What's Working In Marketing™: What TikTok Means for the Future of Social Media with Vik Kambli, Chief Marketing Officer at Clearly
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode, we spoke with Vik Kambli who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Clearly, an online retailer of contact lenses, eyeglasses and sunglasses. We discuss with Vik how TikTok has changed digital marketing, why he thinks every marketer should be on TikTok, how TikTok is shaping culture, how to evaluate your current social media spend, why he thinks TikTok is more about entertainment than social media, and much more.
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Here's a full transcript of our conversation with Vik:
Charlie Grinnell: On this episode, I'm joined by Vik Kambli, former chief marketing officer at Clearly. He spent some time also working at Instagram and Facebook among many other places. We've already had you on for one episode, you're back again to talk about TikTok. Welcome, Vik.
Vik Kambli: Thanks so much, Charlie. Thrilled to be here again with you.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I think just for some of the listeners out there who maybe haven't listened to our previous episode, I'd love to talk about just a brief overview of your career journey before we dive into TikTok.
Vik Kambli: Yeah, sure. In the last one of these we did, I talked about the role of serendipity, chance and luck in my career, and I really spoke about the guiding instinct on career development being curiosity more than passion. So I'll talk a little bit about how curiosity helped me make some of the decisions that I've made in my career. So, as I mentioned on the previous podcast, I started my career at Microsoft in the early, mid 2000s, and I spent about six years there in a variety of different roles, looking at essentially all of their product portfolios, except for Xbox and gaming. And got some really incredible experience there working with some of the best marketing and business minds in the country at Microsoft Canada at that time.
Vik Kambli: Coming out of that and knowing that I wanted to move to Vancouver after the 2010 Olympics for a variety of different reasons, it being one of the most beautiful places in the world to live being chief amongst them. I knew that I wanted to get more B2C experience, and I also wanted to get more experience with direct B2C brands, and that really guided my decision point as well as the opportunity that came my way to join Blast Radius, which at that time had some of the best digital strategy and marketing talent in north America.
Vik Kambli: And I had an incredible experience there over three years working with brands like Starbucks, Nike, Lulu Lemon, Disney, amongst others, and really getting some incredible B2C experience working with them. Following that, I saw where the services business model for agencies was going. So in and around 2013, I decided to jump back into software. And at that point, SaaS was really taking off, so software as a service. I'm trying to use fewer acronyms these days. So software as a service was taking off, and I joined a software as a service startup, SaaS startup, called Monexa, where they really focused on enterprise billing and how to help companies bill in flexible ways through subscription models based off of usage.
Vik Kambli: And I really wanted to get very, very early startup experience going there. Having worked at a very large organization, being Microsoft, and mid-sized organization, being Blast Radius, and then a very small organization, being employee number 20 there. I stood up their marketing team, developed their go-to market strategy. We ran that business for about two, two and a half years, and then had an exit to Oracle NetSuite. I still had the startup bug, and so then went to Mobify for a year, just under a year, I should say. Again, I wanted to get an understanding more of how mobile phones were changing our shopping behaviors.
Vik Kambli: And as I joined Mobify that was, I think, the official year that mobile traffic had overtaken desktop traffic. And so that was a really big point of my curiosity, was like, "How is this change in customer behavior going to manifest itself through commerce?" And at Mobify, I had experience working with a number of leading e-commerce brands, whether it was Crocs, Nordstrom Rack, Eddie Bauer, and really learned a lot about e-commerce, e-commerce technologies, and the seismic shift that was going on in the space. And this was again, 2015, 2016.
Vik Kambli: And at that point, I got a call from a former manager of mine who was at Facebook, and I ended up spending four years there very deeply embedded in the platforms themselves and realizing that I had client-side experience, I had agency experience, I had technology experience, but I didn't have platform-side experience. And so that was one of the driving factors to go to Facebook. And also the breadth of that role afforded me the ability to work across a number of different business models, chiefly, software as a service, some fintechs, some marketplaces, retail and e-commerce, which I loved working with some of the fastest growing companies in Canada, in some cases, North America, in those verticals and really learning from their founders, how they'd started their businesses and getting the energy that way.
Vik Kambli: And then most recently, moved to Clearly. And the curiosity that drove me there was actually the desire to get experience running a business model as one of the chief operators in the company. So I joined Clearly as their chief marketing officer right before the pandemic, and had some incredible experience there really running that business model and driving growth in the midst of the e-commerce boom and the retail boom that we were seeing, helping them open our retail stores, figuring out how to disassemble and reassemble their marketing team and the revenue teams to set them up for what we believed was the next wave of customer behavior in optical.
Vik Kambli: And then I've recently left that role as well. Coming out of the pandemic, I think everyone's had a bit of an existential moment, and mine has been taking a little bit of time off before I figure out what I'm going to do next. I'm going to be 40 next year, so I'm also of the mindset that the biggest gift I can give myself as I'm approaching my 40th year is maybe a year off. And having the opportunity to do that, I'm leaning into that. So I'm doing some mentoring now. I've recently joined Creative Destruction Lab as a mentor in one of their streams and hopefully expanding it to be more streams.
Vik Kambli: I'm interested to get passionate about the technology that's being built and I want to get as close to the community that's building that as possible now. So that's the curiosity itch that's top of mind right now, let's leave it at that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Makes a ton of sense. I think you've had such an interesting background, and you and I have known each other for a decent amount of time. And I think the reason why I'm so interested to talk to you is, you've ticked those boxes. You've been on the brand side, you've been on the agency side, you've been on the platform side. And someone obviously who has worked at Facebook and Instagram before with our topic today being TikTok, I'm super interested to get your perspective on it. Where we'll start off is, there's no doubt that TikTok has now established itself as a prominent player. I think when it first came on the scene a couple of years ago, I think a lot of people were like, "Ah, okay. Will it last? Is this something that I should actually take seriously or not?"
Charlie Grinnell: And now we've seen, no, no they're here to stay. I think a recent Sensor Tower report said that they had become the first non Facebook mobile app to reach three billion downloads globally. Most recently, they announced that they're now over a billion monthly active users. So just as a State of the Union, to start things off, how has this sharp rise of TikTok, it seems like in the grand scheme of things came out of nowhere, and now they're kind of like the new kid on the block that you have to pay attention to alongside Facebook and Google being the duopoly previously. What do you think about that?
Vik Kambli: What marketers and frankly businesses need to understand is, this is where the attention is right now, and the growth itself says something about the wave that the network effects within the platform are expanding faster than anything we've ever seen before. You spoke a little bit about how they're the fastest to get to some of those milestones based off of what the analysts are reporting. I think what that tells us as well is, there's also a different behavior that's emerging as a result of the medium itself that TikTok is delivering. There's a really interesting book that I'm somewhat obsessed with right now called The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson.
Vik Kambli: And what he actually talks about is the role of networks throughout history, not just social networks now, but the role that networks played throughout history. And one of his core thesises in that looking at network science is that the wedge point at which you enter with an idea, with a product, with a service, so the audience or the point in the network which you enter is actually potentially more important than the idea itself. If I take that and I apply it to TikTok, I look at like, "Where did it enter?" It entered in, let's call it a younger demographic that's going to fundamentally different media consumption behaviors than myself, yourself, definitely our parents and our grandparents in terms of what their preferred modality for information consumption is.
Vik Kambli: And then as a result of that entry point and as a result of where within the cultural milieu that audience lives, they've been highly influential in consuming and then as well as proliferating the use of the platform itself. And then the other really interesting thing, which we can talk about in a bit, is as marketers and business people, we also have to look at this in terms of, if this audience has decided that this is their preferred modality of information intake, this is where the attention is, and it's growing amounts of attention that are going here.
Vik Kambli: We've got to think about it through the lens of, how do we craft messages in this medium that are going to be sticky and resonant with this audience, leveraging the medium? Especially now that these people are going to enter the workforce, they're going to get more purchasing power. And if this is how they want to consume information, consume communications, they've got more purchasing power, we better figure out how to market to them and how to communicate to them in the medium of their choice. So that's how I'm thinking about it right now.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And just thinking about, okay, this thing is here, now you need to learn how to use it. Because I think it's one of those things where it's like what you're going to do, and I think we've chatted about this before we hopped on, in that, you can't just take your same approach like you would approach Facebook or you would approach Google or you would approach Instagram and all of a sudden put it on TikTok and it'll just go, it's a fundamentally different form of communication and content style and structure and all that stuff. Can you expand on that?
Vik Kambli: Yeah, totally. Let's talk about our parents, they grew up for the most part in the age and the rise of television, that's their primary mechanism of information consumption. And then let's look at the way that advertising surrounded that or commercial marketing surrounded that. It was around the 30-second commercial. And the way that you would articulate a narrative in a 30-second commercial was your typical storytelling. You'd have an opening, you'd do a build, there'd be a climax, and then there'd be a denouement the last like five or three seconds that are there. And that's like your classic storytelling style.
Vik Kambli: Then let's take it to the method of communication that I'm most comfortable with and I'm most familiar with, feed, in my case, it's mobile feed. You can't effectively land, unless you're doing something really special, a 30-second story arc in the way that a television commercial was done in a mobile feed, because you just don't have the time. So the way you need to craft your narrative is fundamentally different in a feed. And that then plays itself out to stories, which was like the medium of preference after me, and there's different ways that you need to deliver a message in stories than you do through a mobile feed.
Vik Kambli: And then that's panning out again, the way you need to deliver a message in a format like TikTok, there are changes that you need to make in terms of like how you craft your message, the way you cadence your message, where you put your brand in the message, and other elements like that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think what's super interesting there is, when we thought about social video pre TikTok, think social video, I think what I noticed is the best brands in the world are actually starting on, what are the consumption habits of end users? So thinking about the distribution mechanism, and then backing out from there into, "How should we produce our content?" Whereas I feel like a lot of marketing departments have struggled with that and they've been more creative led at the beginning like, "This is the story." Hey, I'm a creative person, no offense to all your creative people out there, I used to sit on that side, I was a video producer, "Hey, I've made you this beautiful asset following what I learned in film school or whatever, here you go, go put it on the platforms."
Charlie Grinnell: But now it seems like with what we've seen on Facebook and Instagram and now TikTok even ratchet its setup even more to the extreme is like, you actually have to be thinking distribution first and then back out of there to figure out what you're actually going to create and craft and how you're going to make it.
Vik Kambli: I've actually got a question for that on you, because I'm having this conversation with one of the organizations on advising for right now, which is, how precious should a brand be about their brand in these distribution mechanisms? I'm not talking about brand safety in terms of like, what do you surround it with? That's a different conversation. I mean it through the lens of like, I'm going to pick on you. If I'm Red Bull and Red Bull's got this beautiful brand that's out there, they're well-established for being the kings of content or the queens of content, but you're now delivering a performance message, which is meant to drive like a direct response outcome, like a lead, like the sale of a can of Red Bull. I know that's not that relevant, but follow me here.
Vik Kambli: What's your guidance to brands like that that want to protect the way their brand shows up with the performance objective that you're trying to drive at the bottom of the funnel? I'm curious how you're advising your clients on that.
Charlie Grinnell: I think it's a really good question, and I think it's it's case by case. In terms of the way that I see it is, if it's not going to be detrimental to the brand health, maybe let's say you're a brand that's used to this long-flowing overarching storytelling and that's your thing. Cool. If that's what you've built your brand on, that's fine just understanding that you have to weigh as a person running the business, "We're trying to go after these people. This is where these people spend time." So taking our long-form, slow-branded play into that platform as a format probably isn't going to work. And so like just understanding there's clear research that you can cite around that. So that's point number one.
Charlie Grinnell: And then I think point number two is going, "Okay, are there aspects or are there ways that we think our brand can come alive on this without cheapening it?" And again, I think we have to apply it to something specific to get into that. But yeah, I think like there are, absolutely. Unless TikTok is a platform that stands for something that the brand is fundamentally against, it's up to creative teams to come up with ways that the brand comes alive on the platform. You pointed out to Red Bull. Platforms are going to come and go and platform focuses are always going to change, and the team, when I was there and the team still, adapts as that goes. I would say the same thing for other best-in-class brands.
Charlie Grinnell: The platforms are always going to change, but it's the marketer's job to figure out, what is the best way that I can craft my brand's story without getting too like woo-woo, fluffy brand here? What's the best way that I can craft that story and make it come alive on that platform as natively as possible? Because I think that's the end of the game here is like, how can you close the gap between your customer and your brand on one of these platforms? And what I've seen a lot of the research that we've done and seeing best-in-class practices, all these brands do a great job of getting their head around, "Here are the things that are perceived as normal and expected on the platforms, and these are what users expect." And they just build that in.
Charlie Grinnell: And it almost creates this halo effect where consumers love them even more because they're tailoring things specifically, or they just go, wow, "This brand actually gets me because they actually know how to produce something for TikTok." I think there's a couple of things there you have to apply, but that's how we've been thinking about it.
Vik Kambli: I've got another question for you-
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I love it.
Vik Kambli: ... and then another statement after that. Do you find that brands have awareness around aligning the message that they're crafting for where within the "funnel" a customer is? One of the frustrations even I had at Facebook was that brands would be trying to land a brand narrative with a customer that was ready to buy. And it was like, "Hey, your customer is already ready to buy. You've done the brand work. You've secured that mental availability. Now it's about telling them that the physical availability of the product or service, the specific product or service that they're looking to transact with you is there." I'm curious how you've navigated that or if you've even come across it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I think this exercise of going back to basics and just mapping out your funnel, that sounds like marketing 101. I don't know, you'd probably feel the same way. I'm always surprised at how oftentimes I talk to marketers who I'm like, "Walk me through your funnel. Talk to me about like the different stages of your funnel, the different channels that you're focused on that align to those stages, the different things within those channels." Yeah, you might be using Facebook, you might be using Facebook video versus Facebook carousel posts or whatever those things are. Get into like the nitty-gritty things and then put that all down in one place and then zoom out and think about it from a critical eye. Like, "Is this actually the way? Does this structurally make sense?"
Charlie Grinnell: I've talked on another episode with George Weetman, the VP of digital and ecom at Arc'teryx, great guy, wicked smart. And he talks about the fundamentals. He's like, "There are so many things that I think... " He talks about how people are always so like, "Oh, this new shiny thing." And he's like, "Yeah, but you have your funnel and your bucket, so to speak, and there's all these leaks. And here you are trying to do like the newest, latest and greatest flashiest thing." And he's like, "A lot of the things that actually drive revenue aren't sexy, it's just getting those fundamentals right and keeping them right as the landscape continues to change."
Charlie Grinnell: So I think, yeah, my long-winded answer would be, "Yes, absolutely. I see that all the time." And I think it's a common challenge for marketers, is not taking that step back and being like, "Do we actually have our fundamentals in place looking at things through a critical lens?"
Vik Kambli: Yeah. George is so sharp, such a great first principles thinker. Yeah, I couldn't agree with him more on that. The other point I wanted to make though, was getting back to that economic power point, not PowerPoint as in the Microsoft solution there, but the point that we talked about earlier in terms of the folks who are on TikTok now entering the workforce and only going to gain more economic power as they cycle through university, college, starting their own businesses, wherever they decide to do. There's another massive tailwind that those folks, and frankly millennials and below and gen X-ers and below have as well on that point, which is, you look at demographics, and we are an aging population in the West.
Vik Kambli: I don't want to be morbid here, but what that ultimately means is that the boomers who are the richest generation of all time, they are going to be passing away over the course of the next 10, 20, 30 years. What happens to that wealth? That wealth gets transferred to governments and then to the children of those boomers and the generations below them. And when you look at the numbers, they're startling. We're talking, depending on the time horizon, anywhere from 30 to $70 trillion, that's a trillion with a T, that's going to be transferred over the course of the next 20 to 30 to 40 years. Those are staggering amounts of money that are going to come into the generations below them, as well as government for that matter.
Vik Kambli: And then what that means, again, to the economic power of these generations are going to have. I think I saw a stat recently where it was either in Toronto or in Vancouver that something like $100,000 plus had been gifted from boomers to-
Charlie Grinnell: For housing.
Vik Kambli: Exactly, for housing. And I think that this is a harbinger of that. And why is that important to what we're talking about? Well, again, you could then go back to the modality and the mediums in which these generations, like millennials, like ourselves, like older millennials for me, as well as the generations to follow, the modality and the mediums that they want to consume information in and their preferred mechanism for communication. So this is a vital skill in terms of crafting messages for mediums that brands need to pay more attention to.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think what's so funny that I go back to, there's a couple of things. It's kind of like, "Oh, TikTok's the thing the kids are on." But then all of a sudden, the kids are rich and have buying power. That's how I would oversimplify it. It's like, "Oh yeah, no, we don't have to worry about that, that's the 16 year olds." But all of a sudden, a 16 year old is 24 year old, 30 year old, 35 year old. And they've been consuming TikTok and that's their preferred method of consumption and that's what they're used to. To your point, it's now a new format that sticks that you need to know as a marketer.
Charlie Grinnell: The second thing that comes to mind there actually reminds me of just this overarching narrative that young people are impatient. The story that I have, I've told this story a couple of times before, I was over at my parents' place and my mom has an iPad, and we're talking in a conversation and she was just like, "Oh, there was this thing." And she was like, "Let me just Google that." So me being the marketing researcher that I am watching her user behavior, she walks over, touches the YouTube icon on the iPad. And I'm like, "Okay, where's she going with this?"
Charlie Grinnell: She types in her thing, hits search. And as she's about to hit the video that she's going to watch, I'm like, "Mom, stop." And she goes, "What?" And I go, "You said you were Googling something." She's like, "Well, yeah." Well, she doesn't know that YouTube is owned by Google, so I was like, "That's the funniest side." But I'm like, "You're about to watch a video." And she goes, "Well, Charlie, I don't want to read, I want to watch." My mom is over 60. That was like a big shift for me because I think that type of behavior we would typically associate with, "Ah, that's a young gen Z or millennial or gen X impatience thing." And I'm like, "No, no, I think that behavior now, humans are inherently lazy and want the path of least resistance." And so we're starting to see that.
Charlie Grinnell: And so those are parallels that I've seen in between everything that we just talked about, and this behavior is like, now it's not going anywhere. I think it's so big that it's stuck. And all those numbers that we talked about at the beginning with the size of it and the scale and like the penetration now, you're absolutely right, it's not going anywhere.
Vik Kambli: To build on that story, actually. You reminded me of something where, when I was like early 20s at Microsoft, I worked for a brilliant marketer, she was one of the sharpest distillers, one of the sharpest marketing minds in the country. And I distinctly remember, and this is just as Facebook had opened themselves up to going from just universities into professional networks as well. I remember asking her what she thought of it, and fair enough, because like she'd seen these things come and go in the past she said, "Look, it's just a fad. It's just going to rise and fall just like MySpace did, just like Friendster did and whatnot."
Vik Kambli: Project out whatever it's been, 15 years, that is now the primary mechanism, messenger that her and I communicate and have stayed in touch.
Charlie Grinnell: That's incredibly ironic.
Vik Kambli: Over the course of like the last... When did I leave Microsoft? 11 years. That's been the mechanism that we've stayed in touch with through all these years. So it's interesting where it's like, at first you don't see it. And I think that that gets back to that point of like, how influential is that wedge point that you enter into? And then what happens to that wedge point once you established behavior over the corresponding years, in terms of that network gaining influence, gaining purchasing power, and what that actually means. So I think TikTok's got to the scale where that wedge point is going to be incredibly powerful, like that network, that early influential network is going to be incredibly powerful at making sure that that platform continues to proliferate.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, just building on that wedge point, I think that's really smart what you said. I want to transition over now to talking about their algorithm, because I feel like that's the thing that makes it so valuable. I think about when I first gone to TikTok, as someone who works in marketing, what I'll do is when there's a new platform, I'll always go sign up for everything to secure my own username, basically because I don't want one of my friends to be able to hold me for ransom for like a Keg Steak dinner or something like that. So if you're listening to this, that's a good way. And if you want to go out and get back at your friends, go get their username on something because it can be a hot commodity.
Charlie Grinnell: But I think when I think about like back when I got first on the platform, I got the username and I just was trying to think about it like, "Okay, this is Charlie, the user and what he's interested in." But then I was also like, "Okay, what does Charlie, the marketer and the researcher think about Charlie, the user's behavior? And how quick am I going to fall for this?" And I was just shocked that within five, 10 minutes, I was seeing stuff where I'm like, "Damn, I see how they make this sticky and how they're serving me stuff without me really actually doing anything."
Charlie Grinnell: I think about with Facebook, or with other things, or with Google, or whatever, you're having to type or do whatever, what schools did you go to? Do you know this person? You're building out that network. This was like, "Okay, I watched a video, it repeated, it repeated a third time." I then was like, "Oh, maybe I'll save this video to my camera roll." Those little things and how they use those signals to serve up content that I didn't even really think I was going to be interested in until I'm watching it and then I'm there for 25 minutes, that's a really powerful thing.
Charlie Grinnell: And so when we're when we're thinking about this algorithm and how that bridges the gap towards commerce, what do you think about TikTok and its algorithm and the potential impact it could have on e-commerce? And I guess the word that we would use is algorithmic commerce.
Vik Kambli: Yeah. There's a lot to unpack there. I think let's take it through three different angles or three angles that'll come together. The first is, it's referred to as a social network, but I don't believe that's what they're trying to be. I don't think there's going to compete with Facebook and Instagram and the likes of that. I think they're an entertainment vehicle and I'd actually argue that they're trying to compete with Netflix more than they are trying to compete with the more traditional social networks there. So that's point number one.
Vik Kambli: Building on that point, then I think about the way that the algorithm is structured, the primary optimization point does not appear to be the social graph. And so the people who are connected to you determine the content that you see. And I think you would refer to a New York Times or Wall Street Journal story last time we spoke
Charlie Grinnell: Wall Street Journal did that in-depth TikTok algorithm. If you Google Wall Street Journal TikTok algorithm, there's a 13-minute video about it.
Vik Kambli: It's interesting because where that then leads me to is that the network itself is much more designed around content consumption preferences. And I've been playing with different content loops that I'm in, weirdly enough, I was in this alcoholics and recovery group a little while ago, which were super inspiring stories. I don't know how I had gotten into this group, super inspiring stories of people who had overcome their addiction and were now thriving. And then I'm a big fan of stand-up comedy, so I followed a bunch of comedians and gave the signal that I really liked the content.
Vik Kambli: I watched a lot of the content that was in there, too much of the content that was in there to be perfectly honest, I found it through the hole. And then that content group slowly changed, but it didn't change right away. So I find that really interesting as well in terms of like, when I look at the way that I'm transitioning between content groups, how that algorithm appears to be calibrating itself for what I'm going to find the most entertainment value in. It's fundamentally different than the orientation of some of the more traditional social networks. It's weird to call them traditional now.
Vik Kambli: And then the third point around commerce is, getting back to that marketing funnel we can steal from George as well, if I cast it through the lens of what can the role of this be in the marketing funnel, I actually then align it more to a competitor to traditional television advertising, because when I look at the reason we see what we used to be called above the line advertising on television, it's because it's acting as a demand creation vehicle, the purpose of which is to have something that stands out as one or two neurons in our brain, so we have then the mental availability for that brand.
Vik Kambli: So then once we are in the mode to buy or something choose us to buy, we then go into the middle and bottom of the funnel, and their number one brand is number one or number two in the consideration set. So I walked out yesterday, my feet got wet because I was wearing runners and it's been raining nonstop in Vancouver and I was like, "Oh crap, I should really go and buy a set of rain boots." What are the rain boots that comes to mind right away for you? Well, it was CRL because I remember seeing a CRL out a little while ago as well I've got friends who have CRLs. And so they've got that mental availability, and I think TikTok plays a really important role in terms of the discovery component.
Vik Kambli: What's also now really interesting though, if you look at some of the things that are happening in terms of buying on these platforms too, like the Shopify integration that they launched recently, and therefore the ability to then see something and then go transact right away, I think that's only going to grow. And you're seeing this behavior in China as well. There was something wild a few weeks ago where I don't remember the gentleman's name, but he's the lipstick king of China. He did a live broadcast on one of the other Chinese platforms that had something wild like 300 million people watch inceptively like QVC infomercial, a home shopping network in Canada here has infomercial, and it drove tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
Vik Kambli: And then that gets back to who was buying that? What was the generation that was buying that? And that then gets back against what we were talking about in terms of generational media consumption preference, and honestly, generational commerce behavior. So kids now, and I use that word very loosely, the people who made this platform what it is and proliferated it, they may have different commerce behaviors than we do. And this platform is very well set up to tap into those and then bring those into the mainstream. So I'm that person who eventually buy something right after watching a TikTok live or something like that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. What's interesting, hearing you say it's not traditional and using that word again with air quotes here, traditional social, it's more of an entertainment mechanism, I think I zoom out a little bit and I'm like, "Okay. Was 2008 to 2018, that decade was social networks connecting, that's where all the attention was, those people on social?" So marketers were like, "Okay, we want to fish where the fish are, that's where we're going to put a lot of our resources." TikTok came up, and I agree with you, I don't necessarily think TikTok, maybe it falls under a social org structure at a company, but it is an entertainment vehicle, that is the primary focus, as opposed to a connective vehicle with feed and entertainment almost rolled into it.
Charlie Grinnell: So what's interesting is, is this next decade going to be, hey, using this entertainment lens, Netflix, we're looking at the streaming stuff, TikTok, that sort of thing? Because it seems like the attention, yeah, everyone's still uses social, I'm not saying that's going anywhere. And I chuckle in my mind because I've had some marketing people be like, "Okay, so now that Facebook's dead, what are we doing?" I'm laughing being, "No, Facebook is not dead, let's think about that for a second." We're actually sorry, Meta.
Charlie Grinnell: And so I think about, is this next phase for us? If that was elementary school, it's now this is the next one where it's high school and we're going into this more entertainment thing and tying that together with commerce, I think is going to be a really interesting thing to watch. I want to switch gears a little bit here and just get your take on the platform specifically and what you think marketers should be keeping top of mind. First and foremost, what excites you about TikTok the most, both maybe as an end-user yourself, but also just from through a business lens, what gets you fired up about it?
Vik Kambli: As an end-user, it's a viable alternative to television and Netflix, and it actually solves a problem that I've got with Netflix as a user, which is the UI sucks. It's so hard to find something that I actually want to watch because I'm almost overwhelmed as a result of the selection that's offered. And that's a user experience problem, we can joke about it, but that's a user experience problem. Whereas TikTok, it's a different modality, it's in my pocket. And on top of that, the ability for the right entertaining content to find me is really powerful.
Vik Kambli: So as end user, I'm really excited about that, as well as just the fact that the entertainers let's say, or the teams that I genuinely love are now adopting the platform and they're creating content native for that platform, which is remarkable as someone who is a fan of comedy, unfortunately, a fan of the comedy I believe, And then as a business person, what really excites me is twofold, is they've proven that this is where the attention is. And I'll tell a story about one of the tests we ran at Clearly. The other reality is a good chunk of the folks who built the ads managers, the ads algorithms, to bidding strategies at a number of the other platforms, my former employer included, has migrated over to TikTok and they're now building those tools to drive real business value within that platform now.
Vik Kambli: So they're taking all of that learned knowledge from Google, from Pinterest, from Facebook and Instagram, in terms of how to structure an auction, how to build ad products that are actually going to drive business value. So real brand lift, real conversion lift, real sales lift, and embedding that into the platform. And so you've got a bunch of really sharp minds who've done this before solving for the situation of the TikTok as a platform. Right now, my team really viewed it as an opportunity to get incremental reach, especially in the top of the funnel.
Vik Kambli: They ran a test in the August, September timeframe where we ran a hashtag #challenge. The TikTok candidate team was fantastic in terms of, they helped us figure out what the hashtag was, they helped us develop a custom song that was aligned, and it was a transformation challenge. So they were really smart as well because they helped us find the right artists, but they also helped us find the right beat and the right queuing of the music, what would be more natural for a transformation, where the idea was like, someone looks one way, there's a beat drop, and then they put on a pair of glasses and they've transformed.
Vik Kambli: And so we called it #clearlytransform. So we put a comparatively small amount of money behind this. They found influencers who we could use as initial seeders of this, and that money went towards boosting the content from those influencers. We saw, that hashtag now, I just checked this morning, has just under 900 million views against it. And again, I don't know, those are probably not verified views and there's a bunch of work that the team needs to do there, but then 10% of that is accurate like my cost per view on that hashtag, especially as a brand awareness strategy, where again, I'm looking for mental availability for what we spent on it, I can't get that reach anywhere.
Vik Kambli: And so I'm excited about that. And that's scalability of a little bit of advertising investment and an algorithm that's still conducive and organic distribution of that kind. For me as a business person, that's the second thing that's exciting other than the fact that they've got a bunch of smart people building their ads products and their auctions right now.
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting. Really interesting. That is a good segue into TikToks metrics behind them as we've talked about, tell a story of astounding growth. And that said, they're being challenged in the social video space. And again, we can call them an entertainment thing separate from social, but whether it's Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, whoever, they're trying to like, "What can we do to rip off those features to stay relevant?" Because obviously I think they're seeing that resonate with large users. What do you think TikTok needs to do to innovate and stay competitor?
Vik Kambli: The first thing I will say though, is I think this competition is good because I think ultimately this competition is going to drive everyone to think sharper about what's going to drive the most customer value. And ultimately, the beneficiaries should be us as the end consumer. What I've seen that they've been able to do exceptionally well is really understand who their core customer is, core consumer is, and continue to develop products for them and not get distracted. So I get that they added Stories a little while ago and what not as adjacent strategy, which they can get more content creation in as well as another set of inventory that they can eventually deliver ads in as well.
Vik Kambli: But I do believe if they continue to optimize for the most entertaining/relevant content, agnostic of your social graph, or as agnostic as possible about your social graph, there's something really powerful there. And that's from what my observance is, that's embedded into the way that they've designed the algorithm, whereas the other platforms and specifically Facebook and Instagram, the algorithm is much more adjacent to your social graph and not necessarily your entertainment preferences. And the example of that is Facebook and Instagram is serving me content based off of who I'm following, who my friends are.
Vik Kambli: TikTok might do a little bit of that, but that's not the primary "feed" that I'm getting. They're right there, there is an inherent advantage that's built into that as the primary mechanism, those servicing content.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And being able to deliver that output to users with minimal input. That's what just triggered in my mind is for you to be able to see the type of content that you want to see on Facebook and Instagram, all of us have had to hammer in personal information or spend time on the platform for a long time to get what we want to see, whereas with TikTok, five, 10, 15 minutes into creating a new account, they already have you figured out pretty well at least. And then the more time you spend on it, the smarter it's getting. And I just think that's the thing that was so fascinating for me is how as a user, just sitting there watching, it took away the work on my end. I didn't have to do anything.
Charlie Grinnell: I didn't have to enter in my gender, I didn't have to do any of that stuff to get great quality stuff in front of me. And so I think making it easier on the end user to do nothing and then potentially still get a great experience is definitely a moat in my mind.
Vik Kambli: How are you talking to right metric clients about it? Because within a day, you're getting the question.
Charlie Grinnell: Oh, it's one of the most popular things, it's like, "What should we do on TikTok? Every client I think is asking. And so I think at first we talk at a high level of like, "This is where the attention is. Here's all the research and data points that show you that the attention is here." So that would be grade one just like, "People are spending time here. You've probably heard it." And I think there's been a large piece of education there around, it's not just a young person thing anymore. That's another thing. So I recently spoke at an online conference called Social At Home, and one of the things that I was showing was some research that our team did about how TikTok usage is growing in older demographics.
Charlie Grinnell: And I think like #learnontiktok has something stupid like 300 billion views. I don't know, something ridiculous like that. And that's any type of topic, that's science, that's math, that's literally whatever you want. And it was discovery channel meets TikTok produced in that way for consumption. And so I think there are probably some marketers out there who are like, "Uh, we don't really sell to the younger generation, so it's fine." And I think what we're seeing is like, "Hey, there's a ton of attention here, it's growing. And not only is it growing as a whole, it's starting to creep into those older generations."
Charlie Grinnell: And also as time goes on those young people that you're talking about, to your point, are going to have more purchasing power and grow old and probably still be on this platform. So that's I think how we're thinking of it, that would be like at that high level, it's just that education piece. And then I think the second piece is really around education of, "Here's what best in class looks like? Here's the level of sophistication that brands are deploying on the platform." Whether it's something like what you've explained with Clearly, whether it transformation challenge, or a dance challenge, or all these different things, and unpacking to be like, "Hey, brands are spending a ton of time tailoring their approach on these platforms, and the proof is in the pudding."
Charlie Grinnell: We're seeing a ton of viewership driven on that platform, we're seeing traffic come from that platform. So I think it's those two fundamental camps. And I think my prediction is as we go forward, we're going to get more and more asks around that, and then applying, how do you use TikTok for a specific business challenge?
Vik Kambli: Is anyone talking to you about incremental reach as a source of incremental reach? And a more pointed version of that is, do they believe that the same people who were on TikTok as power users are the people, say, people who are on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc? Or you've got an opportunity to reach incremental people, a new people on the platform?
Charlie Grinnell: I'd say more the latter. I think it's less about, in the conversations that I've been involved in, is less about the duplicated views, like, "Okay, if we're going to do this on Instagram, are they going to follow us on TikTok?" I think it's just more of like, "Hey, you're producing content for Instagram and for all these other platforms, why wouldn't you build in distribution to TikTok?" And again, not just being lazy and taking what you're making for Instagram and slapping it on the TikTok, but being like, "No, this is a viable distribution channel that we should be focusing time and effort on to make sure that we're delivering something that's going to give us a good potential for return." So, yeah, I think that level of sophistication, I think many brands are thinking like, "How can I reach more people more often for longer?"
Charlie Grinnell: And TikTok is now one of those platforms where it's just part of the mix. I think the main question that I've been hearing is, a year ago, it was like, should we be on there? And now that question is shifted to, how should we be on there? And so it's that graduation of that first question into the second one. As we wind down here, we've obviously covered a lot, so I want you to put yourself in the shoes of, you're marketing person who's listening to this, you've just listened to us rant and rave about TikTok, all these different kind of applications, what would be your piece of advice or recommendation for what people on the brand side and marketers, what they should be thinking about when it comes to staying agile and adaptable with these social platforms and with TikTok specifically?
Vik Kambli: There's a few things there. Number one, this is going to become a core part of your media mix. It's not going to go anywhere anytime fast, it's found its audience, that audience has clearly been influential in getting further distribution, the network effects are full in play there. So I'd say, it's going to be a part of your network effect and the audience is influential, they're gaining more purchasing power. As a result of that, you got to start figuring your shit out now in terms of how to start crafting your message for that audience in that medium.
Vik Kambli: And look, it's trial and learn, it's try and fail, try and fail, trial and learn whatever we want to call it. Not everything you do is going to be great. The brands that are less precious with failure and experimentation I think are going to be winners. And why that's particularly important is that when I look at the opportunity for organic distribution, especially given the fact that it's not tied to your social graph as much as the other platforms, the opportunity to have things scale faster through organic distribution is incredible, so much so that when we ran our TikTok campaign in August, there was a tailwind on the rest of our organic content that we produced before that, but we've almost every single video, and there was over 20 that we had on the platform before we ran that campaign had over 100,000 views after that Clearly Transform campaign launch.
Vik Kambli: So that's a really powerful mechanism as well in terms of the tail wind into your organic distribution of your existing content. And then the other one is TikTok here to stay, and if we've seen something else is over the last 20 years, is that every generation, or half generation seems to have their own preferred medium and therefore platform of preference. And so I think we'd be shortsighted to say that TikTok is going to be the be-all-and-end-all forever. Something else is going to come around that's probably going to appeal to the people who are six, seven years old now who are then going to be 13 years old or 15 years old five-ish years from now that actually appeals to them potentially than TikTok does.
Vik Kambli: Maybe TikTok and Instagram get ahead of it, and they're the ones who introduce it, but the point there is the medium of information consumption is only going to get more efficient. And I know we joke about Meta and just some of that stuff, but there was something very real there, that's an experiment into new mediums of consumption information. And hats off for the experimentation by both them, Microsoft's made a pretty big announcement this week about it as well. And there's a reason for this because owning not only that medium, but then also the computing platform that underpins that medium is exceptionally powerful. And I'll leave it at that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, I think the interesting thing that you just said to me there that I picked up on is, I think besides TikTok and LinkedIn, that's basically where organic still pops in terms of just followers to views and that proportion. I post content on LinkedIn, I have 5,000 followers on LinkedIn, but when I post something, it can get 10, 15, 20,000 views, and I'm like, "There is no other platform out there except for TikTok where that could actually happen." And so I think about that from a marketing perspective as like, what platforms are out there that my target customer hangs out on and that I could have a great potential at bat when I go and run a campaign or whatever?
Charlie Grinnell: And so I think that's the same thing. The thing that's so cool about TikTok there is, to your point, you don't have to spend a ton of money on a campaign, you could be a nobody and throw up a video and off it goes and it pops off. And I think that is a fundamental difference between, again, using this phrase, the traditional social networks where that's just not possible anymore.
Vik Kambli: Yeah. And the other point I'll underline around that too is just the people that they're hiring is, while the platform may be new, the people that they're hiring either on the content side, on the sales side, on the engineering and product side, these are veterans, these are people who've done this before or done some shape of this before. When I think about a lot of my former colleagues at Facebook and frankly, some of those colleagues who were there before 2010, they've done this before in terms of driving growth, monetization and stickiness of these networks.
Vik Kambli: And so the people that are working there are hyper smart, they've done this before and they know how to drive user and business value, and they realize that consumer value eventually translates out to business value. And so I'm very, very, very, bullish on what their prospects are going to be both in terms of stickiness with consumers, but also the business value that they're going to drive.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, last question for you, where is the best place for people to get ahold of you online?
Vik Kambli: Hit me up on LinkedIn. There's no more professional email address, so hit me up on LinkedIn. Just V-I-K, and then my last name, K-A-M for Mike, B-L-I, Kambli on LinkedIn. Always happy to chat as I'm entering this advisory/rest stage/sabbatical phase, family phase of my career and life.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, thank you very much for taking the time. I definitely love chatting with you about this stuff and I'm sure everybody listening learned a lot too. So please do not hesitate to reach out to Vik if you have any questions. Thanks for taking the time, dude.
Vik Kambli: Thanks Charlie. Pleasure as always.
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