What Western marketers need to know about Chinese KOLs

In the West, we may be well used to the idea of social media influencers, but China takes things to the next level with its Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) who are often celebrities in their own right, with the followers and earnings to match. Chinese KOLs are big-league influencers who are held in great esteem by their online followers; and their opinions, recommendations and guidance can translate into make or break experiences for brands.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the key points about KOLs of Chinese social media:

1. KOL marketing is a form of influencer marketing
2. It is a soft-sales strategy that places the influencer between the brand and the target audience
3. KOLs use word of mouth and promotional marketing of varied kinds, often to promote a new product, to build brand awareness, or to launch a campaign.

So what does your brand need to know about Chinese KOLs in order to leverage this important channel as part of your digital marketing strategy in China?

1. Chinese KOLs are big business

A Chinese Key Opinion Leader will be an expert in his or her field and the biggest names can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds for a single social media post if they are particularly influential within their audience. These powerful influencers exist in every commercial sphere of Chinese online life, providing recommendations, expert guidance, reviews and inspiration. But the good news is that, for most Western brands, there will be plenty of Chinese KOLs who are affordable and who operate within the brand’s target customer base.

2. Chinese KOLs aren’t always ‘traditional’ celebrities

Some Chinese KOLs are traditional celebrities, but others have built up their influence entirely online through their viral social media content. They are bloggers, columnists, fashionistas, socialites, industry experts and business professionals who have been able to build up huge audiences on China’s social media platforms. Sometimes these audiences run into millions, and their influence is particularly powerful amongst the younger generations who have grown up with digital media.

3. Chinese KOLs can make your digital marketing campaign

These high-profile online influencers use a variety of strategies to inform, educate and persuade their followers. For example, they might launch a competition or a branded post, post promotional material, review a product or more gently ‘place’ it within their visual content. Their influence is such that their followers will trust and value their recommendations.

4. Chinese KOLs are instrumental in building trust

In China, your Western brand may be new and not well known. Western brands do have connotations of quality in China, but that brand trust still needs to be built within your target market. A survey carried out by Mediakik in 2018 found that 49% of customers in China used KOL recommendations to influence their purchase decisions; with these figures even higher amongst Millennial and Gen-Z customers. This means that KOLs are viewed as being more convincing and potentially more useful to the purchase decision than branded content or traditional advertising.

5. KOL usage links in neatly with online PR

KOL engagement does, of course, sit within a social media strategy in China, but it is ideally considered within a broader online PR strategy too for messaging, objectives and success measures. The right KOL relationship can help a brand to build awareness, brand image and trust; all of which are goals of a good digital PR campaign. Market Me China offers tailored online PR strategies for Western brands looking to build their brand in China.

6. Chinese KOLs can instantly reach your target market

Because every Key Opinion Leader has a tightly defined audience of followers based on the content that they post, brands can easily reach their target market by choosing the right KOL. A good way to research a KOL is to look at the type of content that they post and the audience that follows them to get a sense of their demographics and potential brand fit. There are also agencies which can link up Chinese KOLs with brands which wish to work with them. Just be prepared to broker the relationship in Chinese to ensure it works as well as it should, with the right results and value.

7. Their content is of excellent quality

No KOL would risk putting out poor-quality content that might alienate their followers or damage their own personal brand. So when an online influencer chooses to work with a brand, they will do so to a very high standard, choosing different types of content that meet their followers’ needs and interests, and using targeted techniques to drive views, reach and engagement. Brands can also find flexibility in the way that their content is promoted within the arrangement, with everything from branded imagery and product placement through to product reviews and competition hosting available. This content can be repurposed too for maximum reach and engagement.

8. KOLs offer high ROI

When the right influencer is matched with a brand, the arrangement can work extremely well; deriving higher returns than many other forms of traditional marketing. Because of the targeted nature of the arrangement, the quality of the content, the influence that these social media gurus have and the willingness of Chinese customers to value recommendations when it comes to their buying decisions, the ROI can be compelling.

Finding the right Key Opinion Leader

Whatever industry you operate in, there will be Chinese KOLs that have followers which your brand needs to target. There will also be a KOL with a price point that matches your brand. It can be challenging for Western brands to identify the right influencer and to broker a commercial arrangement with them for sponsorship or promotion, but a Chinese marketing agency can greatly facilitate the process.

At Market Me China we can help your brand to find a Key Opinion Leader that will deliver real value to your brand. Whether you need a short-cut to an influencer relationship or a full Chinese digital marketing strategy, our expert team can work with your brand on a flexible basis to deliver clear ROI. Please contact us to find out more, and to discuss how we might assist you.