How To Develop a TikTok Marketing Strategy (And Why You Need One)

Josh Viner
The Dopamine Effect
11 min readApr 7, 2019


Via Unsplash (Credit: Bruno Gomiero)

Level up your digital marketing at:

With creative teens as its fuel, TikTok is an engine that’s driving hit songs, products, and marketing campaigns.

When Ke$ha released her song “Tik Tok” it quickly climbed the charts, becoming the best selling-single in 2010, especially popular among teens. Today, Tik Tok, the app, has risen to the charts of the App Store, becoming the fourth most downloaded non-game app of 2018 (ahead of Instagram), especially popular among teens. With creative teens as its fuel, TikTok is an engine that’s driving hit songs, products, and marketing campaigns. Soo…what’s with the words “Tik Tok” and teens? Better yet, how do you develop your own “Tik Tok” strategy?

What Is TikTok

TikTok was originally called and used to mostly feature teens doing karaoke overtop their favourite songs. The Chinese company ByteDance bought and absorbed it into its own TikTok app, creating a global powerhouse of an app. Open up the app and you have bite-sized pieces of sheer creativity. It allows users to create 15-second videos (which can be combined to make longer videos), utilizing filters, effects, music, editing tools and more all within the app. No longer is it a karaoke app, but it’s a self-expression app. Driven by creativity and community, it’s an app where teens feel comfortable to display their creativity in unique manners.

“If I go as a marketer to another platform I get likes, shares or comments. If I get a video on TikTok, I get 20 to 30 minutes of a person’s time to create and share.” — Stefan Heinrich [TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing]

Why You Need To Know About TikTok

Some quick facts:

How to Use TikTok

There are many articles on how to use the app so I won’t review it in this article. Here’s a great example from Wired.

How Brands, Artists, and Celebrities Are Utilizing TikTok

Ok, this is the good stuff. In order to think about how to use TikTok for your product/service/brand, let’s dive into what others are doing…


GUESS launched the first ever fashion takeover on TikTok with its #InMyDenim campaign, which encouraged users to flaunt their GUESS denim in creative manners. GUESS utilized influencers to kick off the challenge, including @ourfire (2.3M fans), @madison_willow (+983K fans), and more. The campaign ran from Sept. 1 2018 to Sept 6 2018; during this time frame, upon opening the app TikTok users were directed to the challenge. As of writing this article, there are 37.4m views of videos that use the hashtag #InMyDenim.

“These digital natives’ tastes and desires govern the future of social media and culture. A cluttered brand space demands unique, engaging content and integrated participation.” — Edward Park, SVP of Retail and Digital at GUESS

Jimmy Fallon

To kick off a new “challenges” segment on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Jimmy Fallon used TikTok to start the #tumbleweedchallenge — which asked viewers to take a video on TikTok of them rolling around the floor like a tumbleweed. In less than a week, the challenge generated over 8,000 submissions and more than 10.4 million engagements. According to the company, the #tumbleweedchallenge was the biggest spike in engagement TikTok has ever seen from a challenge.

After the #tumbleweedchallenge, Fallon kicked off a new challenge, the #sharpiechallenge, which asked viewers to try to flip and catch a Sharpie marker with the same hand, uncap it, and draw a moustache on your face as fast as possible. The challenge helped acknowledge the popular Movember cancer-awareness campaign. [Note: He’s introduced numerous challenges since.]

“We’re looking for things that really engage people, and TikTok is a place where you can let your creativity shine. […] It has that short-form mobile energy.” — Julie Harrison-Harney [Director of Digital for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”]


At the time of writing this article, Google has a sponsored hashtag campaign — #HeyGoogleHelp — on the homepage of TikTok. The campaign invites users to create videos that utilize their Google Assistant (whether through their Google Assistant app, Google phone, or Google Home product). At the time of writing this article, the hashtag has 156.7m video views associated with it. Naturally, Google also utilized influencers to help spread the word (e.g., @katjaglieson (3.9m followers), @mahoganylox (2.5m followers), and more).

Alan Walker

Dance music producer and DJ, Alan Walker utilized TikTok to help market his song, “Different World.” Walker asked fans to record themselves doing their part for the environment (e.g., pick up a piece of garbage) with the hashtag #DifferentWorld. The creators of the 60 best videos, picked by Walker and his team, received prizes for their efforts. There are currently 105.9m views of videos with the hashtag #DifferentWorld.


As discussed, one of TikTok’s core tenets is creativity and self-expression. Leveraging this brand pillar, TikTok launched a new marketing campaign with the tagline, “#ImaDoMe.” It’s simple, clearly communicates TikTok’s brand message, and packs a lot of punch in one hashtag. There are currently 411.8m views of videos associated with the hashtag.

“What I love about TikTok is that people show their real side.” — Stefan Heinrich [TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing]

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X is the creator of one of the biggest songs right now in “Old Town Road.” The song did not catch initial popularity on radio airwaves, nor on Instagram, not even on streaming platforms, but it gained its first steam through a meme and then TikTok. Millions of teens created videos that used the song as a soundtrack to transform themselves into cowboys/cowgirls. The hashtag #yeehaw has 75.2m video views associated with it (almost all of which sample “Old Town Road”).

Lil Nas X created and promoted the song very methodically, telling Time, “I promoted the song as a meme for months until it caught on to TikTok and it became way bigger.” As well he told Rolling Stone that he purposely “put some potentially funny lines in there.”

Millions of videos later, a Billboard controversy (Billboard removed the song from its Hot Country Songs chart), a remix of the song featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, and Lil Nas X is the artist behind one of the hottest songs. It was #1 on the iTunes Chart, #1 and #2 (remix + original version), on Apple Music’s Top 100 Global chart, and top 10 in Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart (at the time of writing this article, it remains to be seen how the remix charts). It’s seen support from Ellen Degeneres, Justin Bieber, and many more.

Return on Investment

“When TikTok hit it, almost every day since that, the streams have been up. I credit them a lot.” — Lil Nas X on “Old Town Road”

Similar to other social media apps, the ROI on TikTok will be fan awareness and engagement, rather than sales/direct revenue. The app will also help you reach a younger demographic, and perhaps one that you’re not reaching on other social platforms. Lil Nas X stated, “TikTok brought my song to several different audiences at once.” However, the main metrics behind TikTok are awareness and engagement — which should be important to you, as those metrics can be indicators of brand loyalty and therefore, eventual sales.

When asked if he thinks TikTok should be paying him per stream on the app, Lil Nas X responded with, “Oh, no, no. I should maybe be paying TikTok. They really boosted the song. It was getting to the point that it was almost stagnant. When TikTok hit it, almost every day since that, the streams have been up. I credit them a lot.”

Furthermore, TikTok makes it extremely easy to download videos and therefore, videos on the platform are often compiled on YouTube, for thousands or millions of new people to view. In conjunction with YouTube, comes Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, or Facebook and these short TikTok videos are everywhere online.

For example, Pitchfork reported that TikTok video clips of TikTok user NyanNyanCosplay dancing to iLOVEFRiDAY’s “Mia Khalifa” started appearing on YouTube (including Pewdiepie’s channel, one of the most popular vloggers in the world, with over 93M subscribers). Pitchfork claims that,

“Plays on iLOVEFRiDAY’s official music video increased by a factor of 10, and, on YouTube, snippets of the song have been played over 200 million times. Based on reports about YouTube’s royalty rates, the video giant could have easily paid the group $150,000.”

iLOVEFRiDAY’s manager told Pitchfork, “It’s [TikTok] giving us exposure, and that’s what we need to push the brand forward.” Exposure, awareness, and fan engagement is the current ROI of TikTok, and those elements tend to be a catalyst of eventual revenue.

Developing Your Own Strategy

Time to start devising your TikTok presence. There are six components you could consider when devising a TikTok strategy:

  1. Challenges / Hashtag Campaign

TikTok is full of challenges (e.g., E-Girl, Hit or Miss (using the previously discussed iLOVEFRiDAY’s song, “Mia Khalifa”), Pretty Boy Swag, etc.). Creating a challenge is a great way to spread brand awareness and encourage engagement. If you’re an artist, perhaps you can do something revolving around your latest single/album release (similar to Alan Walker or Lil Nas X). If you’re a brand, think about a fun way one can interact with your brand (similar to Google or Guess). Elements to consider with challenges:

  1. Difficulty: When creating a challenge, ensure there is a good level of difficulty. I would argue that Alan Walker’s challenge was not difficult enough. Jimmy Fallon’s #tumbleweedchallenge was difficult in the sense that not many people want to do it in public. People like showing off difficult things they can do.
  2. Creativity: Allow some flexibility in the challenge — people enjoy guidelines but not being told exactly what to do. Enable users to put their own spin on the challenge. GUESS and Google did this beautifully with their hashtag campaign’s. With GUESS, jeans are a very personal item and allowing users to show off how they wear them (especially using all the effects, filters, and stickers that TikTok provides) was a great way to encourage creativity. With Google, the Google Assistant is nearly infinite in what you can ask it — allowing users that freedom, rather than a campaign that invited users to ask their Google Assistant a specific question, enables more creativity and thereby, more participation.

2. Duet

A “Duet” is another way to utilize a hashtag campaign in a unique manner that really encourages engagement. DJ Khaled has become an official partner of TikTok and has a new trending hashtag on the platform called #catchtheseblessings. Playing off his brand persona, DJ Khaled recorded him looking off screen (as in talking to an individual) and giving praise (e.g., “Your number one”) to an individual. The idea with this hashtag is to then “Duet” with DJ Khaled (this feature enables you to record yourself beside him), reacting to what he’s saying. How can you interact with your audience through a duet video? Can you pretend to high five each other? Have a conversation (similar to DJ Khaled here)? Sing to each other? Finish each other’s sentences? The possibilities are seemingly limitless.

3. Influencers

Of course, like other social channels, influencers are rampant on TikTok and can help promote your campaign to millions of their followers. Authenticity and determining the piece of content is a critical factor when picking an influencer. GUESS, Google, and other brands that have utilized TikTok have all used influencers to help spread their challenge or hashtag campaign. However, choosing the right influencer and allowing them to create content that suits their brand is critical.

4. Scarcity

As I’ve mentioned in my other articles, creating scarcity in your marketing efforts is vital in inciting participation and engagement. If one has no time constraint to complete a task, one is less likely to ever do it; give someone a time restraint, and they will act more quickly. If you’re creating a challenge or offering a sale of some sort through the use of an influencer, ensure users know they only have a certain number amount of days to engage with your product/service/brand in this unique way. Notice how the GUESS campaign only lasted a week — this actually encouraged more participation rather than stifled it, as users were eager to participate before the fad was over.

5. Authenticity

Authenticity is, of course, a core pillar of any social strategy but I would be remiss to not include it here because, unlike other social channels such as Instagram, TikTok is still quite pure — it’s based off self-expression and authenticity. Brands have yet to completely flood the TikTok gates (I have no doubt they will eventually). So if you’re going to get something going on the platform, there needs to be an extremely high level of authenticity or you will be shunned by the TikTok community. Do not push sales. Push creativity and community. Utilize Jonah Berger’s concept of social currency (something I write about often) — give your audience an easy opportunity to be liked and shared among their own community by engaging with your product/service/brand.

6. Community

I wanted to end with the point of community because any strategy should not just be a single challenge or use of influencer but you should be building a presence on the platform and a community around your product/service/brand. Start with simple videos. The possibilities are endless — depending on your brand tone of voice, you can be funny, serious, controversial, positive, political, etc. The point is to actually make an effort in posting content and creating a community. Jimmy Fallon has done an incredible job of this by utilizing the platform to create challenges that accentuate his brand and capitalize on current moments (#SharpieChallenge during Movember, #ElfOnTheShelf Challenge during holiday season, etc.). He can then repurpose this content on other channels, such as his TV show.

So…How Do You Get Started?

Ok, cool. All of this is good to know but how do you get started? Download the app, create an account, spend at least half an hour browsing through videos to see how people are using the platform and create your first video. Experiment. Get a feel for the app. It will take a lot of time to get used to. But most importantly, start to develop a presence on the app. Rather than simply trying to start a campaign out of nowhere once you want to do so, create a community around your product/service/brand and that way, when you do when to make a stronger push on the platform, you will already have a base with which you can start. As I encourage with any app, get creative, experiment, play around, and have fun.

Seemingly moving 200 miles/hour, it doesn’t seem like the TikTok engine is stopping anytime soon so you may as well hop on board and go for a ride.

Clap 👏 👏 if you liked this article to help others find it
Comment 💬 if you want to discuss (or just say hello! 👋)



Josh Viner
The Dopamine Effect

I share ideas of growth marketing, productivity, and entrepreneurship. I run a growth marketing consultancy called the creative lab.