7 top facts about Chinese KOLs that Western brands should know

If you’re a Western brand operating in China, then Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs, are a phenomenon that you need to understand – and leverage for your own marketing campaign. In the West, we are familiar with influencers, but Chinese KOLs take the influencer marketing channel to the next level, using China’s sophisticated array of social media platforms to engage and persuade their followers in different ways.

Western brands can work with KOLs in different ways and through a variety of sponsorship arrangements. For example, a KOL could launch a competition for a brand or a new seasonal product (perhaps a special fragrance, colour or flavour to fit in with a special holiday event). A KOL could carry out a product review, deliver an explainer video or enter into an ongoing brand partnership arrangement where they continue to sponsor and promote the brand to their followers in a variety of ways.

Chinese customers value Key Opinion Leaders in a different way than customers in the West. Chinese customers value recommendations from people that they trust, and they follow KOLs for these expert insights and recommendations. KOLs are hugely powerful and often celebrities in their own right. Some charge huge sums to promote brands to millions of followers. Others charge smaller sums to do the same with tightly defined niche audiences – but their clout can be just as powerful for Western businesses who are looking to build their brands, development and engagement and secure those conversions.

Let’s take a look at some of the main things to know about Chinese Key Opinion Leaders:

1. Reputation

KOLs in China tend to earn their reputation by maintaining their original professions such as entrepreneurs, engineers, product developers and journalists. This allows them to be authentic and gain a strong, valid reputation in their field. KOLs are also seen as being more authentic in China as social media platforms have stringent user requirements. For example, KOLs on WeChat tend to have verified accounts that lend them further credibility.

2. Cross-platform

KOLs often work across platforms. For example, the popular fashion influencer Becky Li has more than 20 million followers across her platforms. She shares content around high-end fashion brands, featuring the products from Dior, Chanel and others.

3. Advanced features

Social media platforms in China are far ahead of the curve when it comes to influencer management and content targeting. For example, the WeChat index helps brands and KOLs to manage keyword trends and optimise SEO, so that creators can produce the best-possible performing content for maximum engagement and reach. Platforms often have valuable and different user features too.

For example, KOLs on platforms like Meipai and Yi Zhi Bo share live-stream content and engage with followers via ‘bullet curtains’ which is where followers’ comments show immediately in a stream and KOLs can instantly respond as they appear. On WeChat, influencers can also manage private groups – a trend that is growing. For example, Austin Li used Singles Day to launch over 2,000 private groups on the platform, each with 500 people, to produce over 67 million views for his live-streamed product reviews. These groups were also used to manage post-live-stream enquiries.

4. Platform-specific topics

Different social media platforms in China tend to suit different KOLs. For example, Weibo has its own integrated e-commerce platform and it tends to be favoured by KOLs who share fashion and beauty content in the form of videos, gifts, images, text and live streaming. Many leading beauty brands already work with KOLs on Weibo, including YSL, Bobbi Brown and Maybelline.

5. Evolving

KOLs generate revenue through their work and commercial arrangements with brands. But the field is evolving and now Key Opinion Customers, or micro-influencers, are growing and often working with KOLs. These KOCs share their personal recommendations in a smaller, niche way, based on genuine experiences and small spans of interest. They also have real clout and are growing in importance. Micro-KOLs and collaborations between brands, KOLs and KOCs look set to grow this year.

6. Prices and bandings

Chinese KOLs are usually banded into stars and celebrities (tier 1), bloggers (tier 2) and Wang Hong (tier 3) who are KOCs. The biggest KOLs earn millions of dollars every year and are hugely expensive. However, even the smallest brands can find highly effective KOLs that are affordable and have niche audiences who are tightly interested in the brand’s own target market. This can lead to an attractive ROI.

7. Power

The figures involved with KOL marketing in China are absolutely staggering. The biggest KOLs often have followers in the many millions. For example, Papi Jiang has nearly 80 million followers! But even the smallest micro KOLs and KOCs can be extremely valuable to brands, and often the niche KOLs have higher levels of engagement with their followers.

Getting the most from Chinese KOL arrangements

Because the Chinese KOL market is so well established and managed, Western brands can find the right KOL(s) for their needs and work with them to organise powerful digital marketing campaigns that deliver an attractive ROI. But the relationship needs careful planning, research and brokering and will be done in Chinese- so language skills are essential.

Many Western brands choose to use the services of a Chinese digital marketing agency such as Market Me China, in order to find the right KOLs for their business, audience and objectives, and to broker the relationship effectively. A successful KOL campaign will require a good deal of research and planning to find the right influencer and create the right campaign across targeted channels. Again, a Chinese digital marketing agency can help to optimise this process, support the right content delivery, liaise with KOLs and their representatives and generally ensure (and evidence) that the right results were achieved.

Find out more

Even the smallest brands can find a powerful KOL to support their marketing campaigns in a powerful, meaningful way. Market Me China can help you to build a KOL marketing strategy that delivers what you need. Please contact us in the first instance to find out more and to discuss your needs.