Influencer Marketing For Your China Expansion? Think Again. Guide to KOLs
You'e interested in buying a new mobile phone and want proper guidance; who do you turn to for advice? A tech-savvy friend or a phone salesperson? Someone skilled in technology and have your best interest in mind or someone fairly proficient but trained to feed you things you want to hear?
Undoubtedly, mainstream influence for marketing is instrumental for brand awareness and sales, especially in most countries, but hardly in China.

Expanding your business in China will require you open mindedness to new strategies. Among others, you have an understanding of how influencers can help grow your brand.

You may have an existing roster of influencers on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. However, the mainstream influencer marketing plan will not easily translate in the Chinese market.

A sought-after big player authentic influencer marketing: key opinion leaders. In almost every industry, KOLs play a significant role in scaling and the man in the job for penetrating China.

It's easy to underestimate the uniqueness of influencer marketing in China. First, China has empowered its KOLs on the country's unique set of social platforms. Second, China KOLs are not your usual influencers. They are highly regarded by consumers, which more significantly affects their purchasing decisions.

Are China KOLs more influential than their mainstream influencer counterparts? If so, why? What can the global community learn from them?

In a sense, Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) are similar to "influencers." However, Chinese KOLs are different from their influencer counterparts partly thanks to their professional qualifications.

Let's break it down.
Head to head comparison between China’s Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and Mainstream Influencers - Sinofy.Studio

Chinese KOLs Record-Breaking Impact
15,000 perfumes sold out in a few minutes during Weiya's live stream with Kim Kardashian.
Top Chinese KOLs Li Jiaqi and Weiya's sales records are hard to beat.

In five minutes, Li Jiaqi sold 15,000 lipsticks. Also, 15,000 perfumes sold out in a few minutes during Weiya's live stream with Kim Kardashian.

With this result, what factors make Chinese KOLs create such an effect on their followers? While Chinese KOLs and Western Influencers look similar, their qualities differ.

Overall, the KOL industry is more organized.Chinese KOLs are only hired for campaigns that meet the required criteria. For example, if your brand wants to run a WeChat campaign, you won't engage a KOL based on their following on Weibo, a different platform.

Authentic Content vs. Viral Content
Herefh cited that the produced content of Chinese KOLs and Western Influencers differs. Influencers usually post content on viral trends. While Chinese KOLs will campaign for products related to their niche and expertise.

Influencers have a significant community. They influence their audience's mindset that may affect their purchasing decisions.

On the other hand, KOLs focus on their subject matter. It helps them to post authentic content which will come out naturally due to their expertise.

Since China has such a stable digital infrastructure, Chinese KOLs use local social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Douban, Bilibili, Toutiao, Youku, Weitao, IQIYI and many others to show off their lifestyle and product recommendations.

Unmatched KOL Expertise
Anyone can be an influencer by growing their social media following, but it doesn't mean they can be a KOL.

KOLs have built a reputation with credentials to prove that they are experts in their fields. Their content usually demonstrates how a product/brand works and their thoughts about it.

A Chinese KOL's field knowledge helps create an invaluable connection to their followers. KOLs insights serve as a guide to their followers whether the product is a good fit for them or not.

Source of Fame
Gordon Ramsay's videos roasting TikTok Chefs became a hit as his reactions fascinate viewers.
Influencers gain their fame from the internet. This is not necessarily the case for KOLs who traditionally build their knowledge and reputation through books, shows, and interviews.

Let's take, for example, Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay is a culinary expert known for his skills and reputable restaurants. His list of essentials serves as a guide to aspiring cooks. Lately, his videos roasting TikTok Chefs became a hit as his reactions fascinate viewers.

Ramsay is already considered a KOL in culinary arts. If he stops creating social media posts, it will not significantly influence his credibility as he will still be a culinary expert. Also, while there's only one Gordon Ramsay, China has a more organized ecosystem around such authorities.

Over To You
While mainstream influencers and China's KOLs resonate with their audience, it's a high time to rethink if this is the way to go for expansion in China.

Mainstream influencers are yet to standardize their influencer marketing strategies. Chinese KOLs have established greater trust with their local followers. It makes them a go-to source of information whether the brand or service is worth considering. They have a proven track record that shows significant value on sales and revenue for foreign brands.

If your company is looking to gain a wider audience through the Chinese market, consider including Chinese KOL marketing.

Need tips on how to run your KOL marketing strategy? Learn more here.

If you'd like to dive deeper, feel free to drop us a note.