Are you looking for ways to boost sales in China? If so, working with Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) may be the solution you’re looking for. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what KOLs are, how they can help you boost sales, and some tips on how to work with them. Let’s get started!
In recent years, Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) have become an increasingly important part of doing business in China. KOLs are individuals who have a lot of influence over their followers’ purchasing decisions. They can help brands to build trust and credibility with consumers, and can also drive sales by promoting products or services on social media or through other channels.
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What Is a KOL (Key Opinion Leader)?
The easiest way to understand the concept of a Chinese KOL (Key Opinion Leader) is to equate them to Western social media influencers. They function as spokespersons, brand ambassadors, or thought leaders due to the relationships they have with their sizable follower base.
They often provide opinions, reviews, and other forms of content regarding products or services of a brand, allowing their followers to form their own judgments, typically within the same vein that the KOL expresses (e.g. if the KOL says the product is good, their followers are likely to believe the same).
KOLs are capable of making things trendy, whether it’s using a product or performing an activity (e.g. dance challenges). By collaborating with them, brands are granted an opportunity to widen their audience, increase brand awareness, and encourage consumers to make a purchase. In the Chinese market especially, word of mouth is a strong influence when consumers make purchasing decisions, so KOLs have become an essential part of any Chinese marketing strategy.
How Effective Are Chinese KOLs?
Companies invest over a billion USD in Chinese KOL marketing every year. As over a billion members of the Chinese population have access to the internet, KOL marketing has become an incredibly active industry. Nowadays, the highest tier of KOLs has over a million followers, and a single short video on Douyin (the Chinese equivalent of TikTok) can generate 1.2 million impressions on average.
The number of KOLs across all tiers has also been growing — on Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms, the total number of followers increased by 600 million or 25% in 2020. When you’re a business owner or a marketing director trying to break into the Chinese market, KOL marketing is one of the best ways to generate buzz and establish a presence on a social media platform or video platform and even on various e-commerce platforms.
China KOLs: The different type
With how vast the market is, it’s understandable that there are several different “types” or “groups” of KOL, mainly defined by how large their following is. We’ll go through those types shortly, but you should also be aware of the two types defined by the content they’re good at creating — “expert sellers” who are great at generating buzz and increasing store traffic and sales, and “curators” who are great at branding and storytelling. A combination of both is ideal. You want consumers to learn about your brand identity to build brand reputation, and you also want to quickly increase engagement and sales.
Mega-KOLs and Celebrities
This tier is composed of highly successful personalities, with around over 10 million followers. Most are celebrities — actors, singers, models, and so on. They typically become brand ambassadors for large, established brands (e.g. Chanel, Dior, L’Oreal), and they only stick to one brand within a specific industry. With how big their presence is, they can even appeal to international audiences.
High-tier KOLs have around 1 million to 10 million followers. They are typically prominent within the industries they work in, capable of setting trends and influencing a sizable amount of consumers. Some social media platforms, however, don’t display statistics over a certain limit. For example, WeChat only displays up to 100,000 views. This hinders your ability to accurately track the performance of a marketing campaign with a high-tier KOL.
Mid-tier KOLs have around 500,000 to 1 million followers. They still have a high degree of influence, but in a smaller segment of the industry compared to a high-tier KOL. Their follower base is still very dedicated, and the general demographic typically matches the KOL
Micro-KOLs have around 100,000 to 500,000 followers, averaging at around 250,000. The smaller community means that they interact with their audience more, which cultivates a very strong influence in their niche. Companies with smaller advertising budgets collaborate with micro-KOLs often as they have lower rates than the higher tiers while still being very effective at marketing to their target audience. Hiring several micro-KOLs instead of splurging on one high-tier KOL can sometimes be more effective at expanding your brand’s reach.
KOCs (key opinion consumers), sometimes also called nano-KOLs, have the smallest follower base, averaging at around 20,000 to 50,000 followers. They are typically ordinary buyers sharing their honest opinions on products, which is highly appreciated by consumers. Even with a relatively small following, they have proven to be a valuable asset in marketing campaigns, as their audiences trust in their honesty and neutrality.
Why Is KOL Marketing So Effective in China?
For brands in the Chinese Market, KOL collaboration is an absolutely essential part of any marketing strategy. Nowadays, the first choice for anyone seeking information is the internet, which is why KOLs have such an impact — they grew their communities from trying out new products, giving reviews, filming tutorials, and overall just sharing their experience with an audience. With their interesting personalities and extensive social media knowledge, Chinese KOLs are masters of using social media apps and e-commerce platforms to promote and sell products, capable of convincing audiences to buy what they’re selling.
Having a good China KOL strategy in your marketing campaigns will let you tap into their large, active, and engaged audiences to increase your brand’s presence. Consumers trust Chinese KOLs over official advertisements from a brand as they’re more grounded in the community, garnering the same level of trust as a good friend or family member. Word of mouth is important to Chinese consumers and the recommendation of a Chinese KOL they idolize is the best way to convince them to buy.
How Can KOLs Help You Increase Your Sales in the Chinese Market?
The main concern of any business owner is “How can Chinese KOLs help your business in China?” It comes down to the simple fact that consumers know that when brands promote their products on their own social media accounts or websites, there is an inherent bias. It is in the company’s best interests to paint their product in the best light possible, so they focus on the pros instead of the cons. In contrast, when KOL reviews a product they will be more upfront about their experiences, so audiences can get an unbiased review.
There is also the fact that Chinese audiences can be skeptical of unknown brands or new products. When you collaborate with a KOL they’re already familiar with, they’ll be more inclined to trust you and try out what you’re offering. Some of the strategies you can take when it comes to collaborating with KOLs to increase your sales are:
- Brand Advocacy: Making KOL the face of your brand to effectively corner the market for their followers.
- Product Seeding: Sending product samples, free gifts, and other incentives to a KOL so that they can use your product in their daily life and promote it more naturally.
- Direct Purchase: The simplest form of collaboration, where you hire a KOL to post a single product review on a certain platform.
- Co-branding: Creating a line of products in collaboration with a KOL. Convincing a KOL to do a co-branding campaign may be difficult for lesser-known brands, and you also need to ensure that their followers tend to buy the endorsed products.
How To Reach the Target Audience in China
If you want your KOL strategy to succeed, you need to know how to reach your target audience. Here are some steps you can follow in order to develop a marketing strategy that reaches the right audiences.
Define Your Target Audience
Of course, in order to reach the right audience, you first have to define who exactly your audience is. If you’ve been in business for a decent amount of time, you should already have a good idea of your consumers’ needs, preferences, habits, and aspirations. Your target audience is at the heart of any decision you need to make for your marketing strategy.
Find the Right Platform
While Chinese consumers may not use the same social media apps you’re familiar with, that doesn’t change the fact that finding the right platform is important. Different demographics will prefer different platforms, so you need to choose one that gives you the best chance of reaching your audience. We’ll go more in-depth in the next section, but here is an overview of the best social media platforms for some common industries:
- Beauty and Fashion: Xiaohongshu, Weibo, Bilibili
- Education: WeChat
- Food and Drink: Douyin, Dazhong Dianping, Xiaohongshu
- Parenting: Weibo, WeChat
China KOLs: Find the right fit
KOLs often cater to a specific niche and are beloved by their followers, so you won’t see much success if those followers aren’t within your target audience. You can find information on KOL China on websites such as Yourank.cn, WeMedia, and Newrank.cn. Make sure that the KOL you choose matches your product and platform, has a decent reach, and has an image in line with your brand identity.
Build Connections With KOLs
It can be difficult to contact a KOL and accurately communicate your marketing campaign goals, as there is a significant language and cultural barrier. To build connections with Chinese KOLs successfully, most companies hire a digital marketing agency with experience in working with KOLs.
What Platforms Are China’s KOLs Using?
You’ll find Chinese KOLs on every social media platform under the sun. Here are some of the most popular ones.
WeChat, with over 1.2 billion active users as of 2021, is the most popular social media app in China. While it began as a messaging app, it is now an entire ecosystem, featuring social media posts, a digital wallet, mini-games, and more. Most brands have an official account on WeChat to share various forms of content. Because of the way the app is structured, users only see content from accounts they follow, so the best KOL strategy is to work with several lower-tier KOLs to reach a big audience.
Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of the global phenomenon TikTok, is a popular platform for Chinese KOLs across all tiers. Similar to TikTok, audiences are mostly trendy urban youth. The combination of short videos and live streaming is an effective tool for marketing. As there are over 600 million daily active users on the app, it’s easy for users to find the content they are interested in. A key advantage to using Douyin is its online store integration, allowing brands to open a flagship store on the app and encourage impulse purchases.
Often called “Chinese Twitter,” Weibo is a microblogging platform with a strong sense of community. Weibo users fall into one of the highest-earning and most educated demographics, middle-class millennials in tier 1 cities. The most common type of KOLs on the platform are nano-KOLs, but the most popular posts are from celebrities and mega-KOLs. Content on Weibo is accessible even to non-followers, making it suitable for cultivating brand awareness.
Kuaishou is a live streaming and video platform similar to Douyin, with the key difference being the main demographic using the app. Douyin has more users from tier 1 megacities, but roughly 90% of Kuaishou’s users are from tier 2 and tier 3 cities. As the algorithm tends to recommend content from accounts users already follow and most of the KOLs on the app are mega KOLs or high-tier KOLs, you can easily reach a large, geographically-diverse user base.
Xiaohongshu, also known as Little Red Book or RED, is highly popular amongst KOLs. Built with product recommendations at its core, Xiaohongshu is now one of China’s leading shopping platforms for beauty, fashion, and luxury products. The demographics are mainly highly-educated females with expendable income, making it a top choice for beauty, cosmetic, or lifestyle brands that want to enter the Chinese market. On the platform, many KOLs do in-depth product reviews to promote brands.
Nowadays, many Chinese e-commerce platforms support live streaming. These platforms are aware of how influential KOLs can be, so you’ll find many KOLs promoting major sales and other events on the platform. Live streaming is a popular way of selling as many products as possible since many viewers are pressured by the limited time and end up buying products they don’t actually need
China KOL marketing: our take as to why you need it
There are a number of reasons why you need a Kol marketing strategy to promote your brand in China. Chinese consumers are increasingly relying on Kols for product and brand recommendations. This is especially true for younger generations who are more active on social media platforms.
Kols have a lot of sway over public opinion in China, so they can be very effective in influencing consumer behavior. Chinese consumers tend to trust domestic Kols more than foreign celebrities or brands, so working with Kols is one of the best ways to build trust and credibility with your target audience.
Now, KOL marketing should be one of the arrows of your marketing strategy in China. Kol marketing is great to give your reputation a boost but it’s not magical. You need to work extensively on your brand awareness to become interesting and seen as a legit brand in China.
We help you with your China KOL Strategy
There are a number of reasons why you might need an agency to help you collaborate with Chinese influencers. Here are some of the main reasons:
- Language barriers – If you’re not fluent in Mandarin, then working with a Chinese influencer can be very difficult. An agency can help facilitate communication and make sure that both sides are on the same page.
- Cultural differences – China has a very different culture too much of the Western world, and so there can be a lot of misunderstandings or differences in expectations. An agency that is familiar with both Chinese and Western cultures can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parties are happy with the collaboration.
- Connections & Network: Benefits from the KOL network of an agency will help you save time, and costs and mitigate risks as the agency has already done the backgrounds check for this Kols. Similarly, they will connect you with the rights Kol in a timely fashion.
We happen to be an Agency with an extensive network of Kol in diverse industries and all across the Chinese influencers spectrum. Feel free to contact us to learn more about our solutions.