Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in China differ very much from their colleagues in Europe and the US, says China marketing veteran Ashley Dudarenok, author of Digital China: Working with Bloggers, Influencers and KOLs to Vultlab. Western companies certainly need a China-strategy to enter this very different market, Ashley argues.
Nicole: So would you say then that KOLs are just as inherently important to the world of marketing in China as it is in the West? And if so, would you say they influence more or less than our image of a social media influencer?
Ashley: I’d say that they’re more important in China and have more influence. In the West, people have a different relationship with companies and traditional advertising and fewer trust issues in terms of that kind of advertising.
Companies and ads have been regulated for decades. In China, there have been issues of trust in companies and their products from piracy to toxic ingredients. Traditional ads don’t have the power they once did and the market is flooded with them. Influencers, on the other hand, who have a good reputation and close relationship with their fans and followers, are trusted.
Nicole: With this in mind, do you think if Western companies want to extend their marketing into China, should companies, startups, and businesses shift their approach to being more of a KOL themselves or could they use the strategies of a social media influencer? Why would maintaining the mentality of Western e-marketing be effective or not?
Ashley: A typical Western approach wouldn’t be effective, as the market is just so different culturally, economically, content-wise and platform-wise.
Western companies should definitely craft China-specific strategies, like giving more content and format freedom to key opinion leaders, being bold with new platforms like Douyin and so on.
KOL marketing in China is even more important in your total marketing mix. And as Chinese influencers sell, they are also much more expensive and much more picky with the products, content and angles they promote.
Nicole: So you do think Western influencers have a lot to learn from China as far as being effective e-marketers and vice versa?
Ashley: Yes, both can and do learn from each other. Western influencers can learn from the way Chinese KOLs build their own brands and online retail channels all online, without using reality TV, risque content, controversy and without using other channels, while maintaining a loyal following. They can learn from the way they jump on hot topics and always maintain a positive tone. The level of content creativity in China is also high.
There are so many KOLs in China and the competition is fierce, so they need to innovate even more. While Chinese bloggers can learn to use Western channels even more. Few, apart from Papi Jiang, have really given it a go.
They can also learn from Korean pop stars who use Western social media well and are building larger and larger audiences outside of Asia.
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