By leveraging the specific attributes found on TikTok, marketers can drive deeper engagement with Gen Z through their brand experiences, according to Jeff Thomas and Renee Weber from The Marketing Store.

Today’s youth have grown up during the digital age. This experience has created new expectations for entertainment and content, which are having a profound impact on how brands effectively engage with Gen Z. No place is this trend more apparent than TikTok.

TikTok:  A cultural phenomenon

Over the past two years, young adults and kids have been flocking to TikTok. With over two billion downloads and 800 million users worldwide, according to DataReportal, it is a cultural phenomenon. According to data TikTok released last year, in the USA alone, it has 100 million active users; TikTok is now downloaded more often than the biggest players in social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

The most avid users are Gen Z (ranging from 8–24 years), and these figures are similar globally. According to KidSay’s ongoing Trend Tracker, the majority of US tweens (67% of 8–11 year olds) and young teens (68% of 12–15 year olds) are using TikTok.

What makes TikTok appealing?

To gain insight into TikTok’s appeal, we interviewed youth (11–17 years old) who are regular users.

Based on that research, we discovered that today’s youth feel passionate about TikTok because it delivers on their desires to:

  1. Be entertained — on their own terms;
  2. Develop and express their authentic identity; and
  3. Connect with others and be part of an active community.
Desire #1:  Entertainment … on their own terms

Gen Z needs to be entertained. However, entertainment must come quickly.

So how does TikTok deliver? It provides instant gratification via bite-sized content (primarily 15-second videos). Because the content is endless and often unexpected, every time they open the app, Gen Z experiences a keen sense of anticipation and spontaneity.

Plus, thanks to a well-developed algorithm for personalization, they get even more of what they love via their customized “For You” Page. There’s no need to actively seek out content specific to one’s interests and preferences — TikTok curates and delivers it directly.

Desire #2:  Develop and express their authentic identity

While Gen Zers enjoy consuming entertainment, they also look for opportunities to be creative, experiment and express themselves.

They highly value creativity and take great pride in being a “Creator.” TikTok makes it easy, because all it takes is a 15-second video. The only equipment needed is a smart phone. TikTok provides the rest — visual/sound effects and music as well as the ability for individuals to incorporate their own elements for added creativity.

Plus, because Gen Zers are in the process of developing their personal identity, they are curious about the world and want to learn about it. TikTok helps expose them to the world (in palatable 15-second episodes).

Desire #3:  Social connection and community

Gen Zers are at a point in their lives where they are becoming more independent, trying to find their own group among peers and nurturing those relationships. With its millions of users and an algorithm which allows for random videos “to blow up overnight,” TikTok gives Gen Z an opportunity to amass a large following and become famous.

But more importantly, being on the platform also builds self-confidence. Every time someone responds to another user’s video (or comment), it provides a sense of personal validation and fosters confidence in their abilities.

And, shared experiences further help solidify a sense of belonging. In fact, many Gen Zers talk about TikTok as a “community.” This sense is fostered by their high level of interaction and collaboration on the platform.

What does this mean for marketers?

Even if brands don’t want to embrace the TikTok platform, they can learn a lot from its ability to attract Gen Zers. Some of the specific attributes that TikTok uses include:

  • Instant gratification with an element of surprise;
  • Short, “snackable” content that is curated and personalized;
  • Easy-to-use tools for creativity and self-expression;
  • Focus on “good vibes” and personal validation (no “thumbs down” option!); and
  • Easy interaction, collaboration and sharing with others.

By leveraging these types of elements, marketers can drive deeper engagement with Gen Z through their brand experiences — ranging from “social activations” to loyalty platforms, promotional gaming and beyond. This is powerful. It moves brands beyond fleeting transactions to building richer emotional connections and brand love with today’s generation.