Why brands need to use KOLs (influencers) in China

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If you are new to the China market, or in the process of creating a digital strategy to reach your Chinese consumers, there is one tactic you just can’t ignore: KOL (key opinion leader) endorsement.

Have you ever heard of a social media influencer with 4.5 million followers selling 100 cars (no, not virtual cars) in five minutes in the West? Probably not, but in China this is not an uncommon event in China’s KOL-driven economy.

Qumin has created a brief overview of what makes the Chinese influencers' market far more powerful than in the West.

China’s internet is mobile first

According to the 2018 Abacus report, while China’s internet penetration is just over 50%, it still has 11x times more mobile payment users (527 million) than in the US. Chinese consumers order food through Eleme (饿了么), look up venues through Dianping (大众点评), pay their fees through Alipay (支付宝) , get their news from Toutiao (今日头条), shop in Taobao (淘宝) and find entertainment in Tik Tok (抖音). And of course socialize through the almighty WeChat apps, which also happens to have all the functions listed above. From a practicality perspective, there is literally no reason to browse from a desktop anymore. In 2017 only, Chinese app users spent around 225 billion hours in apps, which is 4.5 times longer than the second highest market - India.

Intense mobile internet penetration allows KOLs to gather huge fan bases from all age categories in all types of apps and to be only one click away from their followers. Since users spend huge amount of their time on their phones, they are constantly exposed to messages from influencers and brands. Mobile creates more opportunities for KOLs to make sure their message is delivered by one channel or another.

Cooperation of KOLs with brands here creates a very smooth experience: user discovers a product in WeChat feed, checks it out in Tmall or Taobao, maybe goes to brand page in WeChat to look for more information, and then sees admired KOL using same product and doing live-streaming in Douyin. Done. Final decision and purchase made directly and seamlessly on their phone.

Ecosystem driven by social

The boom of e-commerce in China brought all the brands together on a handful of e-commerce platforms such as Taobao. As an upside of China opening up more to the West, there has been in increase of diverse products being available to consumer for the first time. But that also brings confusion and indecision. This is where KOLs step in with their loyal fan base earned from sharing their personal stories, preferences and expertise. And help people make up their minds,

According to Accenture, up to 70% of China’s Gen Z (born post 95) said they prefer to buy products directly via social media, compare to global average of 44%.

In the absence of Western social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the local platforms reign supreme. These local platforms like Weibo, Taobao or WeChat are ideal for KOL’s to create content and sell at the same time. These sophisticated ecosystems blur the line between shopping and social.

A good example of this is the social + e-commerce platform RED (小红书), where users generated product review, click directly through to purchase product from the official brand page. Popular KOLs use RED to influencing purchase behavior of their followers (and KOLs with large followers who specifically endorse brands will see their content prioritised by the platform. A “soft” commission).

Why your brand needs to partner with KOLs

There are many debates about ROI from KOL partnerships. Is it worth it and do they actually increase brand awareness and sales? If you are new to the Chinese market and your only action is to use KOLs, that might not be enough. Creating stable brand presence and communicating with your fans on suitable channels is primarily a starter strategy. A KOL can enhance brand credibility and drive sales, only if supported by omni-channel strategy and users hear about you from multiple places.

If you’d like to know how Qumin uses KOLs for many of its client brands, please get in touch. You might be interested in hearing how we used a leading fashion KOL to encourage Chinese travelers in the UK to use Eurostar for travel and shopping.

Agila Tanirbergenova is a digital strategist at Qumin Shanghai

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