China KOL marketing isn’t a good choice if your brand isn't ready.
Symptoms of launching KOL campaigns in China before being prepared are dangerous:
- Unmet expectations
- Enormous disappointment
- A much lighter wallet
Luckily, we’ve created a checklist to see if your brand should start KOL marketing in the world’s second-largest consumer market. But before you try it, here’s a disclaimer.
Avoid the temptation to answer questions based on near-future expectations. For your sake, answer them honestly. While it would be amazing for us in the short-term if every single company tried China KOL marketing, we don’t want millions of bitter, discouraged China marketers.
(And don’t worry — we’ll outline how you can get your company China-ready at the end of the article).
Before you think about setting foot in China with your brand ask yourself:
1. Do we have a China ecommerce website?
2. Have we launched any products in China?
3. Have we ever worked with bloggers in China?
4. Do we have a China team?
5. Are we familiar with Chinese social media? (e.g. WeChat, Weibo, and Miaopai).
Too many brands fly head-first into the China market fuelled by FOMO anxiety rather than knowledge and experience. But if you have at least three of these prerequisites, congrats. You have a basis from which to work.
That basis should allow you discuss China KOL marketing campaigns intelligently with marketing teams and set goals for your ROI.
Why This Checklist I Just Wanna Get This Show On The Road Let’s Go?!
In the words of Jeffrey Immelt on Uber’s failed China venture, “China is big, but it is hard.” You don’t want to burn all your money while scaling the learning curve.
By starting a Chinese website, working with a team in China, and researching local social media platforms, you’ll learn two essential lessons. Both are precursors to maximizing the time and money you spend on China KOL marketing.
1) How to Choose a KOL
There are about 12.5k influencers on PARKLU’s platform. It’s not hard to guess the first question many people ask, especially if they don’t have much China experience.
There is no simple answer when people ask us what KOL they should work with.
In general, you should choose the most relevant KOL in your industry, brand, and products/services who has genuine engagement with their fan base. But even established agencies can get this wrong, never mind brands without local knowledge.
For example, Rekatan — a large wang hong agency — arranged a unique but pricey campaign for a Korean cosmetics company that brought Chinese wanghong to Seoul and the Jeju Islands to live steam. They overestimated this kind of content’s appeal to the influencers’ audiences.
Reketan’s Taobao wanghong promoting a brand. (Image Credit: Reketan)
KOLs know which kind of content works for their fans better than you. Rather than approaching a campaign with an advertiser’s mindset, where you try to control creative output, brands should leave content creation to KOLs as much as possible.
That means figuring out what KOLs appeal to which niche, and letting them handle the legwork. Sometimes, bigger is not better. Micro-influencers are not just an option for lower budgets, but are less commercialized and can offer more authentic content for their audiences.
2) Budgeting & ROI
Questions about budgeting are the second most common we get.
Once again, there isn’t a fixed answer. The size of an adequate marketing budget will vary among different verticals and different scales of brands. As a reference, we typically see the allocation for influencer / KOL marketing in these ranges: 50-80% for SMEs, and 10-35% for MNCs as a percentage of total online marketing spend. KOL marketing is elastic, but requires a strong baseline budget commitment. But what is most important to achieve healthy ROI is proper preparation, knowledge, and a longer-term KOL engagement strategy.
For example, costs for KOLs on Weibo, WeChat and live-streaming platforms always vary. Clear-cut answers are impossible because different platforms offer different types of marketing and sales opportunities. Therefore, you should know how these different platforms work before expanding to China.
Can you imagine a CMO spending millions on Facebook marketing without ever having an account? Using Chinese social platforms can help you understand what KOLs you work with are doing.
Despite the ambiguity, some basic budgeting facts are unlikely to change anytime soon.
Smart brands will always pay contributors well, instead of just sending giveaways — a long-outdated strategy on its own. An important point that is commonly missed when calculating the value of a KOL campaign is the content itself. The content created by a KOL becomes a content asset that brands now own and can repurpose for other marketing initiatives.
The average price for one post by a high-quality KOL ranges from 5K to 50K RMB. Variables include the number of average views, followers, platforms, and posting times.
Some larger KOLs will charge a commission besides a fixed posting fee. They will also charge an extra percentage according to sales they’ve driven. Thus big-name KOLs can be very expensive, and they tend to be extremely picky about the quality of brands they work with.
You’ll want to get prepared before embarking on your China KOL marketing journey. While firms, consultants, and agencies will gladly to take on clients with all sorts of experience, you should get a handle on the basics before spending your money.
Being able to discuss different types of KOLs and budgeting — at the least — you will significantly maximize your resources.
You should aim to have as many of the checklist items crossed off. If you only have time for a couple of steps, then learn about micro-influencers (the type of KOL you’ll probably be working with most), and get your own Chinese social media accounts.