The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

China Red Influencer Marketing

Livestreaming goes mainstream: how brands can capitalize on the growing Chinese trend

By Michaela Zhu, Marketing executive

Emerging Communications


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

April 13, 2022 | 5 min read

In one day alone, the beauty and cosmetics giant Estée Lauder achieved over $219m in sales from livestreaming. Of these, $52.4m of sales came from a single influencer. Emerging Communications’ marketing executive Michaela Zhu questions what livestreaming is, and how businesses can capitalize on its stratospheric rise.

Emerging Communications on the phenomena of live streaming and how brands can adopt the strategy.

Emerging Communications on the phenomena of livestreaming and how brands can adopt the strategy

What’s livestreaming?

Livestreaming is commonly known as any media recorded and broadcast in ‘real-time’ over the internet. And no country in the world has a livestreaming culture quite like China. It’s utilized across platforms as wide-ranging as WeChat, Weibo, Red (Xiaohongshu) and Bilibili, with influencers offering exclusive deals, direct ‘buy’ links, product discussion or free gifts.

Its popularity goes far beyond the gaming streams or ‘Insta Lives’ favored in the west. Instead, livestreaming is an indispensable China marketing tool and an increasingly fashionable way of shopping.

Livestreaming in the limelight

The unique livestreaming mix of user-generated content (UGC) and professionally-generated content (PGC) has proven incredibly effective for increasing brand website traffic and sales.

The livestreaming market reached over 1200bn yuan in 2020, soaring from 120bn yuan in 2018. With further growth predicted (expected to reach 4.9tn yuan by 2023), it’s an essential method of targeting e-commerce to Chinese gen Z and millennial audiences.

As well as financial value, livestreaming helps build brand authenticity and trust. According to data from CNNIC, livestream users in China account for over 62% of ‘netizens.’ That’s a huge percentage to tap into.

Put simply, if a brand operates in the China market and aims to have a Chinese social media presence, consumers will expect livestreams.

Who are livestreamers?

Known as key opinion leaders (KOLs), livestreaming has created thousands of successful influencers. These individuals create huge triumphs for brands, receiving significant appearance fees and high commissions in return.

Austin Li (China’s ‘Lipstick King’) once sold over $1.7bn products in just 12 hours. Viya (the ‘Queen of Livestreaming’) helped Kim Kardashian enter the China market, completely selling out 15,000 fragrances in a few minutes.

There’s no doubt that ‘megastar’ influencers are expensive for brands. However, since 2019 the market has expanded, with smaller influencers (including students and actors) entering the livestreaming sphere.

Why content is still king

Livestreaming isn’t like traditional TV broadcasts or print publications – it’s an active two-way conversation. It enhances interactions with Chinese consumers, allowing participants to comment and ask questions in real-time.

For this reason, it’s essential to work with KOLs who increase a brand’s value with high-quality content. Collaborating with livestreamers who feature constant adverts and clunky promotions will only decrease consumer trust.

To improve China branding, work with KOLs who create great content in the same vertical niche as a brand. This is an essential way of attracting ‘sticky’ loyal customers, and the closer a livestreamer’s content matches a company’s products, the better.

So how to choose the right livestreamer for a Chinese marketing campaign?

Choosing the right livestreamer

As a first step, identify the brand’s marketing goals, objectives and aesthetics – and let this guide the decision.

Just opting for KOLs with the largest number of followers isn’t always the best approach. It’s better to work with a smaller livestreamer well-suited to the business niche than a superstar who doesn’t authentically relate to consumers.

If a brand wants to ensure they enlist the right KOL, they’ll need to choose an appropriate influencer.

Mega influencers v micro influencers

Mega influencers provide great value in terms of reach. For instance, celebrity KOLs use their wide coverage to increase a brand’s user base and recognition. This type of influencer is more appropriate during major promotional campaigns, as they attract attention quickly.

Micro influencers are useful for generating consumer interactions and creating innovative content. With a smaller and more loyal follower base, brands can target specific audiences and significantly increase conversion rates. Working with several smaller influencers is great for ongoing awareness campaigns.

Case study: Selfridges + Chinese influencer

For a brand working with a livestreamer perfectly matched to their mission and aesthetics, look no further than Selfridges’ partnership with a particular fashion influencer.

Selfridges appealed to stylish Chinese consumers by welcoming the Year of the Tiger with a focus on self-investment and positivity. The famous brand teamed up with a well-known Chinese fashion blogger specializing in witty luxury fashion commentary across YouTube, Weibo and Bilibili. Their 2.8 million followers were introduced to Selfridges’s unique mix of accessible yet luxury clothes. For the campaign, they provided top picks of Selfridges’s “keep forever style favorites” – to the delight of their fans.

To learn more about working with livestreamers and Chinese KOLs, download the Emerging Communications guide to Chinese influencer campaigns.

China Red Influencer Marketing

Content by The Drum Network member:

Emerging Communications

Our mission is to fuel the growth of world-leading brands by building profitable relationships with Chinese audiences globally. Our unique insights into Chinese...

Find out more

More from China

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +