to TikTok, “Spark Ads use posts from real TikTok accounts, which ensures that all views, comments, shares, likes, and follows gained from boosting the video during the promotion are attributed to your organic posts.”
New and Notable Features
In addition to their suite of ad placements, TikTok is continually iterating and expanding on their product to bring new features, resources, and creative plays to their users–that advertisers absolutely should leverage.
Brand Safety and Suitability
Some brands have shied away from using TikTok partly because they want to make sure the platform is safe. In the past, some age-inappropriate content has made it through the platform, and some of its popular influencers have also been involved in scandals.
To avoid tainting your brand, TikTok gives you more control over how your ads run on the platform. TikTok has been working with a variety of companies, including the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), to help brands place their ads alongside relevant content. Brand Suitability features help you run your ads alongside quality content that’s safe and suitable for your target audience.
TikTok is fun for users, in part, because you can add effects to videos and make them more engaging. With branded effects, you can create a custom filter that runs for ten days. You can create these effects using 2D, 3D, or augmented reality (AR).
Branded effects can range from something as simple as a branded sticker to custom animations and sound effects. Branded effects are a great way to create easily discoverable user-generated content that’s also easily identifiable as part of your brand.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance recently released CapCut, a video editing tool made to help content creators edit, store, and manage their videos.
According to TikTok, “CapCut is a new, easy-to-use video editing tool designed for mobile platforms.” The tool helps with video editing, music, filters, effects, templates, captions, and more. While this tool can help video creators on all platforms, it’s certainly optimized to help TikTok and other mobile video users. It’s available on the web and through desktop, laptop, and mobile applications.
While the Creator Marketplace isn’t new, it’s certainly noteworthy.
The Marketplace helps you discover personalities who would likely be a good fit for your brand based on what they post. The Marketplace also lets you monitor your campaign performance to see how well influencers promote you in real time.
In the most recent Creator Marketplace updates, TikTok has rolled out enhanced search features, invitation links, and a match program that helps connect the right people.
As the Creator Marketplace continues evolving, it offers a better way for creators and brands to find each other and monetize videos. This part of the platform will give you tools to track each campaign and tweak your videos depending on their performance.
A new feature from TikTok will make sure brands are only paying for performance. As TikTok states, “Focused View offers a way for advertisers to drive brand impact by ensuring their ads are shown to users who are truly paying attention — to users who are both emotionally and tangibly engaged.”
This feature will only give ads to users who are likely to engage with the ad in the first place, and advertisers only pay for the times when users actually engage with the ads. Engagement for this feature is met when someone either watches the video for at least six seconds or takes action on the ad within six seconds.
One case study shows this feature helped increase ad recall, watch time, and completion rate, so this new feature is certainly one to keep an eye on. Focused View will be available to advertisers by the end of 2022.
Another new TikTok feature aimed at better brand engagement is the Pop-Out Showcase. This feature lets you create a library of stickers and images you can add to videos in various ways. For example, if you’re selling a makeup line, you can add a sticker of various brushes to makeup tutorial videos. When users click on the sticker, they can be redirected to your website to buy the product.
Pop-Out Showcase ads are interactive and can make user engagement more fun. Use them to help users discover new products or to spark curiosity about a new product launch.
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TikTok Best Practices for Brands
The best way to get a firm grasp on what content performs best is by immersing yourself in the platform, which will help you understand what to post on TikTok.
What are the popular trends and hashtag challenges that are exciting for users right now? How are brands and TikTok influencers playing with different video styles to drive viral awareness and growth? Even more importantly: what are your competitors doing to get a leg up on your own TikTok marketing campaigns?
Once you know what makes TikTok, well, tick, you can create a content framework and use the platform to your advantage. Here are a few TikTok best practices for marketers to keep in mind.
Stay on Trend
According to TikTok, they don’t spark trends; they set them on fire.
Trends and hashtags are a huge part of the TikTok experience. What makes trends appealing to TikTok users is that they establish an environment of cross-content storytelling. Users build communities by contributing to an overarching narrative — advancing a story (or meme or dance) that the community collectively created.
With on-trend creative, your brand can participate in social conversation with content in several ways, including through text, audio, and other stylistic elements.
Trends can be short-lived, so always stay on the pulse of what’s happening and act fast to produce relevant content.
Adopt a Native Approach
As a community of content creators, TikTok is a UGC-first environment. To feel native to the platform, adopt a UGC-style in your video ads with relatable, on-screen talent. If you want your ads to blend in even more with the platform’s user-generated feel, consider casting actual customers to promote your brand.
Audiences expect storytelling and entertainment on TikTok, so focus on putting a fun and snappy spin on your UGC-style creative to make it feel new and different. Think about how you can integrate b-roll, lifestyle shots, and more to play with the UGC-style video format.
While it might sound strange, talent doesn’t always need to be visible on-screen to be effective in UGC. You can take a UGC-style approach by making your creative look like it was filmed by hand. Leverage stills, motion graphics, music, and voiceover to craft a UGC feel solely through post-production techniques.
This QuickFrame-created TikTok ad from Apostrophe shows some unique ways you can use post-production editing to add filters and text to give your TikTok marketing videos a native feel.
Surprise with Sound and Video
Audio is a critical part of TikTok, so plan to the forefront the auditory experience in your creative concept and storytelling. Audio can quickly grab audience attention (which you’ll need to do to prevent a user from swiping your ad away), but you should also employ off-beat, bright, or interesting visual content to retain interest and spark curiosity in your viewer.
The element of surprise performs well on TikTok. Since users spend a lot of time on the platform consuming a stream of content, think of ways your advertisements can visually and sonically delight your audience with an unexpected twist.
Use Creative Storytelling
TikTok users are telling stories in short timeframes. Unlike other platforms, TikTok serves up one full-screen video at a time, so viewers are engrossed in the world of a single TikTok before swiping to the next.
Quickly grabbing user attention is important, but you need to make sure your creative follows through and delivers a payoff. Chart a narrative arc that will take your audience on a journey for every TikTok marketing video you run. Human psychology craves narrative, so a clear story is a surefire way to make a memorable mark.
Narrative arcs don’t always have to be a stereotypical story; they can also be videos that teach your audience something new. Leverage various types of videos, such as how-to videos, to take your audience on a journey of education and discovery.
Learn more about the full video production process.
This QuickFrame-created ad from Sodastream shows viewers how to craft a delicious drink while promoting the products underlying eco-friendliness.
Other TikTok Best Practices to Add to Your Creative Arsenal
- Find a niche. Really establishing what is unique about your brand will allow you to attract audiences within your niche. By identifying your brand’s niche, you can drive your content directly to a core base of consumers who want it the most.
- Publish often. You need to produce a steady stream of video content to compete in a saturated digital advertising world — especially on TikTok. With new videos being posted every minute, regularly publishing new and relevant video content, not just paid advertisements, will ensure your brand doesn’t get lost in a sea of emerging dances and hashtag challenges.
- Prioritize authenticity. TikTok is an unfiltered environment that celebrates individuality and being your true self. Your brand will be rewarded by embodying the platform’s ethos of authenticity. Marketers have a clear picture of their brand’s identity, so try and be as genuine about that identity as possible. The quickest way to create cringey content is by lacking the authenticity that users crave on the platform.
- Track performance. Like any marketing campaign, video, or otherwise, you want to ensure you’re keeping track of how your videos perform. TikTok has an analytics dashboard that makes it easy to track your entire campaign, from the total number of views and average time watched to specific traffic sources and user locations. This data can surface insights into how you can more effectively target your audiences, which will be a boon for marketers as privacy and data rules evolve.
- Work the algorithm. According to TikTok, every new interaction on the platform helps the system learn about user interests so they can suggest more relevant content. If your objective is to drive engagement, you need to consistently share fresh video content. The more videos you produce increases the opportunity for user interaction, driving even more relevant content from your brand to their feed. Use algorithm insights to inform your creative strategy. Since TikTok states the For You feed won’t show two similar videos in a row, you need to diversify your creative. Ensure your videos remain unique and engaging so users don’t feel the need to swipe away — even if they do see a few of your videos in a row.
Marketing on TikTok: The Takeaway
The future of TikTok marketing is limitless.
And the best way to understand what’s popular now is to do your homework and scroll through the app. One of the first trends you’ll notice is the challenges. Many TikTok users create challenges, which is a call to action to other users to do something in a video. In 2019, the Haribo Challenge took over the platform. In the initial video that inspired the challenge, a user set up gummy bears throughout their home and played a live version of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” In this video, gummy bears served as the audience singing Adele’s song back to her.
Others jumped on the hashtag, making videos featuring smartphones, pets, marshmallows, Funko Pop figurines, and multiple other products. Viral videos can bring thousands of views to your brand. While your brand may not immediately inspire a challenge, you can use TikTok’s creative features to connect with users and inspire them to learn more about you.
Whether you’re taking part in challenges, using branded hashtags, or sharing Spark Ads of UGC (or all three!), TikTok is an effective way to reach your audience in an engaging and creative way. As the app’s user base grows and diversifies across demographics, now is the perfect time for your brand to capitalize on TikTok’s insatiable trend-setting spirit. Learn more about TikTok video production.
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