Why you should know what a KOL is
Ever heard of the term KOL? Most people outside of China have not – it stands for Key Opinion Leader. If you’re familiar with influencer marketing, you already have a basic understanding of what a KOL is. A KOL can be anyone from a well-known celebrity, socialite, a blogger, or industry expert, but they are all deep into Chinese social media and its many intricacies.
So what makes a KOL in China different from an influencer in the West?
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First it is important to understand that the Chinese online ecosystem has developed much differently due to many popular social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snap-chat being blocked in China. Because of this it makes it trickier for many brands to directly reach consumers in the way they do in the West. However, for social-media savvy individuals, this impediment has worked in their favor.
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The other main difference that has shaped the market is the rise of eCommerce and the ease in which individuals can connect with followers and sell online through different social media platforms. China’s digital ecosystem is massive, and optimized for mobile pay, just see the chart below from Boston Consulting Group highlighting just how integrated China’s digital platforms are. KOLs , more than brands, have made the most of this digital landscape. On live-streaming platforms a KOL can present a product, post a link on their live video, which connects directly to an eCommerce platform such as Tmall or Taobao where viewers can instantly make a purchase. Now, many KOLs even have their own Tmall or Taobao store, and can make millions in a matter of minutes.
Another big advantage KOLs in China have is that Chinese consumers are less put-off by blatant advertising and paid sponsorships. An influencer in the West may be harassed for such behavior, and labeled as a “sell-out,” but not in China. Chinese consumers are apathetic to this style of promotion and many expect it. Turning to their favorite fashion bloggers to easily buy the hottest lipsticks and handbags on the market – and why wouldn’t they? The product has been tried, tested and shown to them by someone they feel they have a personal relationship with.
The benefits to brands who work with KOLs
- Trust: as mentioned before, KOLs have spent years building up the trust of their followers. The good ones have carefully curated their content and partnerships to establish a niche for themselves and build their personal brand. If a KOL trusts your brand, their loyal followers are likely to as well.
- Better targeting options: Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat offer poor advertising options with limited targeting. If you can find the right KOLs to work with, you will see a much higher ROI than if you advertise through WeChat moments.
- Captive audience: Unlike traditional advertising where you may have 2-3 seconds to catch the attention of your target audience, people are actively tuning in to watch KOLs. They’re not searching for keywords on Baidu, they’re watching KOLs tell them what they should be buying and what brands to follow.
What platforms do KOLs have at their disposal?
WeChat – The messaging app that is so much more. WeChat allows users to send personal messages back and forth, and also has a Facebook-ish newsfeed in it as well. Brands can access the platform but because of the closed off, and more personal nature of the app, it can be tricky for brands to utilize it. That’s where KOLs come in. They can create and official, verified account to push out content to their followers as often as once per day.
Weibo – Although we hate to do it, this is the app marketers in China will compare with Twitter. News and information here can be circulated among a bigger audience faster.
Live-streaming – There are several popular live-streaming platforms, including Youku, Tencent Video, Yi Zhi Bo, and these give KOLs immediate access to their fans and the option for two-way communication. Viewers can type requests, questions and even send money to the KOL in real time.
While it is getting more expensive to work with KOLs – depending on a number of factors 1 post can cost between 5K – 50K RMB – the benefits are extensive. As more and more Chinese become accustomed to receiving their information through these KOLs, brands must strategize accordingly.
Olivia Plotnick is a Marketing Manager at Brandigo. Brandigo is a global brand and marketing agency. They combine strategy, creative talent and business know-how for fresh, inspirational, personalized marketing and communication campaigns for businesses already in China, or those planning to enter