Open box from Babylist with various baby items, including books.
The team at Babylist found that the key to success on TikTok is testing content to get a solid understanding of the platform's users and what they're looking for. — Cherrell Misleh/Babylist

How three startups have grown sales using TikTok:

  • Babylist, which offers customizable baby gift registries, has successfully incorporated TikTok into its larger marketing strategy, including connecting it with real-life events.
  • Eterneva, which converts the ashes of lost loved ones into diamonds, has found that ‘behind-the-scenes’ TikTok videos explaining the science of the product have been popular.
  • Liteboxer, which markets boxing workout solutions that include virtual sparring, has found that authentic, user-generated posts carry a lot of weight with consumers.

TikTok has rapidly emerged as a sales-driving platform for brands, enabling companies to reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers with short-form videos often set to popular music.

Brands that have found success on TikTok, including baby gift registry Babylist, Eterneva, which converts the ashes of cremated loved ones into diamonds, and Liteboxer, an online boxing platform, have discovered that a test-and-learn approach helps them refine their content and strategy. They also pay attention to the trends that make other videos go viral on the platform, and they offer a mix of entertainment and education that get consumers excited about their brand.

In their own words, executives from the startup brands reveal how they turned TikTok into a bona fide sales channel.

Babylist: ‘The key to our success has really been testing content’

Lee Anne Grant, Chief Growth Officer

Late last year, [gift registry] Babylist decided to make a big bet on TikTok and start to build out our dedicated team. Since then, the account has grown to more than 620,000 followers, putting it far above others in the baby industry and many top millennial and Gen Z brands.

The key to our success has really been testing content. TikTok isn’t like other social networks. You need to be in it and understand the users. For example, this thoughtful grandpa [featured in a Babylist video] got over two million views on TikTok. On other social networks, it only reached around 20,000 people. There’s a massive difference in content potential on different platforms, and our success is based on a willingness to try things.

We also incorporate TikTok into our larger marketing strategy. For example, we created this fun sample registry called #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt. Not only has this been a hit online, but it was a popular installation at our recent real-life experiential event called Babylist Cribs, where we showcased some of those items.

We host quarterly user panels for the whole company. At one last year, we asked the users how they heard about Babylist. One woman said it was TikTok. For most additional questions — How did you know what products to register for? How did you research specific categories? Products? — her response was ‘TikTok.’ This was one of the first confirmations that our strategy was on track, and we continue to hear similar feedback from users.

Parents are turning to TikTok for community and to discover engaging videos that both educate and entertain. We’re focused on real people and relatable moments, so user-generated content plays a major role in Babylist’s TikTok strategy. Likewise, original content based on our expertise in the baby industry performs well.

Search is incredibly important on TikTok as more and more consumers turn to this platform over Google for discovery. We know Babylist users often have a lot of questions and are looking for help with everything from parenting advice to product recommendations. We’re putting energy into optimizing our content to support our users as they look for answers on TikTok as well as other short-form video platforms.

Additionally, our content team recently launched a full-service content studio, The Push. It offers brand partners customized campaigns through several channels, including TikTok.

[Read: 3 Simple (Yet Effective) Facebook and Instagram Tools That Enhance Customer Relationships]

 A yellow gold and diamond necklace created by Eterneva displayed on stones.
For Eterneva, authenticity has been key—creating videos with user-generated content to tell customers' stories in a real way that resonates with others on the platform. — Eterneva

Eterneva: ‘We incorporate a lot of user-generated content from our customers to really tell their story in an authentic way’

Adelle Archer, CEO and Co-Founder

One of our team members was really passionate about launching on TikTok and felt it would really work for us. [Eterneva, which converts the ashes of lost loved ones into diamonds], tested it and sure enough, one of our first videos got a million views, and then the next one got three million views. For us, it’s just really telling the story in a very human way of somebody that is honoring their loved one and choosing to do [so with] a diamond.

I would say authenticity is key [on TikTok]. It never feels like an ad for Eterneva. Our customer is always the hero of the story. Many times, the videos have low production value, and we incorporate a lot of user-generated content from our customers to really tell their story in an authentic way, and often with humor. We’re an end-of-life company — we celebrate people and pets when they pass away, and I think what surprises people is that we do find a way to be lighthearted while also having it be poignant. That resonates with people.

We do a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘how it works’ and ‘how it's made’ videos. Our science videos go super viral. Our lab tech, Kira, has become a bit of a TikTok celebrity at this point. She’s super funny and engaging, and people just love to follow the adventures of Kira and everything that she does in our lab.

We’re a very word-of-mouth-driven product. Turning ashes into diamonds is a beautiful thing, and a lot of people had never heard about it. Something we have learned is that younger people actually have a bit more of an open-minded perspective around death. They’re more willing to talk about it, to engage with it, and to think about their own passing and what they would want to do. They become the word-of-mouth advocate and influencer that brings this to older generations.

We do a lot of ‘reveals.’ It’s a very special and emotional moment when somebody gets their loved one’s diamond home, and a lot of our customers will film that moment. The joy that you see on their face when they open the box for the first time and see their diamond — the joy, the tears, the laughing, the happiness. It’s really powerful; it’s moving.

About 15% of our sales come from TikTok, that we know of. I’m very certain it's a lot more than that. We know when somebody watches one of our TikTok videos, they tell 20 other people about it, on average.

Something that is great about TikTok is that it allows you to use modern music and songs, and I think that does have a big impact. We have 1.6 million followers on TikTok, and about 130 million views across all our videos. All of that has been organic. We've never spent a dollar on the channel, so I think we've figured out a formula that works for that platform. We also repurpose that content and pull it over to Instagram, and we’re starting to see some great engagement and some traction there as well.

I think you’ll see us really doubling down and telling bigger and bigger stories. For example, we recently partnered with Aaron Jones, who is the star running back of the Green Bay Packers. He lost his dad to COVID last year, and so he and his family are having diamonds made for his dad. They are very passionate about what we’re doing. It will be a multimedia video campaign across Instagram, TikTok, and a full Hulu ad series that is launching by the end of this year.

[Read: Social Commerce and Loyalty Drive Key Marketing Trends]

 Person using a VR headset for online boxing workout platform Liteboxer.
"When you find content that works, keep doing more of it," advises Liteboxer CEO Jeff Morin. — Liteboxer

Liteboxer: If you can create compelling content, ‘people are willing to buy from TikTok’

Jeff Morin, CEO

Our TikTok account was [launched] back in April of 2020, but [the online boxing workout platform] started to lean hard into the platform the following year. With the majority of our traffic being driven from social platforms, we wanted to make sure we didn't miss any upcoming opportunities.

‘Test and retest’ have played a major role in our success on the platform. We are constantly trying out new types of content to see what resonates with viewers. We also heavily leverage our expert trainers to bring useful content to the platform. We've also capitalized on some postings from users that went viral, learning from their post formulas and replicating them ourselves.

We've found that more organic-style postings perform much better than heavily produced pieces of content. We believe that at this point in the social media age, users can very easily sniff out ads or promotions and are looking for firsthand experiences.

Jeff Morin, CEO, Liteboxer

Some of the key learnings we have had from using TikTok include:

  • When you find content that works, keep doing more of it. If you find a formula that works, do more of it. It’s simple, but it works. We spend a lot of time developing content that takes leads from viral videos and tries to push the needle. Adapt, change, and see what works and what doesn’t. It's a constant push-and-pull to find the content that your consumer relates to and is willing to engage with.
  • Trending music makes a difference. Staying on top of trending music on the platform is key to developing content that attracts viewers and engagement.
  • People are willing to buy from TikTok. If you can create compelling content, consumers are willing to learn more about your brand and continue their consumer journey directly with your brand on your site. Then it is the job of the brand to convert consumers from being interested to becoming customers. Education is key here.
  • When it comes to audience-generated content versus company-generated content, we tend to use a mix of both. We've found that more organic-style postings perform much better than heavily produced pieces of content. We believe that at this point in the social media age, users can very easily sniff out ads or promotions and are looking for firsthand experiences.

TikTok accounts for about 22% of our website traffic. That said, not all the visitors are qualified to purchase our products or subscriptions, so the conversion rate for these visitors is lower.

We plan to continue to lean into TikTok in the near future. We have over 500,000 followers on the platform and about 70,000 followers on Instagram. We recently hired a new digital growth agency with experience selling subscriptions on various social platforms.

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Published September 12, 2022