Influence marketing has been very developed in China for years and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are an important part of most brand strategies in this market. Famous influencers such as Austin Li or Viya in the field of Beauty draw millions of followers on Weibo, WeChat or XiaoHongShu and generate sales in millions of dollars at every online event they participate. A number of KOLs have developed their own brand, leveraging their awareness and influencial power to their own benefit.
Micro-KOLs are lower-tier influencers with smaller followings who also play an important role in the Chinese marketing ecosystem as they are able to create a closer bond with followers, who are in turn more likely to trust and act on their recommendations and endorsements.
The Covid crisis and related lockdown period has pushed further consumers’ digital behavior and accelerated the development of new forms of influence:
KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) are real buyers of products who share their opinions and recommendations with their social circles. A growing number of brands try to capitalize on them to develop reputation and sales via “private traffic” i.e private discussions taking place in closed social environments such as WeChat groups (quite similar to Whatsapp groups) or discussions on social e-commerce platform Xiao Hong Shu, 小红书 where consumers exchange tips on buying foreign goods. Beauty brand Perfect Diary has been able to disrupt the China market and rise among its leaders by leveraging KOCs to target older millennials and generation Z consumers and disseminate news and promotions through their own private channels.
Examples of consumers posts about Perfect diary :
Also the recent heath crisis and weeks of closed stores have been an opportunity to blend further the offline and online retail experience and influence. Key Opinion Sales Associates are spreading. These are traditional sales staff working in stores who also sell online, through social networks, products from the brand they work for. They represent a sort of new channel providing brands with swift, continuous, personal communication with clients. Louis Vuitton for example built a fully omnichannel platform which relies on sales associates to communicate with clients on WeChat to amplify and monetize marketing initiatives.
Longchamp is another example detailed below:
The first 2 pictures below show the personal account of a sales associate from a Longchamp store in Shanghai. Her personal account is created under the Longchamp corporate WeChat account (it shows the brand name, sales associate name and her position). The sales associate sends clients information about new products and discounts, as well as strengthen connection with customers through greetings on holidays or birthdays. The next 2 pictures show the account of the Longchamp store where the sales associate works for, this store account will introduce the products in the store and the discount information. Customers will place their orders via the sales associate. So the whole sales process is digital and it has a human and very personalized dimension through the intervention of the sales associate.
Lately VOLs (Virtual Opinion Leaders) have started to emerge. Originally a product of the ACG culture (Anime, Comic and Games) in China there is a trends towards virtual idols now having the very appearance of real persons.
These Virtual Opinion Leaders are non-human, digital art characters created through computer generated imagery (CGI) and artificial intelligence. Brands may find it effective to work with a virtual influencer as they can reach and leverage very targeted, connected and engaged audiences. The first Chinese VOL with human features was released in May 2020. She is already very active on Weibo and has been seen wearing Chloé and Vogue.
Also, M.A.C cosmetics launched a “Honor of Kings” (a MOBA game by Tencent) make up line endorsed by the virtual boys band Wu Xian Wang Zhe, 无限王者团 composed of 5 characters in the game. The new collection includes lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes and pro-palettes presented in colors associated to individual members of this virtual band.
All in all, the current period accelerates the blending of digital and human, personalized influence. It provides brands with new opportunities and challenges to embark consumers on a new journey to discover and interact with their latest offers. This is well illustrated in the latest Dior ad which blurs the lines between human, virtual and anime worlds: in this video, anime KOL Xue Fei Nova morphs successively into different forms of identities to tell a story about the brand and connect with young consumers.