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Anna Meyfarth: “TikTok isn’t like the picture perfect world of Instagram”

By Anna Zwettler


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Business |Interview

As younger generations spend increasingly more time online, one social media platform has been catching the attention of everyone: TikTok. But what do fashion brands have to do to grow their presence on the app?

The Chinese-owned short-video platform has such addictive qualities that teenagers and young adults find themselves scrolling through hours of fashion content, lip syncing videos, comedy skits and viral dances. Recently, many fashion brands and retailers have noticed the platform’s marketing potential, specifically to target the Gen Z group of under 25 year olds.

Collabary helps companies do exactly this: It advises brands and retailers on their TikTok strategy and how best to make a name for themselves on the digital playground of Gen Z. The Berlin-based marketing platform belongs to the marketing unit of online fashion retailer Zalando and has been on the market for over four years. It currently oversees over 500,000 well-known and small influencers in its database across Europe. Having worked with brands like Nike, Zalando and Levi’s, Collabary offers its clients three products: influencer discovery, campaign management and a social media insights tool. Over the years, the company has connected brands with well-known influencers, including German personalities Caro Daur and Bonnie Strange.

Luana Genevieve for Calvin Klein via Collabary Instagram

Interested in the potential of TikTok for fashion brands and retailers, FashionUnited spoke to Collabary’s chief brand and marketing communication manager Anna Meyfarth about what sets TikTok apart, the demographic of the platform and what strategies fashion brands can apply to make a name for themselves on the app.

How does influencer marketing work on TikTok in comparison to other social media platforms?

If we compare it directly to Instagram, you definitely give more creative freedom to your creators on TikTok. You usually work more with open briefs, so you don’t have very strict guidelines of what content should look like. It focuses more on the creativity of the creators that are active on TikTok.

Do you think fashion brands and retailers should make the switch to TikTok? What potential does the platform have for the fashion industry, in your opinion?

I wouldn’t actually say that you have to switch because it’s not really an either or question. You should rather see TikTok as an addition to your existing marketing channel or marketing mix. If we then look specifically at the potential of TikTok, there are three aspects.

The first aspect is of course the audience. You have an audience on TikTok that you can’t reach on other social media platforms. Almost 25 percent of TikTok users actually don’t have a Facebook or an Instagram account, which is a huge group that you would not be reaching. These people are mostly part of Generation Z and also one of the biggest potentials of TikTok.

The second point is creativity. You have more potential for the creative positioning of your brand and can experiment a little, because it’s not as straightforward as Instagram. TikTok is really a place where you can try things out and play with the raw look and feel of content that isn’t picture perfect. Also, what I saw recently on TikTok is that you should trust in the creative skills of TikTok creators and go with what they come up with. There was for example a challenge about a JW Anderson cardigan, this very high premium piece. A lot of TikTokers started to knit their own version of it.

The third point is the opportunity of TikTok to shift brand perception. If you are a modern, clean brand, you have to be aware that you could use TikTok to go in a more playful, fun direction by working with TikTokers who find their own ideas and interpret your brand. It’s more authentic and doesn’t look that polished.

In a broad sense, what aspects of TikTok make it different from other social media platforms, for example, Instagram?

If we really start with the basics, the format of TikTok is obviously only video and you can’t put any stills. For example, there are hundreds and hundreds of features and filters that you could add to your videos, so there’s a really huge range. The second difference is also the content. TikTok puts a lot of focus on content and, on its website, calls it a ‘content first’ approach, really emphasizing fun and playfulness. It’s not the high resolution picture perfect world of Instagram.

TikTok creators or TikTokers also have a very unique style. When they do a certain challenge, they have their visuals that they use. Another factor is also, if you look at the user behavior, people really go to TikTok to engage with each other, like, comment or reshare content and jump onto duets. Duet is this function of TikTok videos where you can see one TikToker and yourself on one screen.

Is it possible to quickly grow your reach on TikTok?

TikTok is quite rewarding on an engagement level. The more engagement you get on your content, the more likely it is that it will be put on the ForYou page and be explored by others, whereas, on Instagram, you might go to get inspiration or to scroll down your feed. On TikTok, it’s a different world: You can get likes more quickly and engagement is just huge.

The ForYou page is basically the homepage? When you open TikTok, it’s the first thing you see?

Exactly. This is also one of the biggest differences between Instagram and TikTok. When you open TikTok, you’re directly on the ForYou page. It’s not a curated feed as it is on Instagram where you see the people you follow. But it’s really what’s trending and what people have who have similar behavior to you are watching. For a lot of influencers, from what I’ve heard, it’s their goal to get on the ForYou page because you get more engagement.

What is the general demographic of TikTok? Who are the fashion companies you work with trying to target specifically?

The core target group is definitely Generation Z. Close to 60 percent of users on TikTok are between 13 and 24 years old. Interestingly enough, also the majority are female. 60 percent are female and 40 percent are male and you also very much see that when you open the app, at least for me. This is then also the main point of why brands go to TikTok to really try to reach this target group. And as I mentioned before, 25 percent of users are just on TikTok and don’t have any other social media. This is interesting for all kinds of brands who are looking into going into new demographics or trying to target the younger audience. We also hear this from a lot of brands who we worked with, one being Zalando.

What characteristics of the app and its content appeal to these young audience groups?

One aspect is that Generation Z has a rather low attention span, which is on average just around eight seconds. So short-form videos are the thing they are most likely to still consume. The shorter the video, the more likely they are to consume it or to watch it. It’s also really about this fun factor. You go on TikTok and you see a lot of funny comedy style videos. You also don’t feel the pressure as you do on Instagram to build a huge following, but you can rather show how creative you are, get engagement and stay in touch with other like minded people.

What strategy can fashion brands and retailers apply in order to grow their presence, following and reach on TikTok? What type of content is the most successful at achieving this?

There’s no one size fits all approach. It heavily depends on what a brand is focusing on, their goals and brand messaging. What I would recommend to new brands on TikTok is to learn from the users. Just go there, open an account, have a look around, understand how the dynamic works and maybe even invite some TikTokers to come to the office for a workshop. Be close to the user base and learn from them firsthand to find out what’s working and what isn’t. It also requires a lot of monitoring from a brand’s side by going there every day to check what the latest hashtags and songs are. It’s not just about going on TikTok, putting your brand there and seeing what happens. It’s really an interactive process that you have to go through as a brand.

What has worked well for fashion on TikTok? Could you provide some recent examples?

Working together with TikTokers and letting them create content for your own TikTok account. So it’s definitely advisable for a brand to have an account before starting any kind of advertising or collaborations with influencers because you need a point of reference to where you can lead your traffic and also to gain brand visibility in the end. Especially for smaller brands, I wouldn’t recommend starting your own challenge or trend. This might work, but it will take a lot of time. It’s easier to pick up what people are already using in terms of challenges, hashtags and songs. This way you can keep it as authentic as possible and don’t come up with something which doesn’t fit the medium.

When looking at fashion brands especially, there are a lot of different topics at the moment. There is #mondaytofriday where TikTokers show five different outfits in one video using transitions or jump filters. There’s also another challenge of what people would wear if they were a Disney character, for example. So it’s really about picking this up and saying: let’s see what hashtag trends are already out there and how we can connect them to our brand.

So TikTok is very trend based? Are there a lot of things that go in and out of style very quickly?

In the sense of video trends, yes. It can really be that if you enter TikTok today, you might see a new challenge or hashtag that you haven't seen the week before. You have to check the app each and every day. I’ve seen this #whatIwouldwear trend for two weeks now, so it’s really picking up and a lot of creators are using it. But then again, if you scroll down your ForYou page, you might find new trends picking up. It’s all about being there, monitoring and not jumping on something that’s outdated already. So yeah, TikTok is definitely about keeping up with what’s trending.

#whatIwouldIwear challenge on TikTok via thehardins

What advice would you give fashion brands or retailers who want to build a presence on TikTok?

To sum it up, it’s three things: First of all, trust TikTok creators and their skills because they know best what their audience likes and how to do videos that are engaging. That’s why having strict guidelines of what they should do makes no sense. Second, with TikTok’s freedom, it’s advisable to be bold and try to let go of your typical content style or brand style. Just be aware that TikTok creators may interpret the brand in their own way. And third, especially when you just start off with TikTok, see what’s out there, what the themes and trends are and combine those into your campaign, rather than picking out your own trend.

Photo Credit: one: Collabary, two: Collabary via Instagram, three: screenshots via thehardins on TikTok

Anna Meyfarth
Gen Z