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Brands Market to Generation Z on TikTok

Published on November 12, 2020, at 9:54 p.m.
by Julianna Kendall.

Long gone are the days where brands’ communication teams spend hours discussing commercials that will capture their target audiences for minutes. Today, they utilize social media strategies, spend hours perusing TikTok to research new trends, collaborate with influencers and comment back to fans. TikTok has given brands a new connection to their consumers.

The question for brands has shifted from simply how can they sell their products to how can they engage and grow their audiences? Adaobi Ugoagu, a creative strategist at Day One Agency, Nicole Bersani, the digital content manager of the Chicago Cubs, and Emma Finkbeiner, the Chicago Cubs digital media coordinator, are all on their way to becoming brand TikTok experts. Together they identify how brands can reach new Gen Z fans and stay relevant on TikTok through listening, authenticity, creativity and disruption.


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Brands need to listen to their audiences.
Along with using social media to create content and follow influencers, one out of three Gen Zers follow brands on social media with the intent to purchase products from that brand. Also, 52% of Gen Z trust influencers’ advice on products on social media.

A prime example of a brand using social media to listen and connect to its audience is through Chipotle’s avocado sweatshirt. Chipotle has received a lot of DMs recently from its audience wanting Chipotle clothing. Ugoagu said Chipotle listened to its Gen Z consumers and created a Chipotle sweatshirt that was dyed from the avocado pits left after creating Chipotle’s guacamole. Chipotle launched the environmentally friendly sweatshirt, and it was an instant success.

When it comes to marketing to Gen Z, Ugoagu said brands have to listen to them and market to them in authentic ways. She stated that the “defining trait of Gen Zers is that they know when they’re being marketed to. They know when someone is trying to sell them something, and it’s not that they hate being marketed to in a sense. I think with Gen Zers they’re really open to having stuff sold to them, but it needs to come across in a really authentic and funny way.”

Ugoagu also noted that through social media brands can reach both Generation Z and millennials at the same time. “I feel like the strategy has become if we hit Gen Z, then we are also going to hit millennials,” she explained. “I think it’s always been like if you market to the youngest generation, the older generations will end up following suit a little bit.” Ultimately, by listening and providing organic content to Gen Z, brands can reach older audiences and still gain new, young fans.

Brands should be creative, conduct research and test when collaborating with influencers.
Bersani claimed that the Cubs’ ultimate goal for TikTok is to reach the next generation of fans. Together Bersani and Finkbeiner plan to achieve this goal by connecting with new fans through trending videos and collaborations with influencers.

When it comes to researching trends, Bersani says that the Cubs think bigger than the MLB. She spends time looking at the NFL, European soccer leagues, the NBA, and sports in general to see what other sports are doing and if they can be incorporated into the Cubs social strategy. This strategy has led to a lot of creativity and has helped keep the Cubs #1 in the MLB on TikTok.

On the influencer side, she said that she and Finkbeiner have started testing the waters more with influencers in a little bit of an unconventional way. Instead of just collaborating with the top influencers on TikTok, they have started collaborating with fans who have a bit of a following. The Cubs partnered with a couple of these fan creators during the annual social media night. This innovative way to boost fan influencers has worked out well for the Cubs so far.

Overall, a brand’s selection of TikTok influencers comes down to research and testing. Finkbeiner stated that creators need to “understand the environment of TikTok,” and then move from there. Ugoagu said there are several questions brands need to ask before deciding on an influencer. She said those include “Do you like this brand? Have you talked about us before? How much are they (the influencer) talked about in the moment?”

Collaborations are about creativity and influence. If a brand does its research and finds influencers who are obsessed with its brand and speak to its audience, then its engagement will go up on TikTok and its fan base will grow.

Brands need to sometimes disrupt the conversation.
TikTok is a lot about following trends and adding to trends, but it is also a social media site about creativity. Ugoagu remarked that brands are always wanting strategists to think outside the box and take them to the next level. She said brands should not just be a part of a conversation or trend; they should also be a leader in the platform. They need to disrupt occasionally.

“Brands are always thinking, what are places that we can disrupt?” Ugoagu explained. “What are places that people are not even thinking about that we can just show up and people be pleasantly surprised.”

Lastly, brands need to always be authentic on TikTok.
Even though trends are a huge part of TikTok, to get noticed brands need to be a little different to receive attention. Ugoagu, Bersani and Finkbeiner all agree that the main key in reaching Gen Z is for brands to be authentic in their videos to their brands and to their audiences on the platform.

“TikTok in particular, it’s not just about getting on the newest trend as fast as you can and just pushing the content out as quickly as possible and being first,” noted Finkbeiner. “I think that’s never necessarily been us to begin with, and obviously with the speed of social, it’s nice if you can get into the conversation early, of course. But I think for me at least, when I approach TikTok, it’s not always about being first or being the fastest, but participating in the trend in a way that is authentic to us and making it feel very Cubs.”

Ultimately, TikTok has become the spot for brands to reach younger audiences. Brands need to do their research constantly on TikTok to keep up with trends and creators. Then, in their own content, they need to be authentic, funny, organic and think outside the box a bit. Finally, Bersani advised that brands need to keep in mind the phrase “quality content over quantity.” She said that if brands are true to their voices, then fans will acknowledge the honesty and respond positively.

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