7 Winning TikTok Strategies from the Top 50 DTC Brands on TikTok
Many of the biggest brands launched in the last decade — from DollarShaveClub to StitchFix to Allbirds — thrived by pioneering the Facebook / Instagram advertising model. Over the last year, TikTok has emerged as a major competitor. TikTok is already beating Facebook on time spent per user in the U.S. and its share is only rising.
Douyin (TikTok in China) has features such as shoppable in-app links and livestream. It's become a major player in both advertising and ecommerce. Every indication points to TikTok following the same path in the U.S.
Especially in the 'direct-to-consumer (DTC)' space, a lot of brands grew up as ‘Instagram brands.’ In the future, we will see new ‘TikTok brands’ and many of our favorite brands from Instagram will adopt TikTok marketing strategies. Brands that have great TikTok strategies early-on will see outsized returns.
So how can brands thrive on TikTok? I compiled a list of the Top 50 DTC Brands Crushing It On TikTok and found 7 winning content strategies (most brands use more than one strategy but generally have a primary strategy working best for them and easy to spot):
1. Customers trying / reviewing products
Primary strategy: 19 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Doe Lashes, BarkBox, Morphe, Fenty Beauty, Inkbox, Starface, Peloton
The most popular content strategy among the top 50 brands includes TikToks of customers trying and/or reviewing products. Brands fuel this kind of content by sending out free gifts, especially to micro-influencers. Brands also run contests where entry involves posting a TikTok using their products.
In general, micro-influencers post TikToks to their own accounts and tag the brands. The brands use brand accounts to share educational / tutorial content, speak about the brand story, or do giveaways. However, some brands, like Starface and Liquid Death, prefer to post user-generated content to their brand accounts instead.
TikToks of customers trying and/or reviewing products feel very natural on the platform. In many cases, that's because it truly is organic content. Even when the content-creator is paid or received the product for free, the #ad hashtag can be hard to spot in the description and the TikTok still feels authentic.
Read a case study on Doe Lashes' breakout TikTok success using this strategy here.
2. Mega-influencers using product
Primary strategy: 15 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Gymshark, ColourPop, Boxycharm, Savage X Fenty, FabFitFun
The second most popular content strategy is to leverage mega-influencers (influencers with 1M+ followers). Although TikTok's algorithm gives great content from anyone the opportunity to go viral, a large base of followers guarantees content will be seen by more people.
Mega-influencers tend to create content in which they happen to be using the sponsored product but they aren't actively trying and/or reviewing the product. So even though the brands are paying mega-influencers for many of these TikToks, the TikToks often don't feel like ads.
3. Promotion from celebrity founder
Primary strategy: 5 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Jeffree Star, Kylie Cosmetics, Kylie Skin
This strategy is less interesting for existing brands because either you have a celebrity founder or you don't. It's a good reminder though that celebrity works and that we'll likely continue to see celebrity brands.
User-generated content for these brands tends to be more negative than for others. In the most viewed TikTok tagged #Skims, the creator compares herself in Skims to "Winnie the Pooh wearing too small underwear."
4. Domain expertise
Primary strategy: 4 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Ipsy, MEL Science, We're Not Really Strangers, Homesick Candles
Some brands follow the strategy of setting themselves up as domain experts. Rather than leveraging user-generated content, these brands make their own content. The TikToks gain a lot of views because they are genuinely helpful for viewers and fun to watch. Brands have found ways to use this strategy across a variety of product verticals:
Ipsy - Makeup tips
MEL Science - DIY science experiments
We're Not Really Strangers - Life tips / mental health reminders
Homesick Candles - Candle facts / tips
5. Oddly satisfying / ASMR content
Primary strategy: 3 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Florence By Mills, Glossier, Milk
While a lot of beauty brands spotlight how great their products will make you look, a few skin care brands take a different approach. Oddly satisfying videos first emerged in the 2010s and have been popular ever since. ASMR has been on the rise over the last few years. Brands like Florence By Mills, Glossier, and Milk have a lot of content with oddly satisfying / ASMR elements. Other beauty brands, like Morphe, use those elements too, but much less frequently.
6. Affiliates making TikTok trends videos
Primary strategy: 3 out of 50 brands
Top examples: FIGS, Fabletics, PANGAIA
3 apparel companies on the top 50 list leverage affiliates to generate on-trend TikTok content. The top-performing TikToks from these brands feature viral songs like Glam Story, All The Way Up, and Laffy Taffy. This may be a good content strategy for brands in other product categories as well but it seems particularly suited to apparel.
7. High-production videos
Primary strategy: 1 out of 50 brands
Top examples: Black Rifle Coffee
Black Rifle Coffee stands out on the top 50 list as the only brand whose primary strategy includes high-production videos. Black Rifle Coffee's videos combine military humor with hipster jokes and guns. It originally began creating the videos for other social media platforms and has found success with them on TikTok as well. Liquid Death and We're Not Really Strangers also have some high-production videos on TikTok but not as many.
Want to dig even deeper? Subscribe to the newsletter to get all the data emailed to you and read future analysis.