The strategy behind Kate Spade New York and Hollister’s TikTok success

NRF Retail Converge: A discussion about meeting the consumer where they are and trusting creators

The secret sauce in TikTok viral success is discoverability — there are millions of people, brands and products that curate content all over the world, but TikTok’s algorithm filters through it all to enable content that resonates most with the individual user.

That personalized content allows users to go in with a “discovery mindset” that makes them primed to find new products and ideas that benefit their lives, said TikTok’s Matt Cleary, vertical director of retail and restaurants, during an NRF Retail Converge session on how retailers and brands can leverage the platform.

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With more than 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok is as diverse in content as in users. Through #foodtok, #fashiontok, #cartok and boundless more, mini communities of multigenerational creators are sprouting up everywhere. The platform has exploded among members of Generation Z who live and learn on social media, but in the past year has seen its fastest growing demographic among parents who joined the platform due to their Gen Z children, Cleary said.

With so much content out there, brands might be wondering how they can get started. The decision was a no-brainer for Hollister — that’s where their consumer is. Hollister took a multi-pronged approach through its tiny jeans account, testing and learning how users reacted to the content and relying on a user-first content strategy, said Jacee Scoular, Hollister Co. senior director of brand marketing. 

The strategy involved focusing on authentic TikToks versus reusing content. Hollister partnered with popular influencers who could speak to the lifestyle of the brand to take the consumer through the brand journey.

Kate Spade New York used a three-pronged approach to developing TikTok content: Paid media, creator content and organic. The retailer leaned into creators who have expertise on how to maximize the platform and already have deep relationships with their audiences. It’s always a challenge for brands to find trust in creators, but Kate Spade found balance in letting go and letting creators shine through their personality, said Amanda Bopp, Kate Spade’s vice president, digital marketing and CRM.

“We need to be where the consumer is,” Bopp said, “and we need to create content that not just makes us feel great about our brand but makes the consumer feel great about the brand.”

Cleary said a benefit of being on the platform is that users can show themselves authentically as they are without an emphasis on aesthetics or perfection, as opposed to platforms like Instagram. TikTok videos help consumers contextualize an item in their life they were not actively searching for. “Half of all users say they discover new products or brands through the platform,” Cleary said.

So, what makes something go viral?

For Hollister and Kate Spade, the rule was distinction — showing something unique the consumer didn’t know they needed.

“That distinction, whether it's through product, through content, through concept, through the creative, I think is what drives virality of the assets on TikTtok,” Scoular said. Bopp echoed that sentiment: For Kate Spade, it was novelty items — uniquely shaped bags that, once posted, increased online searches, sold out and sparked conversations on Twitter. 

Retailers should leverage the platform as a way to connect with communities in a different way from other platforms, focusing on relevancy and creativity.

"Use the platform for more than just a distribution of content. It's a platform that can teach you about what is resonating, it can inform you about what is potentially going to take off,” Cleary said. “If it’s happening in the world, it’s happening on TikTok.”

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