Mark Tanner
7 September 2016 0 Comments

With an estimated 500 new products launching every day in a market that is already fiercely competitive, brands vying for earshot can easily go unnoticed in China.

A popular way to break through the clutter and amplify your message is to use Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Chinese people have a history of taking cues from a small group of people – we only need to look back to the days of Chairman Mao. Yet in today’s market there is more noise and less trust than ever, and Chinese consumers often seek direction and affirmation from someone they trust and admire in making purchase decisions. With the growth of WeChat and Weibo, China’s influencers are becoming more prolific and diverse than ever.

Some of the most popular KOLs on WeChat and Weibo are now so valuable they are courting investment, such as video blogger Papi Jiang who received funding of $1.8 million and was paid $3.4 million for a single ad earlier this year.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard stories of soaring sales of lavender bears, fish & chips and craft beer after well known figures tried them; KOLs can be immensely powerful in China, but they can also be costly with little impact on sales.

Due to the popularity of KOLs, many charge sky high fees for endorsements.  That’s regardless of whether their fan base and areas of influence are relevant to your brand and target market. Similarly, some trade on huge follower numbers. However the ease of cheaply purchasing fake followers, likes, and even comments on Taobao can render these numbers irrelevant. Deep analysis into KOLs’ true reach is invaluable. You’d probably also want to do a background check, as a number of China’s nouveau celebs have been getting up to mischief lately, which doesn’t help your brand’s image in the eyes of the average consumer.

Most importantly, your target market needs to consider your KOL authentic and relevant to them. Often the micro or grass-roots influencers can have more sway with consumer groups in their fields than the A-listers, and will be a fraction of the cost.

In addition to getting to know the KOLs, it’s also valuable to understand the fans who follow them.  Weibo recently released findings of an interesting study shedding light on China’s online influencers. 36,410 of the most prominent online celebrities each received an average of 25,130 reposts, 11,151 comments and 45,317 likes over five months this year. Whilst most followers are males, 74% of online celebs are female. Of those celebrities, 88% are 17-33 years old and 89% have a tertiary education. The majority live in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Done well, KOLs can be very effective to build awareness and trust. Yet on their own, they are rarely enough to convert to sales.  Chinese consumers often see the same KOLs endorsing countless other products. KOLs may spark an interest and prompt them to seek more information, which is why it is best to optimise and integrate other touch points too. China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

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