Influencer marketing in China: find the Key Opinion Leader

In essence, influencer marketing is pretty simple. Find influencer who have best followers, get them to endorse your product, and you’re in business. The influencers with the biggest impact are called Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).

The tricky part is, of course, to correctly identify these KOLs. Many influencers are themselves influenced. So who is at the top of the tree? Finding the KOLs is hard enough on the social media we’re used to, but when you want to perform influencer marketing in China, it becomes an epic quest. China has its own, unique, e-commerce infrastructure, with influencers playing a huge role.

Take Xiahongshu, for instance, this is an immensely popular platform among influencers. Sometimes they just share a link (or two) they like, sometimes they have their own store. Key Opinion Leaders will usually post about a product and include a photogallery (not unlike Instagram) or a short video. Under these visuals, they add an elaborate text describing the product, their experience with it, some upsides and downsides, a how-to-use instruction and so forth.

The reach of these KOLs is impressive. Becky Li, for instance, is a luxury and beauty blogger with more than 2 million followers on WeChat and 3 million followers on Weibo. Top brands like Chanel and Dior are eager to leverage this enormous following for their own marketing efforts.

East vs. West: difference between influencers

If you are impressed by Becky Li and her 5 million followers, be ready to be amazed: the results of Chinese influencers are a lot better than those of their Western counterparts. This is due to the unique characteristics of the Chinese culture and the e-Commerce ecosystem.

Western consumers are sceptical when they come across influencer marketing. Chinese consumers, however, appreciate their Key Opinion Leaders a lot more. And they don’t mind some advertising. As a result, influencers can operate more professional, diversifying their efforts over the different platforms. They often work on WeChat AND Weibo AND XiaoHongshu AND some other platforms, whereas Western influencers often stick to one platform, such as Facebook or Instagram.

Chinese platforms are designed in a way which provides more integration between influencer posts and online sales, and the lower number of platforms and it’s clear why Chinese influencer marketing provides a much better ROI than in western countries. There’s millions of dollars to be made by brands which seize the opportunity.

2019: The Chinese Year of the KOL

Influencer marketing has soared in China. And it’s very likely it will continue to grow. We expect to see the emergence of several new Key Opinion Leaders, who will boost brand awareness and sales. One field of which we expect a lot is live vlogging with integrated e-commerce opportunities.

As KOLs in China have a track record of providing high quality content, we expect Chinese vlogs to really take off in 2019. If there was ever a time to approach key opinion leaders (KOL) and invest in influencer marketing, this is it!

How to get started with influencer marketing

As mentioned before, several top brands in the beauty and luxury industry have succesfully used Chinese influencers to boost their brand awareness. It’s good to follow their example.
Don’t rush into it though. We understand it might be tempting to work with those with the highest number of followers. But before you start, determine how well your brand is doing in China.

Are you a newcomer in China, or is your brand already for sale in China?


KOLs help you enter the market

You might be tempted to start working with some of the cheaper influencers. This will often turn out to yield quite nice returns. But we recommend another approach.
If you are new to the Chinese market, we recommend using KOLs from the start. Get the best of the best KOLs under your contract and use them to quickly establish a foothold. KOLs will help you get initial sales, but they will also provide you with a good reputation.

A nice side effect: if you have the top-KOLs on board, you will find it easier to recruit other KOLs as well.

Sure, they ask money for their services. A lot, sometimes. But if you play your cards right, your campaign with a top tier influencer will get things going. Others may decide to follow the example and start creating content like this as well. Not because they’re getting paid to do so, but because they want to be in on the trend. So you pay one top KOL, and others will work for free.

Using KOLs when you’re already a known brand

If your brand already has established a presence and reputation in China, you most likely have measured a number of KPI’s. Use this info to shape your influencer marketing strategy. Do you need to raise awareness? Get a bigger KOL. Do you need sales? Get KOLs who are best at converting followers to buyers.

You can also use KOLs to approach a very specific target audience. Every niche market typically has their own KOLs who often have a very close relationship with their followers. It’s always a good idea to leverage this to gain a strong position in this niche market.

China: a unique influencer ecosystem

Online sales in China depends heavily on influencers promoting brands. This is partly due to the fact that advertising with banners on a CPM/CPC (cost per 1000 impressions / cost per click) is not as common in China as it is in the western world. Another major factor is that Chinese followers accept that “influencers” do advertising. In the western world, followers often feel the influencer is “selling out”, but in China, people understand that the influencer needs to make a living. They even love it when KOLs introduce new products.

So whether your brand is a big name, or a newcomer, it is always a good idea to engage with your brand’s target audience using KOL-influencer marketing.

AsiaAssist is here to help

It’s an old saying in the world of marketing that half the marketing budget is a total waste. If only we could know which half, before we spent it. Well, we know that a well thought-through influencer marketing campaign using influencers with 50,000 to half a million followers often gives an ROI of 300-600%.

Influencer marketing in China is so efficient because the world of online influencers in China is a lot more developed than in the West. Followers in China crave brand recommendations, which is good news for Key Opinion Leaders and for brands. High quality branded content benefits everyone: the brands, the KOLs and the audience.

When you get started with influencer marketing, it’s important to start with the right KOLs. They need to be able raise awareness, and have an engaged audience. Chances are, you have no idea who these KOLs are.
Don’t just blindly go for the biggest accounts, because often they cost too much to be worth your while. Sometimes smaller KOLs are better, as they might have a higher engagement.

At AsiaAssist, we know the Chinese influencer scene. We’re ready to help you find the right KOLs for your brand.

Contact us today, to find out more about how we can help you get the KOLs most suited for your campaign.