Inside the TikTok fashion and beauty playbook: ‘Think like a marketer, act like a creator’

With over 1 billion global users watching nearly a movie’s worth of videos per day, TikTok has cemented itself as a crucial social platform for fashion and beauty brands. In Glossy TikTok Strategies, a virtual event moderated by Glossy editors Jill Manoff and Priya Rao on June 16, marketers from several of Gen Z’s favorite brands gathered to discuss how they’re finding success on the platform. 

The TikTok strategists behind teen-focused fashion retailers Hollister and Pacsun, as well as Gen-Z beauty favorites Rare Beauty and CeraVe, gathered to cover all the intricacies of their TikTok strategies. Topics discussed included how they budget, hire teams, set KPIs, experiment with content, achieve viral moments and sell products on the platform. 

Most speakers noted that TikTok’s unique format calls for new performance measures. 

“Historically if you look at traditional social [media], the key KPI has been, from a leadership perspective, ‘How many followers do we have? What is our follower growth? Are we continuing to grow that following?’ And the reason that was so important was because the only people that would see your content were the people that followed you,” said Ryan Sasaki, vp of product for Dash Hudson, which partners with TikTok for its content marketing specialty and offers proprietary tools for tracking TikTok trends. Moderating a panel with Amy Oelkers, vertical director for CPG at TikTok, and Ashley Murphy, senior director of consumer marketing at Rare Beauty, he talked about an updated approach to KPIs with TikTok.

“The beauty of TikTok is that follower growth doesn’t really matter as much anymore, because the TikTok algorithm is really focused on presenting an individual user like any of us with the content that they’re most likely to find entertaining,” he said. 

According to Murphy, Rare Beauty bases TikTok KPIs not just on numbers, but sentiment.

“If the community is dying laughing in the comments section, that is a home run,” she said, noting that one key goal on the platform is “humanizing the brand.” 

Below are some of the themes discussed.

The rise of the secret TikTok account 

When the marketing team at Hollister first began devising its TikTok strategy, they took a page from the Gen-Z playbook: Rather than launching a highly publicized official account, they created a secret one. And the content wasn’t your average brand promo. 

“Our team started this underground TikTok account, where we literally made these tiny jeans that we found with our fingers, and we just had them do trending sounds, trends or dances we were seeing on the platform. We called the account ‘Tiny Jeans,’” said Jacee Scoular, senior director for brand marketing strategy at Hollister Co. 

As it turns out, the multi-billion-dollar brand’s dancing finger jeans proved to be a hit. 

“Our first TikTok went viral with over 13 million views. I called up my creative partner, and I was like, ‘I think we’re going have to tell legal about this account,’” said Scoular. 

The practice of launching an unpolished, alternate social media account — in Gen-Z parlance, a “finsta” when it applies to Instagram, but also a popular trend on TikTok — has been adopted by several brands as they navigate their TikTok strategies. 

Fellow teen fashion retailer Pacsun is also planning on launching a second account, which will be live in a few months and feature behind-the-scenes employee videos, said Tyler MacDonald, Pacsun senior manager for influencers and social media.

“It’s just another way to reach new audiences. We’ll always save the best for our own channel, but there’s something unique, in a way, to separate the two. … It’s just a fun idea; we were like, ‘Let’s just try it.’ We try not to overthink too much on TikTok.’” 

According to Scoular, Hollister’s account is also about “testing and learning,” as well as “getting a little weird and funny.” 

It has found that it’s the offbeat content that’s doing well. Hollister’s @tinyjeans is now verified, with over 648,000 followers, and features appearances by TikTok queens Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, who have their own Hollister sub-brand, Social Tourist. Tiny Jeans is run in tandem with the brand’s main official account, which has 255,000 followers. 

@tinyjeans

And that’s on iced tea imported from England. #HollisterTinyJeans

♬ Fabulous Sharpay – Andra Gogan

Creating a TikTok team 

Pacsun’s use of employees, including store associates, for content is one example of the ways brands are getting creative with how they enlist talent for TikTok. 

“Investments in dedicated teams and content are paying off,” said Glossy editor-in-chief Jill Manoff, who talked to participants about their process for hiring teams to manage their TikTok accounts. 

Pacsun, for example, recently promoted a store associate to the retailer’s marketing team to create TikTok content full-time, said MacDonald.

“We started to see our store associates post a lot of fun stuff in the store, whether it’s before-open or when they’re closing, and they’re just doing funny dances or showing their favorite pieces — or even just employees’ style, like what they’re wearing to work that day,” he said. The newly-promoted team member will oversee a new ambassador program for store associates to enlist them to create social content and give them incentives to do so. 

Gen-Z skin-care favorite CeraVe, meanwhile, is currently in the process of hiring a full-time TikTok creator, said Adam Kornblum, the brand’s vp and head of global digital marketing. The brand will be recruiting, naturally, on TikTok, he said. The new creator will join a team of three people on the brand’s marketing team focused on the platform. 

To get leadership buy-in to invest in TikTok-focused teams, Murphy had advice for brands. 

“Our clients are spending most of their time on TikTok. That is worth noting to leadership as the reason why you should be there,” said Murphy. She also emphasized the importance of removing layers of bureaucracy when it comes to approving TikTok-related decisions, due to the fast-paced nature of trends on the platform. 

“If you have 10 steps of approval, the trend is dead,” she said. “I would say to the leadership team to trust your team. They’ll know the platform. They are the experts.” 

New look, new voice 

Another reason brands need to have a dedicated TikTok team: The content is in a league of its own, when it comes to both style and substance. As the examples mentioned above showcase, raw, irreverent and humorous content is where brands are seeing success.

“The content that works on Instagram is not going to work on TikTok,” said Murphy. “You really are rewarded for that lo-fi content.” One example of a top performer for Rare Beauty: a video where Murphy put googly eyes on a bottle of blush and brought the anthropomorphic makeup tube to “visit” various Sephora stores. The googly-eyed blush has since been joined by other “characters” in subsequent videos. 

“You do not need perfection,” said Oelkers. “Do not pursue perfection on this platform. Be real. Pick up the phone. Start shooting some video. Start pushing it out there, and see what the community starts resonating with,” she said. She added that experimentation is key. “This is like a focus group in the palm of your hand.”

When coming up with successful TikTok posts, “Consumers don’t want to be spoken to. So no matter which trend you’re going to jump on with or support, you need to think like a marketer, but you need to act like a creator,” said Oelkers.

“Sound, especially in terms of trends, is absolutely critical,” said Sasaki. “A TikTok is not a TikTok without the sound. It’s become such an important part of what makes it viral.”

The shopping opportunity 

For brands that have already established their presence on TikTok, the next step is diving into commerce. There’s no doubt that TikTok can drive sales spikes when products go viral: Oelkers pointed out that the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag has over 13 billion views. 

As TikTok develops its shopping capabilities, brands have started to jump on its livestream shopping feature. Pacsun and Hollister have both started hosting shoppable livestreams on the platform. 

“Live is such a unique content format,” said Scoular. “You get to bring your fans into your brand with long-form content that is super informational. You can tell stories around products or lines or collections, and you can make it really entertaining for the people that are watching.”

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