‘TikTok is altering small manufacturers’ lives’: How a startup drink model is utilizing the social platform, after going viral on it

Around this time last year, startup soda brand Poppi reeled off its first viral TikTok, racking up more than 26 million views and a sales boost from a single organically posted TikTok.

Back then, TikTok wasn’t even part of the brand’s marketing strategy. But a year later, Poppi has redoubled his efforts there, working out a budget for the short-form video app and working with TikTok influencers to turn it into a sustainable advertising and marketing channel for the Texas-based soda brand.

“We’re cracking the code there and it works really well,” said Allison Ellsworth, Poppi’s co-founder and chief brand officer, noting that most of the beverage brand’s text and email signups come from TikTok. According to Ellsworth, Poppi sees an estimated 1,000 email and SMS signups for marketing alerts and discounts per day and has grown that list to more than 200,000 total signups, partly due to his growing popularity and discoverability on TikTok.

The Poppi team has a community manager who oversees social copy on Instagram as well as internal TikTok creation and posts to the brand account up to multiple times a day. In addition to working with influencers, Ellsworth will be posting explainer videos himself on everything from improving gut health to how each flavor tastes. Other times, Poppi’s TikTok videos are from what’s trending on the app, like the “Jerk” dance move.

According to Ellsworth, TikTok has become Poppi’s primary brand awareness channel.

Prior to Poppi’s viral video, in which Ellsworth shared Poppi’s origin story, the brand, which launched at the start of the pandemic, had not dedicated any portion of its media budget to TikTok, opting for organic posts. The beverage brand is currently still posting organically several times a day to its more than 150,000 followers. But now an estimated 20% of its marketing budget goes to TikTok, which mostly works with influencers, including Noah Beck, who has more than 32 million TikTok followers, and Bryce Hall, who has more than 21 million followers, said Ellsworth, who declined to discuss the brand’s marketing budget in terms of dollars spent.

The rest of Poppi’s advertising budget is split between Amazon, programmatic advertising, YouTube and Instagram ads. Later that year, Ellsworth said streaming video advertising will be added to the mix.

“Before, we had TikTok [like a] Black ops budget, test and see how things go,” she said. “Then the majority [of ad spend] was Instagram. Now it’s the other way around.” Currently, less than an estimated 30% of Poppi’s ad spend is on YouTube and Instagram. The brand is no longer regularly running Facebook ads, Ellsworth added.

That’s not to say that TikTok is the end of marketing. In fact, advertisers have long said that going viral is not a strategy. Ellsworth himself is skeptical about over-reliance on TikTok, and wonders how long the TikTok phenomenon will last as more advertisers try to capitalize on it.

Leah Staenberg, senior content strategist at agency Dagger, says it’s true that as TikTok has become a culture driver, more advertisers have jumped into the space to get in front of its growing and young audience. However, “you can’t ride a wave forever,” said Staenberg.

“For many brands, using TikTok is necessary to be culturally relevant — but it probably doesn’t reach a brand’s entire audience,” she said. “To remain relevant, brands need to diversify and grow beyond a single piece of content or platform that is successful in their social media strategy.”

At Poppi, Ellsworth said they will ride the TikTok wave for as long as it lasts, with no plans to add a marketing budget cap as long as conversion, email, and SMS signups remain consistent.

“TikTok is changing the lives of small brands. Lean on, keep trying. This is the future, I promise,” Ellsworth said. “But don’t get involved. You still have to do your Marketing 360. It all works together.”

‘TikTok is changing small brands’ lives’: How a startup drink brand is using the social platform, after going viral on it

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