Last month, Kris Davis and I were fortunate enough to attend TikTok’s #ForYou Executive Summit, an event held by TikTok Canada’s Executive Team. The content was centered around the rise of eCommerce and TikTok’s role in consumers shopping journey, and included the release of new Canadian research around the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt trend. The report unearthed some key statistics on how TikTok positively impacts consumers shopping behavior, including:

  1. TikTok’s eCommerce journey is 2x more likely to be considered entertaining verses other marketplaces
  2. 65% of users say that TikTok shows them products they didn’t even know they needed
  3. 90% of users felt a positive emotion after seeing a TikTok video that resulted in an off-platform action
  4. 55% of TikTok users who had taken an off-platform action consider TikTok ads trustworthy, which is 1.3x higher than other platforms.

This tells us that TikTok plays an important and credible role in consumers shopping journey, largely due to TikTok being an entertaining and positive space, ultimately leading to stronger off-platform actions. This should come as no surprise, as TikTok’s unparalleled growth over the last few years was bound to translate into performance potential for brands. In May of 2020, I detailed this growth and the potential it yielded for brands in an article for The Globe and Mail. The years since then have only exemplified the opportunity TikTok carries.

However, the most insightful portion of the event for me was a discussion between Joshua Bloom, GM of Global Business Solutions for TikTok Canada, and Mitch Joel, renowned entrepreneur, author and speaker. They spoke broadly about the eCommerce landscape in Canada and the trends that are driving it, and for me three key learnings emerged that I would like to share with you.

1) Shopping behaviour returning to normal post-pandemic and the role of social media
The pandemic fundamentally changed how people shop. Consumers were forced inside and turned to online channels to meet their shopping needs, which meant businesses had to get on-board with this change. Whether it was expanding their eCommerce capabilities, improving their distribution & delivery services, or the cutting of red tape across various industries, it was adapt or die.

This is not news. What is news, as highlighted by Mitch in their discussion, was that shopping behaviour returned to normal post-pandemic. People flocked back to brick & mortar stores despite what felt like a fundamental behavioural shift in how we shop. And this was particularly devastating for those who built all this new infrastructure and those who were able to reap the benefits of this pivotal shift. The reason for this, Mitch explained, is that the act of shopping is a tangible experience; and after 2+ years indoors, one that people craved.

He went on to say that this doesn’t negate the role that online channels played, and that if there’s anything that we’ve learned it’s that their role in discovery is instrumental. I would take it a step further and say that if you truly understand the why behind this behaviour, that you can use online channels to go beyond discovery. Shopping is an experience, and advancements in technology have enabled us to facilitate that experience in engaging ways. Whether it’s using AR/VR technologies, live streaming, gamification or otherwise, it’s possible to fulfill both the need for convenience AND experience. And while this won’t entirely retract people from offline shopping, there’s room for greater impact to be made (and synergies to be created) when you’re not just putting your products on a page.

2) The difference between Social Graphs and Interest Graphs
One point that was emphasized throughout the event, including during the conversation between Josh & Mitch, was how TikTok’s algorithm varies from that of other social platforms. TikTok’s algorithm uses an Interest Graph model, in which users are served content based on what their interests are or what type of content they consume. This contrasts Social Graphs, most notably used by Instagram, in which users are served content based on who they follow & engage with.

Mitch noted the opportunity this provides brands, as it allows for unique communities to come together around common interests and greater contextual alignment between an advertiser and its audience. This is prevalent for us now more than ever with 3rd party cookie deprecation looming around the corner and it becoming more difficult to target audiences. Some platforms answer to this is to target everyone and let the algorithm do its work. Though this might sometimes be the case, in others it can undoubtedly lead to redundancy and wastage.

This is why we as an agency remain focused on audiences and our ability to reach them, be it through targeting advancements like High Value Audiences or the contextual relevancy that platforms like TikTok yield.

3) Weighting Brand investment vs. Direct Response investment
In closing their discussion, Mitch brought up the topic of Brand vs. DR in that one of our industries biggest shortcomings is the over-investment in DR and the lack thereof in Brand. He spoke on how this can lead to what he calls “Brand Erosion” in which too much prioritization is placed on driving sales and not enough on reinforcing your brand, ultimately leading to long-term business declines. He stressed the importance of brand building and advertisers reevaluating the weight of their investment towards it, in interest of longer-term business success.

This was less of a new learning in that it validated our existing perspective. For those of you who have yet to be exposed to Binet & Field’s research in The Long and the Short of it, they show the longer-term impact brand building has on sales outcomes, which is a practice we have and continue to implement in the work that we do.

We all know that Brand and DR work together, but as consumers values continue to shift towards experiences and content, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between the two. I would argue that if done right, brand building can be a driver of performance. It just has to be propelled by a great idea and aimed at the right audience.