Photo Credit: shutterstock
Within the U.S., influencer marketing is one of the fastest-growing areas of digital marketing. Talk to any U.S.-based digital marketer these days, and they’re probably already working with online influencers in one way or another across social platforms like Instagram or YouTube. But all of the buzz surrounding influencer marketing in the U.S. pales in comparison to what’s happening in China, where online influencers are known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and have a much greater impact on the success or failure of any digital marketing campaign. In the U.S., influencer marketing might represent just a small piece of the overall digital strategy, but in China, influencer marketing is likely to be the core component that determines whether or not a campaign delivers on core metrics.
Why influencers are more popular in China than the United States
So why is influencer marketing so much more popular in China than in the United States? Part of the reason may simply be cultural – the Chinese place much more emphasis on long-term relationships and connections, and KOLs fit nicely into this overall concept of brands forming long-term relationships with people who matter. In the U.S., by contrast, much of the influencer marketing is purely transactional: if you can help me sell more widgets, I’ll give you some money. In China, influencers are treated as much more part of the overall brand team – and this extends to every aspect of this experience. Chinese KOLs often benefit from lavish travel and entertainment budgets, and are given premium access to key decision makers at the brand. As a result, they are much more invested in the overall success of the brand.
On a related note, Chinese society places much more emphasis on respect, credibility and saving face. When Chinese consumers are looking for a product to buy, they place enormous trust in KOLs to help them make the right decision. As they see it, top celebrities and influencers will only affiliate themselves with brands that are credible and respectable. And you simply can’t go wrong with a choice made by a subject matter expert or someone with deep experience in a certain field.
Another key factor why influencer marketing is so central to Chinese digital marketing plans is the fact the U.S. market embraces much more of a “digital strategy du jour” approach than the Chinese market. Buzzwords, trends and ideas appear and disappear remarkably fast in the U.S., and many digital marketers might still think that influencer marketing is another one of those trends that is destined to fade away.
Lessons for U.S. digital marketers
Based on the positive experience of KOLs in China, it’s clear that U.S digital marketers should be doing more to make influencer marketing a more central part of their overall marketing strategy. For one, it means reaching out to potential influencers with a vested interest and passion for their brand — and not just the influencers with the most followers. And, secondly, it means integrating these influencers much more closely into the overall brand campaign. The time to interact with influencers is not just when you have a big product launch or event coming up – it’s months in advance, when these influencers can sit in on meetings, and perhaps advise on how to launch the product in the first place. At the end of the day, people follow other people, and not brands, on social platforms. That’s something that Chinese marketers have grasped from the outset, and something that U.S. marketers are just now starting to realize.