Is KOL marketing worth the money in China?
Is influencer marketing worth a slice of your China marketing budget?
The Key Opinion Leader craze in China has been steadily ramping up over the last few years, with many claiming it peaked in 2016. Even with its supposed peak, KOL marketing is still widely used by both large and small companies. With many KOLs having millions of followers each KOL represents its own unique media channel. This can bring tremendous value, but the costs have been trending upward as demand has increased.
So who are these Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)?
What is an opinion leader? (Aka. kol meaning)
There isn’t a strict definition for opinion leaders. Yet, most key opinion leaders are either Chinese celebrities or popular social media users who have created viral content and developed a large following on various social media websites. They are columnists, socialites, fashionistas, and bloggers that have developed massive digital audiences.
Many are experts in their respective fields who provide advice, instructions, reviews, etc. through a variety of digital mediums. There are Chinese KOLs actively posting about almost any topic you can imagine. Sports, video games, fashion, food, traveling, luxury goods, cars, etc. all are topics that you’ll find these Chinese influencers discussing.
KOLs can have millions of followers who follow their advice and actively engage with the content they create. The influence these figures wield can be considerable and working together with them can help create significant buzz for companies and their products.
If you’re a frequent Youtube user, you probably can think of a few people who could be considered a key opinion leader by this definition. On Youtube there are people like Pewdiepie and Jenna Marbles who have millions of followers. Their popularity has been used to advertise for companies all around the world successfully. While most western countries call these people influencers, it’s incredibly similar to the KOL phenomenon in Asia.
Some of the most popular KOLs in China:
Chinese Superstar: Papi Jiang
Papi Jiang (Jiang Yilei) is one of the most popular Chinese celebrities/ KOLs. She has worked with huge brands like New Balance and smaller brands like Lilly&Beauty, which payed a whopping 3.5 million/USD to be the first business to place an ad in one of her videos. Although she has faced trouble with government censors in the past she remains the largest online celebrity in China with over 40 million followers, dwarfing any western digital media stars. She was even named the no.1 celebrity of the year in 2016 by many Chinese media outlets.
Opinion Leader Example: Ma Jianguo
回忆专用小马甲, Ma Jianguo has risen to fame by sharing the lives of his pets. His samoyed named 妞妞 and his cat 端午. Just by sharing GIFS and funny pictures about the lives of his pets he has been able to generate an estimated 10 million RMB in revenue a year for himself through Weibo advertising. He has made posts featuring his pets alongside various products generating buzz for companies and their products.
ALSO CHECK OUT THE Top Chinese KOL in the Beauty and Fashion Industry!
What can a KOL do for my business?
KOLs are incredibly influential in China, and can help businesses advertise their offerings through product placement and recommendations. As most Chinese maintain a healthy distrust of information distributed through traditional marketing channels, KOLs provide a form of advertising that can be seen as more genuine and trustworthy.
The more traditional advertising methods available on Wechat, like banner ads and moment ads, have a notoriously low click through rate and are actually quite expensive. These ads are also incredibly difficult to target, which is another reason why KOLs have become so popular. KOLs have the unprecedented ability to connect to specific segments of consumers based on demographics and lifestyle choices.
Although these KOLs have access to massive audiences, they are not considered celebrities, thus making the information they provide seem much more genuine for the average consumer. For companies looking to promote their message in China, KOLs can be an effective alternative to these more traditional methods, however businesses need to be careful in selecting the right KOL.
KOL Strategy: Choosing the Right KOL
Choosing the right KOL for your business can be incredibly difficult. Each KOL’s audience is made up of people of different demographics, psychographics and lifestyle preferences. Developing a clear KOL strategy of who exactly you would like to receive your message is crucial prior to making your selection.
A KOL is also a KOL for a reason. People genuinely like them and enjoy hearing what they have to say, whether it be entertaining or informative. They don’t do this by reading out company mission statements. Businesses need to work together with their KOLs to come up with advertising strategies that can maintain the authenticity of the KOL while at the same time promoting their product or company.
Zombie Accounts – A Word of Warning
Many people think that the easiest way to determine the right KOL is to simply find the one with the most followers with the demographics they are targeting. However, looking at pure numbers can be deceiving, as influencers have found methods to pad their followers/traffic numbers to increase their attractiveness and negotiating power. The use of bot controlled accounts or “zombie accounts” have been used in the past to illegally inflate these numbers.
The moderators of Wechat and other platforms have been working diligently to prevent the abuse of their systems, however these exploits are still being used. For example, Tencent discovered in late 2016 that one Fashion blogger claiming to have 70,000 followers had as many as 12,000 “zombie account” followers.
KOLs sound great, but how much do they cost?
There’s no easy way to answer that question. The prices of employing a KOL can vary greatly primarily depending on the amount of followers that they maintain. If working with a company benefits the KOL and the attractiveness of their account it could even be free.
For example, several retail companies allow KOLs to conduct giveaways, making their social media account more popular as well as allowing the company to advertise its product.
Another method for engaging with KOLs for a relatively low cost is to gift them one of your products in exchange for a review/discussion of the product. The more popular KOLs will still expect payment, but possibly at a discounted rate.
Just some quick price reference for you: the cheapest KOLs cost around $250 USD, while some of the more expensive KOLs have been known to charge as much as $2,500/USD for a single post! However, as the market has become more saturated and developed prices have begun to fall bit by bit.
However, not every business needs the most expensive KOLs. Using cheaper more niche KOLs with more homogenous well-defined audiences can be much more effective in a company’s KOL marketing strategy.
So answer the question is KOL marketing worth it?
Since more traditional marketing channels are so ineffective on social media I would say that KOLs are certainly worth it in the right situations. By working together with KOLs businesses can deliver highly targeted messages in a truly authentic manner. Brand Managers and Marketers need to work closely in tandem with their KOLs to develop strategies that stay true to each of their respective brands whilst promoting their offerings. It will be a great way to promote your products, attract Chinese outbound travelers or even sell your real estate properties. While using KOLs requires investment, strategy, and creativity on an ongoing basis they can help businesses reach out to new customers and inspire customer loyalty.
How Can Dragon Social Help Find Your Perfect KOL?
Dragon Social understands that it can be very difficult to find the perfect KOL. When moving into a new market it takes a lot of time to begin to find out about the digital marketing landscape, let alone begin to research different KOL’s.
If you would like to know more about what we can do for you, visit our services page!