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KOL Marketing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid in China • Sekkei Studio BlogSekkei Studio Blog
KOL Marketing

KOL Marketing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid in China

If brands want to leverage a piece of China’s consumer market, influencer or KOL marketing is proving to no longer be an option but more of an essential component of a marketing strategy. With that being said, it’s extremely easy to find articles on how the KOL industry is booming or how beneficial it is for brands. But the reality is that plenty of things can take a quick left turn while working with KOLs without a well thought out strategy.

When putting together a KOL marketing campaign, the big picture is often overlooked. There are many negative elements that can cause a campaign to completely go wrong due to a wide range of reasons from insufficient market knowledge to lack of clarity from a brand. Brands need to be cautious when choosing a KOL to collaborate with and ensure that the expectations are mutually understood in order to avoid a campaign that’s a complete failure.  Here are a few mishaps to avoid when planning your KOL strategy.


What Is KOL Marketing?

China KOL Marketing
What is KOL? KOL (aka. Key Opinion Leader) is part of marketing concept, it refers to a high credible, trusted group or person within particular field and possessing relevant information that great enough to influence the behavior of another group of people.


5 Kol Marketing Mistakes to Avoid in China

1.No Clear Campaign Goal

When initiating a KOL campaign, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the main goal with realistic KPI expectations. Campaigns don’t necessarily have to cover a wide range of marketing efforts. If you are a new brand in China, then you should probably focus more on brand awareness. KPIs could include the number of brand interactions and the number of new followers that you can acquire. Brands that already have an established presence in China should focus more on a specific service or product. KPIs for established brands could range from the number of mentions to the total amount of sales for a specific product. Each campaign needs to be approached as a long-term investment and one of the very first steps is to pick the right goal for the campaign.


2.Campaign Brief Miscommunication

Campaign Brief Miscommunication

An overwhelming majority of KOL campaign problems result from a poorly constructed campaign brief. It goes without saying, but regular communication is the key to a successful campaign, especially in a country where the stakes are much higher due to the unique social media landscape and cultural differences. Brands should provide a detailed campaign strategy with all of their content requirements. If your brand uses a digital agency for your KOL needs, then a brief is even more essential. Important information is more likely to get lost the more parties that are involved, so your local agency should review the brief before it reaches the hands of the influencer.  The brief should also not be too limiting on the creative expression of the KOL. Brands can bypass a lot of difficulties with a clear brief and goal in mind.


3.Choosing the Wrong Influencer

Choosing the Wrong Influencer

Engagement with KOLs can have a huge impact on creditability and brand exposure. It’s important for brands to understand which KOL is best suited for their campaign. Your entire campaign could be at risk if you never conduct in-depth research on the influencer before proceeding with a partnership. Influencers range from a combination of micro, macro and celebrity status with their own unique niche of how they engage with their audience. It’s important to have some background knowledge of the KOL’s audience and image. You want to talk to your target audience in a certain way and not every influencer is suited for every brand.


4.Lack of KOL Trust

Lack of KOL Trust

Brands often only view KOL marketing as a means for influencer distribution, which means that they control every aspect of what is promoted such as the content of a caption or time of posting. This takes away from the essence of what it means to be a KOL. Chinese consumers value authentic content to a very high degree and can filter through content that is planned at first glance. Part of collaborating with a KOL is building some form of trust, and it’s important to trust the KOL to create content that is engaging with their audience. KOLs already has a deep understanding of their follower base and know what type of content will resonate with their users. This approach allows for a genuine organic reach. True collaborations often lead to the most successful campaigns where KOLs are allowed to be creative.


5.Unaware of Platform Regulations

Unaware of Platform Regulations

With all the changes and new restrictions that are added to social media platforms in China, brands need to stay up-to-date with platform regulations. Many brands are not aware of new rules and even some influencers are not up-to-date. Platforms like Weibo have added sponsored content and external link restrictions. Sponsored content on Weibo has to be approved by Weibo’s official marketing platform or risk being removed altogether. Chinese social media is ever-changing and many of the new rules and regulations can go unannounced, so it’s important to actively check on new platform changes and rules.


Social media is a dynamic place where marketing campaign crises happen on a regularly basis. Obviously, there are many more ways a KOL campaign can go wrong and some mistakes are hard to avoid with the constantly changing digital landscape in China. But there are certain procedures that your brand should follow or be aware of in order to have a successful KOL campaign. Staying clear of the above campaign mishaps will help you avoid some of the most common influencer marketing fails that can be fatal for your product or service.




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David Henriques

Digital entrepreneur and co-founder of Sekkei Studio, a digital marketing agency in Shanghai, Paris and Hong Kong. More than 10 years of experience in helping the communication of foreign companies in China.

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