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Are KOLs or Wang Hong Worth The Investment In Your China Marketing Mix?

The short answer is Yes! 

However, there is more to influencer marketing or leveraging KOLs or Wang Hong (i.e. internet celebrities) than most marketers care to acknowledge. With most brands taking the easiest path of just hiring the most popular celebrity of the moment and placing their face on every marketing material and product packaging. 

So, if you aren’t P&G or Coca-Cola with huge marketing budgets, can you still leverage KOLs in your marketing mix? Should you?

First, let’s understand some basics about KOLs in China.

KOLs are huge business in China, and an integral part of every business’s marketing mix. Historically, KOLs have been regular consumers who had cleverly leveraged the early social media platforms in China (BBS/forums) to grow their influence in a particular subject area, i.e. sports, beauty, parenting, etc. Later on, with the development of other social media platforms, ranging from Renren, Kaixin001, Weibo, eventually WeChat and now the very hot Douyin, these KOLs have continued to evolve their content to suit the market and ride the ever changing consumer trends. Successful KOLs goes on to build massive influence (at time even equalling the influence of regular celebrities). 

KOL Tiers

KOLs can broadly be categorised into 3 tiers: Celebrities, Influencers, Micro Influencers, and are categorised usually by their number of followers or fans, which is currently the best guesstimate of their influence. 

KOL Tier

For example …

A celebrity like Angelababy has over 100M followers on Weibo, 17M followers on RED, 39.9M followers on Douyin. 

KOL Tier – Celebrity @Angelababy

An influencer like gogoboi has over 93M followers on Weibo, 46.5K followers on RED, 11.9K followers on Douyin. 

KOL Tier – Influencer @gogoboi

A micro influencer will typically have 1-100K followers on Weibo, 1-10K followers on RED, etc … and 1-5K real friends. 

KOL Type

Some KOLs are individuals while others are Media Accounts operated by one or more person teams. 

Example of non-individual accounts are … 英国那些事儿 HereInUK, 毒舌电影 DS Movie, 一条 YiTiao, 良仓 LiangCang, which are operated by teams or media companies.

KOL Type – Media Account

Next, how do you select and partner with KOLs.

Selecting a KOL is both an art and a science. 

As with every marketing campaign, you need to define your objective of leveraging KOLs for marketing. Are you creating awareness? Do you want to improve consideration? Do you have a new feature to explain? Are you purely driving sales?

Depending on the objective, you will then be able to determine the KOL tier you want to partner with, and the type of KOL to partner with. The objective would also give you a good starting point to brief the KOL on what kind of content would be required.

Then make a wish list of KOL names which are related to your industry or associated to your industry. If you are in the beauty category, besides beauty KOLs, you may also consider fashion, food, travel KOLs, which are highly relevant and have very high overlap of audience based. Your wish list of KOLs should include the KOL names, the number of followers they have and the brands they had work with previously. Through this very simple exercise, you would be able to identify KOLs that is relevant to your brand, not competing and also have a good sense of how these KOLs can create content that benefit your brand. 

This process can be done by your own marketing team, or you may also engage Social Media agencies that specializes in KOLs. These agencies have tools which are able to pull KOL data and make comparison very quickly. ParkLu, based out of Shanghai, China, is one such company that has a great tool to help brands identify KOLs with a dashboard that pulls and compare KOL data across multiple platforms. You can check them out here.

Finally, how do you measure effectiveness of your KOL marketing?

As with all measurements exercise in China, KOL marketing effectiveness is also more complicated. On one hand, social media platforms in China are not ready open with data that can be tracked; on the other hand, KOLs may not always share all the data with brand advertisers as well. There are partial workarounds but they only provide partial data and may be limited in most situations. 

Refer to chart below for some metrics you may measure for different objectives. 

KOL Campaign Objective, Tactic & Measurement

Mentions and searches for Awareness or Purchases for Conversions. At times you might not have be able to measure any uplift and this typically means your KOLs were not effective and/or your budget was not sufficient to drive a significant impact. 

Final words … KOL marketing should be part of a marketing mix and not the entire marketing by itself. Even if you don’t buy huge budget ads, an effective marketing strategy with promos, guerrilla offline events, social content marketing, and PR will increase the impact of the overall campaign. 

If you need someone to hash out your KOL strategy, do drop me an email via one of the on page forms. 

About Edwin Ting

I help brands drive ROI through branding and digital marketing. With 10+ years of China marketing experience across agency, media and ecommerce brand, I have helped various brands drive business in China.

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