The Definitive Guide to KOL Marketing in China Part1

Major brands have always worked with celebrities to generate exposure and sales. In the past, they paid celebrities to endorse products but with the rise of social media a new wrinkle has been added to this marketing technique.

The term “Influencer” or Key Opinion Leader (KOL) is frequently mentioned in contemporary marketing strategies.  A Key Opinion Leader (KOL) in China is a person, organization, community with strong social status, which influences their raving fans to act. Today, these influencers are defined as niche-specific Internet celebrities or in China “Wanghong”.

This guide will define the term “Key Opinion Leader” and demonstrate how to work with influencer to market your business in China.

What Is A Key Opinion Leader?

With billions of users, social media platforms and blogs continue to house the most influential Key Opinion Leaders. These are individuals, groups, brands with large followings in relevant niches.

Their praise or criticism can shape an entire segment of the market. It’s this reality, which turns them into powerful niche promoters or brand advocates.

However, having a huge following doesn’t mean you’re a Key Opinion Leader.

A person with 50,000 followers could have greater influence than someone with 500,000 followers.

Why is that the case?

This is because a Key Opinion Leader’s words push their followers to act. Yes, a large account is delightful but the followers need to turn into customers and sales for it to matter. This is the difference between an influencer who claims they have a lot of follower and a Key Opinion Leader who can persuade their raving fans to act.

Importance of a Key Opinion Leader For Your Brand

The average consumer craves recommendations. Their eyes thirst for reviews, testimonials, and third-party endorsements. Just take the time to put yourself in their shoes.

If you were standing on the side of the road and a marketer walked up to you stating his company makes the best shoes. Would you buy those shoes on the spot?

No, you would go back and ask mutual friends or read reviews to see what the consensus is. In this scenario, a Key Opinion Leader is a mutual friend you trust.

By linking up with a Key Opinion Leader, you’re gaining access to their audience and their network. This means their recommendation will produce clicks, increase social media exposure, and push people to buy your products or services. Their ability to do this lies in the powerful relationships they have with their followers.

This form of marketing has led to the demise of traditional outbound marketing. In many cases, business and brands have recognized influencer marketing as the quickest and most effective way of increasing exposure.

Traditional methods have become saturated whether it’s billboards, TV ads, or radio ads. With access to the Internet and social media, contemporary consumers wish to learn about their purchase before spending money. They want to hunt for a great deal, and that begins by trusting Key Opinion Leaders.

The efficiency of a KOL’s influence is what makes them beneficial.

It’s a simple three-step process.

  1. Position Themselves as “Experts” In Your Niche
  2. Create Content About Your Brand
  3. Recommend Your Brand To Their Followers

The followers appreciate the new content and act on it leading to sales.

Understand Your Audience

The key to succeeding with KOLs in China lies in your ability to understand your target audiences.

  • Who are you selling to?
  • What are their needs?
  • What questions are they asking on a regular basis?

By answering these questions, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to shape your brand and find relevant Key Opinion Leaders in China.

Continue to dig deeper and analyze niche-related forums, blogs, newsletters, and social media accounts. You have to see the niche from your audience’s perspective.

Let’s use an example.

Imagine you’re running a fitness company and selling gym equipment. The Key Opinion Leaders(KOL) to target should include fitness forums, fitness bloggers, and fitness gurus.

Remember, it’s important to target those who churn out regular content with large followings. People who follow these Key Opinion Leaders are the same consumers searching for new gym equipment.

If one of them recommends your product, the audience will eat it up and buy immediately. However, if you pursue Key Opinion Leaders who write about real estate, the audience will ignore their opinion because it’s irrelevant.

Who’s Using KOL Strategy?

In 2011, New Zealand has demonstrated the power of working with Key Opinion Leaders(KOL) and using the influencer marketing strategy to great effect.

While others remain focused on traditional outbound marketing, tourism companies in New Zealand have taken a contemporary approach.

With Tourism New Zealand, it all started when Chinese superstar Yao Chen was hired as brand ambassador. In August 2011, she had an eye-popping 40 million Weibo followers.

In fact, her name continues to come up with leading superstars such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

As Yao Chen spent time in New Zealand (for her wedding), she blogged about the nation’s scenic attractions and beautiful weather on her Weibo’s account.

By September 2012, there were more people visiting New Zealand from China than the US! This wasn’t a short-term reality either. China is now third on the list of visitors to New Zealand after Australia and the UK.

Tourism New Zealand hasn’t slowed down as it continues to use the KOL strategy on WeChat. Their target audience in China adores trusting Key Opinion Leaders.

By linking up with Yao Chen or related Chinese KOLs, Tourism New Zealand recognizes it can attract more tourists. These followers are more than willing to travel and visit the same attractions knowing their favorite star loved them.

Defining KOLs

Key Opinion Leaders might have the same impact but they’re not all the same. With China, there are three distinct types of KOLs (Influential Bloggers, Celebrities, and Wanghong). Additional KOLs include Weibo Interest pages, WeChat subscription accounts, and Weibo communities.

1) Influential Bloggers

These KOLs have built their followings on the shoulders of creating, editing, posting contents. They share inspirational moments, motivating speeches, and personal life stories to hook their followers.

In general, influential bloggers wish to connect with their followers at a deeper level. Their “fame” is built on this relationship and that’s why they choose carefully.

If your products or services don’t match their style and audience, you’re out of luck. However, if it does, they’ll take the time to review your products or services to share with their audience.

An example of an influential blogger KOL is San Zi No_Fan_No_Fan with 510,000 followers on Weibo.

2) Celebrities

Yes, celebrities are KOL as well. These KOLs are well regarded as TV personalities, actors, singers, entrepreneurs, or industry experts. In China, these KOLs are highly effective since they’ve accumulated large groups of passionate followers.

Since celebrity KOLs are selective with their advertising, the impact is greater when they do promote. Followers trust their word and wish to support them eagerly. However, they charge a premium and might not be as targeted to your niche as others.

An example of a celebrity KOL is Xie Na (Nana) with 90+ million followers on Weibo.

3) WeChat and Weibo Wanghong

Wanghong or “internet celebrity” in China is the final type of KOL. These are individuals who market themselves as beauty gurus or fashionistas.

Their online activity includes taking selfies or relevant pictures to attract followers. As their following grows, many web celebrities have started creating original content.

With their established fan bases, they provide a unique opportunity for a low-cost marketing campaign. Wanghong don’t price themselves at high rates but still generate similar interest to celebrity KOLs at times.

An example of a Wanghong KOL is Chon Chong (fashion Wanghong).

4) Interest Communities

These accounts are created for products or services promotion by agencies. In essence, their sole purpose is to collate information on key products, services, or brands.

For example, let’s say an interest page is setup on technology; the Weibo interest page or community will post news on tech brands, their products, and anything related to the niche. Their focus can vary depending on their target audience.

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