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What makes Gen Z Tik (and Tok)?

5 reasons why TikTok resonates with Gen Z and how your brand can can resonate too! 

The race to gain the trust and dollars of Generation Z is firmly on, with every brand eyeing up their slice of the pie. But while the hunger for greater Gen Z engagement exists, they remain an elusive and greatly misunderstood audience. Yet help is only one social platform away, as TikTok provides all the clues brands need to successfully engage and connect with Gen Z.

It’s fair to say TikTok has seen a meteoric rise. In 2021 it was the most downloaded app globally reaching 1 billion monthly users, up from a humble(ish) 55 million users in January 2018. Most interestingly, it estimated that 60% of the platform users are members of Generation Z who flocked to the platform and supercharged its success leaving behind stunned competitors scrambling to create TikTok copycats.

But what is it about TikTok that clicks so well with Gen Z?

Using our Gen Z Consumer framework we set to examine TikTok against the attributes Gen Zers most care about and we’ve found that TikTok indeed ticks all the boxes!  more importantly, by understanding these attributes and addressing them correctly every brand can effectively tap into the opportunities Gen Z have to offer. ….. So here we go!

1. TikTok promotes authenticity

Gen Z grew up in a world of social media and celebrity culture. They saw their predecessors, the Millennials, create perfectly curated lives online – the flawless selfie, the idylic vacation spot, the textbook work-life balance. As a result, they grew to resent the pressure of living up to impossible standards built on a foundation of fakeness and pretense, opting instead to own their flaws and portray a truthful version of themselves – warts and all.  This appreciation of authenticity helps explain why Gen Zers have joined TikTok in their millions – the platform provides a place where they feel they can simply be themselves and share in the joy of watching others do likewise. If proof were needed, TikTok videos with the hashtag #beyourself had 3.8 billion views in July 2022 – up from 1.1 billion in 2020!

This quest for authenticity isn’t limited to other TikTok users. Gen Zers increasingly want brands to be more genuine and expect them to back up their words and live up to their promises. When asked to evaluate different brand attributes, 67% of the participants in one of our studies said authenticity is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ when considering a brand. In fact, no other attribute was rated higher. So, if you want to drive lasting Gen Z engagement it’s time to embrace the fact that honesty and transparency are the way to go and that imperfect is the new perfect.

2. TikTok makes things personal

As digital natives, customization is the norm for Gen Z. From playlists and social media feeds to travel itineraries and Fortnite skins, they expect a level of personalization in almost every product they buy and service they use. Simply put, a one-size-fits-all experience isn’t fit for purpose for Gen Zers. It’s here that TikTok has nailed the brief, as few things are more personalized than a TikTok feed. Shrouded in mystery, the platform’s algorithm delivers customized content to each user with a level of precision that guarantees the app will become a gloriously entertaining time sponge.

In other words, personalization is key if you want Gen Z to get excited by your brand. And if you’re wondering why this switched-on audience is switching away from your website to TikTok, the answer’s simple. It’s because many of them (69% to be exact based on our research) feel the interactions and communications they receive from brands are not as customizable as they’d like. Time to make things personal.

3. TikTok is joyful

Mass gun shootings, extreme climate change, two major recessions, #metoo, #blacklivesmatter and a global pandemic. Not only has Gen Z grown up amidst constant social, economic and politic change, they’ve absorbed these events in a visceral, real-time manner through their smartphones and social media channels. Hardly surprising it’s left a significant mark on their wellbeing.

And that’s the beauty of TikTok. It provides an escape from the doom and gloom that is the 24/7 news cycle, as well as a refuge from other social media platforms that are plagued by hate speech and bullying. For the most part, TikTok is filled with user-generated content that’s funny, light-hearted and often wonderfully silly. Even the most serious topics are treated with humor and irreverence. In fact, according to a Nilsen study 31% of TikTok users included “lifting my spirits” as one of the top three reasons for returning to the platform again and again.

It’s therefore essential that brands not only master the principles of Gen Z storytelling but get the tone spot on if they don’t want Gen Zers to zone out. We call this the 2Is and 2Es of content at Gen Z Planet, and you can read all about it right here. 

Examples: Authenticity, Joy, and Creativity 

Credit:: TikTok creators @SamanthaDockster @BrothersGage @americanbaron

4. TikTok encourages creativity

Gen Z is forging a new age of creativity. This is a generation that wants to be the ‘producer-user’ – essentially the creator and the audience member at the same time. They don’t want to simply be a viewer; they want to share their vision. This shift from being predominantly consumers of culture to being creators is a profound transition and one that has the potential to define this generation. It’s something we cover in detail in the book, Gen Z 360.

There’s no denying every social media network allows for some level of creativity, however the short form video medium of TikTok is taking inventiveness to a whole new level as it requires more than just a single skill. To create on TikTok one needs video editing skills, acting, dancing, storytelling and off course having to  articulate whatever the message is in a very short time frame. But one of the biggest incentives for Gen Z participation in the platform is the chance to become overnight an internet sensation and a trendsetter.

From fashion and beauty to home décor and household cleaning, TikTok has become the place where trends flow bottom-up and influence what brands are doing instead of vice versa. It’s therefore essential that brands get used to this new reality and are equipped to react quickly to trends as they emerge on TikTok. And of course, it won’t hurt if you bring your own dose of creativity to the party.

5. TikTok is inclusive

For the most diverse generation (USA-48% minorities), inclusivity is non-negotiable. In fact, 78% of Gen Z say they ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that brands have to be inclusive in their advertising and deliver their messages in a way that’s respectful to their entire range of target consumers. No excuses, no exceptions.

And yet again, TikTok has smashed it out the park. In addition to operating globally, TikTok users represent walks of life, color, race, religion, sexual orientations, gender expressions and political affiliations. The success of any TikTok video is ultimately decided by the community of users and it has an underlying feeling of ‘equal opportunity’ that resonates deeply with Gen Zers.

While it should be noted that many brands have made great progress in addressing diversity and inclusivity in their advertising, there’s still a long way to go. Especially as 60% of Gen Zers say they “don’t see themselves” in advertising. It’s therefore time to take a page out of the TikTok playbook where creators are diverse, real people, who present themselves in an authentic and relatable way.

So, there we have it. TikTok resonates with Gen Z because it ticks the box (pun intended) on everything Gen Z cares about: authenticity, individuality, joyfulness, creativity and inclusivity. And if your brand isn’t following suit, you risk ticking off an entire generation of potential customers.


Gen Z Is Changing Everything !


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