The Pros and Cons of KOL Marketing in the Chinese Luxury Market

The Chinese luxury market has been on a steady incline for the past few years, as a matter of fact, China is the number one market for luxury brands in terms of sales and revenue. With so many brands vying for China’s attention, it can be difficult to navigate through the marketing channels.

KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are Chinese social media influencers that are an effective way of reaching this highly sought-after target audience. However, as with any other form of marketing in China, there are both pros and cons when entering this space. It’s important to be aware of these before making decisions about potential partnerships or campaigns.

Who is a Key Opinion Leader?

Before we get started, a little reminder of who are Key Opinion Leaders and what is KOL marketing. For those of you that are already familiar, jump right to the next part.

A KOL is an “opinion leader” or simply put, a person who has enough influence over their social media followers that their word spreads the fastest. A Chinese Key Opinion Leader can be a celebrity, industry expert, online personality, etc. In many cases, Key Opinion Leaders are compensated by brands to endorse their goods and brand image on public platforms such as WeChat advertisements or Weibo posts.

Different types of Key Opinion Leaders

There are several types of influencers in China:

  • KOL
  • Micro KOL
  • KOC: Key Opinion Consumers
  • Stars

Stars & Celebrities

This category is pretty self-explanatory; those are the best Key Opinion Leaders in terms of campaign performance and reach, as they are very known in China. It’s usually singers, actors, models, athletes etc, known also outside of social media platforms and their KOL campaigns.

Celebrities are much more like brand ambassadors than Key Opinion Leaders, they usually promote one brand. Of course, those influencers are reserved for big brands, as they are very expensive.

Key Opinion Leaders

Those are the ‘typical influencers‘ in a Western sense, but it’s important to understand that an effective KOL marketing campaign in China usually has a bigger reach, because Key Opinion Leaders have big followings and influential power over purchasing decisions of their loyal following base.

They often collaborate with many brands at the same time, and they are usually specialized in a specific niche, sharing their expert knowledge in a particular field, like parenting, travel, cosmetics, luxury fashion etc.

Micro Key Opinion Leaders

The difference between a Key Opinion Leader and a micro Key Opinion Leader is intuitive, they just have fewer followers (but please remember that in China less is still a lot; KOLs can have millions, and micro-KOLs will have around 250,000 followers). Thanks to a ‘smaller’ community, they are able to interact more with their targeted audience, so sometimes their KOL marketing campaigns are far more effective because the audience trusts their judgment more.

Key Opinion Consumers

Key Opinion Consumers or Key Opinion Customers (simply KOC) are the best when it comes to interactions with their audience and word-of-mouth marketing. Contrary to influencers, KOCs are ordinary buyers that promote products that they use on daily basis. They have a smaller following, which means they interact with their audience, usually even knowing or recognizing some of the most active followers.

They are good at promoting brand image to the targeted audience, usually, a very niche audience, as they form long-term relationships and have the creative freedom that is not bonded by contracts. They will give an honest opinion about a product they bought and be as neutral as possible. Their honesty is highly appreciated by Chinese consumers.

Michael Kors KOL campaign

KOL Marketing in China

KOL Marketing in China, also known as content marketing, or influencer marketing, is the fastest-growing type of marketing in the marketing mix. According to recent studies by Tencent, the use of KOL marketing campaign accounted for an astounding 71% engagement rate among Chinese mobile internet users.

KOL marketing took off in China because Chinese consumers tend to be wary of brands and their official communication and trust peer reviews and word-of-mouth more. Word of mouth is also the number criterion in purchasing from a new brand. Combining these two reasons, you have a perfect ground for the rapid development of KOL Marketing in China.

What are the Pros of KOL Marketing in China?

It’s good to know the types of influencers available in China because every company has a different budget and different needs, that will match different influencer profiles. While working on an influencer marketing strategy it’s crucial to examine the pros and cons of such collaborations, because not every company will be suitable for a KOL marketing strategy. Let’s take a look.

A KOL marketing campaign can help a brand reach its target audience

It is nothing new, luxury brands in China are reaching new customers through the use of social media. They understand that to find success in this competitive market, they need to connect with their target audience, such as Millennials, Gen Z, and female influencers, in a way that feels authentic.

Content creation through KOLs can be applied to different social networks at the same time to increase the impact. Influencers can be brand ambassadors and craft a KOL marketing campaign that takes place remotely or on-site; both ways are designed to engage customers around a shared story of luxury brands. The upside is that they represent tangible value because these influencers often double as consultants.

They’re like an external resource working as a brand voice of your company, who also brings their own audience storming through your doors. It doesn’t matter if you’re local or international; marketers must start thinking about top influencer campaigns that will help them open up new markets, generate greater engagement levels

KOL Marketing strategy is the most efficient tool for your reputation in China

Luxury brands in China can engage with Chinese bloggers, another way of extending their voice beyond the store. KOLs attach an emotional aspect to each product they showcase which drives people to feel a need for these products.

Furthermore, by reaching out to KOLs, consumers are reassured that the products being advertised are being endorsed by real people and not just an ad bot spewing back copy.

People can more easily identify with their influencers than with the brand directly by establishing accessibility and trust. In addition, the message conveyed through social networks and other marketing channels available online is much more suited to the target than traditional advertising (metro, TV, magazine, etc.).

Kols Marketing in China benefits your Baidu SEO effort

One thing is certain, and that is that influencer marketing in China can help make your Baidu SEO efforts more effective. They’ll rank your website higher by posting links to it on their social media accounts who have many people viewing their content. The benefits of this are twofold:

  • One, they’ll do the work for you- compiling blog posts, compiling thematically related articles, and then sending out a tweet or post with a link or embedding an article into their page.
  • Two, traffic generated from these campaigns will increase your website’s rank on Baidu search engine results pages (SERPS). This means getting up to the first page on Baidu – makes it easier for customers to find you online! This is a great way to increase brand awareness in your target market.

In short, by using influencers, brands can improve the SEO of articles, blogs, or posts related to their activity, in particular by exchanging links with bloggers with good SEO. This also allows you to have quality articles and reviews on the first pages of research concerning the brand.

The experience of blogging is all about participating in a shared conversation surrounding a specific topic or niche interest, so it doesn’t seem distinctly different from having a blog on similar topics as long as the blogger has both links to your website and also links from other sites as well. Engaging through KOLs helps leverage grassroots marketing efforts for those

KOL marketing in China also comes with its own set of Challenges

It is not easy to find a reliable KOL to Work with, let alone many. Here are some of the obstacles and cons of working with Chinese influencers;

Language Barrier

One of the biggest and most obvious issues in finding Chinese influencers to collaborate with comes down to language barriers. Most Chinese influencers often understand little English which would make them unwilling (or unable) to communicate back and forth with brands that do not have fluent Chinese speakers on their teams.

Different ways of doing things

Working habits and ways of doing business can differ in major ways between countries. Chinese KOLs operate on Chinese social media that have different regulations than the platforms you are used to. A lack of understanding of the business practice and China’s social media landscape can lead to some unfortunate misunderstandings.

Are Chinese KOLs reliable?

Most of them are, but that is not rare to have a KOL that you have paid big bucks for, drop you at the last moment for an event. There are several reasons for that: the Key Opinion Leader KOL or their agent may have decided that your brand was not for them and “forgot” to let you know, another brand booked the slot and paid more money.

Last minutes changes are something normal when doing business in China, and you should definitely be aware of this practice.

Farfetch KOL campaign

Scandals & Bad Reputation

To be successful, a commercial operation supported by an influencer must be the subject of an in-depth study so as not to risk the bane of the Internet: the bad buzz. It is enough that your KOL was the subject of legal problems, bad behavior on the Internet or in real life, or various controversies … and the reputation of the influencer will directly tarnish that of the brand.

For instance, in 2021, the ultra-popular star Kriss Wu was accused of multiple sexual assaults and although it is not the brand’s fault, you would not want your name to be associated with him anymore.

That is a risk that also exists in the West, and unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent this kind of situation, so be extra careful of any bad past buzz that your KOL of choice may be associated with. Think of it as assessing a company’s financial report before investing in it.

Fake Kols

Just like with influencers in the West, China has a well-developed network of fake KOLs (click and like farms and so on). The only difference is that you may not be able to detect them by yourself in China because you are not too familiar with how it is done here.

How to find Key Opinion Leaders that fit your fashion brand?

There are many agencies for connecting brands and KOLs. To stand out and limit the risks, analyze the behavior of your audience before choosing the influencer that will benefit you. Someone who is very supportive is not enough, you must choose someone who is likely to represent your community while corresponding with the values ​​of the brand. In China, you can use search platforms such as KOL Store, MyPrad, ToutiaoKol, and so on to find rare pearls.

KOL marketing in China: how does it work?

KOL Marketing in China is the process of how product developers communicate with influencers (sometimes called thought leaders) in order to turn them into brand ambassadors. This communication typically includes social media posts, blog posts, live streaming, short & long videos, and other methods that influencers use to create content, the goal is to trigger a purchase act via several affiliation methods such as promotional codes or contests to win gifts.

The strategy also is omnichannel marketing as content created by the Key Opinion Leaders will often be visible on Chinese search engines and shared on social media by users. The idea is that not only KOL’s entire following will see the big-name endorsement when they’re on social media but other consumers will also be able to stumble on the collaboration when they use Baidu for research on what they need or want.

Key Opinion Leaders and luxury, a complex alliance

The figures of influence are intended to increase the visibility of a brand on a large scale, which is quite paradoxical with the exclusivity that characterizes the luxury industry. This is why KOLs in luxury are rather considered muses.

Even more impactful than in classic influencer marketing, the use of an influencer in luxury must be the subject of great attention. The personality chosen must represent the values ​​of the brand to be legitimate to represent it.

Note that in China, the use of KOLs is extremely effective and the alliance of influencers with luxury does not shock, so do not hesitate to use it if you have the means.

How to collaborate with Chinese influencers?

There are many ways to collaborate with influencers via many digital networks or biases; here are a few examples that can apply to both China and the West:

  • The endowment of product or experience: share a one-to-one invitation to obtain benefits without imposed brief (partnership without remuneration)
  • Sponsored campaigns: allocate an influencer budget to a campaign in order to obtain benefits from powerful influencers, with wording controlled and validated beforehand
  • Affiliation: pay the influencer a percentage of the orders generated thanks to him using platforms such as Awin or RewardStyle
  • Special operations: this involves organizing launch events, influencers’ dinner, and also takeovers with influencers; the principle is to let an influencer take control of a brand’s account to acquire new subscribers and offer different content to their community. Finally, the meet-ups: organize a meeting between an influencer and his community to promote the brand.
  • Tools for making listings: The most important is personal monitoring. For micro-influence, tools such as Hivency or Octoly (to be understood correctly) or platforms such as Kolsquare for editing listings according to keywords.
  • Engagement verification tools to detect the purchase of fake followers, and identify the target and reach of each influencer like HypeAuditor for example, which allows verifying the authenticity of an influencer community

China Fashion Agency: Smooth KOL marketing solutions for China

Our agency has specialists in the luxury industry working exclusively to grow our KOLs portfolio. This way we are able to offer our customers the best of KOLs marketing while mostly avoiding the cons and challenges of it. Contact us and let’s discuss your project!

Read more about KOLs Marketing in China


  • Interesting read from a business woman crossing dimensional layers from the 90’s to now, collating new technologies and entering a Metaverse society. Having many Chinese friends in the UK from all age groups and educational levels, learning Chinese for many years to get a ‘feel’ for the Chinese mindset, in 2012 living in a luxury high-rise in Zhuhai with a Chinese family, and as a photographer and writer spent time in the urban environment, riding shotgun on a business trip to Tai Shan recording a social footprint that gave me much pleasure and insight into a cross-section of the Chinese people, my hope to go again, and 2nd time round experience and record what I missed in 2012, So in conclusion this article provided me with what was seeding back then, the need for named products, a step and hold on the social ladder, and where we are today, and where will we be tomorrow, perhaps adding value to our online shopping footprint, also adding brand value in a new Virtual World, so tongue in cheek will my Avatar be a designer handbag? or just a designer carrier bag?

  • With the new Chinese generations, Millennials and Generations Z, constantly connected to their smartphones, social networks have become the key to the success of companies wishing to approach Chinese consumers.

    Who says Chinese social networks, says KOL (Key Opinion Leaders). Indeed, these opinion leaders are today THE key segment in the marketing strategy of all companies. They give the Chinese public their views and judgments on a product, brand or even a service and wield tremendous influence on their buying decisions. The use of these KOLs in China has been an established practice for years and weighs much more than here, hence the rapid emergence of a large influence market in the country. And foreign companies that promote themselves with KOLs see their sales and awareness increase very significantly. Faced with such success and the pressing demand from brands, being a KOL in China has become a real job!

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