In recent years, Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) have become a phenomenon in China. A KOL, known as an influencer in western countries, refers to a person, organization, or community who creates high-quality content on social media and has a large group of loyal followers (ranging from thousands to millions).
What’s important is that Chinese KOLs have the ability to sway public opinion: by simply displaying a product or speaking about a service, they can convince their followers that it is reputable and worth paying for.
Therefore, KOLs are extremely powerful in China, and are instrumental in most China marketing campaigns. Brands are increasingly seeking collaborations with influential online personalities who can help them to raise brand awareness, improve engagement and ultimately drive sales.
It is essential for brands who want to penetrate China’s market to understand how they can really leverage the power of Chinese KOLs.
Why KOL marketing works in China
To understand why KOLs in China sell so well it is important to understand the ecosystem which promotes this type of social selling.
Chinese consumers generally don’t make buying decisions easily. They need to do a lot of research before deciding to spend money on a product or service. They need assurances of quality, safety and brand authority before taking action. It is therefore standard for them to conduct exhaustive research before making purchases.
For most of Chinese consumers, WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu and similar apps serve as the source of inspiration, after which they might embark on a journey to discover more about the product.
This is where KOLs come to play: Chinese consumers trust the information they receive from KOLs they follow on social media more than they would trust ads from other media forms. Giving China’s history regarding fake product scandals, KOLs are the solution to this problem. The products they endorse represent their personal brands and would not give out advice that could damage their image.
KOLs are spreading also life styles and ideas to their followers, which heavily influence people’s purchasing decisions and habits. 68% of consumers in China say their shopping choices are influenced by social media and that’s largely due to the originality and user engagement of KOLs.
Having said that, it is easy to understand why a local KOL vouching for a brand has become a necessary marketing strategy in China.
Segmentation of KOLs
Chinese KOLs can be divided in several types:
Big celebrities: This type of KOLs includes famous actors, singers, artists and so on and they are the most influential ones. However, due to their massive base of followers and the responsibility for them, they normally don’t engage themselves in online marketing campaigns especially for new companies.
Fashion bloggers: this type of KOLs like to post fashionable photos showing their latest clothing styles or make-up trends. They normally cooperate with fashion brands, cosmetic brands and luxury brands and they write reviews of products and services based on their own experiences.
Wang Hong (Internet Celebrities): this group includes people who became famous through their appearance, behaviours and skills. Some industry gurus, professional gamers, entertainment content creators can be called Wang Hong. Whichever way they used to get famous, they all have big group of fans to support them.
Micro influencers: even though micro-influencers have fewer followers (a few thousand to tens of thousands), they have their own strengths since they can reach a niche group of people, bringing more interactions and building a closer relationship with them.
How does KOL marketing work
KOLs are a successful marketing tool because they are not seen as marketers by their followers. They are seen as someone they can trust. Each KOL appeals to a specific demographic and lifestyle group, making it easier for the brands that they collaborate with to engage with their target market.
As each brand has its own unique needs when launching KOL campaigns, KOL’s selection criteria may vary, which requires customized KOL marketing solutions based on different customer needs.
Our agency will help you choose the appropriate KOL for your campaign depending on your positioning and your target and will negotiate the best deals through our local team.
How to engage with KOLs
The power from KOLs comes from their large base of online fans. KOLs have a strong influence on their followers, and the majority of the time their fans will listen to their opinions and suggestions. They can share or introduce your brand, products or services to their large numbers of fans, which can lift the awareness and reputation of your brand.
Here some ways to engage with KOLs:
– Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based method to pay KOLs commissions. Customers driven by affiliate links can bring corresponding commission fees to KOLs. However, with the restrictions of external links on Weibo, the exposure of a post containing affiliate links can be reduced or even prohibited. Therefore, some KOLs choose to post affiliate links in the comment section or use a discount code to avoid the exposure penalty.
– Sponsored Posts
With sponsored posts KOLs can post the content created and controlled by the brand or can co-create the content featuring the brand or the product in their own styles. Sponsored posts work very well on WeChat and Weibo. Purchase links can be added in the article: once the article stimulates the audiences’ desire to purchase, they can buy the product immediately with a few clicks. When using this method be aware of Weibo’s restrictions of external links.
Giving KOLs products as gifts improves the possibility of the product being used, reviewed and recommended by the KOL. Another way to use gifts is giveaways, which is very popular on Weibo and WeChat. Posts involves a giveaway campaign usually require followers to repost or some other types of engagement, which can draw people’s attention on the product or brand and encourage them to actively take part in the engagement for free products.
– Product Review
For brands, this is the most straightforward way to introduce their products and services. Many KOLs are experts in their field and produce informative and reliable product reviews and comparisons so their followers consider them trustworthy. They influence and facilitate their followers’ purchases as product reviews are often paired with giveaway campaigns or links to the product’s online sales page.
Brands may also invite KOLs to attend online and offline events but it can be costly. Keep in mind that this kind of cooperation can build a deeper relationship with KOLs and can create buzz about the brand or product on social media.
The budget for KOL marketing in China
KOL marketing requires a significant budget and it should be a long-term investment. Brands must work with influencers throughout the year consistently and not ghost after a seasonal campaign or single product launch since it won’t create significant impact. Furthermore, we suggest to collaborate with a variety of influencers who have large and small follower bases.
According to the 2017 KOL Marketing White Paper released by Admaster, 63% companies chose to put the emphasis of their social media marketing in 2017 on KOL marketing, which ranks the highest among all the categories. The average price of KOLs on Weibo and WeChat went to a rapid growth in Q4 increasing by 182% and 110% respectively compared to Q1. These trends indicate increasing KOL investment in social media marketing.
If you want to discover KOL’s fees across different social media platforms you can have a look at Parklu’s KOL Budget Calculator.
For brands who want to penetrate China’s market it is essential to understand how they can really leverage the power of Chinese KOLs. KOL marketing works in China because the influencers engage with their followers by developing a relationship and making themselves relatable. They have an ability to make things trend and that is a power that brands should be looking to invest in.
Furthermore, by linking up with a KOL, brands can gain access to their audience and their network. This means their recommendation will produce clicks, increase social media exposure, and push people to buy your products or services.
We can say that nowadays one of the most efficient way to promote your products, brands or business in China is to be a “partner” with KOLs.