Key Opinion Leader (KOL) refers to the experts and influencers within a field. These influencers attain a large fanbase and followers to provide them with useful information and advices, inducing spending.
With the rising value of the impression of Chinese consumers, the influences of public recommendation on social media or friends and family is beginning to override the effects of advertisements, as it is believed to be real and raw, directly influencing consumer’s decisions.
Thus, the popularity of influencers from development of social media platforms in China is becoming the new testimony for brands, and KOL marketing has become the most effective and frequent marketing strategy used.
For brands attempting KOL marketing in China for the first time, it can be risky to begin without any comprehensive research, which may lead to disappointment and loss of value as a result.
KOL on different social platform have their own unique factor, the unique aspects of the Chinese market is due to the superior influence of Wechat and Weibo, and the fact that Chinese KOL can only influence Chinese population, vice versa Chinese people entrusts KOL from China.
There are many foreign brands in China that has hit downfalls, as the CEO of Immelt, Jeffrey, have noted on the failure of Uber in China, Chinese market may be massive, but success is also back-breaking.
Before collaborating with KOL, brands must first understand the Chinese market and their own brand, considering brand assets such as brand influence, fanbase, native marketing employees, resources available, such as Taobao, social media accounts, and experiences.
If brands have fulfilled three of the factors above, brands may begin searching for a suitable KOL.
How to find a suitable KOL?
Before selecting KOL, brand must first identify the goals and expectations, is it to raise brand awareness, promotion sales, or change market positioning?
The Chinese social media platforms is multi-dimensional, strategies required may vary from KOL to KOL, as influencers are individuals with their own unique charisma that attracted different fanbases.
Some KOL is suitable for brand tonality, such as celebrities and entrepreneurs as they are more representative. Other KOL may be suitable for sales promotion, favoured by brands who are expecting direct results.
In July of 2017, a leading fashion blogger with the username “Rebecca’s imaginary world”, who have a fan base of 4.5 million people, announced a collaboration with Mini, launching 100 limited edition of an mini models on Wechat official account, was sold out in 4 minutes, all transactions completed within 50 minutes. This is not the only one successful example of KOL marketing promotions, but it demonstrates the important value of KOL in business marketing.
Finding Suitable KOL
There are several phrase brands must go through to find the most suitable KOL. The first phase is to filter out the most searched keywords by target audience on Weibo and Wechat. Second phase is to look at the geographic area and basic information of target audience. Third phase is to search the mutual followings within this population to get a list of suitable candidate for the brand.
Looking at Financial industry as an example, target audience is located in first-tier cities, focused on healthy lifestyle and investment influencers. Analysis show this population accounts for 74% female and 26% male, likes comedy, celebrities, Weibo, and life hacks. Then, find selections of KOL who meet the requirements, find the most mutual followed KOL and select on with finance and average life type of KOL to invest.
Another option is to contract a third-party marketing agency. The fast developing industry of internet influencers and economy have allowed a group of influencers and agency to grow steadily. Agencies who have such sources to verified users and experienced KOL can assist brands in quickly searching suitable KOL while conserving time and energy.
Quota and Collaborations
KOL collaborations with brands include brand campaign participation, live streaming, online and offline campaign in combination, or promotional writing.
KFC have launched digital coupons on Tmall at one point, invited four debaters from “U Can Bibi” to do live streaming, every debater will be speaking for one product, competing for the top sales by the end of the stream. During the live stream, there were also countless red pockets donated by viewers, directly payable. This is a successful demonstration of KOL marketing, with 1.5 billion viewers.
However, all marketing plan revolves around budget. Based on the total amount of suitable KOL candidates to finalize the amount of writing content or contracting a celebrity and such.
Dependent on the platforms used, there is also a difference in value, Wechat being one of the most expensive platforms with its delivered results and impact. When a high-quality article is published by an quality KOL on Wechat, the quota is estimated between 5,000 RMB or 50,000 RMB. Some leading KOL can request for commission from brands for providing successful leads and conversions with the collaborated campaign.
Therefore, budgeting for KOL marketing needs to be flexible, especially when this industry is everchanging, and KOL pricings are essentially increasing every season or even every month.
According to the white book of “Social Marketing 2017”, analysis show that the pricing trends of KOL marketing on Weibo and Wechat a tremendous increase in average pricing. In 2014, the average quota for Q4 Weibo KOL accounts have increased approximately about 182% compared to Q1, and Q4 Wechat KOL accounts have increased by 110% compared to Q1.
Mimeng, who have over 10 million followers quoted 300,000 RMB for her Wechat official headline advertisement, escalating to 700,000 RMB in just a month.
How To Do KOL Marketing With Small budget
One of the contributing reasons for the popularity of KOL marketing is because of it’s low financial requirement, as it varies depending on the industry and brand, value can range from few thousands RMB to millions.
Due to the flexibility of pricing in KOL marketing, it lacks a set of standardized management model. Thus, many brands in China will find KOL agencies as a third-party to handle this matter.
According to sources from the industry, an agency specialized in Wechat and Weibo projects quote range from 30,000 rmb to 150,000 rmb provided with visual and content related advertisement planning with matching KOL services.
Targeting towards brands with a smaller budget, rather than spending a hefty sum to contract celebrity for brand exposure. With a small budget, brands can spend less and find more smaller KOL who have tenths of thousand fans. Brands should also consider the future potential the small KOL can have, it’s also beneficial to build an relationship with KOL for long-term benefits when growing alongside with the brand.
The less popular KOL have a smaller fanbase compared to others, but one of the benefits they can provide is fan interactions and engagement, which can provide a high conversion rate. Another benefit of using small KOL is the advantage of offline promotions, often times brands target a specific population, such as young mothers, pediatric, or sport enthusiasts.
Taking the Beauty Squad from L’oreal as an example, Beauty Squad is a group of small beauty influencers, and through them, L’oreal is able to directly influence an unexpected number of consumers. And there’s also Adidas, using the advantages of dark social, establishing Tango Squad in 2016. Tango Squad is made up of 15 soccer content creators, using communication platforms to share any soccer information. Subtly using opinion leaders around to influence others casually and informally.
How to avoid risks
Comprehensive Understanding of KOL
The current KOL industry is in an inflated state, and with the amount of astroturfing in the industry have the, results can be inaccurate, and brands are unsure of its real effects.
Brands who are first-timers, it’s important to consider all different perspective of KOL marketing and KOL, to find the most suitable one, such as the working style and style of the influencer. However, third-party agencies with contracted influencers, attained are more experienced. These agencies is also able to obtain news of KOL business model or any industrial changes in a short time to provide accurate, valuable advices and solutions to the table.
To inspect an KOL, followers, engagements, impressions are the several basic factors. However, brands also need to assess their reputation, image, branding, interaction rates, and other records such as user-generated contents. Similar to some Weibo accounts who have less fans, but the quality of fans, interaction, comments make up for the lack of fans, making any KOL valuable.
During the advertisement period, brands can also take advantage of third-party companies to undergo with professional data analysis and prevention of fake data, reduce any wasting of budget.
Agencies with KOL resources also assesses KOL based on each campaign to evaluate the influence, success of the KOL and their strengths to help brands in finding the most suitable KOL, and guiding brands and KOL for future plans.
Avoid Brand Emphasis
The difference between celebrities and KOL is the delivery of content, it is unique and flexible. Most of the KOL are born in the millennial period, which makes them more open-minded and innovative, with the ability to quickly produce content such as written, photographs, videos and streaming. KOL who have entrepreneurship in mind will also build their own content creating team.
Before campaigns, brands provide KOL with an campaign guide for reference, to allow KOL to quickly understand the purpose, focus and procedure of the campaign. If there are too much written content and regulations, it will create a negative impact and outcome for KOL and users. For example, Burberry launched a website called “Art of the Trench”, allowing fans to upload pictures with Burberry trench coats. The interactive style of Burberry has led to outstanding results, making it one of the most successful UGC attempts from luxury brands. Burberry is also experienced with using celebrities and fan interactions to interconnect the gap between luxury and average population. The famous male celebrity from China, Kun Chen have attended Burberry runway shows multiple times while posting on Weibo shared with over 8 million followers, bringing in tons of brand exposure for Burberry.
One of the best ways to work with KOL is to let them create their content, because they understand their community better, and know what type of content will attract consumers. KOL are content creators with their own style.
One of the mistakes brands often make is the expect results with fewer KOLs. However, to receive results and feedback often requires time and energy, the best solution is to work with more than one KOL over a long period of time.
The most common strategy is multi-level influence, using several leading KOL to submerge into the general population and several smaller KOL for the smaller communities. Using this strategy with different KOL with different style, content and community to achieve the best possible results through marketing. For fast moving consumer goods, brands can utilize experts from the field, punster and online shopaholics to achieve results in social presence and sales.
Aside from different combination of KOL marketing, it’s also important to help KOL find the suitable communication carrier that suits brand image, target audience, with the suitable experience.
The prospect of current social media, there are channels such as visual novels, H5, Wechat advertisements, short video, variety shows, and reality shows aside from written content with pictures.
Brand also need to consider the strengths of the KOL when selecting marketing channels, because only the KOL the trigger to maximize the quality of the content while providing results to meet the expectations.
Different Marketing Channels
The social media platforms in China is like the transit system of New York, different level of platforms may be interlaced and shared functions, which is an advantage to help KOL achieve optimal results for brands.
Aside from taking advantages of Wechat and Weibo platforms to use KOL marketing, Brands can also use emails, texts, short videos, self-media platform, stores and more to outsource for more interactions and impression from users.
The marketing strategy from Sephora is a great example to learn from. In 2018, Sephora selected 10 beauty bloggers for KOL marketing worldwide, in combination with offline free services to strengthen brand sentiments, while joining JD.com and Tmall as an online store, promoting coupon promotion on Wechat with the shake it functions, the first beauty retailers to advertise on Wechat Moments, using advanced technology to create the function for try-on, inviting beauty influencers to stream live in store, converting online traffic to offline consumers.
Sephora is able to achieve and create an environment to interconnect offline and online consumers to them, through the combination of all marketing channels to provide a successful case to the industry for reference.
As Andy Warhol have noted, this is the era where everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes. The strengths of Chinese KOL is their ability to submerge into the Chinese market and the ability to bring conversion while increasing exposure and sales. According to Financial Times from England, Chinese KOL is the leading media carrier in comparison to worldwide.
The acceleration of KOL marketing in China, business model and channels are constantly changing, brand collaborations with KOL will also continue to innovate because consumer behaviour is also ever-changing.
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