By Clare Goggin Sivits On November 9, 2022

Should Your Distillery TikTok?

Even as the future of TikTok hangs in the balance, its status as a marketing tool continues to climb. Brands launch new accounts on the platform every day and it reaches a very tuned-in and engaged audience advertisers haven’t found elsewhere. But distilleries and craft spirits brands have been slow to adopt it. Not just because of its questionable security practices but also because of the demographics.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) outlines advertising guidelines for alcoholic beverage brands across the country, requiring that an audience on a potential platform meet a certain standard. That standard draws a very specific line, requiring that at least 71.6 percent of the audience on a site be of legal drinking age. Based on the most recent available demographics, it appears TikTok may have reached that threshold. A recent breakdown shows that roughly 75 percent of users are 20 years old or more meaning it’s reasonable to assume that 71.6 percent of the audience is at least 21.

However, our founder, Karen Locke pointed out to BevNet earlier this year, the rules around creating alcohol-related content on TikTok remain somewhat murky. As the average age of the TikTok user increases, it’s still a bit of a gray area. TikTok’s own policies prevent branded accounts from producing alcohol-related content so it means spirits brands and distilleries have to find other topics to weigh in on.

Challenges and social media regulations aside, a lot of distilleries have begun exploring the app anyhow. Does it make sense for liquor companies to add this platform to an existing alcohol branding strategy?

As an alcohol marketing agency, we’ve explored this question with several spirits brands. Let’s take a look at what it takes to incorporate this into your liquor marketing.

Creating Content for TikTok

Launching TikTok requires more than just recycling content initially posted to Instagram or Facebook. Per TikTok’s policies mentioned above, a distillery creating content for TikTok needs to develop non-alcohol-related videos for the app. On top of that, the platform requires different video dimensions and styles, but it also caters to a very specific audience. It’s an audience that wants to have fun and be entertained. The video tour of your distillery you posted on Instagram earlier in the week probably isn’t going to have much of an impact on TikTok, if we’re being honest.

The platform is designed to entertain first and foremost. That means any video that features even a hint of marketing spin will fade into oblivion here. It’s important to create fun and interesting content that makes someone stop scrolling. It’s important to grab attention right from the start.

Bottom line: to maintain a TikTok, any brand needs to create content specifically designed for TikTok. This requires extra time and resources so a distillery must be prepared to invest in a strategy that allows them to produce additional content.

Jumping on Trends

An important tactic for driving engagement on TikTok is responding to trends. By participating in trending topics, brands extend their reach to a very engaged group of people. However, to make this work, those brands have to move quickly.

First, a brand on TikTok needs to identify relevant trending topics then create content quickly and publish it before the trend fades. In order to make that happen, a brand — in this case, a distillery — must be tuned into what’s happening day in and day out on TikTok. Doing so gets incredibly tricky since trends come and go in the blink of an eye on TikTok. It’s an additional investment of time and resources that distilleries often may not have.

Reaching the Right Audience

If you’ve heard anything about TikTok, you’ve likely heard about the dynamic algorithm that decides what videos appear in someone’s feed. It weilds quite a bit of power on the platform. And brands looking to get their content in front of a wider audience need to break the code and get their content in that “For You” feed — or FYP, as the kids call it. The alternative may mean that content gets suppressed on the app which would defeat the purpose of having a presence on TikTok.

Developing videos that break through the noise forces brands stay on top of trends. That means more than just creating videos that speak to trends but incorporating trending audio, phrases, visuals and hashtags that are already getting a lot of attention.

Of course, there’s a fine line to walk when incorporating trends of any kind. If a trend, whether it be a trending audio or hashtag, is crowded, meaning a lot of content has already been created around it, it’ll be harder to break through the noise. It’s wise to find trends before they get too loud so that you can make an impact.

Actively Managing the Community

Any social media platform requires a level of community management on the part of brands. When it comes to TikTok, engagement and interaction with the community are key to success.

Delivering insightful and interesting commentary to your fans who interact with your post will help boost engagement overall. And that additional engagement helps increase your brand’s discoverability on the app too.

Outside of your owned content, it’s important to engage with relevant videos from other accounts as well. Find influencers in the cocktail community or retailers with a large audience and comment on their posts. Bartending tips or suggestions for serving spirits could help your brand stand out on an active piece of content. But it means even more investment of your team’s time.

Advertising on TikTok

TikTok’s strict rules forbid alcohol ads, so you can’t directly promote your craft beverage brand on the platform. That includes both paid ads and organic content that might indirectly promote alcohol. The platform is cautious about its young user base and the legal restrictions surrounding alcohol advertising to minors. So, instead of directly advertising your alcohol brand on TikTok, work with a beverage marketing agency to embrace non-traditional alcohol marketing strategies. For example, you could partner with popular DrinkTok creators, encourage user-generated content that references your brand, or focus on non-boozy content that reflects your core values and identity.

Competing with Other Distilleries

Until very recently, TikTok consisted of very young users who had not reached the legal age to purchase alcohol. Because of that, distilleries and spirits brands have been slow to build a presence on the app. It’s a white space for brands in the craft spirits industry to find an untapped audience.

Building a presence on TikTok could give a distillery a leg up when it comes to appealing to consumers who spend a lot of time on the app. By dropping content on the app that speaks to those users, you could draw them to your brand and get them to purchase your spirits the next time they see those bottles of yours on the shelf.

The Future of TikTok

The possibility that TikTok gets banned from U.S.-based app stores is looming. It’s a fight that’s on the horizon and unless politicians see improvement on the data security front, that presence you built on the app could be in jeopardy.

While the future of TikTok is not certain, it’s something every brand needs to keep an eye on. Stay tuned to the news and ensure all your content is saved in case you can’t access it one day soon.

Overall, TikTok demands a lot of work on the part of a brand — even a spirits brand. It calls for constant content creation specifically for that app. It also means being regularly tuned in and aware of what’s happening online. However, if you find that right balance, you can beat your competitors to an audience that’s ready to find your spirits IRL.

Clare Goggin Sivits

As a marketer with a strong writing background, Clare Goggin Sivits has worked in the beer, spirits, and wine industries for nearly a decade. She oversaw digital marketing for a small wine startup as well as a craft brewery and distillery with a nationwide footprint. A Florida ex-pat, Clare now lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to write about craft beverage marketing and the industry as a whole.

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