top of page
Session Title: Case Study: How trust-based leadership enabled brand growth on TikTok
Speaker: Markus Rach, Lecturer, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland

Session description: TikTok is the most successful social media platform of 2020 / 2021 by user growth. The platform has just reached 3bn downloads, matching Facebook's record. Despite the hype, many brands struggle to create effective content and brand presence on the platform. One reason, the platform is highly age skewed to the Gen-Z and even Gen-Alpha, which requires brands to understand culture, content and the aspect of entertainment from the eyes of these generations. For my latest book (, I have interviewed large creators and brands on the topic. Two brands, a bank and an industrial stood out for their very organic success on the platform. Both empowered their young employees (apprentices) to run their TikTok account independently. Both transferred power, decision-making abilities and thus content sovereignty to their employees. Both displayed extraordinary, trust-based leadership styles, which manifested in incredible brand growth on the platform, but furthermore, media coverage for the brand first-mover approach to use TikTok. These examples display how both employee empowerment, but also employee advocacy can become a sustainable competitive advantage. It however also displays, how leaders must assure those brand boundaries are deeply engrained in the respective company's culture. It requires living this very culture exemplary and transparently to earn the trust of employees, to enable true and effective employee communication and to be perceived as authentic. The latter is mirrored in the brands' employer ratings online. I further contrasted these two examples to competitors in their very space with astonishing insights. No competitor came even close to the success of these two brands, despite competitors’ size and budgetary advantages (also the use of these advantages in the form of paid media engagements on the platform). Interviewing employees of these competitors largely led to the conclusion the culture, strongly impacted by their current leadership, did not allow for an equally agile, target group close and thus effective approach to TikTok. Thus, these brands did not only forgo a brand-building opportunity, hindered by their unique culture, but even more destroyed brand value on the app through adversely perceived communication attempts. I believe these 2 specific brand cases, banking and industrial, are not only interesting and somewhat unique, but provide a leadership-based lesson learned, spanning from leadership culture to its impact on brand and thus marketing. Essentially, leadership styles caused the difference in the above examples and serve as great learnings to the wide-spanning effect leadership can have in the organizational context, but particularly in the very fast-paced social media world, which requires a high level of organizational agility. I have details on each brand and a media speaking approval on the interviews conducted.

Bio:  Markus Rach is a digital marketing, sales and technology lecturer in Switzerland, China and Belgium. He served as the head of marketing for various multinational B2Bs. Working for these companies, Markus conceptualized the world’s first stereoscopic B2B VR experience in 2014 and much worked on the forefront of marketing innovation. Experiencing the struggle of many B2B marketers to prove their value to their respective organizations, has led Markus to transition into academia to pursue his research interests. Markus completed his doctoral research at the Maastricht School of Management, researching the impact of marketing technologies on the marketing return on investment. His work challenged predating assumptions about the marketing technology stack in organizations and revealed impacting factors on the marketing return. Markus holds 4 masters degrees in business, marketing and engineering and has lived, worked and studied on 3 continents. He holds 2 advisory board seats and serves on various marketing award juries. Being passionate about the human to technology interface, Markus currently researches impacts on the brand to marketplace interaction and how these relate to purchasing decision-making processes. As an experimental scientist and marketing consultant, Markus runs various real-life experiments for data gathering purposes. One is an over 590’000 follower strong TikTok account, that has led to the publication of 4 books and multiple award-winning research papers in 2020 and 2021. His latest work analyzed the quality of user engagement of a 2.7 billion view strong branded TikTok campaign. The analyzed sample showed 88% of campaign unrelated user-generated content uploads, which stimulates the platform's need for much scholarly research. This research project further showcased the relevance of music to gain users’ attention, while visual clues impact brand recall effects. Markus hopes to stimulate further practitioner-oriented research on TikTok but also social media in general. Markus is married, has 2 kids and is a true nerd at heart, having been highly ranked as a gamer. Follow Markus on LinkedIn for more insights, news and a critical perspective on the latest digital marketing technology. 

bottom of page