What Makes TikTok Tick With Gen Z? | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

What Makes TikTok Tick With Gen Z?

April 22, 2021

By Jeff Thomas, Renee Weber


Today’s youth have grown up during the digital age. This experience has created new expectations for entertainment and content, which are having a profound impact on how brands effectively engage with Gen Z. No place is this trend more apparent than with TikTok.


TikTok: A Cultural Phenomenon

Over the past 2 years, young adults and kids have been flocking to TikTok:

The most avid users are Gen Z (8-24 years), and according to KidSay Research, U.S. tweens (67 percent of 8-11 years old) and young teens (68 percent of 12-15 years old) are using TikTok.


What Makes TikTok Tick?

To gain insight into TikTok’s appeal, we interviewed youth (11–17 years old) who are regular users. Today’s youth feel passionate about TikTok because it delivers on their desires to:

  1. Be entertained — on their own terms
  2. Develop and express their authentic identity
  3. Connect with others and be part of an active community

Desire #1: Entertainment — on their own terms

Gen Z needs to be entertained, but quickly. So what does TikTok deliver?

  • Instant gratification via bite-sized content (primarily 15 second videos)
  • Content that is endless and often unexpected- creating a sense of anticipation and spontaneity
  • A well-developed algorithm for personalization, allowing users to get even more of what they love via their customized “For You” Page. No need to actively seek out content — TikTok curates and delivers it

Desire #2: Develop and express their authentic identity

While Gen Z enjoy consuming entertainment, they also look for opportunities to be creative and express themselves. TikTok lets them do so.

  • TikTok exposes users to the larger world (in palatable 15 second episodes), which encourages them to experiment, develop and express their personal identities
  • TikTok makes it easy to be a “Creator.” The only equipment needed is a smartphone. TikTok provides the rest — visual/sound effects and music as well as the ability to incorporate the user’s own elements for added creativity.

Desire #3: Social connection and community

Gen Zers are at a point in their lives where they are becoming more independent, trying to find their own group among peers and nurturing those relationships. With its millions of users and algorithm, which allows for random videos “to blow up overnight,” TikTok gives Gen Z an opportunity to amass a large following and become famous. But more importantly:

  • Being on the platform builds self-confidence. Every time someone responds to their video (or comment), it provides Gen Z youth with a sense of personal validation and fosters confidence in their abilities.
  • Tik Tok helps them find “their group,” i.e., others like themselves.
  • Shared experiences further help solidify a sense of belonging. In fact, many Gen Zers talk about TikTok as a “community.” This sense is fostered by their high level of interaction and collaboration on the platform.


What Does This Mean for Marketers?

While brands may or may not want to embrace the TikTok platform, they can learn a lot from its ability to attract Gen Zers. Some of the specific attributes that TikTok uses include:

  • Instant gratification with an element of surprise
  • Short, “snackable” content that is curated and personalized
  • Easy-to-use tools for creativity and self-expression
  • Focus on “good vibes” and personal validation (e.g., no “thumbs down”)
  • Easy interaction, collaboration and sharing with others

By leveraging these types of elements, marketers can drive deeper engagement with Gen Z through their brand experiences — ranging from “social activations” to loyalty platforms, promotional gaming and beyond. This is powerful. It moves brands beyond fleeting transactions to building richer emotional connections and brand love with today’s generation.

Download the full study here.

Jeff Thomas is VP of family strategy and engagement, and Renee Weber, Ph.D., is VP of family insights and research, both at The Marketing Store.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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