A massive barrier to brand success in China continues to be lack of brand awareness and also distrust. For so long in China, the market has not had any credible level of transparency. Consequently, consumers are still relatively doubtful of brands they are not familiar with, and thus require more hand-holding and brand-provided insight throughout the buying process. KOL marketing can help to break down this barrier, but certain conditions should be acknowledged. The nature of Chinese relationships, which naturally, extend into business, is one of long-term cooperation and trust. In Chinese this is called ‘guanxi’ / 关系. Likewise, it must be leveraged and kept in mind when forming partnerships with KOLs, due to both market conditions and Chinese culture. By employing this, a brand is more likely to see results.
KOL = wanghong / 网红
Wanghong is the word that Chinese use to refer to a KOL; it translates directly to ‘internet celebrity’, which is not precisely what a KOL is. However, it is the word that Chinese ascribe to a person who is well known for having credibility and knowledge on a certain subject amongst a target community or audience. Generally, KOLs are categorized as one of three types:
1. Top-tier KOL
2. Mid-tier KOL
We believe marketing ROI can be significantly higher by exercising deliberate planning: i.e. analysis, quality testing, and case-by-case cost and suitability of micro-KOLs. But, how does a micro-KOL differ from other KOLs, and what are the particular perks they bring to your brand?
Firstly, out of these three above-listed categories, micro-KOLs, on average, have the least number of followers. Nonetheless, their follower-bases also tend to be the most consolidated and well-defined, which often translates to a more loyal, trusting, genuinely-interested community. Micro-KOL follower bases are to a lesser extent built up by their personality, and to a larger extent by their expertise, or brand relations. In short, micro-KOLs can in certain respects, be called ‘experts’ within their area.
The way that micro-KOLs cooperate with brands can also be more focused. If structured right, the brand and KOL can operate via a win-win philosophy, in which the brand and KOL mutually build up each other’s’ reputations. In this relationship, the KOL can benefit from having an interesting brand, which he/she can expose. The KOL receives added value, which the brand can leverage into a lower fee. This journey could easily lift the micro-KOL into the mid-tier level, meanwhile, the brand has locked in a micro-KOL fee.
Following is a case example of one micro-KOL: a nutritionist who started actively posting on social media in order to share her experience, when she found out she should no longer eat wheat products. Through this journey, she found an online community, who has grown to respect her and come to her for advice. Because of her sphere of influence and engagement with this particular audience, a Western-food brand has signed her to promote their organic salmon.
In contrast, the profile and engagement story of one top-tier KOL is a celebrity model and actress, signed by a Western-food brand to promote their organic salmon. The top-tier KOL was commissioned to post about how food-safety and nutrition have become a chief concern to her now that she has a young, developing child; and because of this, she always elects to buy salmon from this particular brand.
A portion of said top-tier KOL’s followers will ultimately be interested and converted to purchase the brand’s salmon. However, their motivation for following her on social media does not boil down to their interest in organic, health food. And therefore, many lack interest and passion for the topic, which means greater reason for disengagement in the conversation when compared to a micro-KOL.
It can be said that the influence brought by a micro-KOL is often more authentic. Furthermore, while CPM should not be looked at exclusively to determine the level of a KOL campaign’s success, it must be stated that CPM for micro-KOLs is much lower than a top-tier KOL.
Our solution is to start with a nuanced approach, and consider many factors when partnering with KOLs, including, but not limited to,
-Make sure that you are partnering with or receiving professional guidance in order to avoid and parse out ‘mock’ KOLs; brands need to employ data verification techniques to weed out fake data.
– Find out which micro-KOLs can articulate your brand’s narrative clearly in a unique, innovative way. The KOL must understand the key emotional incentives that motivate your target audience to purchase.
– Narrow down 2-3 micro-KOLs, test their data and communication’s skills thoroughly, and make sure the chemistry is good with the brand and the rest of your team.
-Analyze which social media platforms your target audience is most active on, and make sure the micro-KOL can find intelligent ways to connect them on these platforms.
Seeing the results of a KOL marketing campaign unfold is a slow process– especially in China. Keep in mind that this is all part of your branding to develop long-term traction within the marketplace, and create more value for your business.