Influencer Marketing in China

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The Chinese influencer economy has changed the way marketing campaigns function overseas. The prevalence of massive influencers with a large audience has changed companies’ market to the Chinese market, as it is impossible to ignore the growth that these influencers have experienced. From 2018 to 2021, Chinese market statistics indicate that influencer (KOL) marketing registered an impressive growth of 44% each year, making it one of the fastest growing and most reliable economic phenomena in the world. Generally, influencers operate through social media, where they relate well with target audiences who have come to trust them. Companies can leverage this trust to market themselves, as influencers can sway their audience to make certain purchases or learn more about certain offerings on the market. 

Market Size of Influencers in China from 2018 to 2020
Influencer Marketing as one of the fastest growing and most reliable economic phenomena in the world

Here are some key insights from us to help understand KOL marketing in China:

Who Are They?

KOLs are key opinion leaders viewed as experts in fields they have committed themselves to. These fields could be related to beauty, health, travel, lifestyle, real estate, fitness, and so on. With the ability to drive huge traffic, KOLs use large social media followings to influence portions of their audience to purchase products from brands they partner with. Influencers wielding such large followings impacts market dynamics for products hoping to trend on social media, as KOLS simultaneously shapes consumer attitudes and behaviour when interacting with a product. More than two-thirds of Chinese consumers shopping online have been convinced by influencer reviews, swaying brands to increase their digital and social media marketing budget to maximize on KOLs.

Average rate of an influencer (KOL) marketing in China in January and May 2020

KOLs are often celebrities, “wǎng hóng – 網紅”—internet celebrities—and bloggers who present themselves as:

  • Travel professionals
  • Magazine editors
  • Artists and Musicians
  • Journalists
  • Hobbyists
  • Business people
  • Photographers

KOLs continue to successfully grow their audiences on platforms such as:

  • Weibo
  • WeChat
  • Youku
  • Douyin
  • Miaopai
  • Yizhibo
  • Douban

Evolution of KOL Marketing in China

In China, purchases are no longer influenced by factors such as price, but through digital media influencing, which has evolved from texts and photos to short videos, live streams, and e-commerce platforms. This appeals to buyers by providing reviews and recommendations for purchase decisions. Unlike Western countries that use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, China only uses local platforms such as Weibo, Wechat, Douyin and Wexin, among other emerging innovative social platforms for marketing purposes. KOL marketing has evolved in three distinct generations within China:

  • A. 1st Generation KOL (2009-2012)

Weibo was the first major social platform released in China in 2009. The first generation KOLs used Weibo to push their agenda for public discussions about brands, lifestyle, politics and events through popular microblogs that attracted a huge following. The followers would engage in the discussion through comments and ratings, which began to encourage brands to consider using high-level influencers to market products as part of microblogs.

  • B. 2nd Generation KOL (2012-2014)

The second-generation KOLs capitalized on using both Wechat and Weibo to further their discussions and marketing activities. WeChat, as an interactive social platform, enabled simple texts and photo sharing, becoming popular with celebrity KOLs, with users primarily utilizing the platform to showcase their lifestyle, provide reviews, spark engagements and endorse sponsored products. 

  • C. 3rd Generation KOL (2014 to date)

From 2014 to date, KOL marketing has gained a huge presence, with influencers appearing throughout different social platforms to market for brands in both B2C and B2B sectors. The generation has influenced marketing through content creation, not only as micro-blogs but also as short video blogs. The multiple social platforms, e-commerce platforms Douyin, Xiaohongshu, Weixin, and Weibo have made it possible for low-tier or grassroots KOLs to boom, as there are several topics of interest being discussed and countless brands looking to market themselves. 

Why Does Influencer Marketing Work Well with the Chinese Market?

China’s internet presence of 1.05 billion users is the largest in the world and offers the perfect base for a thriving influencer market. The high internet presence has made key influencers dominate by engaging with the active communities they cultivate, who strongly believe in their experience and reviews. KOLs have become a powerful tool that works well in China for brands to push their promotional activities, since influencer marketing has impacted:

  • Social-Oriented Digital Ecosystem

In China, three companies, Alibaba, JD and Tencent, control most of the e-commerce, social media networks, mobile payment systems and search market. The companies have enabled e-consumers to easily shop and pay without leaving their respective apps. In collaboration with influencers, the companies have created a safe, social-oriented ecosystem for online purchases, which enables consumer spending to grow significantly.

  • Emotional Connections: 

KOLs have created emotional connections with consumers built on trust and reliability through personalized experiences and perceived expertise:

Personalised experiences: KOL’s followers look to them for guidance on how to live a certain lifestyle or be part of a niche interest group. KOLs build this community through personalized, curated communications.

Expertise: KOLs have direct industry experience or reputation for being an authority on the subject at hand. They build an invaluable connection with followers looking to influencers for guidance as they research a brand or product.

Influencers Getting Some of the Best Deals

KOLs often have the leverage to negotiate competitively low prices with brands to ensure they’ll sell more products—especially with e-commerce livestream sales. Live commerce is becoming increasingly common, leading to many brands adopting this marketing method.

  • Influencing Generation Z

A bigger proportion of Gen Z wants to identify with celebrity influencers, explaining why this population has a high digital shopping base influenced by KOLs. Accenture found 70% of Chinese born after 1995 will turn to social media to purchase products directly, compared to a global average of 44%

How to Leverage with KOLs?

Actively leveraging KOLs will create personal and authentic relationships with your target audience, increasing product awareness and potential sales. You need to work with KOLs who resonate with your audience to support your product. To leverage with KOLs, you can:

  • Run Giveaways Through KOLs

Using KOLs to promote giveaways will spark interest and excitement about your brand. The target audience will want to find more information regarding your brand. Followers will repost, comment and share KOL content with giveaways, leading to a wider audience viewing your branded content.

  • Product Reviews

KOLs providing a review of your product will increase your brand’s reputation. KOLs are viewed as experienced and best-equipped to provide the most knowledgeable and informed review that consumers will use to inform their purchasing decisions.

  • KOLs Competitions

Inviting several KOLs to participate in a competition you sponsor will create headlines on social media and digital platforms. Inviting KOLs to submit content and allow their followers to vote for the winner is a promotional tactic that will give your brand new followers and drive increased attention.

  • KOLs Host Live-Stream Sales

KOLs hosting a live stream can generate instant sales of products, or views towards your offerings. Through a live stream event, KOLs can produce content about your product and provide critical information that sparks interest in their followers. 

Final Thoughts

Influencer marketing has revolutionized the Chinese marketing landscape, making it difficult for businesses to promote their brands without engaging with social media. With KOL marketing, it is easier to reach your target audience and create interest in your product, given the significant internet presence and continued preference for user reviews. KOLs providing product information, reviews and giveaways will enhance marketing activities.

At Periphery Digital, we understand that it is challenging for western companies to penetrate the Chinese market through social media marketing, since they use their own local social platforms. Periphery Digital assists western companies looking to work with the Chinese market by providing crucial information and connecting them with relevant marketing services, which can help your company reach your target audience with ease. Contact us for more information.

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