KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader, which is also known as an “influencer” in the Western countries. Key opinion leaders are a spokesperson, a brand ambassador, or a thought leader. They are seen as having more importance and relevance than mass media because they are able to connect and relate to their audience.
KOL marketing works extremely well in China. The influencers engage with their followers, by developing a relationship and making themselves relatable. They have an ability to make things trend and that is an opportunity that foreign brands should be looking to invest in. Word of Mouth (WOM) is incredibly important in terms of consumer decision making in China — 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions are influenced by it. In 2018, the KOL market value was about 102 billion yuan according to Weibo big data.
Platforms for KOL marketing in China are quite different from those in the West as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are banned. The platforms can be split into three major categories, differentiated by content formats: blogging (mainly Weibo and WeChat), short videos (TikTok, allowing up to 15 seconds per video, and Xiaohongshu, allowing up to 1 minute per video), and live-streaming.
There has been a rise in the amount of KOLs on Weibo. KOLs with more than 100,000 followers increased by 51 percent, and those with more than 1 million increased by 23 percent. The overall amount of followers on Weibo increased by 25 percent, equaling up to about 600 million.
It is important to do your research when selecting a KOL. The KOL will be your brand ambassador so it’s crucial to maintain a good relationship and work together to develop a marketing strategy. KOLs are a successful marketing tool because they have an unprecedented ability to connect to specific segments of consumers based on demographics and lifestyle choices, which is not always the case with other marketing channels and tools.
A KOL with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers might be attractive, but sometimes it might be better to go with a KOL that has fewer followers but a stronger community niche that represents your brand. The goal of KOL marketing is to increase not only your company’s visibility, but also to be able to increase the engagement your target audience has with your brand. Some KOLs have large followings, but many of these may be nonresponsive to your brand. KOL marketing can be used by both small businesses and large corporations. Smaller brands can use it to create and/or increase brand awareness. Bigger brands that are already well known can use KOL marketing to advertise or promote the launch of new products on the market.
A survey conducted at the end of 2018 found that 49% of consumers in China depend on KOLs’ recommendations for their purchase decisions. The numbers are even higher for Millennials and those in Gen-Z. Actually, 71% of marketers say the quality of customers and traffic from KOL marketing is better than other sources. And overall, 89% of businesses say their ROI from KOL marketing is comparable to or even better than other marketing channels.
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