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Chinese millennials are less and less interested in following Chinese KOLs

The term KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader. KOLs are used by many brands in their campaigns in an effort to reach a bigger audience within a particular segmentation. Chinese consumers used to drift to KOLS to find some authenticity from the traditional approach of digital advertising. The success of a KOL is based on their personality, and how they come across depends on their power to pull in the audience and create a loyal following. KOLs generally have loyal followers and produce quality content on social media.  Most KOLs take in between 20,000 and 40,000 yuan a month. They work regularly in the office, at home, or even in the great outdoors.


Brands’ overreliance on KOLs

Brands are promised to gain more followers, brand awareness and visibility among their target audience. But reducing KOL marketing to must-haves for any advertising purposes has lost its value. When I talked to Chinese millennials in Beijing and Shanghai about this topic, already almost two years ago, a change of view towards KOL’s was already occurring. Three important insights emerged that are getting more cultural traction in 2019:


  1. KOL’s work for so many different brands or change their contract with brands so frequently that credibility gets lost.
  2. There is a limit of KOLs any Chinese millennial is willing to follow and they get tired of all the commercial posts they face on their timeline.
  3. Unknown KOL’s or rather Chinese people with knowledge, experience or a creative take on a particular topic that is of interest to a specific audience is becoming more interesting to follow.


Time to rethink your marketing?

The digital world is becoming more and more saturated with KOLs. For a more meaningful way to reach Chinese consumers it might be crucial to rethink your KOL marketing. At least take the time and care to seek out a Chinese voice that is valued by your Chinese consumer audience and suits your brand. Chinese Millennials can easily tell the difference between an ad and authentic content meant to engage with an audience. Even for a well-known brand like Nike that is using many KOLs, it are not the KOLs that are ensuring the loyal followers and ultimately contribute to an increase in growth. Nike is a great example of a brand that is very good at developing brand narratives that tap into emerging Chinese consumer cultures.


Check out these selection of articles if you are interested to learn more about this topic:

1. China’s new breed of KOLs: Not just pretty faces


New platforms, along with increasingly international millennials and a professionalizing fashion industry landscape, are changing the attributes required of China’s KOL class.

2. Being an influencer is a full-time job for China’s millennials


Upon graduation, Zhang weighted his options between becoming a full-time online celebrity, and doing something else with his life. “My academic performance and life have suffered greatly because of the time I have to spend making videos. It’s impossible to find a balance because time is limited,” he explained.

3. The KOL bubble: how brands can earn the trust of China’s affluent demographic

The Luxury Conversation

Brands need to prepare for when – not if – the KOL bubble bursts; the digital world is saturated with KOLs (each with millions of claimed followers), and consumers may begin to get bored of another person being paid to prance around on their Weibo feed in a particular brands’ garb.

4. How China’s hyper-professionalised influencer market could be a model elsewhere

BBC Worklife

Until last year, Zhang “BB” Xi was just another 20-something with a dream of making it big. The 23-year-old from the sprawling city of Chongqing had around 300,000 fans across all her social media platforms who watched her beauty tutorials and vlogs. It was a large number, given her youth, but she hadn’t yet been able to make major inroads into the cut-throat influencer industry.

But her success had set off an alert among the team of talent scouts at Ruhnn Holding, one of China’s largest key opinion leader (KOL) – or influencer – management companies.