Is Your Brand Late for Douyin Marketing Yet?

You don’t need to follow closely what’s happening in the Chinese digital space to know one of the hottest topics—Douyin. Daily active users breaking 150 million, monthly active users reaching over 300 million, collaboration with Taobao, campaigns by big brands like BMW—the app has been all over the news lately. PLTFRM analyzed what are the next opportunities in Douyin marketing and how brands can use the app for promotion.

Initial positioning: music and short video community

When Douyin (Tik-Tok) launched in 2016, it immediately positioned itself as a “music and short video community” for young people. Right after the launch, the app was challenged because the interface, functions all looked very similar to the US short video platform musical.ly. On 10th of November, Toutiao acquired musical.ly for USD 1 billion, merging it with Douyin, which jump started Douyin’s ascend.

In order to attract more followers by reducing the video production threshold, Douyin gradually shifted focus from video-editing oriented to “interesting, entertaining, funny” videos.

Word-of-mouth and the marketing myth

Huge users base and fast video spread, all contributed to creating Douyin’s marketing legend. Haidilao, Shuaiwan Jiu, Coco milk tea, Turkish ice-cream and other brands benefitted from that, turning into hot brands overnight.

Take Haidilao campaign as an example— at this restaurant chain, users can request a DIY Douyin recipe, and the staff would know to let you “style” your hot pot yourselves.

Viral content tapping into the need of Douyin users to create and share content, made one of the first iconic campaigns, a word-of-mouth marketing myth, reaching some 50 million video views.

Full monetization

PLTFRM considered co-operating with Douyin when we did a marketing project for a client but dropped the idea because at the time Douyin did not have a complete commercial cooperation system in place yet.

In 2017, right after Chinese New Year, there was an obvious change: users started seeing the ads once opening the app, customized challenges appeared, Taobao channel opened—all the signs of monetization of Douyin. Apart from traditional information flow, the price of cooperation methods on Douyin kept rising to the point, that currently, an average small or medium-sized brand can’t afford to do it.

The rise of internet celebrities brought on the KOL cooperation, which now occupies a relatively large part in the app’s monetization. In July,  Douyin was reported to launch its official digital marketing matching service for key opinion leaders and businesses: the Star Map Platform (星图平台). With the platform, KOLs and business owners asking and offering similar prices for a marketing project will be matched. The launch of the platform will undoubtedly further increased Douyin’s revenue levels, but at the same time, it will mean bypassing the official cooperation channels will be limited by the platform, making it difficult to estimate expected result.

Douyin’s stride into the world of e-commerce

Earlier this year, Douyin already started testing to implement a shopping cart button directly to the video. Currently, only a bunch of authorized big accounts can use it. 

In the area of e-commerce, Douyin can learn a lot from Weibo. At the end of last year, Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei announced, that the revenue accounts received on Weibo reached more than CNY 20.7 billion, with revenues from e-commerce accounting for CNY 18.7 billion. Generating huge traffic, it’s understandable why e-commerce looks very attractive for Douyin, but whether the users will eventually pay, is yet to be tested by the market.

A guide to Douyin word-of-mouth promotion for brands

The reason why Douyin’s video can attract the audience, no matter the recent switch to overall “down to earth” style, is because the app caters people’s yearning for beauty and humor in daily life. Brands aspiring to do successful marketing on Douyin, first of all, have to respect users’ preferences and drivers that keep their interest in the app. The early successful campaign cases of Haidilao, Coco milk tea, Turkish ice-cream, although different, share one similarity: these brands shorten the distance between their product and the customer, video content is interesting and easily replicated. This is something everybody understands, but the execution of this logic really puts the brand’s creativity and knowledge to the test.

Take collaboration with celebrities as an example. Alipay and James Lin video campaign, which didn’t even mention Lin’s name in the title and nowhere in the text to attract the audience, generated 132,000 likes. BMW video series promo featuring Mark Chao, on the other hand, with reported exposure of an astonishing 135 million people, the latest video of the series generated mere 289 likes. When you take a closer look, it’s easy to see that as one of the first companies doing campaigns on Douyin, Alibaba has been searching and trying different video formats that have a better chance for success on Douyin, and constantly producing creative, high-quality content. BMW kind of played by the old rules, issuing a new product launch promo, which did not resonate with Douyin users at all.

Comparing traditional ad channels new media platform like Douyin, the strong suit of the latter is in its ability to shorten the dialogue path between the brand and its users, enhancing interaction. Douyin invites content that doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching an ad but resembling more of an “immersive experience”, which is something brands and their creative teams have to learn fast to succeed on Douyin.

How can a brand effectively promote itself on Douyin aside from word-of-mouth marketing? On one hand, Douyin now has numerous interesting cooperation modes, like “customized challenge”, but at the same time the app does not guarantee the result, and does not accept third-party data monitoring.

In addition, Douyin’s increasing monetization is often linked to the overall user experience decline. In the beginning, the threshold to publishing videos kept low-quality content in check, but now the overall feel of the app is shifting to a more “down to earth”, with hard-sell ads and Taobao promotions flooding the user’s feeds. Early Douyin experts who rose to popularity solely thanks to their content, revealed to PLTFRM that aside from the “Douyin approved official KOLs”, organic traffic is quickly declining from tens of thousands to couple hundred.

Although in the time of traffic scarcity, 300 million monthly active users of Douyin make it the most relevant social media platform, aside from Weibo and Wechat, retaining the demanding audience and balancing the monetization with content direction are the big questions Douyin will have to resolve on its own. As pointed out in the media, Douyin is already past the beginning of its hype cycle, so it is not cheap anymore. But for brands who are targeting young affluents, Chinese users, the return on expensive investment might still be high for the months to come.

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