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Slope Interview Series: Phillip Hui-Bon-Hoa, Slope Agency

Talk briefly about your background. How did you wind up at Slope?

I wound up at Slope after the agency acquired Abacus Growth in August of 2020.

Before co-founding Abacus, I’d worked on a company called Publist (now Rethink). At Abacus, my cofounder and I secured a massive first client (which did well); eventually more companies learned about our work, and we were able to scale.

At the same time I was also working with Counterpoint as Head of Growth—we started growing exponentially, and I began to become somewhat of an authority in the growth marketing space.

Meanwhile Abacus kept growing, and I heard that TikTok was in the process of rolling out an ads platform. I immediately knew that this would be the next big thing in digital marketing. Abacus became one of the first agencies approved to run ads on TikTok, and we achieved amazing results for our clients.

Our success at Abacus led to the Slope acquisition.

What makes TikTok such a valuable marketing channel?

TikTok is a valuable marketing channel for numerous reasons:

  • No one does it well right now

This will change as companies become more TikTok-Ads-savvy. For now, though, most brands aren’t actually leveraging TikTok’s huge advertising potential.

  • It’s all about “discovery”

People go on TikTok to discover things.

Contrast that with Instagram—on Instagram, you’re immediately dropped into a feed of things you know you already want to see.

TikTok’s For You Page is the exact opposite: the whole point is to discover new things.

The thrill of seeing something new (and engaging with it) makes TikTok users more likely to spend more time on the app.

Displaying your product in a UGC-esque/TikTok-native style can create some unique, compelling ads and drive curiosity around your product and brand. That curiosity gets TikTok users to your website or product page, and your product will speak for itself.

  • Creators are the new celebrities

An entire generation of young, GenZ digital natives are growing up idolizing creators on TikTok. It’s not about movie stars or pop artists anymore—they’re neither accessible nor relatable.

TikTok creators are both.

The meteoric rise of the TikTok celebrity speaks to one of the most powerful aspects of the platform: its ability to make relatable people famous. That presents a huge opportunity for advertising.

What are the most important things you advise clients to think about before they start investing in TikTok ads?
  • Define your timeline

Is this a long-term play or a pressure test? TikTok works best when used as a long term marketing play. You can’t expect virality at the start—that’s something I always level-set with clients. Virality requires your product to be aesthetic, to be hot, to really capture the cultural zeitgeist. It’s definitely possible to see virality on TikTok—tons of brands do—but it’s not something I tell our clients to expect at the start.

  • Evaluate your marketing on other channels before jumping into TikTok

If you can’t sell your product on Facebook or Instagram, you won’t be able to sell it on TikTok...but if you can sell on FB/IG then it might be time to branch out to TikTok.

  • Consider your budget

Do you have enough money to make TikTok work for your brand?

For example, you can’t throw $1000 at a Facebook campaign and expect it to tell you much about your customers. The same principle applies with TikTok. At minimum you’re looking at around $10-15k to get some real learnings about what works, what doesn’t, and how you can drive real results for your brand on TikTok.

  • Think about your brand identity

Going all in on TikTok ads means you’re aligning your brand with a young, new media, millennial/Gen Z vibe. You need to be okay with that; that angle needs to fit your brand direction. TikTok isn’t a buttoned-up, sophisticated platform—and that’s one reason why it’s so powerful. That said, it’s important to be aware of that reality at the start of any TikTok ad campaign.

What are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to TikTok ads—and/or digital marketing in general?

I’ve seen tons of mistakes when it comes to TikTok ads: the biggest one is when companies approach the platform like its Facebook or Instagram.

TikTok is entirely different from other platforms.

The specific type/tone of copy + creative, the influencer element…it’s all very different than what most companies are used to when it comes to advertising.

In terms of digital marketing writ large, a common mistake I often see is lack of focus.

You can’t take a $30k advertising budget, allocate $5k each to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and TikTok…and then expect to glean quality learnings.

You’ll get mediocre results all around because you haven’t spent enough on each channel.

Money is the fuel for digital marketing—you need it in order to power real learnings for your brand on each channel. In other words, the (financial) divide and conquer approach just doesn’t work.

Pick a channel that you know will convert if you do things right.

For instance, FB is very reliable. If you spend money on Facebook, you’ll begin to understand your unit economics, you’ll do well (if you have a good product), and then you’ll be able to explore other channels.

That’s why, unless a client makes organic content on their own page, I seldom recommend TikTok as the first channel for clients to explore—it’s too volatile.

Start on Facebook, start on Instagram; those channels are much more formulaic and much more predictable. They’re easy to scale linearly, and it’s easy to grow your ads manager on those channels to a point where it’s basically dollar-in, dollar-out.

We tend to work with lots of clients who’ve more or less mastered Facebook and Instagram…but they don’t quite know how to optimize their marketing on TikTok. That’s where we come in.

Where do you see the future of TikTok ads? Are there any other emerging platforms that companies/advertisers should be paying attention to?

Moving forward, I envision more and more people/brands understanding how to make great content on TikTok. Ads won’t feel like ads anymore.

Also, creators will become increasingly important for making good ads. There’s going to be—and there already is—value in seeing familiar faces on the platform.

It’s amazing that TikTok, even in its youth, regularly out-competes Facebook/IG as an advertising platform.

Facebook has way more features for attribution, targeting, and other bells and whistles, but TikTok still competes (and sometimes outcompetes). When it's full-grown, TikTok will be even more of a massive force in the digital marketing world.

In terms of emerging platforms or new marketing methods, SMS is really interesting to me.

The data, especially when compared to email, is striking.

SMS open rates are around 90%, and SMS CVR rates are around 30%; email open rates hover around 15%, and email CVR rates rest at 4.5%. That’s a HUGE delta.

SMS won’t fully replace email marketing; I see the two should work in tandem with one another.

Talk about what makes Slope’s approach to TikTok ads unique. Broadly-speaking, is there a specific formula that consistently drives success? Or does it vary by company/industry?

For TikTok, Slope was one of the first agencies to pioneer the creator-first, ad-that’s-not-ad strategy. For more on our strategy and process, definitely check out our TikTok Guide—it’s totally free!

Broadly speaking, though, one of the things that helps us drive success for our clients is that we have clear processes, a creative team, and, as an agency, we’ve cultivated a two-sided brain.

In other words, Slope combines a unique mix of branding, design, and marketing expertise, and that puts us in a strong position to leverage our experience in these areas as we create TikTok campaigns. Additionally, our strong creator connections gives us the ability to work with tons of well-known TikTok influencers.

What are you most excited about for Slope as we move into 2021?

As we move into 2021, I’m most excited about continuing to pioneer a new type of agency—we’re not incumbents, we’re not slow or formulaic.

Instead, we bring a true startup-mentality approach to working with our clients. We’re an extension of your team, not just the company you hired to do your social media marketing, re-do your website, or give you some tips and tricks about your next campaign.

I’m really excited to see how unique positioning continues to drive our growth as an agency!