Influencers Are Big in China, but Influencer Marketing Is Underutilized
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Influencers are prevalent in the US, but in China, they’re huge. Influencers in China—or key opinion leaders [KOLs], as they’re known in the market—are a diverse community, representing different age groups and interests. So why aren’t more brands in China leveraging influencer marketing? Josh Steimle, founder and CEO of international digital marketing agency MWI, spoke with eMarketer’s David Green about why companies in China might be missing a key marketing opportunity.
eMarketer: There’s a lot of hype around influencer marketing in the US. Is this the case in China as well?
Josh Steimle: The Chinese market for influencers, or key opinion leaders, is even more developed than it is in the West.
eMarketer: Do influencers in China usually cater to a specific demographic, like younger consumers?
Steimle: One thing that differentiates China from Western markets is that there’s no age barrier for mobile usage—it’s not uncommon to see an old guy using a smartphone while riding a bike. That has created a different market dynamic, where there are more opportunities for influencers to reach an older segment of the population on mobile.
“Too many brands have this idea that an influencer is a crazy kid that makes funny videos, but that doesn’t have to be the case.”
eMarketer: Are brands leveraging influencer marketing enough?
Steimle: Too many brands have this idea that an influencer is a crazy kid that makes funny videos, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Businesses, especially B2Bs [business-to-businesses], are missing out on the opportunity to turn their executives into influencers. The CMO of Huawei should be writing articles for Forbes, getting interviewed and making videos. He should be documenting what his life is like and what his job is like. Companies would see their bottom line increase if they did, guaranteed.
eMarketer: What are brands missing out on by not working with influencers?
Steimle: While there are some long-lived Chinese brands, many just come and go—they grow quickly, but then disappear. And there isn’t as much brand loyalty in China as there is in Western markets. How do consumers then know what brands they can trust? If certain brands are backed by known key opinion leaders, consumers are more likely to trust them.
“If certain brands are backed by known key opinion leaders, consumers are more likely to trust them.”
eMarketer: How should marketers go about finding influencers?
Steimle: I’d look on WeChat and Meipai, China’s live video platform. To find the right influencer, brands should also survey their target audiences and find out what platforms they’re on—if a brand is going after 20-year-olds, it’s important to find out what they’re using right now, because it’s probably different than what they were using six months ago.
eMarketer: Can Western brands leverage influencers in China to gain traction there?
Steimle: Western brands assume that translating content into Chinese is enough to resonate with the influencer community in China. But to really engage with KOLs, brands have to understand how the ecosystem works and how Chinese companies use KOLs. There’s no way to do that without being immersed in the culture, or hiring people who are already immersed.