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KOL Marketing in China

2020 has started with a surprising twist – the spread of the Covid-19 virus originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan. We have already seen the impact of the crisis on the global economy. Having said that, economists are still optimistic that a sharp and rapid economic rebound could follow – in view of China’s institutional advantage in concentrating its resources to accomplish major tasks, strong production ability, vast domestic market and a rich policy toolkit.  

Some sectors, particularly in the e-commerce and digital space, could even see a ‘silver lining’ given the demand that forces people to work, shop and socialise remotely. As of 2018, 82% of internet users in China have purchased a product or service online (on any device). The top e-commerce spend is dominated by these 3 categories: Fashion & Beauty (USD 246.9 billion), Travel (USD 158.6 billion) and Electronics & Physical Media (USD 136.1 billion)3. The challenge is getting your brand’s voice heard in a crowded marketplace such as China. Anyone who understands China’s marketing landscape will be familiar with Key Opinion Leader or KOL in short. 

KOL in China refers to a person, organization, or community with a group of loyal followers engaging with them who produces quality content on social media.
What is a KOL and why are they popular in China? 

Unlike their western counterparts, Chinese KOLs are not limited to bloggers, YouTubers or social media influencers only. They can be columnists, socialites or fashion editors who have multiple channel influences through Chinese social media accounts such as WeChat, Weibo and Douyin (popularly known as Tik Tok), just to name a few. Chinese followers believe that influencers’ recommendations are trustworthy because they assume that these KOLs have put their reputation in line by doing so. Due to scandals involving fake or unsafe products, consumers became wary of brands and often turn to social media for recommendations. Even if the KOLs are not directly selling the products, they are heavily influencing purchasing decisions. 

How will KOL marketing value-add to your brand? 

According to the 2019 Digital Commerce Trends report, 73% of brands interviewed revealed that they would enhance their collaboration with KOLs for product or brand promotion, as they believe in the ROI of influencer marketing4. When planning KOL marketing, a multipronged strategy works best:

  • Use influential KOLs to create buzz and drive call-to-actions. Do note that there are different price points for KOLs, depending on their popularity. The wider the influence, the higher the fee – you get the gist. 
  • Consider micro-influencers with smaller followings to build relationships with Chinese consumers and engage with them on a deeper level such as sharing reviews, respond directly to queries and obtain genuine feedback on your products and services. 
  • For B2B companies, engage KOLs or thought leaders whose expert opinions are valued in a specific industry or area of knowledge. 
  • Key Opinion Customers (KOCs) are an emerging focus of brands’ strategies. They are the evangelists for your brand. They bought your products and they are telling their friends and family that they should too.
  • Video content marketing is constantly evolving. Platforms will continue to tweak formats and roll out new features while KOL will experiment with different styles of content across platforms.  Live-streaming is one of the KOL marketing trends. Chinese consumers prize authenticity and the sense of connection with the influencers they trust, live streaming is the ideal format for generating that bond.

The ban on western social media apps has given rise to a different consumer culture in China, which is ideal for KOL marketing. China’s homegrown platforms – digital commerce, payments, social media, video streaming and search are highly integrated. Online purchasing is more social there and Chinese consumers do not mind being sold to on these platforms. The value of KOLs is not measured by their reach per se, rather their ability to interact with potential customers at all points of the customer journey. As such, KOL marketing plays a pivotal role when doing business in China. 


Image Credit: Canva

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