Key opinion leaders (KOLs) in China still present an amazing opportunity, even if the tactic has suffered from a recent bubble effect.

Finding, vetting, authenticating and working successfully with KOLs has become a challenge for brands to overcome – yet with social selling more developed in China than in other markets, it’s a challenge that has to be tackled.

What are some fresh ways to find the rewards that KOL marketing can win?

Don’t laugh out loud – switch from looking for KOLs to local opinion leaders (LOLs). It’s already recognized guidance to work with a variety of smaller influencers rather than one big (expensive) KOL in China.

Yet it’s not only about selecting those with a certain kind of WeChat, Weibo or Xiaohongshu following. LOLs means figures in culture – and subculture.

Graffiti artists may not post an “eyes look down to the right” KOL pose on Weibo every day, but some have cultivated a strong following that really resonates with a younger audience.

Peking Opera figures might not seem like the recognised version of a KOL, but as proven with Swire Hotels’ The House Collective campaign, My Story My House, cultural icons, such as fashion designer Masha Ma, relate and communicate with luxury Chinese consumers in a genuine way with obvious cultural linkage. They are people who have really “achieved something” other than “being famous for being famous”.

KOLs are not so much “on the pulse” of consumer marketing, they are the pulse, heartbeat, or any other biological metaphor you prefer. So instead of only working with them for directly reaching said consumer, why not go deeper and gain their insights for your China business intelligence?

Reuter: Intelligence, the insights division of Reuter Communications recently did just that – on a research project in Paris with a global beauty brand, they decided to bring in relevant KOLs to gain their insight into aspects such as brand name translation, consumer preferences and upcoming trends.

It was fascinating to have the insights of those who are in many ways shaping the marketplace and could offer their knowledge on what is happening now and what they see coming. This offers a complementary perspective in addition to consumer research.

Do your full research on the KOLs, find out about them and what they like. Approach them in a real, human way – gather their interest and show them that you are fully aware of them as a person.

It’s key to work together in a fully involved sense. Invite them to everything related – the showroom, the factory, the sourcing, the people. The people are most important as the human element will bring the originality, passion and sense of something meaningful to followers/viewers.”

Switzerland Tourism is one example of how thinking outside the standard category of KOLs can deliver – in one instance, it worked with a particular influencer who posts all about gardens – beautiful gardens of the world and so on.

It worked with her with regard to the beautiful gardens and outdoors areas in Switzerland and it worked a treat, because her followers strongly engage with her specific, dedicated content.

KOLs are masters of the visual, able to create iconic, culture-shaping imagery while making it simply seem like an effortless pose. However consumers – especially in the luxury world – are seeking substance over style, favouring a return to the “good old” blogger.

The expertise and passion of top-quality bloggers shows that they genuinely know what they are talking about. They constantly review products, in detail, and build trust with their followers.

While linking to sales may be a tactic for certain occasions, a blogger reviewing a product for the purpose of review and not pushing it for commercial gain can create firmer relationships with the consumer – if the review is truly useful. (Source:

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