How To Activate TikTok Marketing: A Case Study With Walmart

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It’s no secret that in order to build lasting customer relationships, you have to meet customers where they are. The latest place consumers are spending a big bulk of time is TikTok—after blazing onto the social scene in 2017, platform adoption has grown rapidly. While the platform finds its footing within the retail ad space, some retailers are struggling to find the right voice and create conversions via TikTok content right now. 

However, one brand has it down to a science. We got the chance to sit down with Sarah Henry, Sr. Director, Content & Influencer Marketing at Walmart to dive into the retailer’s success on the platform. Walmart was the first retailer to test out livestream shopping on TikTok in the US and was among the first to utilize its content creators and influencer partnerships to cultivate strong customer relationships. Read on for the full interview. 


Teichmann: What was Walmart’s initial interest in TikTok, and what were your goals with using the platform?

Sarah Henry: As a general social media strategy, Walmart is focused on building relationships with their customers and going where customers are raising their hands and searching for inspiration. We find storytelling moments to incorporate Walmart products and services into customers’ every day vernacular, linking these points of inspiration and purchase. 

We started out like everybody else on TikTok with a focus on singing and dancing and really creating content and experiences that resonated with the behavior that was happening on the platform. Our presence started with several dancing hashtag challenges, and those have been really successful for us…we’ve also seen an increase in users really resonating with their favorite creators and wanting to tune in and consume content created by those people, so that’s an area we’ve focused on as well.”


Teichmann: What stage of the marketing funnel is TikTok relevant for?

Henry: TikTok plays across the funnel depending on the placement and activation (such as paid media vs creator/influencer), but it often sits in that consideration and discovery space. TikTok marketing taps into where customers are and where they’re resonating with their favorite creator or content, creating experiences that link that to the relevant product or experience around that content.


Teichmann: You were the first retail brand to participate in live shopping on TikTok. Tell us about the process behind that, the outcome and what you learned about consumer behavior.

Henry: We partnered with TikTok to bring shopping to a livestream experience in the US for the first time in December 2020. Walmart was the first brand to use TikTok’s shoppable live commerce product in a livestream that was and is still in testing. We brought 10 TikTok creators together for an hour long shoppable variety show, the Holiday Shop Along Spectacular. 

Walmart Holiday Shop-Along Spectacular, Dec 2020

The focus was really around finding incredible Walmart fashion finds. In March, shortly thereafter, we did another livestream shopping experience focused on beauty… It gave you the chance to shop live for those items featured in the creator content directly in the app. Without ever leaving the app you could watch and be entertained, and shoppable pins would pop up as the relevant products were discussed. You had the option to buy right there in the app, and this was powered by Walmart… It’s a format we’ve continued to test on several other platforms. 

We took a test-and-learn approach to the livestreams, since they were new not only to us but to the platform itself. There were three big lessons we learned from this format:

  1. The importance of letting creators bring their personality to the experience. It can’t be overly produced or prescriptive, and we want creators to story tell in their own voice, playing to their strengths so they can engage with their viewers in a way they normally would.
  2. The importance of bringing a dynamic experience to viewers to keep them engaged and entertained for the entirety of the event. It’s not just about ‘shop, shop shop’—there really has to be a reason for people to shop and want to tune into the content in the first place.
  3. Customer’s desire to see the products featured in action. Stay away from just holding a product… explain the benefits and what makes it special. 


Teichmann: Talk about how you utilize creators/influencers on TikTok. What creative best practices and testing is involved?

Henry: Creating content partnerships is a key component of Walmart’s TikTok marketing strategy and broader social media strategy. We have a portfolio of creators who are incentivized on an affiliate basis to incorporate Walmart links and products and services into their everyday vernacular, with a range of size, anywhere from niche micro to mega followings. Given our range in products, our content partners also span many categories, such as fashion, home, DIY, food, electronics and gaming. We also choose creators based on specific campaigns, looking for people who can tell relatable, authentic stories—the focus is on creators with highly engaged audiences, rather than a follower count criterion.


Teichmann: What categories do you see the most engagement in? 

Henry: Fashion & apparel, home, beauty and food are all well performing categories in our TikTok marketing. 

An important part of marketing is the moment of product discovery or the moment of inspiration—all these categories lend well to the type of videos where someone can show off their skincare routine or styled outfit, creating a moment where consumers connect with the content and want to have that product for themselves too.


Teichmann: Where do you see opportunities for growth in the TikTok space?

Henry: Being vigilant and utilizing what TikTok has in the way of viewing trends is really interesting. It’s an interesting phenomenon—not only being able to identify what general viewers are resonating with based on your target audience, but also the ability to be able to create them yourselves, when thinking of your brand as a content creator on the platform. As TikTok rolls out more features and places for advertisements, look for areas where you can create organic, authentic content.


Teichmann: Let’s talk results. Can you share the impact TikTok has had on your business?

Henry: Between the December 2020 and the March 2021 live shopping events, viewership doubled and TikTok follower growth increased 86% during the March ’21 event. We also saw longer watch time and stronger conversion rates between the first and second livestream shopping events.

A few of the KPIs we look at are:

  • Is there a conversation happening, and how relevant is it to the creator, products or theme
  • Viewership, sustained viewership and engagement
  • Did viewership result in some sort of action (and conversion rates)
  • Follow growth on Walmart handle


Teichmann: What advice can you share for TikTok marketing?

Henry: TikTok is a rapidly growing platform where people are consuming content en masse—keep a pulse on what that means for your target customer/overall consumer.

  1. Look for ways to leverage your own community—when you think about your brand as a content creator on the platform, what does that mean and how can you be a part of the narrative and lean into how people are consuming content and short form video? How can you create your own voice that will enable you to create your own community over time?
  2. Keep it authentic. Don’t overproduce it—there is a way to look like an advertiser and large segments of TikTok audiences are somewhat ad resistant. Organic content and creators can aid in this area. Give control to the creators! 
  3. Tap into creators—it does not have to be the people with 50 million followers. Small but mighty and engaged audiences can be as effective. Find creators that fit your brand positioning and are able to talk about your brand authentically, trusting that they are growing their audiences over time.
  4. Keep your customer first—think about how to add value for them. There’s a way to operate in social and content commerce that is being there for the sake of being there, but try to truly add value for customers either by eliminating steps in the consumer journey or by helping them discover something they didn’t know they needed. 

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

If you can’t get enough TikTok tips, we’ll be diving into more TikTok topics at CommerceNext 2022—register now!

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