The speed of innovation across services and apps is increasingly rapid as the world becomes more connected than ever before, but with it comes disruption and the need to rethink how we deliver content and information. Since the internet became fast enough and cheap enough for every household to be connected, we have seen rapid rises and falls in the traditional methods of both buying and selling products, as well as how we consume our news.

The rising social media tide

While print media reigned supreme in the 1990s and early 2000s, the internet forced publishing houses to shift their news to digital platforms. The likes of Facebook became a destination for consuming news, pushing publishing houses to consider how best to leverage social media as a key medium to reach and engage key audiences and create communities of like-minded people.

It isn’t just news that has been overtaken by social media, it has become integral to every consumer experience. Like Facebook before them, TikTok and Instagram have become focal destinations for consumers seeking news, entertainment, recommendations – you name it, these visual social media platforms have become the go-to for everything, now even search.

For many years we’ve ‘Googled’ information, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that TikTok is now also taking over how we search as well, with almost 40% of Gen Z using TikTok as their primary method of search in the US. While this may raise some questions regarding the accuracy of information that they’re receiving, it’s clear that Gen Z is looking for something different to the offerings of the incumbents. But why?

Visual, trustworthy and relatable

The answer likely lies in both the nature of the content available and the people who are delivering it. Today’s consumers want to hear about genuine experiences. They want content that they believe to be ‘authentic’, coming from people just like them. Trust is absolutely crucial to the younger generation, whether it be the fact that 82% won’t buy from brands they don’t trust, demanding real reviews from peers, or the need to hear about everyday events from people that they identify with. The medium is also important. The highly visual and bite-size nature of the content on TikTok particularly appeals to Gen Z. This generation has much less familiarity with print magazines or maps, or even adverts. They have grown up online and are well-versed in the formats that the internet dictates and enables—there’s no need to emulate old-style content to ease the transition of older, pre-internet shoppers.

Keeping everything in-app

It’s the evolution of search that’s really interesting. Online search has been moving away from search engines for a while and, in fact, even as early as April 2021, research showed that only 40% of product searches started from search engines. Marketplaces have been rapidly overtaking this number with social media following closely behind and, given the increased amount of time spent on TikTok, any savvy brand needs to think carefully about how it caters to consumers looking for their next purchase.

While TikTok’s efforts in e-commerce have faced challenges, #tiktokmademebuyit has seen more than 18.5 billion clicks and there’s a growing wave of entrepreneurs selling through the platform. Today’s online consumers want an end-to-end experience, embarking on all phases of the buying experience without ever leaving the app – starting with discovery. TikTok is becoming that place and must be taken seriously by consumer brands looking to remain competitive.

For brands looking to connect with younger consumers and drive brand loyalty, this shift is important. While it may require some rethinking of marketing strategies, it provides great opportunities to better reach an audience and make brand advocates out of them. It also presents an opportunity to wring maximum value out of budgets. Without the need for pricey print adverts, combined with the desire of consumers for content that is either peer-produced or resembles it, budgets can be decreased and maintain the same reach. In fact, many brands are already embracing this. We’ve seen more genuine, light-hearted Twitter interactions and there aren’t many consumer brands that aren’t at least considering, or already engaging on, highly visual platforms such as TikTok or Instagram.

There is innovation across apps and services constantly; new platforms that take advantage of the changing demands of consumers are springing up all the time. It’s not unlikely that we will see a platform rise to eclipse TikTok, but the principles will remain the same. Consumers want a seamless experience that allows them to find a product, research it and buy it, in one place and from people that they trust.

As we start utilising the phrase TikToking, just as we use Googling, companies must get on board.

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