“To Understand The Appeal, Think Of TikTok As More Of A Social Game Than A Video App”

Muse Featured – Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy

What would you say if a stranger approached you and asked, “Hit or miss?” If you’re one of the 500 million people using the short video app TikTok, you’d know and happily respond.

Kindergarten teacher Chaz Bruce decided to pose the question to his class. Surely, this conservative clutch of toddlers wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about. But to his surprise, they did. In almost perfect unison, they instantly sang back “I guess they never miss, huh?” (also known as the #TikTokTest). Videos on the app showing the test in action worldwide have received over 70 million views. From Boston to Beijing (where the app is officially headquartered), TikTok has become a global phenomenon.

TikTok beat out Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the most downloaded app in the third quarter of 2018. Doubling in downloads from 92 million to 185 million in three months, the app formerly known as Musical.ly is growing up. Parent company ByteDance acquired the app in 2018, adding to its fleet of video, news and entertainment apps. Valued at $75 billion, the firm is now one of the largest privately held tech corporations in the world—second only to Uber’s $76 billion evaluation.

To understand the appeal, think of TikTok as more of a social game than a video app. Instead of just posting for likes or comments, users respond to challenges with videos of their own, resulting in something entirely new.

Case in point? The #pumplikethat challenge. Videos showing the popular camera-trick effect have over 50 million views, like this one of Kermit the Frog. The challenge has already been remixed with the #hitormiss challenge, birthing a whole new breed of meme. This collaboration cycle drives views and, more important, engagement—arguably the most important digital marketing metric for a brand. It’s also the metric that has practically disappeared from most social platforms in recent years. Essentially, this nuance is what makes TikTok tick. In a sea of similar apps, TikTok’s meteoric rise is uniquely powered by a perfect storm of timing, technology and tone.


TikTok is entering its growth phase as opposed to more mature social platforms, which have increasingly become pay-to-play platforms. This translates to a clear tactical advantage for TikTok, where significant organic growth is its raison d’etre. Users cite the “astronomical” views, supportive comments, and free-flowing likes as a huge incentive to create on the platform.

While Mark Zuckerberg is currently consumed with maximizing share price, TikTok is focused on building reach and engagement—opening a strategic window for brands to authentically connect with Gen Z. Currently, TikTok generates minimal revenue through virtual gifts and collaborations with brands like Guess, but the focus is on growth, not ads. What Snapchat was to millennials, TikTok has become to Gen Z, and with Gen Z being the largest generation of all time, TikTok has an unparalleled market advantage right now.


TikTok is unlike anything else because it’s an amalgam of everything that preceded it. A hybrid evolution of Vine, Musical.ly, Instagram and Snapchat, the app’s user experience centers around collaboration. Some of its most popular features allow you to do things like record a “duet” or add “reactions” to videos with a tap. The functionality is very simplistic, making it compellingly easy to participate. In-app filters and effects result in highly snackable eye candy, ready to be consumed.


Referred to as “the only truly pleasant social network in existence” by The New York Times and as a “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” by the Verge, TikTok isn’t a place for bragging, bullies or trolls. The app has become a cultural gathering place for teens and tweens to express themselves creatively and without judgment—two of Gen Z’s most defining attributes. As its popularity grows, the normcore masses are starting to take notice as niche communities like nurses, the military and firefighters are getting in on the action. The entire ecosystem is predicated on open participation, embracing vulnerability and rewarding creativity.

Some of the most popular memes are family-friendly videos around science experiments (2 million views), finger dancing (592 million views), video games (25 million views) and the ever-popular magic tricks (3.2 billion views).

Innocent memes like the Gummy Bear + Adele videos are entertaining and safe for any audience. The HariboChallenge videos have gotten over 16 million views and feature the edible entertainers “singing” along to Adele’s “Someone Like You.” This simple premise is a great example of an entry point for consumer brands, especially those in the CPG, retail and entertainment spaces. The Chinese version of TikTok, called “Douyin,” has already seen paid activations from Pizza Hut, Michael Kors, Oreo and Adidas.

Singing and dancing aside, TikTok isn’t right for every brand and its reach is currently less than its older peers. In the U.S. for example, the app has 100 million users, half of Facebook’s 200 million, though not far off from Instagram’s 104 million. Daily use of TikTok has some catching up to do as well. Currently, only 28 percent of users open the app every day, while Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are approaching the 95 percent mark. That said, daily use of TikTok increased 67 percent in the second half of 2018 alone.

What’s Next?

The next 12-18 months will resemble the early days of TikTok’s predecessors like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram when substantial organic growth was still possible. Bold CMOs with a mandate to engage younger audiences have a clear test-and-learn opportunity before them that can translate into deeper, more authentic relationships with the world’s largest generation of consumers.

Best advice for a brand exploring the platform? Embrace the weirdness, keep things authentic and be willing to cede some brand control in exchange for Gen Z relevance.

“Brands Must Think Of Influencers Not Only As Collaborators, But Also As Potential Competitors”

Adweek Featured – Maggie Landon, Media Director 

“It’s 2019 and influencers are quickly cementing themselves as brands and customer service experts in their own right. Every day we see influencers who are growing powerful customer networks and forming highly profitable partnerships. This, combined with the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and Instagram shopping, gives traditional brands a valid reason to worry.
In our fast-paced, digital-first world, influencers have demonstrated a deep understanding of how to effectively capitalize on fans’ desires and grow loyal, global communities through authentic, person-to-person communication. And amidst this influencer explosion, brands who are paying attention can learn a lot from this new flock of customer service experts.
Here’s how:
Brands must move past canned, pre-approved responses
In the process of honing their own social media skills, influencers invented community management long before it was a position within brand teams. They innately understood the value of connecting with users, which translated into a loyal and growing following over time.
Brands that infuse the human element that consumers have come to expect into their communications will feel more authentic. Empowering teams to respond naturally and lean into a distinct and consistent voice (whether that is sarcastic, humorous, light or witty) is key. For consumers, it can feel very obvious when a brand is sticking to a script.
Brands must move quickly—and ask for opinions as they go
Influencers are often first adopters on social, whether they’re jumping to new platforms (hello, TikTok) or testing out new features (IG Countdowns). However, it is not only the rate of adoption that’s important, but it’s the continued feedback loop that leads to continuous engagement. Open up your phone and you’ll see an example: “Do you prefer live Q&As or written polls?” “Would you rather see more OOTD or inspiration boards?” “Am I going overboard with pictures of my kids?”
DTC brands are already doing this well—maximizing on the always-on focus group of their followers to not only test content styles but to drive product development and innovation. To maintain relevancy, brands will need to lean into this expectation of feedback/response—whether it is informing consumers of a new product line or a new style of content sharing.
Brands must think of influencers not only as collaborators, but also as potential competitors
While the past few years have been about collaboration, the continued rise of Instagram shopping and increased familiarity with DTC brands means that it will be easier than ever for influencers to launch their own lines. Consumers no longer need the validation of a retailer to sample a product, and influencers are now one step closer to selling directly.
We’re only in the early stages of what could be an influencer revolution. Arielle Charnas, a stylish New Yorker with 1.1 million Instagram followers and a lucrative partnership with Nordstrom, was recently declared “the future of fashion.” Leandra Medine, founder of fashion site Man Repeller, has powerfully owned her voice, pivoting influence into a standalone brand.”

“Since The Dawn Of Social Media, We’ve Grown Accustomed To The Feed”

Adweek Featured – Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy

“Since the dawn of social media, we’ve grown accustomed to the feed. We were fine with our FOMO-fueled vertical scrolling—until stories came along and changed the game. Even the most resource-challenged CMOs are realizing the need to develop their story strategy, a decision supported by three key drivers: engagement, visibility and insights.

If there is one metric that drives all digital marketing, it’s engagement. No other indicator contributes as much to online success. Higher engagement rates directly impact how the algorithms rank brand accounts on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. When followers engage more often, they deepen their relationship to the brand, which has been quantitatively proven to drive growth.
Since early 2016, use of stories has increased 987 percent across Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook and Messenger, according to a report from Block Party. Stories have also seen a highly engaged growth rate 15 times higher than feeds. But what sparked this change in the first place?
As with most innovations in recent memory, we have smartphones to thank. Back in the early days of social, feeds were designed for desktops, but stories were born in the camera culture. Our phones became content collectors that empowered us to craft full-screen digital experiences through combining photos, videos, audio, gifs and text.
Snapchat launched stories in 2016, and Instagram popularized the format soon after. With over one billion social accounts now creating stories daily, they are becoming the bridge between social content and leaving the feed to fend for itself.
Although 81 percent of Snapchat users engage with stories compared to 60 percent on Instagram, Instagram has the advantage going forward. One-click distribution across the Facebook ecosystem and a substantially larger user base make it an unfair fight. While Snapchat leads in innovation, Facebook and Instagram have the reach and cash to scale at the speed of digital.
A brand with better rankings from the algorithms is seen by more people. Higher visibility leads to increased awareness, follower growth and organic brand reach. Using as much platform-specific functionality available (GIFS, stickers, polls, questions, songs) also ranks an account higher. In other words, don’t be afraid of a little digital bling.
Leaders are emerging within certain sectors like news, beauty and sports. Their stories include video, photos, questions, polls and GIFS that deepen interest and spark sharing.
The New York Times often uses Instagram Stories to add depth to their reporting and give readers a way to connect beyond the headlines. Their pieces range from emotional vignettes about immigrant families being reunited to empowering profiles of those impacted by the #MeToo movement.
Innovative beauty brands like Glossier haven’t missed a beat when it comes to stories. The highlight icons on their Instagram profiles strategically lead to stories like “Mixtapes,” where you can hear the songs playing in the Glossier showroom. Their stories also include downloadable wallpaper designs, product content like Zit Stick and Haloscope and a History option that tells the backstory of their flagship location. Even in stories, Glossier is leveraging their omnichannel advantage.
Sports teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Sounders and San Francisco Giants got into the game early and see stories as a way to huddle up with fans. Some teams even cast their stories to stadium jumbotrons, driving massive visibility.
Considering that stories can (and should) be interactive, they are also a powerful way for brands to learn from their followers. Identifying top stories with high completion rates, including polls, asking questions (via stickers) and mining responses are simple ways to gain insights from these valuable connections.
The direct-to-consumer shoe brand Allbirds uses Instagram Stories to answer customer questions, get feedback on new product concepts and introduce new collaborations like its new Shake Shack shoe (free Hokey Pokey shake included).
These are the early days in the growth of stories. Innovations within the format are constant and increasingly add richness to the experience. Most recently, Instagram added the ability to shop from stories, creating a new way for brands to drive revenue. Given the rise of dark social, platforms like Giphy and Emogi are becoming effective distribution channels for branded content that builds awareness across millions of consumer-created stories.
While the feed served our need in the early days of social, stories are evolving the narrative. Strategic brands should embrace the opportunity and use it to tell their most engaging tales.”

“We’re closer than ever to having a JARVIS in our pocket and the implications for brands are profound.”

By Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy, MI&C

It was déjà vu all over again. Hundreds of marketers and developers recently gathered at an innovation conference to hear all about the future of voice. Reminiscent of digital’s early days, the enthusiasm was palpable. This time around though – there’s a base of 2.73 billion smartphone users to build on.

Inspired by the plush pioneer Teddy Ruxpin and classics like “The Clapper” – voice has come a long way. We’re closer than ever to having a JARVIS in our pocket and the implications for brands are profound.

Strategy Analytics is forecasting that over half of all smartphones will have access to virtual assistants by 2019, a figure expected to climb to 90% in the next four years. Looking beyond smartphones, IHS Markit says more than 5 billion consumer devices will connect to digital assistants in 2018, growing to nearly 8 billion by 2021.

Smart speakers are leading the way as the channel of choice for 1 in 4 U.S. adults with 175 million users projected by 2022 

Astonishing growth rates aside – the learning curve for voice is practically a straight line.

Unlike other new technologies, voice requires little training. There is no software to install, windows to open or user interfaces to master. All anyone needs is their voice, and knowing how to get the attention of their digital assistant. Although that second part may be a bit more challenging than anticipated for some.

85-year-old Maria Actis famously had some trouble learning how to talk to her Google Home Mini. Her grandson uploaded a video of her to YouTube that quickly went viral. It showed her comically calling out “Hey Goo Goo” instead of “Hey Google.” She eventually got it right, and became a believer.

Google Assistant became a believer in Maria too, you can now say “Hey Goo Goo” instead of “Hey Google” for any request

Although Apple’s Siri leads the market with a 44% share compared to Google Assistant’s 30% and Amazon Alexa’s 17% – the one to watch is Google.

According to research firm Canalys, Google Home smart speaker shipments exceeded Amazon Echo shipments for the first time in Q1 2018. Google’s voice recognition has also consistently been ranked higher, even among a range of accents. In June 2018, Google Assistant raised the bar again, adding Spanish to its skill set.

As in the early days of mobile, voice has a myriad of opportunities but the platform can be challenging for brands to understand where to start. Three trends include rise of the senior market, voice shopping and voice brand strategy.

Voice is the ideal platform for seniors who currently control 70% of discretionary spending in the U.S. It’s a frictionless way for them to get information, entertainment and stay connected to friends and family. With 25% of seniors qualifying as “isolated” according to Heidi Culbertson founder CEO of Marvee, voice provides invaluable potential for mental health and wellness benefits.

There are currently hundreds of voice assistant pilot programs in place at senior homes and assisted living facilities across the U.S. 

Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are being tested to help the seniors through their day. Consumers over the age of 85 are the fastest growing segment of Americans and more than ever before they are healthy, active and love to socialize. Collectively they exceed 50 million and represent 50% of CPG spend, opening up white space for brands like P&G, Unilever and Kraft Heinz.


Although it’s a small portion of the $450 billion online commerce space, voice based commerce is on track to grow 20x its current level of $1.8 billion by 2022 according to Voicebot.ai. To date, 26% of smart speaker owners have made purchases using their device.

Leading the growth are 18-29 year old males, 23% of which have re-ordered from previous purchases, 32% ordered something new and 20% have done both. Despite the growth, brands like Nike and Lego see revenue as a secondary goal.


While commerce holds potential, brands shouldn’t necessarily be focused on using voice to drive revenue right now. Instead, they should target lower in the funnel to deepen engagement and build brand affinity with existing customers.

Nike for example, is focused on driving genuine value exchange. TheirNike Coach app on Google Assistant provides content and guidance to help customers reach their fitness goals.

This approach deepens relationships and builds mindshare with existing customers. With the average cost of new customer acquisition 6-7x higher than retaining an existing customer – focusing on delivering surprise and delight moments can be a smart way to introduce voice and create a memorable moment.

Lego builds on this approach. With 62% of kids using smart speakers, voice is a perfect fit. Similar to Nike, Lego doesn’t use voice to sell directly. Instead they launched an interactive skill on Amazon Alexa called Lego Duplo Stories, an interactive experience that combines storytelling with their big brick toys.

The skill can be used even if users don’t have all the Lego pieces. The value to Lego is in the data consumers generate in their conversations which reveal their true needs, ideas, questions, and challenges. These insights can then be leveraged to improve the experience.


As bright as the future of voice is, there are blocks to mass adoption. First and foremost is discoverability – a challenge also faced in the early days of the app store. Navigating the Google Assistant app store even feels similar to the Apple app store back in 2007. Too many choices, not enough curating, or user reviews.

Another challenge is educating consumers about the capabilities of voice assistants and smart speakers, although Google is quickly taking the lead here. Functionality such as the ability to remember things, engage in continuous conversation (without having to keep saying ‘hey Google”) and recognize different users through voice matching will likely leave Alexa and Siri stumbling to find their words.

How should brands bring voice into the mix? Think iteration over transformation. Take small steps that add incremental value for existing customers rather than making short-term revenue and new markets the driver.

The meteoric rise of voice shows consumers are comfortable having conversations with non-humans with names like Alexa, Siri and Google. Smart brands need to set their goals, plan their strategy and get ready to speak up.

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