In this article, we explore the fascinating origins of TikTok and Douyin, unravel the key factors behind their meteoric rise to popularity, and reveal the immense potential Douyin holds for brand marketing in China's dynamic digital landscape.
In 2016, Zhang Yiming, a young Chinese businessman and owner of ByteDance, released a new app called Douyin for sharing short videos, a kind of hybrid between Instagram and karaoke. Initially, the new Chinese app was only intended for the Chinese market. However, the app gained popularity and TikTok, an international version of Douyin, was later developed for the international audience.
In August 2018, TikTok bought its main competitor, musical.ly. Then, a wave of advertising for the new app swept the international users of YouTube and Twitter. Thus, by the end of 2018, TikTok users amounted to more than 800 million users in 150 countries. Due to the active growth of TikTok users, Bloomberg valued TikTok at $75 billion and called the international version of Douyin the most expensive startup in the world.
The development strategy of TikTok and Douyin can only be compared with that of Snapchat. The core of Douyin and TikTok users are the representatives of the younger generation. User content is the main part of the video content on the two apps. Brands can also create viral content and launch challenges. To date, the popularity of Douyin and TikTok is growing faster than other social media apps in the world.
TIn January 2021, the ranking of the most popular social media will be as follows.
In 2021, Douyin and TikTok took the 7th place in the ranking of global social media platforms, although they only started to gain popularity in 2016 - unlike the leaders who have been in the market for more than 10 years.
Popular social platforms have many haters and even more fans. The former do not appreciate an app with "trash" content. For the latter, TikTok and Douyin are an opportunity to take a break from the kilotons of political, social, and financial information flowing from everywhere and just relax by watching more videos, which are usually fun content and even educational content with popular songs.
TikTok and Douyin also attract users with their simplicity: the user does not have to choose or make decisions. The Chinese apps' smart algorithms analyze likes, reposts, and video searches to decide what to show a user, and the app's feed is always full of videos.
TikTok and Douyin are two identical yet different ByteDance apps. The first difference is geographical. TikTok is related to the international market, while Douyin works in China. TikTok users are people who live outside of China and cannot fully use the Chinese version of TikTok due to Chinese censorship.
Today, China's socialist system is mainly market-oriented, but it still provides strict censorship and supports the border between Chinese platforms and foreign ones. The so-called socialism system with internal information control provided by the Chinese government led to the creation of the Great Firewall, which supports content regulation and special social rules on the Chinese Internet. As a result, Chinese app developers create Chinese and international version of their products.
For example, WeChat, which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, has a Chinese version Weixin, which is the most popular Chinese social media platform. A similar situation is typical for Douyin and TikTok, which are two completely separate entities owned by a Chinese company and another tech giant Bytedance.
However, despite being two completely separate entities, TikTok is regularly accused of data collection that raises legitimate privacy and security concerns. For example, the short-video app is banned in India due to national security concerns, and some other countries like the U.S. limit opportunities to access TikTok for officials.
Today, users can download TikTok or Douyin, depending on the mobile app store they use. TikTok is available on the overseas Apple Store and Google Play. Douyin is also available on the Apple AppStore in China, but unlike other Chinese app stores, you can't download it directly, except for the overseas Apple Store, which provides an option to change location. However, if you have downloaded the app, it would be easy to register a Douyin account, which is no more difficult than creating a TikTok account. To create a Douyin account, you just need to enter your phone and pass the verification.
However, the main difference between the two is not geography (although it is a prerequisite): the two apps feature different content and completely different Internet celebrities. Bloggers popular in the Chinese web space have almost no followers outside of China, and vice versa, accounts popular in Europe, America, or the CIS countries have no followers in China.
Other differences include differences in the age distribution of the audience. TikTok's audience is mostly teenagers, while Douyin's audience is mainly between 18 and 35 years old. Douyin users are more solvent. The Chinese mentality is specific in that Internet celebrities are very influential and bloggers can literally "push" any idea and sell anything. Such people are called Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in English, and in China they are called wanghongs (网红 wǎnghóng, 网络 红人 wǎngluò hóngrén - Internet celebrity).
Initially, the apps were free of advertising, but in 2019, a French brand made the first attempt to promote its product with short TikTok videos. Today, more and more brands and companies are interested in advertising on Douyin and TikTok.
The easiest and cheapest way to advertise on the apps is to register a profile, create content and build an audience. The catch is that in addition to advertising, you need to generate interest with some short videos. Also, "natural" promotion on the social network takes a long time. Therefore, brands often resort to other ways of advertising on Douyin/TikTok.
Promotion through profile advertising tools. You can pay to promote posts using targeting tools (read more here), or you can pay for pre-rolls (ad videos played when the app is opened), in-feed ads (ad videos embedded in the feed), hashtag challenges (viral distribution of brand references thanks to the competitive effect) or branded filters (like on Instagram). These tools
Influencer marketing advertising. The price of this type of advertising varies greatly and can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. This ad has a conversion problem because a clickable link to the promoted brand's website can't be embedded in a video.
Shoppable Video. This is a new format for TikTok and Douyin apps; the idea is to be able to post videos with embedded clickable links to online stores. Instagram has a similar advertising tool called Shopping Tags.
Regardless of whether this advertising option is preferable for your brand, it will still need to be carefully considered and adapted to the Douyin/TikTok format and trends. The apps have proven to be creative and imaginative platforms with a large base of encouraged users.
What was popular yesterday may be completely forgotten tomorrow, and the preferences and trends of TikTok and Douyin audiences are particularly unstable. It's important to analyze your audience, create relevant and easy-to-understand content, and experiment a lot.
In Douyin, you have a large number of tools to develop marketing strategy in the Chinese market. Brand marketing in China is mainly related to effective work with Chinese platforms, especially with short video platforms.
Douyin has three main formats of targeted ads:
In-Feed Ads: These appear in Douyin users' "For You" feeds, with a call to action to visit landing pages or promote e-commerce. Cost effective for lead generation, e-commerce and traffic to live streams.
Native ads (Dou+ ads): These blend seamlessly with regular Douyin content, have no watermark, and can include e-commerce links to platforms such as Taobao or Tmall.
Search Ads: Similar to search ads on Google, these are targeted to users searching for specific keywords, making them highly effective at attracting interested users, but potentially a bit more expensive than in-feed ads. Many international brands use search ads to drive traffic to their official websites or apps.
Douyin offers advertisers a comprehensive set of targeting parameters. They can target their audience based on demographics, including location, gender, and age groups. Environmental targeting allows advertisers to select users by network type and operating system, increasing the precision of their campaigns.
In addition, interest and behavioral targeting is available through 20 category tags and up to 350 keywords, allowing advertisers to reach users with specific hobbies and actions. The ability to set a specific time frame further refines targeting to recent user activity.
Besides, Douyin allows advertisers to engage with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) by targeting followers of specific KOL types, such as fashion or food, or even select followers of specific KOLs. These multiple targeting options allow advertisers to effectively tailor their campaigns and reach the right audience on Douyin.
Key Opinion Leader (KOL) or influencer marketing is a prominent and effective strategy on Douyin, one of China's leading platforms for working with bloggers and influencers. Companies can use KOLs in several ways to promote their products or services.
First, KOLs can host live broadcasts where they discuss and sell products in real time. In addition, brands can opt for long-term advertising partnerships with KOLs, sometimes lasting a month or more. Finding suitable KOLs can be done through Douyin's dedicated platform or with the help of multi-channel network (MCN) agencies.
In China's influencer marketing landscape, KOLs fall into three main categories: on-trend influencers, vertical influencers, and brand ambassadors.
On-trend influencers, such as Papi Jiang, have broad appeal and promote various products and services. Niche influencers, on the other hand, focus on specific niches, such as fashion or gaming, and cater to highly engaged and passionate audiences. Brand ambassadors maintain close relationships with specific brands and continually endorse and promote them to their followers. Some KOLs, such as Ding Zhen, can quickly gain fame on Douyin and later become official ambassadors for brands due to their online influence and popularity.
Douyin's Challenge Ads involve setting creative tasks for users. They can complete these tasks, such as making a video with your product and tagging your account for small digital gifts.
Douyin has themed challenges with trending hashtags (“hashtag challenge”) )where users create videos based on given guidelines. Brands often partner with KOLs or celebrities to lead these challenges and encourage their followers to participate and create similar content. Hashtag challenge is a great approach to engage users and increase brand visibility on the platform.
Douyin has algorithms that are exceptionally engaging, standing out as 10 times more addictive than other social media platforms. Notably, the most popular posts differ between Douyin and TikTok.
A distinctive aspect of Douyin is its content-driven nature, with videos at its core. Many of these videos are accompanied by a computerized voice narrating in Chinese, but the implementation of an automated voice offers a lack of personal touch.
In addition to short video content, Douyin has expanded its offerings to include content related to sports, fitness, and healthy lifestyles. During a lockdown in Shanghai, fitness influencer LiuGenghong and his wife Wang Vivi brought a fitness revolution to Douyin, encouraging fans to dance and exercise together. This led to a rapid increase in followers, with Liu amassing 35 million followers in just 10 days and setting a Douyin live streaming record with 44.76 million views.
Douyin's algorithms are sensitive to trends and prioritize engaging and appealing content, allowing accounts with compelling content to quickly gain popularity and build an audience of millions. Thanks to Douyin, many amateur singers in China have become famous without any serious background. In fact, anyone can upload their own video to Douyin and become a new Internet celebrity.
Douyin provides an attractive e-commerce channel for brands by seamlessly integrating with major marketplaces such as Taobao and JD. In addition, Douyin is actively developing its own marketplace to encompass the entire buying and selling process within a single app.
To facilitate online commerce, Douyin has launched Douyin Pay, which enables in-app purchases. It is also fine-tuning its algorithms to prominently display videos related to Douyin stores in users' feeds, prioritizing them over other marketplaces. In the "Shopping" section, it is promoting its stores as top recommendations. A native Douyin store now even allows brands to conduct live streaming sales directly on the platform.
It's important to note that only verified accounts can open a store on Douyin, which is indicated by a store icon on the homepage and a requirement of at least 10 videos. Brands can choose to open their own store on Douyin or link their account to a third-party marketplace.
While Douyin primarily targets low-cost items from non-luxury brands priced under 300 yuan, it is witnessing the emergence of successful businesses dealing in higher-priced items, which often redirect traffic to premium platforms such as JD. Top-selling categories on Douyin include beauty, food and beverage, home appliances, furniture, and children's products, providing ample opportunities for e-commerce.
In our practice, Douyin is a useful platform for brands interested in promoting through KOL marketing, developing content and community management.
Our experience in working with Douyin includes several cases, including Flovera, Artlife and SPLAT. In the case of Artlife, our marketing strategy was based on full-fledged promotion through Douyin tools to attract users and engage them through content development and community management.
Douyin is an application that almost every modern Chinese person has. We have already said that the app enjoys the active and solvent audience. This is a must-have advertising tool for brands that want to advertise in China. The artificial intelligence will target your content to the relevant audience.
The marketing opportunities on Douyin are virtually endless; purchases can be made in just a few clicks. Organic growth of views is the most converting and free tool to promote your product. The app's algorithms are designed so that even profiles without followers will get views thanks to the smart recommendation system. Marketing on Douyin/TikTok is especially relevant for companies whose products are aimed at Generation Z.
Contact us and our team will help you run ad campaigns on Douyin and launch a new product in the Chinese market by choosing the strategy most effective for your target audience.
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