Marketing in China: How Brands Work with Influencers - eMarketer
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Marketing in China: How Brands Work with Influencers


Kim Leitzes
Co-Founder and CEO
ParkLU

Kim Leitzes is the co-founder and CEO of ParkLU, an online service that pairs China-based influencers, or key opinion leaders (KOLs), with brands. She spoke with eMarketer’s David Green about the important things to keep in mind when working with influencers in China.

eMarketer: How do KOLs attract followers?

Kim Leitzes: We think of KOLs as having a purely online presence, but a lot of them started offline. The KOLs who attract followers faster than others typically have access to content or press and media relationships. In certain verticals like fashion, they may not have necessarily been editors but they were in the industry, so they had access to content. The same is true in sports and other verticals.

“The KOLs who attract followers faster than others typically have access to content or press and media relationships.”

eMarketer: Are there any verticals that might surprise people in terms of the depth of influencer coverage on your platform?

Leitzes: We’re seeing a lot for mommy-and-baby KOLs, and these influencers are not always on WeChat. They are posting very actively on specific forums and groups. So they are a little more under the radar, and I would say a lot less commercial. When we approach fashion KOLs, a lot of them know the deal. Mommy or parenting KOLs are not as accustomed to commercial projects. So in that regard it’s more authentic; the marketing maturity of that space is still much more grassroots.

We are doing a lot on the travel side as well. That tends to be more of a niche space depending on the branding that different companies are trying to achieve. Obviously, automobiles is a huge sector. We also often get requests for KOLs for education, anything from a secondary school to universities.

eMarketer: How do brands go about negotiating a deal with a KOL on the platform?

Leitzes: The brand will either issue a private invitation to specific KOLs, or post their project invitation or campaign brief in the open marketplace. The invitation will have the brand story and visual inspiration, including guidelines in terms of type of content, such as video. The KOL can assess whether this is something that’s interesting to them.

“[Brands reaching out to KOLs] will either issue a private invitation to specific KOLs, or post their project invitation or campaign brief in the open marketplace.”

Often, there’s product or in-kind experience involved. So for a hotel, it usually involves the KOL staying at the hotel [and] then writing up WeChat content. If it’s for a fashion product, usually the KOL can select which items they want.

eMarketer: Are the majority of relationships based on this kind of in-kind exchange?

Leitzes: It depends on the vertical and the price point. FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] and beauty brands can be gifting anywhere from 50 to 500 products a month. Luxury fashion is not going to be giving out handbags like candy. In our apps the KOLs can also say, “This is what I would expect on a price-per-post basis,”—about 90% is pay-per-post engagement.

eMarketer: Is there a difference in the proportion of spending on KOLs by local Chinese brands and overseas brands operating in China?

Leitzes: Overseas brands know that KOLs are important, but they’re stretching smaller budgets. They have to be much more shrewd with their allocation, whereas with local brands, the budgets are larger and they are much more comfortable with KOL marketing.

Overseas brands do miss some of the more basic things when it comes to KOL marketing, such as assuming the KOL will do customer service support. Beauty brands will engage KOLs and then the fans will ask questions about the product. If the KOL has several hundred queries, they may not reply. Local brands are very engaged with their audience to make sure they see those conversions.

“Overseas brands do miss some of the more basic things when it comes to KOL marketing, such as assuming the KOL will do customer service support.”

eMarketer: What kind of key performance indicators should a brand be asking for or monitoring when working with KOLs?

Leitzes: ParkLU’s platform automatically pulls data for the specific campaign by the KOL on engagement—views, clicks, likes, comments, etc. But normally we don’t have access to the brand’s organic search during that period.

That’s a key thing we like to discuss with our customers: What did you see? Not just the traffic from the link you wanted the KOLs to include, but what is happening overall if you’re selling in multiple places like JD.com, Tmall or your own site? Those engagement metrics are helpful.

eMarketer: Tell me more about the reporting.

Leitzes: What we’re doing at ParkLU is not just capturing data at the end of the campaign but throughout it. As a WeChat post by a KOL goes live, being able to see what the views are every few minutes gives you a clear picture on what engagement looks like over time. That sort of data verification is really helpful to understand when the best time for the post to go live is, but also when it peaked in terms of engagement.

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