KOLs or Key Opinion Leaders are the social media influencers of China. Also known as wanghong (Mandarin for “internet celebrity”). A strong KOL marketing strategy has been the key to success for several international brands in China.
According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, more than 70% of consumers, mainly young consumers aged below 30, are influenced by KOLs. In fact, on a lot of platforms, the number of followers KOLs have far exceeds those of official brands accounts.
The graph below from McKinsey’s China Luxury Report shows top followed accounts on Weibo and WeChat.
Globally influencers have become an important part of the marketing mix for brands in industries like tourism, fashion, health and more. China, however, takes their influencers a lot more seriously.
Top brands and their KOL marketing strategy to succeed in China
Several top brands like Gucci, Michael Kors, Givenchy are using the power of KOL marketing campaigns to sell products.
Michael Kors “The Walk” Campaign
American fashion brand Michael Kors partnered with several leading Fashion KOLs to create a series of catwalk videos in various city streets, challenging users to do the same via their Douyin accounts.
In total, 25 posts were created on Weibo and Douyin, targeting 9.1M KOL followers. The campaign generated 200 million views and had more than 30,000 user-generated videos submitted.
Airbnb’s “Celebrate it My Way” Campaign
To attract Chinese millennials, Airbnb launched a Chinese New Year KOL marketing campaign focused around travelling with parents. The campaign featured six Chinese celebrities and KOLs taking their parents on a holiday.
Image and video content from these holidays were featured on Airbnb’s official WeChat account. The campaign was highly successful and struck a cord with young Chinese travellers, helping to drive Airbnb’s success in China.
Airbnb continues to leverage KOLs in several campaigns. The company has identified that using KOLs from different walks of life like bloggers, artists, DJs – works for them. Since they want to appeal to young travellers in China, they are using a wider range of young millennial influencers to portray who they really are.
The top KOL marketing platforms in China
There are several key platforms where KOLs are popular. If you are planning to launch a campaign on any of these channels, it’s worth considering if KOL marketing should be part of your campaign.
WeChat: messaging, e-commerce and social media ‘super-app’
As the no.1 communication hub in China, WeChat has a large amount of WeChat-based KOLs. They usually run a WeChat official account with a huge group of loyal readers and followers.
The most common way for a WeChat KOL to collaborate with brands is for them to publish sponsored content, where they write an engaging story that is catered to their followers’ interest while weaving the brand into the story seamlessly.
Working with KOLs on WeChat is one of the most effective ways for brands to reach their target audience, however, it is also the most expensive platform for running KOL marketing campaigns in terms of cost per impression.
Weibo: social media and messaging platform
Weibo is one of the largest social platforms in China. It is often referred to as the “Twitter of China”, but it has actually evolved into something very different.
Weibo’s research shows that over half of the KOL followers on the platform are under 25 years old. So if you are targeting a young audience group, using KOLs on Weibo holds great opportunities for fashion, lifestyle, and other consumer brands.
Note that Weibo KOL campaign and Weibo advertising go hand in hand, as when brands work with a Weibo KOL, they should also use Weibo ads to promote the sponsored posts.
Douyin: viral short-video app, known as TikTok in the West
When working with KOLs on Douyin, running a Challenge campaign is a good way to the Gen Z consumers in China, as it has the potential to go viral. ‘Challenge’ is a Douyin unique feature that uses themed hashtags to encourage users to create their own short video for a prize.
Furthermore, brands can simply work with KOLs to produce short video content or run live streaming sessions on Douyin to promote their products.
Xiaohongshu: review-centric social e-commerce app
As a social sharing and e-commerce platform, Xiaohongshu is a perfect channel for KOLs to work with brands to share their product reviews and drive sales. The reviews on Xiaohongshu tend to be authentic and informative, bringing good value to the community. And the reviews are usually written in a personal tone, appealing to its young target audience.
With Xiaohongshu’s unique characteristics, KOL product review content is seen as the cornerstone of the platform.
Bilibili: a video-sharing app popular among fashion and beauty KOLs
Bilibili is a video sharing app targeted at anime, comics and gaming fans in China. The high-quality user-generated content, strict membership rules, and the interactive culture make Bilibili a highly sticky platform for its loyal users.
KOLs on Bilibili are seen as a valuable part of the platform’s ecosystem, and these video content creators are respected and trusted by their followers. Besides anime, comics and gaming – fashion, lifestyle, beauty, entertainment are also popular sections on Bilibili, with a rich selection of KOLs.
How to identify the right KOL for your brand
When it comes to choosing a KOL for your brand, you want to make sure you approach the most suitable candidates. It can be tricky to avoid the common pitfalls many companies and brands fall into by not doing due diligence before approaching a KOL.
One factor to look for upfront is whether they’re catering to what’s hot right now. And in 2020 the biggest and best KOL strategy is proving to be live streaming.
So what do you need to look for when identifying a well-suited KOL?
While creating a KOL marketing strategy, keep the following aspects in mind to increase your chances of success.
Proven track record
Like most things in business, consistency is key. If someone has highly impressive stats, yet they’ve only been part of 1 or 2 campaigns, they’re probably not a reliable choice. Especially if ROI is critical to your campaign success.
Look at their level of engagement on their posts
Weed out fake KOLs who have a ton of followers but little engagement on their posts. Likes are easy to fake, comments are harder. To find influencers with a loyal following, both Likes and comments should be present consistently across most posts.
Looking at the trend and ratio of followers/likes/comments will give you a good idea about the authenticity of a KOL.
The right size of your KOL all depends on your brand size and budget. There are KOLs with tens of millions of followers and then there are some with several thousand followers. Too small means that your results will likely be lacklustre. Yet too large might mean they are too expensive. Start by researching current KOL prices and find a good fit for your budget.
Fit with your brand
Examine whether a KOL’s audience is a good fit for what you’d like them to sell. Do their followers fit or overlap nicely with your target market? Do they have a few key details in common? This factor can have a pronounced effect on whether a KOL campaign succeeds or fails.
Chinese consumers require twice as many touchpoints with a brand before they buy. The implications of this means it’s worth considering partnering with a KOL over the long term as opposed to one campaign, to build a shared brand and community. It’s also worth considering whether engaging across multiple channels is worthwhile.
This factor makes KOL advertising especially attractive to larger brands and organisations that can afford to do this.
It’s also important to give the KOL a little structure (to support them), but more importantly, give them the freedom to present things in a way that suits them best. They know their audience and what their audience responds best to.
KOL’s personality and presentation style
Learn what you can about a KOL’s personality and presentation style. It can be hard if you don’t speak Chinese but instead focus on their body language. Consider their presentation style. Are they a good fit for promoting your brand?
Remember, success is never guaranteed. But if you consider these factors when approaching your KOL marketing strategy, you’ll set your campaigns up for success.
While a KOL marketing strategy will provide a wider reach for your brand, identifying the right KOL is crucial for success. At AdChina.io, we’ve worked with several leading brands to launch their KOL campaigns in China. To learn more about how your brand can reach your target audience in China, schedule a demo with our sales team.