Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) have become an essential part of marketing strategies in the Chinese eCommerce ecosystem. Chinese consumers have become increasingly careful when making purchasing decisions. KOLs are celebrities, athletes, musicians, politicians, social leaders – basically, anyone with an influence and following. They are perhaps the most sure-fire method for quickly and reliably building trust around a brand within a certain niche or market. Marketing statistics show that the quality of customers and leads from KOL marketing is better than other marketing methods. Other statistics show that by 2021, 48% of Generation Z consumers follow influencers to guide marketing decisions. In the beauty and cosmetics industry, 86% of women use social media to guide purchasing decisions.
Here are the top 5 KOL marketing trends for 2021:
Micro-KOLs: a trend cosmetic brands should not ignore in China
Micro-KOLs refers to Key Opinion Leaders with a smaller and more niche following. While some KOLs may have millions of followers, a micro-KOL can have just as profound of an influence. That is because micro-KOLs, although they have less followers, can be seen as more trustworthy in many ways. KOLs with fewer followers are able to interact with followers more easily and are often viewed as being more authentic.
Micro-KOLs oftentimes have very niche followings with followers that are interested in a very specific subject or type of product. This type of KOLs has an added benefit of higher conversion rates as compared to larger KOLs. For these reasons, micro-KOLs are a cost-effective way to leverage the KOL system while also spending less money than would typically be spent on a KOL with a larger following.
Live-Streaming: China’s version of teleshopping
Streaming live video was a growing trend prior to 2021 but especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend has only exploded in popularity with over 617 million live-streaming users in 2020. The benefits of live-streaming versus regular video advertisements is that live-streaming gives a KOL the ability to interact in real time to the questions and comments of followers. This in turn helps KOLs to establish a more authentic presence on their given platform. This method also gives followers a feeling of closer connection with the KOL that they are following which in turn leads to higher conversion rates.
The major eCommerce platforms in China such as Tmall, JD, Pinduoduo, and Little Red Book all have their own live-streaming functions and are continuing to develop these functions to provide a better experience for both KOLs and their followers. Brands should make sure that a marketing plan is established specifically for maximizing the capabilities of live-streaming when working with KOLs.
Role in Research and Development
The opinion of KOLs is oftentimes influenced greatly by the commission or financial incentive given to them by the brands that they work with. It is not surprising to see that many KOLs do not necessarily fully buy into the product(s) that they are promoting. Building authenticity is absolutely critical for KOLs in building a reliable following that will buy the products that they promote.
Incorporating KOLs into product research and development gives brands the opportunity to give KOLs a product to promote that they truly believe in and even took part in the development of. Another added benefit of letting KOLs take part in product development is that they often have keen and valuable insight into what will make better and/or more marketable products.
KOC (Key Opinion Customers)
KOCs are a growing trend within KOL marketing in China landscape. The difference between KOCs and KOLs is that KOCs are first and foremost a customer of a certain brand whereas brands reach out to KOLs to work together in marketing efforts. KOCs have influence through the reviews that they make online and through word-of-mouth marketing.
This type of marketing is becoming increasingly valuable as Chinese consumers rely more heavily on the information that they are able to garnish from reviews. As stated previously, Chinese consumers are more and more skeptical of products and brands which makes reviews and other means of building trust even more paramount. Brands can leverage KOCs by promoting reviews and engaging with customers on eCommerce and social media platforms.
Sales Associates as KOLs
Another interesting trend that was spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic was the rise of sales associates as KOLs in China. Given the large scale inability of Chinese consumers to see products in person over the last year or so, companies have had to innovate new ways to provide information. This is especially true for large consumer purchases such as automobiles and home appliances.
Sales associates at a given company can utilize social media and other eCommerce applications to provide live-video answers to questions that consumers may have. While third-party KOLs have been the standard for some time now, Chinese consumers still value information that comes straight from the source. Sales associates are able to talk about things that other third-party KOLs are not such as warranty information and after-sale processes.
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