Why Legacy Retailers Are Moving to TikTok and Other Video Tools

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Email marketing is dead. A full inbox causes stress and anxiety, and it doesn’t facilitate purchasing. This is especially true among next-gens, who prefer almost any other communication tool to inbox-centric dialogue. A 2020 study from consulting firm Creative Strategies found that there’s a generational gap in the platforms that respondents use for work. Those 30 and older use email among their top collaboration tools, while the under 30 crowd uses Google Docs most often for collaboration, closely followed by Zoom and iMessage.

[callout]Older millennials seek to identify with a brand’s ethos and Gen Z consumers identify with how a product helps them express themselves.[/callout]

Legacy retailers that want to foster inspiration instead of email stress are learning to switch things up. They’re leaving email behind and instead building and leveraging a brand presence on video-based platforms such as TikTok, the short video sharing platform. Video-based platforms are more attractive to next-gen consumers than email marketing, since next-gens associate email with workplace interactions.

Social Commerce Varies by Generation and Location

The email marketing dissonance between retailers and their customers is that for older generations, email marketing is still an effective tool. It’s next-gens that find email so overwhelming, and millennials and Gen Z that are driving email exodus towards video-based social media platforms.

We often fail to talk about millennials when discussing the role of social media in purchasing behavior. Which is weird, considering that millennials self-report being the generation whose purchasing behavior is actually the most influenced by social media. A whopping 58 percent of millennials say that social media is an important information source when making shopping decisions and half of Gen Zers agree. Compare this to just 12 percent of baby boomers that say their shopping is influenced by social media, and it’s easy to see why there’s confusion about the efficacy of email marketing in reaching younger shoppers.

Location also factors into the equation. U.S. social commerce sales are predicted to rise by 35.8 percent to $36.62 billion in 2021. China is the trailblazer in retail purchasing behavior. And if China’s social commerce sales are any indication, the percentage of U.S. social commerce-driven spending will continue to rise. Consider that the U.S. still amasses only a tenth of China’s social commerce transactions, which clock in at $351.65 billion so far in 2021.

TikTok Micro-influencer Endorsements Reign

It’s the era of the micro-influencer. Legacy retailers including Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Aeropostale are putting niche TikTok darlings to work in service of their bottom lines. It’s easy to see why when TikTok has 689 million monthly active users that spend an average of 858 minutes on the app each month. Once again, there is a generational distinction. Over half (62 percent) of TikTok users are between the ages of 10-29. Older millennials favor less high-octane image-sharing platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest for shopping inspiration.

Just take a look at how Gap’s brown logo hoodie exploded once TikTok star Barbara Kristoffersen uploaded a video of herself wearing the 90s edition piece. Demand for the “vintage” hoodie surged, with some paying up to $300 for the $32 item. At this point, #gaphoodie has more than 6 million views and counting. Gap is bringing the hoodie back and customers can pre-order it for $60 a pop on Gap’s website. In an attempt to ride the wave of influencer fame into glory, Gap is also crowdsourcing the color of its next logo hoodie on… guess where? Yep, it’s TikTok.

American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Abercrombie & Fitch also hit marketing gold when #tinytops began trending on TikTok. Next-gen consumers began coming into the legacy stores asking specifically for items that they saw in TikTok videos. So much so, in fact, that Aeropostale devoted full sections of the store specifically to in-demand TikTok fashions.

What Creates a Viral Video?

It’s worth noting that not all brands can benefit from a presence on TikTok. Those targeting younger millennials and Gen Z, however, may be able to transform viral videos into ROI. Another important distinction is that next-gen consumers get excited about specific items, not brands, on the video platform. This clarifies the difference between older millennials, who seek to identify with a brand’s ethos and Gen Z consumers, who identify with how a product helps them express themselves.

The question, then, becomes how can brands create effective viral content featuring their products? There’s not one intuitive answer, especially when Gen Z can be so easily turned off by any form of sponsored endorsement. However, there are four key factors to successful viral content creation:

  1. Timeliness: TikTok virality exists in tandem with the tides of fashion, not independently. In other words, a product will not go viral on TikTok that isn’t aligned with the current fashion landscape. “Nostalgic” fashion is all the rage for millennials and Gen Z, so the landscape was prime for the Gap brown logo hoodie throwback trend.
  2. Humor: Forbes suggests that retailers spark emotion to create viral content. But not just any emotion will incentivize consumers to make a purchase. Videos invoking emotion such as irony, surprise and laughter made HubSpot’slist of eight common characteristics of viral videos. Videos that cause positive emotional reactions, particularly through the use of humor, are the most viewed and shared on social media.
  3. The Unexpected: One of the biggest challenges in creating viral video content is providing viewers with something they haven’t already seen. Retailers can create “sticky” content by adding unexpected elements to videos, such as animation, special effects, surprise guests and music.
  4. Usefulness: Viral videos often show viewers how to do something new. Whether it’s cooking a meal and styling a pair of jeans, to using a Philips screwdriver and creating a cat’s eye makeup look, creating instructive content is a great pathway for retailers to maximize social media shares. Bonus points if the content works in one of the retailer’s products in a discreet and effective manner.

The Future of Online Content

As millennials and Gen Z get older and more boomers retire, the role of email marketing will continue to dwindle. It will be replaced by video content, which is the bridge between legacy retailers and next-gen consumers. There’s a learning curve to creating video content that effectively achieves ROI. However, retailers that take the time to understand and act on what next-gens want from video content will gain fast access to an enthusiastic, ever-growing customer base.

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