How to use Douyin short video (or TikTok) to engage Chinese customers

In a country that loves social media, Douyin short video (抖音短视频) – known also as TikTok outside of China – has become legendary after gaining 100 million users in just one year – and a billion video views daily! The short video mobile app was developed in only 6 months by a small team, but its capabilities and positioning allowed it to rapidly launch ahead of the competition.

Today, Douyin short video is an online marketing channel that Western brands need to know about if they are serious about engaging with their Chinese audience.

The two game-changing features of Douyin

Two features, in particular, make Douyin stand out from the social platform crowd in China:

1. Video editing

The short-video app offers fantastic video editing capabilities from the user’s phone. Effects, filters, music and emojis can be added to short videos to bring them to life. This is crucial because it’s far harder to create engaging video content than it is to produce impactful written content. Equally, by offering users the tools that they need to make their videos richer, more visually appealing and funny, Douyin instantly becomes a ‘must have’ for marketers.

2. Interface

Some platforms, such as Kuaishou (快手), require users to click onto videos to view them. Douyin took a different tack, with the highly addictive and simple ‘swipe’ feature. The result? A platform which now has nearly a third of China’s short video market. The algorithm-driven app is hugely immersive and purely for fun. Without the need to impress contacts or networks, users enjoy creating their own unique and creative content.

Other things for marketers to note:

– Douyin’s user base began with Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, but Tier 4 cities are now growing.
– Around 60% of users are female. 32% are aged under 24 and 28% are aged 25-34.
– The audience comprises around 154 million active users each month.
– The content is typically quirky, fun and designed to appeal to educated users.
– Douyin has integrated social video sharing with Weibo, WeChat and QQ.
– Western brands such as Airbnb, Chevrolet and Harbin Beer already run sponsored video campaigns.
– Around half of all content on the platform is created by brands – including KOLs.

How can Western brands use Douyin short video?


Brands can produce playful and creative content that demonstrates its essence and values whilst offering genuinely shareable content. Original content is key, as is the use of Chinese influencers who represent the target audience and their aspirations. Content should also be authentic, and as genuine as possible – users prefer not to see obvious advertising.

KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders)

One of the biggest drivers behind the app’s growth has been the use of sponsored content between brands and KOLs. The platform has formal arrangements in place with several hundred Chinese KOLs and has approval processes to ensure that any promotional or branded content is administered through official channels, with all necessary fees paid.

For Western brands, it is worth noting that the direct partnership route for KOL use is more expensive – but it tends to result in greater visibility and a stronger chance of any online campaign going viral.

Estimations suggest that a Douyin campaign is mid-priced in cost, between WeChat and Weibo.

Ideas for using Douyin short video

– Create a hashtag campaign that encourages users to share their own content. This could be a video of your customer groups interacting with your product or service in the ‘best’ or ‘most innovative’ way.
– Work with Douyin to plan an official platform advertising campaign.
– Create short advertisements that are designed to look like user-generated content – fun, witty, creative and designed to inspire curiosity.
– Make use of the shopping cart icon, to link content to your products for immediate conversions.

Getting expert support

Because content on this platform must look as fresh and user-generated as possible, Western brands must ensure that any video adverts are created with the audience in mind. This means understanding and applying local culture across all elements, from concepts and key messages through to graphical elements and the choice of video subject or ‘host’.

At Market Me China, we make this process simple. Our native Chinese marketers can create impactful social media campaigns to achieve the results that you want – making KOL arrangements and securing the best possible rates for online in-app advertising where required.

Case studies

Douyin ran a partnership campaign with Michael Kors using a mix of online and offline activity. Fashion influencers and the brand’s ambassadors appeared at an event, wearing Michael Kors products and walking the catwalk to launch a hashtag challenge. Users were encouraged to share their own short tagged catwalk videos.

Pizza Hut used custom and branded animated stickers for users to decorate their clips. Images included the Pizza Front shopfront and red Pizza Hut hat. As a result, videos featuring the brand’s images were streamed more than one million times.

Oreo chose a more traditional marketing route and used in-feed ads and banner ads combined with KOL posts. The in-feed advertisements integrated within video feeds to encourage attention without affecting user experience. KOLs were used to send New Year greetings to their friends – branded with Oreo stickers. Interestingly, the brand also benefited highly from a genuinely organic viral campaign after a platform user shared a short video of them making an Oreo cookie strawberry yoghurt dessert. It went viral and other users then shared their own dessert recipes, often using Oreos themselves.

If your target market in China is predominantly in the educated, upscale Generation Z consumer set, this powerful social platform could well be the one for you. Brands keen to market to affluent and young Chinese females may find it particularly useful, and the platform can certainly add a valuable channel to a broader, integrated online marketing campaign.

Find out more

Contact Market Me China to find out how your brand could leverage DouYin and other online marketing channels to launch or further extend into the lucrative and rapidly-growing Chinese market. We work as an expert online marketing partner with Western brands across all industries and sectors to help them to succeed in China.

(Image source: Douyin)