KOLs help with brand exposure and wield huge influence in China

One of the areas that differentiates Chinese e-commerce is the influence of key opinion leaders. The use of KOLs isn’t novel. It has long been a popular means of brand promotion in the U.S. and other markets. However, the use of KOLs in China appears to be especially effective, aided by the growth of online video platforms.

Video is not currently the most influential medium for KOLs, though. KOLs in different markets have different levels of influence, as well. Bloggers about fashion and luxury goods are considered the most important KOLs by monthly expenditures from consumers, according to a report on Chinese cross-border e-commerce from Frost & Sullivan and Azoya Consulting. Video bloggers sit at 17 percent.

(Source: Frost & Sullivan/Azoya Consulting)

The growth of cross-border e-commerce in China means smaller foreign companies can now benefit from brand building in China. The influence of KOLs makes them a powerful means of reaching consumers. Some KOLs are enormously successful at getting sales, or at least at reaching high-spenders. Among consumers that said they follow lifestyle bloggers, 56 percent said they spend more than 10,000 yuan (more than $1,500) per month on e-commerce sites.

In her book “Unlocking the World’s Largest E-Market: A Guide to Selling on Chinese Social Media,” Ashley Dudarenok recommends reaching out to KOLs when marketing in China. She notes that many KOLs are willing to do brand promotion for a price, especially the rising influencers on short video platforms like Kuaishou and Douyin.

Getting promotion from KOLs can also mean wide exposure on multiple platforms like WeChat and Weibo and even personal storefronts. WeChat KOLs tend to have the most influence and their prices reflect that. According to Dudarenok, a WeChat KOL might charge anywhere from 3,000 yuan to 15,000 yuan ($470 to $2,350) per article. For the most popular KOLs, those prices could go all the way up to 500,000 yuan ($78,200).

WeChat is a uniquely powerful platform for marketers. In addition to serving as a content platform, it is a chat application, social media site and mobile payment platform all in one. Users can quickly share content with a friend or group of friends, browse over to an e-commerce mini program and make a purchase without ever leaving WeChat.

Though WeChat and other Chinese platforms are unique, learning how to make the most of KOLs is useful for any market. Their influence is rising globally as people look more to opinion leaders to sift through the bombardment of information the internet has brought into the world. This is why more and more consumers turn to platforms like YouTube when considering new products to buy. Someone in the market for a new smartphone might find more value listening to opinions from MKBHD than staring at a list of specification or even reading reviews from mainstream news sites.

The growth of online video in China also means they will start to expand to new markets, which could create new opportunities for marketing through KOLs. Douyin has already launched internationally under the name Tik Tok and has seen some surprising success, recently becoming the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store. Tik Tok was initially meant as a competitor to Musical.ly, one of the first widely successful Chinese apps outside China. Tik Tok parent company Bytedance acquired Musical.ly last November.

While larger companies might be able to afford more exposure from top-performing KOLs, startups and other younger companies arguably have much more to gain by leveraging those networks. More importantly, this kind of marketing is growing in many places around the world. Learning how to make the most of KOL networks now can have benefits later on when Tik Tok and Musical.ly are even larger than they are today.

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