Business owners in eastern Ontario say they have seen sales skyrocket in recent months after approaching TikTok for promotion where marketing videos go viral.
The video-sharing platform has been credited for bringing back the short-form video and a social media culture that is less focused on carefully curated aspiration content, but rather bite-sized pieces of entertainment taken from everyday life.
The formula has worked for Corey McMullan at the McMullan Appliance and Mattress in Smiths Falls, Ont., About an hour’s drive south of Ottawa.
McMullan said he initially reluctantly downloaded the app, but a simple yet powerful video editor piqued his interest.
When he posted clips on YouTube and Facebook in March, they gained little traction. When he soon after turned the camera around to make his own popular reviews of washing machines and other products, the results were completely different.
“In August, I knew something was changing, with the number of emails and phone calls we got,” McMullan said.
Sales rose by “tens of thousands” and he now receives daily emails from as far away as New Zealand and Alabama asking him how he buys his appliances. His profile is now approaching 70,000 followers.
“They really like the authenticity,” McMullan said, adding that his low-key, light-hearted approach in the videos builds trust.
“Buying white goods is not something that anyone wants. It is extremely scary. You have to exchange a lot of money for something, and you do not know if you trust the person who sells it to you.”
Moving from storefront to online
About three hours west of Ottawa in Apsley, Ont. Polly Laneville and her husband James took their love of special sweets to TikTok.
“We introduced ourselves in a video, and that video just went completely insane and blew up. In a 24-hour period, we got 40,000 followers. It was just not something we had ever imagined,” Laneville said.
A month after she started sharing cheerful, short candy reviews in her Willy Wonka-inspired storefront, she and her husband quit their daily jobs to focus on the business called Tastely Box.
They now have nearly 250,000 followers on their account, sharing daily 15-second Q&A sweets as well as reviews of extremely sour sweets from around the world. Lanevilles plans to shift their focus to selling online to the international audience while shrinking storefronts.
Laneville admits that the store was primarily set up as window dressing for her TikTok videos.
“People like to feel like you’re interested in what they have to say,” she said of her daily request for candy reviews.
“We try to make it skewed and let people see our real personalities and get a real review from us. I would not say that everything is great, because not everything is!”
TikTok is a democratization of marketing creativity
TikTok’s explosion as a marketing tool for small businesses is a natural continuation of the collaboration, or so-called “co-creation,” that started about a decade ago, according to Aron Darmody, a marketing professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
Darmody says the app allows companies to have a greater power to create and “play” with the meaning of a brand, which is a “democratization of creativity” in marketing.
“Consumers are licensed and freely controlled to work for the brand in a sense … use the brand as a cultural resource in their lives,” he said, adding that the site’s appeal also comes from the fact that it is not saturated with paid ads.
For Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, TikTok enables a “soft-sell” approach where retailers can sell far beyond a country’s borders.
“It feels more like an entertainment platform,” Geist said.
A year ago, the Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify announced that it would partner with TikTok to help its then-one-million-plus retailers more easily advertise their products on the video-sharing app.