How marketers can engage Black consumers on TikTok

Free Warren, My Code
Free Warren, My Code

To achieve cultural relevance, marketers must empower the people building culture.

In 2023, brands continue to blitz TikTok in the hopes of developing loyalty on another social platform. However, as Black music continues to dominate pop culture, the question remains: how will brands authentically leverage TikTok and music to reach Black consumers?

TikTok has positioned itself as a disruptor by embracing the virality of integrating music — specifically Black Music — into its platform. This gives artists a unique opportunity to expand their reach through organic engagement. Whether it’s dance challenges or thematic videos, TikTok is almost a modern-day radio station, ingraining sounds and songs users’ memories. 

With this impact in the music landscape, it’s time for marketers to lean into innovative concepts, such as a revolving roster of partnerships for the (Black) creators that helped make them. 

How it started

In 2020, Black Culture decided to fully welcome TikTok into its fold. Already in the portfolio were Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, which had been cemented and amplified by Black consumers. While TikTok existed, “The Culture'' (aka Black America) hadn’t gotten a chance to know it yet. Like any relationship, it took a defining moment. 

Enter the tipping point — COVID-19 — when the world was forced to sit at home and find new forms of entertainment. 

At this point, Black Music and TikTok decided to enter into a polygamous marriage, so to speak. Other platforms were still in play, but TikTok was the new kid on the block and there was nothing but time on everyone’s hands. What better way to make a global splash than to leverage music’s most dominant genre: hip hop. 

Viral dance challenges, set to Meg Thee Stallion’s “Savage” or Young T & Bugsey’s “Don’t Rush,” and reenactment videos created a niche experience that proved that TikTok could be a viable player in the music industry — and pop culture at large.

Today, it’s clear that TikTok will have an everlasting impact. This app is responsible for breaking a lot of independent artists, and its foresight to capitalize on this by creating its own label was a brilliant move. All of this is driven by Black culture, Black music and Black creators. 

Yet the platform and brands that advertise on it still continue to meet Black creators and consumers with unfair and unbalanced practices. How can marketers and brands engage with Black consumers while also advocating for the community? 

1. Breaking Records

Through bite-sized content, TikTok has shown labels, artists, brands and marketers that less is more when it comes to embedding a song in consumers’ minds and taking it to viral status. 

The millions of views on content featuring the hit song “Hrs & Hrs,” by Muni Long, was conceptually powered by the distribution force MPR Global and headed by music exec J.R. McKee. But using TikTok gives artists greater negotiating power for partnerships by growing active engagement with their now robust fanbase. This is the rumblings of the modern-day “hit” record — and consumers can’t get enough. 

2. Forging partnerships

Brands and marketers have used consumers’ organic connectivity with TikTok to recreate ongoing “challenges,” which can feel like a covert word for a campaign. Now, they are tapping into Black artists and creators to advance their placements. 

Through a partnership with Chloe Bailey, Trident is leveraging the singer/producer’s uniqueness to build demand for a new flavor of gum. While this is amazing for huge-impact artists like Chloe, there’s a world of Black TikTok creators and artists who can also have a viable impact. But without the best negotiators around, many don’t get the payment and equity they deserve. 

There has to be a larger conversation around brands and platforms taking responsibility for the very culture they are seeking to monetize. By empowering creators financially and socially, brands and artists can both grow. 

3. The Nature of TikTok

TikTok’s viral experience has built a digital community that is hard to duplicate. It has also made it a tough competitor for other social platforms, because its intent is to be inclusive vs. exclusive. 

But inclusivity also has to expand to accrediting the right creators for the right trends — perhaps adding badges that “verify” that creator as the source of major amplifications.

Free Warren is music and entertainment expert at My Code.

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