Exploring TikTok's wider influences on everything

Our Insight Researcher, Emma Copping, decodes the influence Gen Z and TikTok has had on the beauty industry and how it’s affecting brands.

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By Emma Copping
Posted 18. 05. 2023

We love beauty. We love how this fast-moving sector is the mirror of both skin-deep social movements and playful trends. We’ve innovated in global beauty hotspots, from South Korea and Japan to the Nordics, France, UK, and North America, as well as bringing exciting emerging brands to the global beauty stage, which we’ll reveal in 2023.

We’ve found that working with Beauty brands also fuels intersectional insights, trends, and strategies to innovate in other sectors. Our Insight Researcher, Emma Copping, decodes what Gen Z’s imperfectly beautiful love affair with TikTok can teach us about next-gen brands and customer expectations.

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©Klaus Vedfelt

Seeking authenticity

The pandemic was a beautiful tipping point. For the first time in a decade,
daily make-up routines were upended and our virtual faces and preconceptions were laid bare. Make-up was out (because, why wear it?) and in its place…wellness and skincare. And where did we (speaking as a Gen Z’er) go for recommendations? YouTube and TikTok. Both platforms let people recommend products based on more personal experiences, with real people sharing and not hiding their skin issues, or successes, on our screens. The overly perfect and curated images (and filters) of Instagram influencers became less relevant as we started seeking more authentic stories, which we found on TikTok.

As buying products became more difficult, our product choices became more purposeful, so we looked to those we trusted for recommendations. After our friends and family, TikTok communities increasingly became a safe space for education, conversation and endorsement.

Behaviours that build trust

Trust appears to be an area in which TikTok differs from other social media platforms; its users are in control, resulting in brands relying on their customers to become their advocates. Unlike other platforms, the app’s structure creates a space for peer-to-peer conversations, creating communities and resulting in more trust between members. With people being put first, users are able to express their real selves, which we all found refreshing. Gen Z began using the platform to normalise imperfections, share their struggles and just be ‘themselves’.

Gen Z use TikTok to normalise perceived imperfections - TikTok

Community rules ok

Beauty is one of the biggest and most successful communities on TikTok, and as an industry is being heavily influenced by this platform, with products going viral and reaching wider audiences. According to TikTok’s own research ‘52% of users say they discover new beauty products’ on the platform, but to reap the benefits brands must follow some ‘Gen Z rules’. Kacey Culliney from Cosmetics Design Europe suggests that brands must create ‘entertaining, reliable or meaningful’ content but importantly it must be authentic to the brand. TikTok even advises brands not to follow the ‘classic’ advert formula, as it interrupts viewing and users will skip it.

Everyone is an influencer

TikTok’s algorithm and reliance on user interactions means that everyone has the ability to influence. Anyone can create content to review, recommend or even ‘cancel’ a product. Value and influence are fuelled by views, likes, shares, and comments. The result is that products start to trend on the platform based on what people are endorsing. Hashtags such as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt are indicators of emerging trends and most recommended products. TikTokers are brutally honest about the products and experiences they come across, so brands should think hard about whether and how they should be participating on this platform.

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Do try this at home…

Notable examples of beauty brands embracing TikTok culture, and what to consider for your business, brand or community engagement:

Warts and all - Starface

There’s inherent power and beauty in being comfortable in your own skin. Brands who not only demystify but celebrate every facet of their audience are on to a winner. Vegan skincare-ingredient-infused ‘pimple patches’ are empowering the next generation to own their imperfections and educate themselves around their own hormonal changes and outbreaks. Heart-shaped-eyes and gold stars all round. Help your audience to see themselves in the best, imperfect light.

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The power of sonic branding – e.l.f. Cosmetics

TikTok loves a soundtrack or soundbite. The ‘e.l.f. It Up’ campaign encouraged TikTokers to use e.l.f.’s original song in their videos to enter a competition. The trend went viral and became the most-viral campaign on TikTok, with consumers contributing nearly five million user-generated videos. The brand now films content in the style of informal, unpolished creators to appear more relatable, and continues to actively engage with users in comments.

Over-sharing is caring – The Ordinary

Honesty really is the best policy. The straight-talking skincare brand went viral during the pandemic thanks to honest user reviews and recommendations. The brand’s ethos and interactions helped educate consumers on their products which went down extremely well on TikTok. They now make entertaining content that does follow trends, but keeps close to the brand’s core identity.

52% of users say they discover new beauty products -TikTok

Maybe they’re born with social media skills, maybe it’s – Maybelline

Seeing is believing. Forget the long-form stats, facts and USPs, generation TikTok want snappy, funny and compelling content. Maybelline made canny use of the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt after Sky High Mascara became the number one trending product. Maybelline built on this and worked with creators, encouraging users to duet each other’s videos about the product, resulting in it selling out four times.

Beyond the screen, into real life

Brand services and products, content, campaigns, spaces and experiences take note: #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt is not just a source of inspiration, it’s shaping how we browse, choose and use. Cult Beauty has a page dedicated to trending products. Similarly, JustMyLook created a space in their first flagship store for #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt products. Superdrug is using their in-store ‘trending’ section to create the #SuperShow challenge, where customers record videos using Superdrug products to the ‘Super Show’ song.

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How is your brand harnessing the influence of authentic conversations and personal experiences?

Get in touch to discuss how we can help. We’d love to start a conversation.


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