KOLs are impacting cosmetic sales in China

The marketing landscape of the Chinese cosmetic industry has experienced enormous changes through key opinion leaders (KOLs) on social media. Although traditional media like TV commercials and magazines are still the main channels for marketing, the increasing number of internet users and the purchase power of young generations has expanded social media as a marketing channel. This especially applies for sectors targeting young consumers like fashion and cosmetics.

The “evolution” of a KOL economy

Online promotions by KOLs are mainly targeting younger generations. The KOL economy is a typical outcome of the optimal distinctiveness theory: individuals desire to attain an optimal balance of inclusion and distinctiveness within and between social groups and circumstances.

With the highly regulated internet environment in China, the Chinese internet media websites including Weibo (the biggest microblogging website in China), WeChat (a multi-purpose social media application) and Bilibili (a video sharing website themed around animation, TV series and games) are the main channels for KOLs. Many KOLs are using multi-channel networks to share their content.

The multi-channel network in China has been steadily growing since 2015, with an increasing popularity of the 4G mobile network and video sharing mobile applications. Before 2015, the “KOL economy” experienced 3 developmental steps of online media:

The promotion methods by KOLs

The following are common methods for the promotion of cosmetics by KOLs:

  • Product testing: The KOLs review the products and share their experience with their followers.
  • Pop-up stores: The brands set physical pop-up stores and invite KOLs and their followers to join the event.
  • Joint brands: The brands develop a joint line of products with the KOLs.

The influence of KOLs

The influence of KOLs in cosmetic marketing is divided into three levels:

  • Direct recommendation: usually combined with product testing, the KOLs review the product and recommend it to their followers;
  • Recommendation with professional knowledge of the products: some KOLs have a professional background and can analyze the ingredients and recommend the product from a professional perspective;
  • Change the consumption concept and lifestyle of the followers:  KOLs can impact the consumption concept and lifestyle of their followers, by influencing the day-to-day products these use.

How to promote your products through KOLs

In the following diagram, we have highlighted how to best promote products via KOLs in China.

Self-assessment: market positioning, targeting segment, plan of promotion and brand knowledge

Assessment of KOLs:

  • Does their audience match your targeting group? -> Promotions by KOLs can: influence your brand image, improve the popularity of your brand and improve your overall sales.
  • Do they generate high quality content? -> The value KOLs produce on social media comes directly from the quality of their promotions.
  • Are they professional when creating their content for promotions? -> Some KOLs combine their promotions with professional stories and images.

Our recommendations:

The market trends mentioned above will have an important impact on the Chinese cosmetics industry.

  • Create joint content: personalized content is best produced through the joint effort of the brand and the KOLs.
  • Feedback: follow up on the feedback from consumers to determine the effect of the promotions.