Celebrities, influencers, key opinion leaders–call them what you will–are hugely influential in China’s consumer market. Unlike in the West, consumers in China are much more likely to be influenced by personalities within their community of interest. Whether you’re engaging a household name or well-known influencer to promote your fashion lines, or partnering with low-budget teenage vloggers to spread the word about your online game, influencer marketing should be part of your approach in the Chinese market.
With trust in brands and vendors at an all-time low, consumers are looking for validation from peers and authorities on what brands and sellers to trust. This is partly a symptom of China’s rapid wealth gains and associated advances in consumer ambitions. Inexperienced consumers and online shoppers are keen to make the right choices, and social recommendations have a powerful influence on the choices they make.
To support this, China’s eCommerce is geared toward social interaction. Influencer marketing works well on a practical level because China’s digital landscape is highly integrated. With three main players controlling most of the online landscape, you’ll generally find very good integration between platforms.
Social commerce is much more developed in China than in the West, and citizens there seem to have a high tolerance for being marketed to on social media. This makes the environment ripe for effective influencer marketing.
There are other reasons opinion leaders have so much influence in China. Hofstede’s cultural analysis methods suggest that China is a country with a high degree of power distance, meaning people tend to defer to figures of authority.
This doesn’t just affect formal relationships, such as in business or government. People will also defer to authorities in other areas of influence, including what to wear, how to behave, and what to buy.
In a society that leans more towards collectivism than individualism, loyalty to the group and fitting in with others are important. Influencers are key because they help to provide a collective identity and organize their followers.
This is particularly important in a fast-moving society where consumer ambitions are rapidly evolving, since influencers help their followers to find a path that makes sense in their quickly changing lives.
Opinion leaders thrive in particular on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app. Although it’s not easy for brands to gain visibility via this channel, celebrities and subject-matter experts thrive here, creating content that users value and building relationships with their followers. Celebrities are also highly visible on microblogging site Weibo.
Finding the right influencer
The effectiveness of key opinion leaders in China means top influencers can command a lot of money for supporting a brand. You’re going to top dollar to engage a ‘top-tier’ celebrity or pop star, and the final price will depend on the extent of their involvement with your brand, as well as the type and amount of content you require.
You can also obtain good results when partnering with less high-profile but more niche influencers. Look outside the movie-star realm and consider some of China’s highly popular social-media personalities, online video comedians, bloggers, and vloggers.
There are also experts in particular fields, like sports. Getting to know the influencer landscape is an important part of any campaign approach in China, since the right partnership inevitably means better results. Be sure to consider how good a fit the influencer (and, by extension, their audience) is for your brand.
Penetrating the market
Western brands trying to penetrate China’s challenging market often struggle to understand their new audience. It’s a completely new culture for many outside companies to understand, and it’s easy to get things wrong.
If you fail, the best-case scenario is your marketing investment is wasted. The worst case? A disastrous faux pas that permanently alienates consumers.
Influencer marketing can really help with this cultural translation, since it enables someone embedded in that society to write their own messages about your brand and products. Remember, however, that influencer marketing is not a substitute for really getting to know the market, and should never stand in for gaining real cultural understanding.
Your influencer-marketing campaign will probably not be effective if it’s done at arm’s length. Instead, brands should use an influencer campaign as part of a wider strategy to understand the market they are penetrating.
If you’re trying to get a key opinion-leader campaign off the ground, remember to approach with caution. It’s common for influencers to inflate their level of influence, faking follower numbers or acquiring fake follower bots. Be wary of anyone with hidden read and likes stats on WeChat.
What’s most important to understand is the category of person who will be influenced by your influencer of choice, as this is a good indication of how effective your campaign is going to be. Influencer marketing needs to be approached carefully, but it can pay huge dividends if you get it right.