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kol marketing in china

KOL marketing in China: from live streaming to virtual influencers

In the heart of China’s ever-evolving digital landscape, a phenomenon is taking center stage, redefining the rules of engagement and trust in the marketing world. Chinese influencers, commonly known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), have emerged as the heralds of a new era in social media marketing, setting a fresh paradigm for brand-consumer interactions. These KOLs craft top-tier, niche-specific content, including articles, videos, and live streams, aimed at educating, enlightening, and entertaining their dedicated followers. Their impact transcends conventional advertising boundaries.

KOLs’ impact on social media marketing

KOLs are the linchpin of social media marketing in China. Brands seek their collaboration for product endorsements, benefiting from their expertise to influence consumer preferences. This leads to authentic product reviews, unboxing sequences, and tutorials. KOLs shine in live streaming, unveiling products, addressing queries, and building direct connections with their audience. Extended partnerships and ambassador roles build brands’ trustworthy images, influencing consumer choices and sparking demand for specific products and services.

In essence, KOLs are pivotal in reshaping consumer behavior and driving brand success in Chinese social media marketing, blending proficiency and influence like no other.

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The importance of KOL marketing in China

The importance of KOL marketing in China cannot be overstated, particularly in the current digital landscape where Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to overtly promotional or sponsored content. However, they still enjoy great clout on Chinese netizens.

Establishing trust in a skeptical market

Chinese consumers have grown wary of traditional advertising methods, and trust in brands can be challenging to establish. In an era where consumers are increasingly aware of the financial incentives behind KOLs promoting products, these influencers continue to play a role in establishing trust. Their reviews and recommendations are still perceived as trustworthy, contributing to the creation of brand credibility and consumer trust.

Furthermore, KOLs assist in navigating the complexities of the Chinese market, which can be challenging for foreign brands due to cultural and language differences. By collaborating with locally renowned KOLs, brands gain invaluable insights and access to an established, receptive, and culturally attuned audience.

kol marketing in china
Source: Weibo, Celebrity influencers results from the Spring-Summer 2024 Paris Fashion Week

Shaping trends and public opinion

In a society where the social influence of peers and celebrities holds substantial sway, KOLs have the ability to create trends and shape public opinion. When KOLs vouch for a product or service, they not only reach a vast audience but also generate buzz and engagement that conventional advertising often struggles to achieve.

Moreover, KOLs offer a more subtle and effective way to engage the Chinese audience. They provide valuable, informative, and entertaining content, seamlessly blending promotional messages into their narratives. This subtlety resonates with a consumer base increasingly averse to overt advertising.

In a world where traditional advertising faces skepticism and diminishing returns, KOL marketing is instrumental in building trust, awareness, and connections in China. It leverages the expertise and authenticity of opinion leaders to reach a digitally-savvy and discerning audience, offering a gateway for brands to make a lasting and impactful impression in a complex and dynamic marketplace.

Types of KOLs in China:

China’s KOL landscape is diverse, with various types of Key Opinion Leaders catering to different marketing needs. These KOLs can be broadly categorized into celebrities, industry experts, and micro-KOLs, each with its unique strengths and applications in marketing campaigns.


Celebrities are often the most visible KOLs, including film stars, musicians, and television personalities. They possess a vast fan base and wield significant influence over consumer choices. Collaborating with celebrity KOLs is ideal for creating brand awareness and generating buzz around a product or service. Their star power can instantly capture attention, making them perfect for high-impact promotional campaigns.

Industry experts

Industry experts are KOLs renowned for their deep knowledge and expertise in a particular field. They include professionals, academics, and niche specialists. Partnering with industry experts is particularly valuable for brands seeking to establish credibility and trust in their niche market. These KOLs provide informed insights and recommendations, making them ideal for endorsing specialized products or services and offering detailed, authoritative content.

Micro-KOLs or KOCs

Micro-KOLs, also known as Key Opinion Comsumers (KOCs), are everyday individuals who have cultivated a smaller, but highly engaged, following. Their relatability and authenticity resonate with their audience. Micro-KOLs are valuable for grassroots and niche campaigns. They have a more intimate connection with their followers and can effectively promote products or services that align with their personal experiences and interests. Micro-KOLs often have higher engagement rates, making them cost-effective options for targeted marketing.

In marketing campaigns, the choice of KOL type depends on the brand’s objectives and target audience. Celebrities are impactful for broad brand exposure, industry experts instill trust and authenticity, while micro-KOLs offer personalized connections with a niche market. Often, a combination of KOL types is used to leverage the strengths of each, creating a holistic and effective marketing strategy that resonates with various consumer segments in China’s dynamic market.

From text to live streaming, short videos, and social commerce

The latest trends are characterized by a shift from traditional text and photo content to more dynamic and engaging formats such as live streaming, short videos, and social commerce.

Live streaming has become an integral part of social commerce in China, with KOLs playing a significant role in this trend. Brands are increasingly leveraging live streaming to boost sales and future-proof their brand’s relevance with the next generation of consumers. However, while brands are building their own live stream channels, individual KOLs continue to account for the majority of sales volume.

Short videos are another emerging trend in KOL marketing. Brands are pairing up with KOLs on Chinese short video platforms to create engaging content that can go viral and reach a large audience. This form of marketing is particularly effective on platforms like Douyin, TikTok’s sister platform.

Moreover, brands are looking forward to becoming more diverse and helping to expand the overall marketing connection. Advertisers have three main goals in 2023: product cultivation, brand communication, and conversion.

The latest trends in KOL marketing in China are characterized by a shift towards more engaging and interactive content formats, with live streaming, short videos, and social commerce leading the way. Brands are increasingly leveraging these trends to boost their visibility and sales, although individual KOLs continue to play a significant role in driving sales volume.

Forecasting the future of KOL marketing

Projections from the National Bureau of Statistics of China indicate that by 2025, the market size of China’s influencer economy will reach RMB 6.7 trillion (USD 1 trillion), signifying immense growth and opportunities in the China marketing space. The 2023 KOL Marketing Trend White Paper reveals that around two-thirds of surveyed advertisers have prioritized KOL promotion as the central focus of their social marketing strategy for 2023.

The rise of virtual KOLs

The future of KOL marketing in China is expected to see the rise of virtual KOLs, with the core audience for these AI-created influencers growing rapidly. Brands are increasingly collaborating with virtual KOLs, and they have been used in campaigns by Dior, KFC, and Vogue. The virtual KOL industry in China is expected to grow to RMB 1.5 billion (USD 232 million) by 2023. Virtual KOLs are less risky for brands, as they can be controlled and will not cause negative attention due to their personal life or political comments. KOLs play a significant role in the decision-making process of Chinese consumers when it comes to purchasing, and hosts use their unique communication styles and expertise in specific fields to introduce product features to customers, provide detailed insights and recommendations on product usage, and make live-streaming shopping more entertaining through humorous approaches. Therefore, merchants can leverage the inherent influence of KOLs to increase the conversion rate and consumers’ trust in the brand.

Source: Ling’s Weibo account, the Chinese virtual KOL in different advertisements

KOL marketing in China: how local influencers are redefining marketing

  • KOLs are redefining social media marketing in China, known for their expertise, authority, and authentic engagement with their niche followers.
  • They play a pivotal role in shaping consumer behavior and driving brand success, offering authentic product reviews, unboxing sequences, and tutorials.
  • The importance of KOL marketing in China is vital due to growing consumer skepticism towards traditional advertising, with KOLs helping to establish trust and credibility.
  • KOLs in China can be categorized into celebrities, industry experts, and KOCs, each serving specific marketing needs.
  • Emerging trends in KOL marketing include live streaming, short videos, and social commerce, with virtual KOLs expected to rise in prominence, offering controlled and engaging influencer collaborations.