How small businesses turn creative ideas into big returns on TikTok

Image: Oatsome, courtesy of TikTok
Image: Oatsome, courtesy of TikTok

From fledgling start-ups generating a modest turnover for their sole proprietor, to businesses turning over millions a year and employing up to 250 people, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses, or enterprises) are a diverse bunch in terms of their offering and scale. But they are united in their desire to appeal to a customer base that today is largely engaged digitally. And that’s why TikTok, with its focus on uniting its user base, is such a powerful route to market.

This piece examines why TikTok for Business is an increasingly attractive proposition for SMBs, with examples of brands that have improved their bottom line by utilising the platform, a focus on how TikTok is going above and beyond to help out struggling business, and a look into how brands can use the Ads Manager platform and creative toolset to create content that resonates with TikTok’s 100 million-strong European community, and growing.

Window to the world
TikTok is a world of joy, music, creativity, entertainment and discovery. A global community (100 million monthly active users in Europe alone*) spanning Gen Z to the over-50s. And SMBs are sitting up and listening.

An increasing number of SMBs have taken to the short-form video entertainment platform to find a unique method of promotion for their brand, whether it’s selling candles, dog ID tags, African-inspired jewellery or eco-friendly makeup. Upcoming brands, including sibling-founded jewellery brand Omolola, have partnered with TikTok for Business to disclose how the platform has helped them.

Besides being a brilliant place to engage with consumers, TikTok is a forum where SMBs can build relationships and collaborate with like-minded businesses, capitalising on hashtags such as #smallbusinesscheck (2.8 billion views) and #smallbusinessowner (875 million views), sharing stories of success and supporting one another.

Thanks largely to the TikTok algorithm, there’s serious viral potential. Brands do not need pay through the nose to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of prospective customers. In these COVID-19 times, there’s a stronger need for SMBs’ digital marketing to be heard above the clamour. But the challenge is to stand out from the clutter, and to do so with limited budgets, whilst competing against big-hitter brands.

Helping SMBs to help themselves
TikTok has been involved in numerous recent initiatives to support SMBs. Recently announced, it is partnering with Shopify to help the e-commerce platform’s million-plus retailers reach TikTok’s vibrant audience. The deal means that Shopify merchants will be able to produce and execute, track and optimise their campaigns on TikTok via Shopify’s dashboard. By installing a bespoke TikTok app via the Shopify App Store, they have access to TikTok For Business’s Ads Manager, letting them produce content that can be shared across TikTok.

Oatsome, a company that produces lactose-free alternative organic oat milk, has seen many of new customers come directly from TikTok via Shopify. "We used January 2021 to test new strategies and play on new channels like TikTok, which resulted in our products almost selling out in our Shopify store," said Philipp Reif, Oatsome's co-founder and CEO. "The TikTok campaign was a way for us to reach a new audience. 93% of the customers who came to us through TikTok were new customers, which confirmed the relevance of this channel for us. We were able to reach a target group that we were not addressing through previous marketing tools."

At the end of 2020, TikTok launched #smallbusinesslove, a campaign showcasing the relationships between TikTok and businesses on the platform. TikTok worked with 25 SMBs, some of which started small but have since generated six-figure businesses by using TikTok as a platform for growth.

At its core was an homage to the cue card scene from the Richard Curtis hit film ‘Love Actually’, with small business owners holding cards thanking TikTok for its support over the year. The campaign clicked through to a TikTok ‘high street’ where people could shop from small businesses.

“I woke up this morning to be the third video on the Discovery page,” said @lovendu in a video thank you on the platform. “TikTok are doing this amazing campaign, #smallbusinesslove. If you click on the banner, you can find loads of small businesses and buy from them for Christmas. Thank you TikTok for including me.”


To us, showing some ##SmallBusinessLove is perfect. ?? by @blondesband

? original sound - TikTok UK

TikTok Ads Manager, the ultimate toolset
Some SMBs are perhaps nervous that using TikTok to promote their business is an overly complicated process. But, put simply, it’s not. The platform offers an array of free-to-use resources and tech to make creating and running advertising on the platform painless.

In November, TikTok launched the SMB Hub, a repository of advice, tools and products all aimed at helping small businesses target new customers, while retaining existing ones.

One of the Hub’s most useful toolsets is the TikTok Ads Manager, a self-service auction ad platform that makes it a cinch (and takes literally seconds) for brands to make their own TikTok-worthy campaigns and start selling. Built into it are the likes of Smart Video, which automatically cuts and edits videos, licensed soundtracks and video templates.

There’s a plethora of in-app tools that SMBs can use, including professional grade video editing, speed and playback options, filters, special effects, such as augmented reality, text overlays and voiceover tech. Once a brand has created its magnum opus, Ads Manager then utilises TikTok’s In-Feed Ad format to distribute a campaign across users’ ‘For You’ feeds with content that is sound-on and full-screen. It’s also free – no costs are incurred until a campaign is live.

The SMB Hub houses the Ad Group guide, which shows SMBs how to define their target audience, budget, schedule, bidding methodology and delivery type. Then there’s TikTok Pixel – a powerful measurement tool that tracks the impact of a business’s TikTok ads on their website, monitoring sales and user interaction.

Interest piqued, but want to see it in action?

TikTok has teamed up with a number of businesses from across Europe to show how easy it is to get onboard and achieve impressive results.

Brands onboard

Lancaster University
There are a raft of SMBs and organisations that have embraced TikTok as the perfect promotional platform and route to market. One such is Lancaster University, which worked with student ambassadors to create a series of In-Feed Ads using UGC and TikTok trends to generate exposure for its open days.

Activity hinged on TikTok Ads Manager in order to stay on budget. Numerous ads were produced and specific spend allocated to each, with TikTok’s algorithm finding the most effective and on-budget means of reaching target audiences.

The campaign has surpassed expectations – with no agency on-board and by using Lancaster University’s own students as creatives – garnering more than 10 million impressions and over nine million engagements across all ads.

Cat Prill, the university’s marketing co-ordinator, said: “We’ve loved sharing the great work our students create and allowing them to speak for the brand, and having flexibility and control over the campaign has meant we can really maximise performance and spend.”

@lancasteruni hi, have we met? ##LoveLancaster ##lancasteruniversity ##fyp ##firstpost

? original sound - lancasteruni

Barò Cosmetics
Meanwhile, on the European continent, Italian skincare producer Barò Cosmetics, whose products use the antioxidant properties of organic grape seeds grown in its native Barolo, wanted to reach a large number of people in the most authentic way possible. Partnering with digital agency Cult ADV and TikTok, it created several In-Feed ads, placing its videos in users’ For You feeds. The content featured models demonstrating the virtues of Barò Cosmetics products and included a €50 coupon reward for form submissions, helping it attain information on new and prospective customers. The campaign improved lead generation by 27%, gained more than eight million impressions and generated more than 48,000 clicks, resulting in more than 10,000 new leads and 1,000 new orders.

"We are keeping our campaigns always on. We believe cooperation in creating even better TikTok ads will be key to grow audience engagement in the following months,” a representative of the company said.


Un incontro speciale? ##baròcosmetics ##occhiacuore ##LoVediSoloQua ##siigentileconlatuapelle ##barocosmetics ##skin

? That's Amore - Dean Martin

Omolola Jewellery
UK-based Omolola Jewellery, a business run by two sisters who create Afro-style jewellery, saw TikTok as the ideal vehicle to “target the people who connect and value West African artistry and culture”. Taiwo Adegbulu, co-founder and co-chief executive, said that while the company had previously relied on offline marketing for pop-ups and in-store concessions, “we have much preferred creating adverts online, as we have experienced a new level of engagement with our customers”.

“Plus, it has been so fun to create the content! We love being able to inform people of our products whilst making them laugh too. That’s why TikTok is perfect because it allows creatives to have fun.”

Using the Shopify-TikTok integration during its beta phase, Adegbulu has witnessed a higher engagement from its customer base. "When our regular stockists were forced to close, Shopify and TikTok became even more critical to the success of our business," said Adegbulu. "Over 1.8 million people have engaged with our ads since we joined the beta programme — not just in the UK but around the world too, which is really exciting as we look to break into new markets. The TikTok and Shopify integration has made the purchasing journey much smoother for potential customers."

Omolola also uses TikTok Ads Manager to target a specific group of females with three In-Feed Auction Ads over the festive sales period. The ads delivered 1.8 million impressions and received almost 20,000 clicks, an impressive CTR of 0.95%.


Just in case you forgot...... ??

? pov - Ariana Grande

There are numerous other SMB brands getting in on the action to reach TikTok’s ever-growing, ever-energetic global community. Whether you’re a small business that’s struggling in the aftermath of a pandemic-struck world, or an SMB brand that’s thriving but wants to extend its reach, signing up to TikTok Ads Manager is a no-brainer.

The sincerest form of flattery
There’s perhaps no better testament to the marketing power or TikTok than an advertiser with more than 180 years of ad heritage embracing the short-form, viral potential of the platform with content that apes that of Creators and users.

Procter & Gamble took to the platform last year to create #DistanceDance, a fundraising campaign to urge people in the US to stay at home and save lives during lockdown. Produced by Grey, the campaign used TikTok Creator Charli D’Amelio, with all parties involved donating their time for free, and TikTok donating media. Within just a week, #DistanceDance garnered more than eight billion views and 1.7 million imitation dances from TiKTokers,celebs, sports stars and Creators.

Such campaign success is not restricted to FMCG giants with massive budgets. TikTok offers advertisers a democratic environment in which everyone has a voice that can be heard at scale.

Brands that use TikTok Ad Manager generate an average of 200,000 views per post and an average engagement rate of 9%. That already makes TikTok a highly compelling proposition for small and medium-sized businesses. Many SMBs that have run campaigns on TikTok have far exceeded those levels of engagement, and on the basis that registering is effortless and free, and the plethora of free-to-use tools to help shape your campaign, there’s really no reason not to sign up.

*TikTok September 2020

Read the full case studies here.