Case Study: TikTok Brand Positioning

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TikTok, the popular video-sharing app founded in December 2014, has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms for users to create and share videos. With over 150 million active users as of September 2018, TikTok is on a mission to entertain its audience with quickly edited videos filmed on smartphones.

To grow its user base even further and increase revenue, TikTok has implemented various marketing strategies which have proven successful.

For example, they created sponsored trends (paid creators based on how many views their videos received) and released an augmented reality app (TikTok Studio). The app allows users to create 3D objects and then animate them within their videos. This added another layer of interactivity for viewers who wanted more from their content experiences.

Additionally, TikTok released new filters which allowed creators to make fun tutorials or creative styles for their content. Overall, TikTok’s strategy seems to be working as it grows in popularity alongside YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels.

But how did TikTok evolve as a brand? In this post, I will share TikTok’s Positioning case study or, in marketing terms, the “TikTok Brand Positioning” Case Study.

Let’s dive right in!

Evolution Of TikTok

The name TikTok is a combination of the words Tik and Toke. Tik means to laugh, and Toke means smoke. It was developed by a Chinese company named ByteDance, founded in 2011. The first version of the app was launched in August 2017, and the app has gone on to become one of the most popular apps in the world.

ByteDance started Douyin in September 2016 in Beijing, China, first under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin ((抖音) in December 2016. ByteDance intended to expand Douyin internationally. Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance, remarked that “China has only one-fifth of the world’s Internet users. We will lose to colleagues vying for the four-fifths if we do not expand on a global basis. As a result, becoming global is a necessity.” Douyin was created in 200 days and had 100 million users within a year, with over one billion videos viewed every day.

In September 2017, the app was released in the foreign market under TikTok. On January 23, 2018, the TikTok app scored top among free app downloads in Thailand and other countries.

According to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower, TikTok has been downloaded more than 130 million times in the United States and has reached 2 billion downloads globally (those numbers exclude Android users in China).

Celebrities in the United States, including Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk, began using the app in 2018. Several celebs, including Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Will Smith, and Justin Bieber, have also joined TikTok, and many more have followed.

TikTok and the National Football League (NFL) of the United States announced a multi-year agreement on September 3, 2019. The arrangement came just two days before the NFL’s 100th season kickoff at Soldier Field, where TikTok staged activities for fans to commemorate the occasion.

The collaboration includes creating an official NFL TikTok account, which will provide additional marketing options such as sponsored videos and hashtag challenges. After less than four years of operation, TikTok, excluding Douyin, reported around 800 million monthly active users worldwide in July 2020.

TikTok announced in September 2021 that it had achieved 1 billion users.

TikTok Brand Positioning

With over one billion downloads in 150 markets and 75 languages in just two years, TikTok has surpassed companies like Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook. Homemade videos that users create and share on their phones are featured on the app, and they range from humor to lip syncs to dog grooming tips. The scrappy, goofy, fast-paced content has captivated young audiences all over the world.

TikTok reaches far beyond other successful Chinese apps, such as Tencent’s messaging app WeChat, which is widespread in China but mostly used among Chinese communities keeping in touch with people back home. Chinese entrepreneurs, including ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, demonstrate that they can succeed in a globally competitive market rather than just in China, where the Great Firewall regulates the internet and blocks access to several US social media sites. His strategy of creating dual versions of Tik Tok – one for China’s internet-censored market and another for the rest of the world – could serve as a model for other digital content companies aiming for such global reach, including China-based digital startups with new ambitions to expand beyond their home market. Their story may also hold lessons for American companies that have seen similar ventures into China encounter significant challenges.

Zhang, a former Microsoft engineer and Chinese serial entrepreneur set out to build a company without borders. Zhang, 36, is part of a new generation of Chinese tech leaders with an international vision inspired by the early success of China’s late-90s tech pioneers like Robin Li of Baidu, Jack Ma of Alibaba, and Pony Ma of Tencent. ByteDance is one of China’s 86 “unicorns” in 2018, with a valuation of $78 billion. Top-tier venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China, Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank Group, US private equity investor KKR, Chinese investment firm Hillhouse Capital, and corporate venture unit SIG Asia are backers. ByteDance has a different relationship with the Chinese government and its hold on state-owned conglomerates because it is a privately funded digital content startup founded by a tech entrepreneur. However, as it expands globally, the China-based ByteDance may face increased suspicion and scrutiny, especially given the security concerns that have engulfed Chinese telecom giant Huawei as it prepares to launch its fifth-generation, high-speed networks globally.

Zhang launched Toutiao or Today’s Headlines, an AI-powered daily curated feed of news content personalized to users, five months after founding ByteDance. In 2016, Zhang expanded his product line by launching Douyin, a video-sharing app for the Chinese market. In 2017, he launched TikTok, an overseas version of the Douyin video app. That same year, ByteDance paid an estimated $900 million to acquire Musical.ly, a Shanghai-based social video app with over 200 million users worldwide and a sizable following in the United States. TikTok’s AI-fed streams and monetization track record were combined with Musical.ly’s product innovation and understanding of users’ needs and tastes in the West.

After ByteDance merged the four-year-old Musical.ly into TikTok and rebranded it as a single app under the TikTok name in August 2018, the combined app gained 30 million new users in three months. The app generates revenue through advertisements and virtual goods to fans, such as emojis and stickers. The app’s success has been fueled by an easy-to-use interface that combines clickbaity news and opinion with powerful AI to precisely match users rather than suggest content based on their viewing habits and “likes.” Homegrown content has grown in popularity, especially among rural and impoverished residents in China, India, and other emerging markets, with limited access to other online entertainment options. The new ByteDance content apps are especially popular in China’s smaller cities and rural regions, dominated by state-owned, stodgy media.

Zhang has also capitalized on China’s desire to prioritize AI in the race for global tech dominance. He describes a mission to “combine the power of artificial intelligence with the growth of the mobile online platform to revolutionize the way people consume and receive information.”

Connie Chan, a venture partner at Andreessen Horowitz in San Francisco, wrote in her blog that the AIpowered apps at ByteDance go to an extreme not yet seen in the West. TikTok uses the app’s algorithms to determine which videos to show users, completely controls their feed, and learns their preferences the more they use it. She contrasts this with Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube, which use AI to recommend posts rather than send feeds directly to users.

From its Los Angeles office, the company actively scouts for international content trends. Over the last few years, ByteDance has acquired Los Angeles–based Flipagram, a video and photo creation app set to music clips, and invested $50 million in Live.me, a Los Angeles–based live streaming app majority-owned by Chinese mobile app developer Cheetah Mobile. In addition, ByteDance paid $86.6 million to Cheetah Mobile for the News Republic, a global mobile news aggregation service based in France. ByteDance attempted to acquire a significant stake in Reddit, the popular social news aggregator in the United States, from Si Newhouse’s Advance Publications but was defeated by Tencent, which stepped in with a $300 million co-investment in early 2019.

TikTok, a Chinese video-sharing platform, is a serious global competitor for Facebook. According to SensorTower data, TikTok ranked fourth globally as the most downloaded non-game app in 2018, with 663 million, trailing only Facebook (711 million) and its related apps WhatsApp and Messenger. TikTok’s inroads into India, with its young, mobile-savvy population, are a big reason for its meteoric rise. India accounts for roughly one-quarter of TikTok downloads. In the first quarter of 2019, TikTok added 188 million downloads, surpassing Facebook’s 176 million but trailing WhatsApp’s 224 million and Messenger’s 209 million.

Late in 2018, Facebook launched its own short-format video version, Lasso, widely regarded as a rip-off of TikTok. Lasso, aimed at teenagers, can only be accessed through Facebook or Instagram and is currently only available in the United States. As indicated by application investigation firm SensorTower, Lasso was downloaded by 70,000 US clients in no less than four months of its November send-off, contrasted with almost 40 million clients for TikTok in a similar time span.

TikTok’s rise has also resulted in a slew of regulatory issues. TikTok was fined $5.7 million by the US Federal Trade Commission for failing to obtain parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and personal information from children under 13. In India, lawmakers briefly prohibited the app from being downloaded on Apple and Android in April for encouraging “cultural degradation” among youth. A few weeks later, the ban was lifted after ByteDance lawyers successfully argued that its system screens offensive content and prevents n**e videos from being shown. It is constantly being upgraded to identify troublesome videos and develop personalized recommendations.

Despite regulatory and other obstacles, ByteDance is constructing an empire of apps for a new generation while challenging the boundaries drawn around traditional digital content. Suppose ByteDance can continue to fulfill its mission of becoming a borderless company with game-changing technology. In that case, it may inspire the formation of other borderless companies and influence other emerging-market tech innovators to venture out. Ultimately, this trend will result in a broader range of digital offerings for consumers and businesses worldwide.

Conclusion

We have talked about the TikTok brand positioning case study in this post. I have shared with you how the company TikTok evolved and how its branding strategy helped them achieve its business goals. I have also provided a CTA for you to comment below on how many TikTok’s you have uploaded! I am eager to know it.

Also, check out my other brand positioning case studies.

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