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Chinese KOL Marketing: Where to start in 2020

Chinese KOL Marketing – What is it? Why is it so successful? And what should you be doing in order to make sure your Influencer Marketing strategy works for your business? Stay tuned as we answer all these questions and cover topics such as influencer search, types of cooperation, budget and ROI.

– Chinese KOL Marketing: Matching your product and platform
– Matching your product and KOL/ Chinese influencer
– Searching for Influencers
– Contacting Chinese Influencer
– Dealing with Chinese Influencers
– What budget will bring you a noticeable result
– What to expect or measuring your ROI

From choosing a restaurant for a date to getting a doctor’s appointment, many of us now fully depend on digital solutions for all our plans in life. These solutions come in the form of search engines, apps, social media platforms, online stores and many other guises.

In the year 2019, we observed the growth of apps like PingDuoDuo overtaking, switch of trends in platforms like Tmall to live-streaming commerce and Influencers like Viya selling products worth of 66 million RMB (10 million USD) via livestream in only 1 hour!

So what shall we prepare for in year 2020 and how to plan brand’s Chinese Influencer marketing this year?

Chinese KOL Marketing facts in 2020

The number of China internet users grew to 854 million in the first half of 2019 with a penetration rate of 61.2%, of them 819.9 million are social media users (2019), with an increase of 5.6% over 2018 makes. China is the world’s largest social media market.

In 2019, 76% of consumers in China say their shopping choices are influenced by social media.

According to 2019th Influencer marketing white paper by iResearch, 60% of brands in China prefer KOL marketing to other digital marketing channels.

More and more Chinese social media and e-commerce channels launch Influencer Marketing platforms for brands to find influencers easier.

History of Chinese KOL and Chinese Influencer Marketing in China

KOLs in China are found easily on Weibo, WeChat, Youku, Meipai, Duoying etc. and can come in useful for any type of industry or business.

Just ten years ago the term KOL was little known, but now netizens everywhere are fully familiar with it, and China is certainly no exception.

viya and austin at the event

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Chinese market is that it is falling behind when it comes to innovation and marketing. In fact, China is one of the most progressive countries with regards to the technological and digital world, where KOL/influencer marketing in China started developing almost a decade ago, with the advent of Sina Weibo in 2009.

Brands used to do a very simple influence marketing in China, contacting influencers and paying for brand endorsements.

Most brands regarded a social media platform mainly as a new traffic hub, and used it to increase exposure.

Today, in addition to attracting consumers to subscribe and create interactions via influencer marketing, social media marketing creates unique experiences in different dimensions. Brand started to create Brand Experience Circle (physical store, offline event, media advertisement, embedded marketing, online distribution and social marketing.), attracting target consumers to enter and enjoy a comprehensive sensory experience, guiding them to share and gradually expand the circle to attract larger audiences.

More and more platforms use AI to sort out the preferences of social media users and recommend KOL/Influencer content.

Successful Chinese influencers today have their own retail brands, MCN (multi-channel-network) agencies and editorial teams.

So how do you start your KOL marketing/Influencer marketing campaign in China in 2020?

In many activities, getting started is often the hardest part, and KOL marketing/Influencer marketing is no exception, especially if your project will run in a foreign country with a whole new digital ecosystem. But fear not, just like any other project, Chinese Influencer marketing has its own steps.

1.Matching your product and platform 

It is probably not news to you that China has many many social media platforms that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. So with this in mind, don’t expect to have great results with your YouTube strategy on Chinese video platforms.

The first step would be finding Social media channel that matches your Chinese E-commerce platform where you would direct the traffic from Influencer marketing campaign. For this, we have created Chinese Social Media connection to Chinese E-commerce Infographic of 2019-2020.

chinese social media and ecommerce connection

See also: How to choose the best Chinese E-commerce channel in 2020

The Second step would be to clearly define your target audience in China and make sure that the platform you want to engage with targets the majority of customers that share general specifics with your audience (age, gender, location, other demographic factors).

Some tips:

WeChat is a Chinese Super app, but people are mostly use it for educational purpose: learn about new brands, products, and industry leaders.

chinese influencer marketing - WeChat users day

According to the survey by Chinese Internet Watch,

  • Over 60% of WeChat users report opening the app more than 10 times a day.
  • 40% seek content through WeChat Official accounts, broadcast messages and groups
  • Almost 80% of respondents of survey follow WeChat Official Accounts
  • Of them 41,1% follow accounts to get information, based on recommendations from acquaintances

Weibo is mostly for entertainment.

RED (XiaoHongShu) is more like a search engine for cross border brands and product reviews.

And so each platform has its own niche, purpose and audience.

Learn about the capabilities of each platform, the audiences, the niches and more in this dedicated article:

Top 20  Chinese Social Media Sites (update of 2019)

2.Matching your product and KOL/ Chinese influencer

Once you know which platform is more suitable for your coming campaign, it’s time to pick an Influencer or a group of Influencers.

In industries such as beauty, fashion, F&B, entertainment, travel – there are hundreds of thousands of influencers. Picking the one who will do a good job and create leads and sales within the relevant audience is not easy.

First things first – write down the criteria you feel your KOL needs to meet: Should you work with a young or older KOL, what type and style of content should the KOL create, what audience should he/she have, what is the engagement you would like to get from your campaign, what are your KPIs and can the KOL work with them?

Chinese Influencer Marketing in China 2019, chinese influencers ,

There are many questions that need to be answered before you reach out to any KOL or agency. And even after that, questions like “will your KOL be open to share his/her follower acquisition data for the past year?” may also be important.

Conducting an overall research action on the platform you wish to publish your campaign, and picking the profiles you feel match your style will be the next steps on your way.

3.Searching for Influencers

Here you will need a native Chinese speaker, as your research will include the content style and comment analysis.

You can read about the influencers in the Western media, and those will most likely be top tier KOLs with price tags over 20K USD per post.

Alternatively you can search popular and relevant topics, and see if you can find interesting profiles with a writing/video style that fits your identity.

Choosing your KOL is not an easy task, plus, be careful as there are so many fake profiles out there! Talk to a professional agency to ensure your money won’t be wasted, and most importantly, your brands’ reputation won’t suffer.

You can also review some of the top KOL in China in this article, as well as the reason why they are famous.

4.Contacting Chinese influencers

Contacting Chinese Influencers shouldn’t be too difficult, as long as you can read and write Chinese, be it a private message on Weibo or a listed E-mail.

The important part here is to state right away that you mean business, so we recommend using your business email address and mentioning your budget, as well as any other interesting points that will make the influencer sit up and take note of what you have to say.

But don’t forget that there are many other things you should also ask the Influencer to provide, such us their business profile with listed account details, target audience, account growth over time, and proven record of brand cooperation with a presentation of their results.

It is ok to ask things like what are the best performing content types when promoting a product in your category, or what are the recommended platforms that will match your product. An experienced influencer shall be able to give advice and have a strong understanding of what will work in the market.

5.Dealing with Chinese Influencers

When dealing with Chinese Influencers, communication is most important. You will protect yourself from a lot of trouble if you can communicate in the Influencers native language instead of English.

Most influencers don’t speak English well enough to understand the nuances of your brand message. So don’t get over excited when you receive a reply from an influencer in English, as it might be an automatic translation.

In China people may not tell you directly if they don’t understand something you said and will just agree, so as not to lose “face”. So if at the end, part of the task has been ignored, an Influencer will find twenty reasons to cover up the fact that he/she simply didn’t understand what you were looking for.

Another thing you may wish to pay attention to is the finer details of the content.

A western content approach is highly likely to fall flat in China, so don’t insist on a 9 picture gallery with minimal text, and expect high engagement rates. A good Influencer will tell you what will work and why. Give the influencer as much freedom as possible. After all you are paying for production, design and distribution here.

What type of cooperation can you propose or consider when working with Chinese Influencers?

Direct purchase – as in “please post this product review on that platform” type of cooperation. This is one of the most simple and easy ways to cooperate with Chinese Influencers. But remember, if you only use a one time post on one influencer’s account no matter how big (excluding huge celebrities of course), it might not bring you the result you were hoping for.

chinese e-commerce

Collaborations and omni-channel approach. Collaborating with Chinese influencers in order to create multiple campaigns and run them on multiple channels is one of the most effective ways to gain some tangible results.

Keep in mind that to cover the whole of China might not be an easily achievable goal if you only plan to run one omni-channel campaign. The strategy here could be to start with a few larger influencers, who will influence their “smaller” colleagues, as well as the audience they talk to. Then you can continue to a higher number of mid-tier and micro-KOLs.

This way you will create a “buzz” and no matter where your potential client looks, they will see your product. This will instantly create interest and a “must have” feeling.

Regarding numbers, to cover, let’s say, the cosmetics market, we recommend working with top-tier and second-tier cities, and doing monthly campaigns for at least one year, with a total of around 50 – 100 influencers per month and at least 3 platforms.

Co-branding. This is the one type of cooperation that Influencers love the most.

Of course, not every influencer is fit for such project, as the he/she must have a very high commercial audience profile (with an audience that is constantly purchasing the endorsed products). But this type will not suit new or lesser known brands, as it could be too difficult to convince the KOL of the value of such a cooperation.

The brand must be careful when choosing who to approach. Naturally, the brand’s reputation will be tightly connected to a co-branding KOL’s profile, and any scandal around that persona might affect the brand as well.

chinese influencers

Brand advocacy. One of the best ways to make Chinese influencers advocate for your brand is to make him/her the face of that brand.

The price of such cooperation will be lower than if you worked with small-mid size celebrities, and the coverage you get might just be what you were looking for! While lots of different types of agreements can be made, brand advocacy is one of the most profitable and effective ways to spread the word in Chinese market.

Product Seeding. Many brands are convinced that KOLs will talk about the brand for as little as a free gift.

Whilst this might work in the West, in China it’s all about cash. Of course, if an influencer receives a special edition luxury brand product packed in a way that flatters his/her ego (name on a box, special appreciation note), this may have the desired effect.

But it is highly unlikely that an influencer will “do his job for free” for an unknown (in China) brand.

KOL Marketing in China: What budget will bring you a noticeable result

Depending on the type of cooperation, your niche, the market reach, and your goal, your budget will vary.

Another factor you should keep in mind is that the reach of an influencer does not mean engagement. Most influencers in the same reach or audience size have different levels of engagement.

Some have “sticky” fans, some have non-interactive accounts, some have high commercial profiles and some are buying their fans. If your goal is to engage with the audience and have more coverage by “shares” and re-posts, you might want to know how much you will pay per engaged person, and this information is listed here.

On average, to cover 1 top-tier city, you should work with a budget of 200,000 to 300,000 CNY or up to 45,000 USD per month. To cover a country, you should run monthly campaign in 3-8 cities.

Here are a few numbers to base your budget around:

chinese influencer marketing budget kol

Chinese micro KOL: is less really more?

When you are just starting out, working with Micro influencers might just be the solution you are looking for. The smaller budgets and higher ROI will definitely make your China marketing experience more pleasant.

But, in order to really drive traffic and convert it to sales, you will have to work with more than 50 influencers at the same time, which will cost you time and manpower.

Read more about Micro Influencer marketing in this article.

How to measure your campaign result 

Depending on your goal, there are a few ways to measure your Chinese Influencer marketing campaign results. The first thing to remember, 1M views does not mean 1M CTR.

Realistically, 1M followers on Weibo can bring you 100K organic views, 15% commercial CTR (i.e 1.5K clicks), and only 25 immediate sales. Whereas on WeChat, 100K organic views will bring 15K commercial clicks, and 225 immediate sales.

  1. Sales: if you want to convert traffic into sales, you will want to make sure people can complete their buying journey in less than 4 clicks. The ROI will obviously depend on your profits and other aspects, such as time and resources spent on influencer marketing and other marketing channels.
  2. Brand awareness: Such campaigns are usually less targeted, created for long term execution and to cover larger audiences. The measurement of ROI can be calculated by “media value”, new traffic and social mentions.

Why is KOL marketing in China is so effective? 

Most Chinese people are not so trusting of information given by official institutions, so they look for advice elsewhere.

They go to friends or search for advice online. This is one of the reasons why word of mouth is the most trusted way of marketing in China. This applies to words coming from the mouths (or should we say pages) of KOL’s, and brands have arrived just in time to take advantage of this.

Of course there are other factors that come to mind when choosing the right KOL – not only their main audience, but also their activity and the number of fake accounts following them. The optimum KOL in China is not the one who has the most followers, but one who has a high rate of interaction with their audience, while of course maintaining a fairly sizeable following.

In China when you start hearing about something new it often means you are probably already too late to the party, but when it comes to KOL marketing, this is not the case at all.

According to most brands who have used this marketing strategy – KOL marketing is one of the most effective ways to engage with an audience. Keep in mind that this is just part of a wider overall digital marketing strategy of a brand.

So it seems there is still time, and the possibilities are varied. If China is a potential market for your brand or service, KOL marketing could be a great way to support your digital marketing strategy, to educate and influence millions of potential buyers, and to make sure your story will be heard.

Want to learn more about Chinese Influencer marketing or need help with your first campaign? Drop us a line! 

About HI-COM:

HI-COM is a Chinese digital localization agency helping businesses enter the Chinese market without uneccessary hassle. From brand names and content localization to Chinese influencer marketing, our team will find the best solution for your business. 

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Kate CHERNAVINAChinese KOL Marketing: Where to start in 2020

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