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If KOLs Aren't Part Of Your Marketing Strategy, You Need To Read This

I recentlyspent time in China interviewing C-level leaders across different industries (see here forinsight from 18 leaders and here for insight on how firmsare using closed-loop data to improve CX).After several interviews, I was struck by a pattern I observed. Not onemarketer had talked about promotions or advertising or any of the top-of-mindtactics that might arise from a discussion with CMOs trained in the West.Instead, a term that kept emerging was KOL. The consistent, key lever that CMOsfocused on to drive growth was engaging KOLs, or key opinion leaders.

Content and influencer-basedmarketing have been hot topics in the West for some time, especially among B2Bfirms. However, despite interest in them, they rarely make the list of topstrategic priorities, and few companies are able to demonstrate any significantproficiency. However, firms located in China believe that developing a KOLstrategy is essential to growth for three key reasons: 1) KOLs can drive fasterawareness than traditional marketing tactics, 2) they also help strengthen thebrand’s image as it benefits from the endorsement of the KOL, and 3) it canoften deliver (when effective) much better results at a fraction of the cost.Importantly, firms are highly focused on driving immediate, fast awareness andthere are few marketing efforts that can achieve the degree of relevantawareness in China that KOL programs can. Below Ishare three examples of effective KOL programs.

A Tencent Case Study

Steven Chang, Corporate VP ofTencent  (one of the largest Chinese conglomerates withmarket-leading businesses in gaming, news, social, video, sports, and financialservices) discussed a campaign they had developed called “Next Idea”. Itis a contest aimed at China’s youth, designed to identify the next biginnovation ideas. To drive immediate awareness, Tencent used KOLs as thecenterpiece of their strategy partnering with two well-known individuals todrive virality and interest. The first was Karry Wang, an 18 year old popsinger, and the second was Stephen Hawking. This combination of a leadingChinese business partnering with a top, young pop singer and arguably thebest-known contemporary physicist may be unusual but it is this type of unlikelypairing that drove interest. On the morning of November 24, 2017, Karry Wangasked Stephen Hawking a question about the future of humanity via apre-recorded video. This video was shared on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.On the afternoon of that same day, Stephen Hawking replied via a pre-recordedvideo. On the 24th, this became the #1 trending topic and by the end of theday, the videos had nearly 30 million views, 2 million shares, 49,000 commentsand more than 500,000 likes. Tencent “Next Idea” following increased from 20 toover 52,000 in one day. Imagine the cost of creating these two short videosrelative to a traditional advertising program. Now imagine how long it wouldtake to drive awareness using traditional advertising techniques versus whatTencent achieved in a 24-hour period.

A VW Touareg Case Study

On Touareg’s 15th anniversary in2017, Volkswagen was facing a problem. How should they market this niche, yetlegendary, SUV to as many people as possible? How could they quickly reach outand expand the fan base? They knew that they needed something groundbreaking,that would break through the clutter. In cooperation with Tencent, Volkswagoninvited a series of high-profile KOLs with different backgrounds to travel forsix months to retrace the route of the legendary Silk Road, visiting famouscities on the way. They filmed each trek, resulting in 18 episodes. Each wasbrought to life by a re-telling of historical and cultural tales, mixed withpersonal tales of happiness and hardship from the celebrities themselves.

The series was a significant successon many dimensions.  At over 9,000km across two continents, it was thelongest recorded SUV journey in history. The content of the show, the locationsand the stories featured were all directly intertwined with the DNA of theTouareg brand. Combining beautiful cinematography with entertainingstorytelling and personally interesting tidbits from the KOLS with acelebration of the Touareg’s 15th anniversary had impact beyond each 3-minuteepisode. It was the very first native KOL programming in the form ofentertainment to be aired on Tencent News (one of the largest news platforms inChina).

Edited by Kimberly A. Whitler