Gone Global is a new Collabary series that aims to study the role of influencer marketing in markets outside of Europe and the West. By exploring influencers, campaigns, and trends in markets such as China, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and India, we can not only find inspiration from the exciting ideas coming out of some of the most lively and expanding economies in the world, but celebrate their cultures and the diversity of human creativity.
A Key Opinion Leader (KOL) is China’s answer to the Influencer. KOL’s or Wanghong’s are the several hundreds of thousands of ambassadors who passionately create content and promote products to their wide audiences across a vast array of platforms. With more than 700 million internet users, China has the largest online population in the world, and it’s users are some of the fastest to embrace and trial new innovations in social media.
This is why we’ve chosen to cover China first in our Gone Global series. When not achieving staggering feats in activations and sales, Chinese KOL’s are having an unprecedented effect on Chinese society at large. Below, we’ve studied 4 KOL’s who are not only loved and trusted in China but who are revolutionising the influencer marketing game completely. Believe us, if you weren’t paying attention before, now is the time to start.
NOTE: Before continuing, it’s worth explaining what the most popular social media platforms are used by Chinese KOL’s. WeChat is a messaging ‘super-app’ that allows its users not only to message but purchase products, share media publicly, book flights and taxis and so much more. Sina Weibo is a micro-blogging website and is one of China’s most popular social media platforms. As Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp are blocked in the country, Weibo mixes functions of all three including a 140-character limit on posts.
There’s a reason Becki Li is called Mai Shen, or “Goddess of Shopping.” In what is considered one of the largest successes in influencer marketing campaign history, Becki gained international recognition when she partnered with Mini Cooper to sell over 100 of their limited edition turquoise Countryman cars priced at €40,000 in under five minutes.
Photo credit: Becki Li, Becky’s Fantasy
You may think that this is just an anomaly, but in China, where brands and agencies have utilized the potential of KOL’s more than even in Europe, annual revenue generated through influencer marketing is €15.8 billion compared to the DACH region’s €506 million.
A former journalist, Becki has acquired a large following of users through her WeChat group who trust her honest reviews and informed lifestyle advice. Having collaborated with brands like Chanel and Tiffany & Co., Becki is known for her distinct ability to persuade her fans to make a purchase and has generated her collaborators millions of dollars worth of sales.
Li Jiaqi is perhaps the most trusted lipstick salesperson in all of China. He is also a man. Working on the online shopping website Taobao, Jiaqi, or “Iron Lip” as his fans call him, rose to prominence when he tried over 300 lipsticks in a 7-hour live stream. Earning over $1.4 million dollars a month, he is the number 1 seller of lipsticks in China and once managed to sell over 15,000 lipsticks in just 15 minutes.
Photo credit: ChinaDaily.com.cn
Although most of his followers are female, he has found a large following in men too, as China’s men are showing interest in the burgeoning male beauty industry. The Male Beauty Era is harboring a faster growing demographic in men than women in the beauty product sector, and companies like L’Oreal are responding by creating male-specific makeup products.
Live broadcasts of makeup trials were some of the most popular ways for KOL’s to interact with their users in 2018. In these posts, KOL’s will not only trial their products and show their followers how to apply them, but answer questions and converse with them at the same time.
With over 40 million followers across social media platforms, Papi Jiang is one of the most recognizable internet celebrities in China. She rose to fame by releasing comedic short videos on Weibo in which she discussed youth culture, politics, her life, and relationships, and her videos now get over 290 million views per post.
Photo credit: Terry Jin
Papi isn’t just trusted because of her relatable, humorous personality though. She tends to drop promotions of brands that she has partnered with seamlessly throughout her videos and tailors her discussions around them into a way that her mostly female white-collar followers can relate to. And it works; in 2016, she auctioned an ad spot for roughly €3 million for one video alone. On why she is so popular, it’s her authenticity that does most for fans.
Unlike in the West where many Influencers rely on themselves and perhaps a couple of others at most to run their business dealings, many Chinese KOL’s are backed by a large team that takes care of most of their contracts. There are even 200 plus KOL incubators, including the successful Ruhnn, that work on creating and training influencer marketers, and invest in them with everything from cosmetic surgery to performance lessons. This creates a saturation of carbon-copy KOL’s, where gems like Papi really stand out.
As China’s third most influential fashion blogger, Tao Liang has a loyal following of high-end fashion aficionados due to his unrivaled passion, knowledge, and advice on luxury handbags. Like Li Jiaqi above, Tao, or “Mr. Bags” as he calls himself, has made a living playing against gender norms and has been recognized immensely for it.
Photo credit: Roberto Frankenberg
His popularity has led to collaborations with luxury handbag behemoths Louis Vuitton and Givenchy. He even worked closely with the latter to create an expensive handbag collection, including the pink leather Mini Horizon bag – all 80 of which were reserved in under 12 minutes. He also partnered with Dior on Chinese Valentine’s Day which was the first time a luxury bag brand sold handbags through WeChat.
As a trend-predictor and trend-setter, his mostly female legion of “Bagfans” trust him for his honesty and also his ability to expose lesser-known but talented local designers to a wider audience. It is standard in China for KOL’s to have a truly in-depth, almost expert knowledge of their products, including the perfect way to apply them, the benefits of using them and even the brand’s history. It’s by sharing this knowledge that the KOL has introduced so many new customers in both cosmopolitan and rural regions to the fashion and makeup industry.
By analyzing China’s revolutionary approach to influencer marketing, European influencers and brands can learn from a number of ways in which they are doing things differently to create such staggering results. Namely;
1) China has not underestimated the potential of KOL marketing and has acted quickly, turning it into an industry that generates €15.8 billion annually.
2) The Male Beauty Era represents the potential for an entirely new, highly profitable buyer demographic in the beauty sector, and companies are responding fast.
3) There are over 200 KOL incubators in China that aim to create KOL’s, with whole teams behind KOL’s helping to propel them to fame while taking care of business logistics.
4) The best KOL’s are expected to have an expert-level understanding of the products they are ambassadors for, as well as an ability to communicate this information in real-time as they are asked questions live.
Next up in our new series Gone Global: how Arab influencers work and act.
Preview photo credit: He Lihuo