Top Key Opinion Leader (KOL) Marketing Trends in China
In China, almost 20-50% of consumer purchasing decisions are influenced by word-of-mouth publicity. KOLs connect with consumers intimately and authentically. The most successful brands in China leverage on KOL marketing as one of the key channels to attract customers and drive sales.
KOL marketing is defined as a soft-selling strategy, leveraging word-of-mouth publicity to achieve the desired promotional effects. Working with influencers as communicators between the target audiences and the brands is one of the best ways to promote your products and/or services in China.
Understanding KOLs and their engagement
KOLs refers to a person or group with expert knowledge on a given subject matter. KOLs are usually proficient individuals of their respective fields. These leaders exert influence and discourse power over a specific audience group’s opinion.
There isn’t an exact KOL definition, yet most of these leaders are either celebrities or popular social media influencers (columnists, socialites, fashionistas, and bloggers) with viral content and massive digital following. As compared to their celebrity counterparts, KOLs’ social media create a conversation with the audience and make the promotional campaigns much more engaging. They share their thoughts and ideas about the product/service with their audiences. These social media leaders are perceived as trustworthy and approachable as they are well-known to their audience groups.
KOL social media landscape in China
In recent years, KOL marketing has become a phenomenon in China. With the proliferation of social media platforms usage, KOLs have been playing a major role in maintaining an intimate relationship between the brands and the general public. They offer authentic and trustworthy content and have a substantial impact on their followers’ lives.
According to Weibo big data, the Chinese KOL marketing value has reached RMB102 billion. An increase in the number of KOLs on Weibo has been witnessed where KOLs with over one hundred thousand followers has increased by 51% and those with over one million followers recorded a 25% increment.
From platforms positioning social functions to derivative social platforms such as entertainment, news, and e-commerce, KOLs are expanding their reach across channels to enhance their visibility and viewership. Popular Chinese social media platforms that have seen a high success rate of KOL marketing across various verticals are:
1. Core social media: WeChat, Weibo, Qzone, Baidu Tieba, Douban, Tianya
2. Entertainment: TikTok, KuaiShou, Bilibili, iQiyi, Youku, Tencent video
3. News & Vertical: Zhihu, Baidu, Toutiao, Tencent News, The Paper
4. E-Commerce: Taobao, Tmall, JD.COM, Pinduoduo, Little Red Book
Types of KOLs in China
Chinese KOLs are categorised into three segments, namely:
Top-notch celebrities with high public recognition and traffic volume, such as actors and singers. It is the topmost tier of KOL marketing in China with the highest charges.
2. Influencers (网红), self-media, and industry experts:
It is the middle-ranged segment that includes internet celebrities (social media influencers), self-media and industry experts with high popularity in one specific field with a strong connection and high stickiness to followers.
3. Micro-influencers and potential KOLs:
They are the start-ups or the grassroot segment of KOLs China. This segment consists of micro-influencers and ordinary social media app users to be uncovered as KOLs with high future potential. They can bring more interactions and build close relations with niche groups.
Working with KOLs
Witnessing the rapid development of digital communication in the past few years has made marketers realise the crucial role that KOL marketing plays within a wider brand marketing strategy. Ever since KOL partnerships have become a significant part of an overall marketing strategy, marketers have worked with KOLs in these three ways:
1. Brands and KOLs cooperate to exchange resources and content
Top tier celebrity influencers participate in various brand events and conduct live broadcasts to drive traffic. Brands can utilise the influence of these celebrity KOLs to deliver their key messages to boost brand awareness, with the ultimate goal of driving purchase intent and sales conversion.
2. Communicate meaningful and professional messages on vertical media to target audiences
Newly established brands or categories with target consumer profiles often select bulletin board sites (BBS) and specific social platforms for highly-defined communication.
3. Cultivates core users to become brand KOLs to influence even more users
Marketers are taking advantage of their assets to develop loyal customers and groom them into brand advocates and social KOLs.
Collaborating with KOLs
The most important question that every marketer should consider is, “How to maximise KOL collaborations with a simple but effective process to enhance the return of investment (ROI) of their marketing efforts?”
1. Choosing “the one”
Before reaching out to any KOLs, having a defined brand objective and budget is essential. Additionally, the selection of potential KOLs based on their audience engagement rate and compatibility to brand image serves as an effective intent throughout the selection process.
Outline the intent of KOL marketing:
a) Volume: Quickly build awareness and generate traffic for improving exposure and awareness.
b) Vertical: Increase credibility by providing professional and valuable content to specific audiences.
2. Focus on content quality
Often, an objective third-party voice is more easily accepted by the audience. Followers can easily differentiate between organic content and planned marketing content. Therefore, it is imperative to empower the KOLs to have a conversation about your brand naturally. A discussion to align the product features and the brand image with the KOLs is key to ensuring that messages are echoed and delivered impeccably.
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