BrandTok: Crafting Your TikTok Audio Strategy

by Amy CrawfordExecutive Creative Director, Music Products

 

Sometime in 2019, we were working with a retail client interested in making an impact on social. I searched for one of our clients’ names as a hashtag on TikTok. I found a duet, set to music, between one female employee doing makeup for her shift, and another male employee from a far distant store location attempting to put on fake eyelashes — a nascent #GRWM (Get Ready With Me) with a bit of a wink. That was the moment I understood the real superpower TikTok held for brands: to build a new kind of relationship with their audience through the power of music and sound.

Through that client audit, I also realized TikTok was an entirely different beast when it came to creative content & strategy — success on the platform revolves around inspiring people to iterate on an idea driven by sound. And in 2023, it’s now clearly home to the audio meme — audio snippets that tell our stories without us actually having to say anything. (The ones that rattled around my head during the #stayathome times of 2020 in particular are the “No No No” laugh and the Kulikitaka Challenge – DJ Mix Urbano.)

Thus, the point of TikTok is not to draw attention to one singular thing, but compel everyone to make their own version of the thing, creating a virtual (and musical) multilogue that can scale without limitations. The valuable currency on TikTok is shares, not views.

88% of users say sound is essential to the TikTok experience

– TikTok for Business / Kantar

Of course with that currency firmly in hand, TikTok has since exploded as the social channel leading the culture, and the one heralded as the preeminent ‘sound on’ platform. In fact, 88% of users said that sound is essential to the TikTok experience, with 73% reporting that they would “stop and look” at ads on TikTok with audio, a significantly higher result than any other social platform. With the research and ROI to prove it, brands have come around to understanding the power of TikTok and audio-driven content, and want to build strategies that can effectively leverage it.

So how can a brand create attribution & drive recall in a crowded space, one with its own set of rules? Here are some key tactics to keep in mind as your brand embraces sound on TikTok.

Prioritize the platform first.

TikTok isn’t like other sound-on social, and should be treated as such. Branded audio will not succeed if it’s simply rehashed from more traditional executions. Even as a sonic branding agency, we know that sticking a sonic logo to the end of a TikTok isn’t going to build any brand love! And if your content looks like an ad or sounds like an ad, it will get skipped. So go by the rules of the platform and think sound-led — music SFX, audio memes and spoken voice should all be considered in order for your message to feel organic to TikTok and of the moment.

Have a point of view in your original sounds & music supervision.

In a crowded space, you’re more likely to grab attention by dusting off an unexpected song from the vault than chasing the latest release. Spark nostalgia, put on a twist, taste-make from the back-catalog. Remember the creator who put the spotlight on Ocean Spray by way of Fleetwood Mac? But brands have experienced roadblocks when it comes to using trending audio, including restrictions on commercial use (an issue that’s actually become a meme unto itself), and the music industry is cracking down on brands who are using unlicensed music in their content. Thus, a sonic identity is a great foundation for brands looking to create a distinct, evocative audio strategy.

@bedbathandbeyond

shout out to all the other social media managers 🤝

♬ bed bath and butterflies – Bed Bath & Beyond

Credit: Bed Bath & Beyond | TikTok

From branded music to sonic logo-inspired SFX to a spoken voice — original, ownable audio sparks engagement and builds brand attribution. And while “TikTok beat” has become evocative as a style of music, I hope brands can push new musical ideas onto the platform in 2023 and not just deliver vaguely trap-y beats with campaign-style lyrics.

Take risks in your music strategy.

Marketers looking to leverage TikTok for their brand should be willing throw out the rulebook on audio. Here are some things I’m curious about: What does it sound like to deep fry a sonic identity? Or Megalovania-ify one? If we start with TikTok as our primary touchpoint, how do we evolve our approach to creating a sonic identity from scratch?

 

 

And when it comes to artist partnerships, your brand solution may not just be singular, but many versions of your brand expressed across all sides of TikTok. By focusing your creator partnership strategy on micro-influencers, you can expand your reach far beyond the surface level of generic, “Straight” TikTok and build emotional connections with all of your audiences.

When it comes to TikTok strategy, one thing is certain: brands need to move quickly — ideating, auditioning, and pivoting on creative content as attention spans decrease. Brands should explore all the ways to be true to their voice, while also taking risks and flexing their brand identity to live authentically within the platform.

And of course, when it comes to music strategy, our TikTok Studio is here to help!

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