Key Opinion Leader (KOL), testimonial, ambassador: there are many nomenclatures of influencers in China. This can lead to some confusion, but the first thing to remember is that whatever label one chooses, their relevance Beyond the Wall is enormous. In Italy, influencers are those figures who are able to influence the preferences and tastes of a group of consumers. Influencers in China, however, have something different. Something more.

Influencers in China and influencers in Italy: the differences

In Italy, it is possible to see the birth of an influencer directly on a Social Network. Whether it is Instagram, Youtube or Facebook, the cases to mention would be numerous. There are several reasons why an influencer becomes famous, but mostly to be linked to the entertainment that they provide to their audience. Cases are not uncommon in which an influencer born to make his or her audience smile then becomes a testimonial for a brand, despite not having an entirely adequate training. There are also many “professionally oriented” figures who become influencers. This is, for example, the case of Make-Up Artists on YouTube or fashion bloggers who have become globally ranked influencers such as Chiara Ferragni.

In China, however, the path varies slightly. Chinese influencers almost always start out as experts in an industry who have at some point also become successful online. Often they are closely linked to the world of television and music before the world of social media. The meaning of KOL, therefore, transcends what we have in Italy of influencer. Within this category falls a whole range of important personalities such as singers, actors, TV presenters, politicians and industry specialists. Of course, there are also bloggers and “our” influencers, or web celebrities (nicknamed in Chinese wanghong 网红).

Which platforms are preferred by KOL in China

Influencers in China are often people who were already working in a particular field and then decided to take an extra step. They were in fact able to win over the general public. How? By sharing and showcasing their skills on the many social platforms available to them. Among the pioneers and most beloved Beyond the Wall are Weibo and WeChat. However, the newer Douyin, Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), Kuaishou, Chao and Oasis should not be forgotten either.

KOLs also increasingly make use of live streaming platforms that are integrated into social platforms or separately. This is because live streaming make it easier to show and describe products and increase the sense of closeness with the audience.

How to choose the right KOL for your brand

Social content by influencers in China produces 4 times the number of views and 8 times the engagement than official brand accounts. These personalities, therefore, can make their huge number of followers available to a brand to develop effective influencer marketing campaigns. The purpose can be to develop brand awareness, promote an event or product, improve brand reputation or target sales.

However, you must be able to select the influencer that best suits one’s brand. This is to maximize the returns on the investment made in him. How do you identify the right KOL for your brand? The choice cannot be made by taking into account only the number of followers. For this there are other elements to consider.

1. Trust

Considering how influencers are born in China, it is easy to see that their strength is directly proportional to the bond they establish with their followers. A potential customer will listen to and consider much more what is expressed by his or her favorite blogger, rather than a classic commercial. Chinese consumers, in fact, believe in the opinions of KOLs and rely on their judgment to assess the authenticity of a brand. Especially young people are influenced by these characters in their purchasing choices.

In monetary terms, this means that the bond of trust between KOL and end customer will allow for a very high conversion rate into sales. It is necessary, therefore, for a brand to choose the KOL that most inspires trust in its target audience. At the same time, it will have to ensure that its product is of high quality, so as not to disregard the expectations placed in it.

2. Consistency

Influencers are individuals with their own personalities and characteristics, thanks to which they have gained the approval of their followers. Reason why they should not be considered as actors playing a simple role or mask in a commercial. Relying on consistency as a criterion for choice is therefore crucial. Trivially, a wine company can never collaborate with a teetotal influencer. For example, choosing a figure like Lady Penguin, renowned for her wine reviews and tastings, would be optimal for an industry brand.

Lady Penguin, the top wine influencer in China

3. The Tone of Voice

Lastly, the communication style of the KOL must be considered. Communication is a fundamental part of building and consolidating a company’s brand image. Every brand, therefore, has a definite communicative style that must be reflected in all the messages it disseminates. This also involves everything that is said by an influencer representing it. At the same time, the message must come across as spontaneous, and therefore not deviate from the KOL’s normal way of communicating.  It is necessary, therefore, that the Tone of Voice of the character chosen as one’s conduit be aligned with the brand’s communicative style.

How to collaborate with KOL in China

Rather than spending a large part of your budget on advertising, it is often better to initiate a targeted collaboration with a KOL. Once the right character has been chosen according to the criteria described, the type of collaboration must be determined. This can be of a variety of genres depending on the goal the brand sets. Influencers in China are used to do product reviews and participate in interviews, events, and creative collaborations. They may also take part in the creation of specific collections or be appointed brand ambassadors. All of this has a positive effect on brand awareness. To drive sales and engage consumers, on the other hand, giveaways and discount coupons are often distributed through KOLs.

The results of influencer marketing campaigns can be truly astounding. For example, the world-famous KOL Mr. Bags collaborated with the Montblanc brand last Qixi Day (the “Chinese Valentine’s Day,” celebrated in August). In just 12 minutes on his WeChat Baoshop, 80 pieces of the brand’s limited-edition collection of bags were sold.

The campaign for Montblanc on Mr Bags’ WeChat profile

Key Opinion Leader and Key Opinion Consumer

A new type of influencer, Key Opinion Consumers, also seems to be making its way into China recently. KOCs are consumers like everyone else. They have a few hundred followers and deal almost entirely with product reviews. They are therefore characters with whom it is easy to identify and who inspire a lot of trust in other users. For this reason, some Chinese brands have already made them their ambassadors. Among them is the Perfect Diary brand, which has become one of the leading cosmetics brands in China precisely because of KOCs. The social Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), thanks to its algorithm, seems to be the most suitable to reward these little accounts. In fact, it often shows them at the top of the feed and links back to them through hashtags of related topics that users are talking a lot about.

An all-around influencer marketing strategy should not do without either KOLs or KOCs. The types of audiences they attract are different. While the former have the following of the great masses, the latter attract niches of more discerning consumers. Therefore, the winning move is to integrate collaborations with both types of influencers in China. If, on the other hand, the budget is tight, one can begin by starting less onerous collaborations with KOC. Then later you can add those with KOL.

Influencer marketing: the key to success in China

Consumers in China are increasingly increasing their purchasing power and are always looking for new products and experiences. Their tastes are becoming more refined, and with them, so are their needs. This is both in terms of the quality of the products and in terms of the validity of the content related to them and the people who convey them. So, the right question is not whether or not it is worth investing in the Chinese market. The right question is “How can I make the most of my investment in the Chinese market?” Influencers in China are definitely a key part of a company’s communication strategy. This is mainly because of the deep bond of trust with followers, who are nothing more than the end customers of the company itself.

The 13th Annual Report of the Italy China Council Foundation – ICCF – is Italy’s most authoritative and comprehensive guide to the political, economic and business access scenario in China. Download the excerpt prepared by East Media on Digital Marketing in China!


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