Social media has changed the way brands and marketers manage their communications and marketing. While using traditional media such as print publications, TV, and billboards are effective to a certain extent, many businesses and brands are utilizing new media to reach their target audiences. These include online advertising and streaming, social media, chatroom forums, video and blog posts and the use of KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders.
A KOL, also known as an “influencer”, is defined as someone who not only has considerable influence over others in their purchasing decisions but is also able to draw attention and create awareness to the products and services. In other words, KOLs have significant persuasive power.
The idea of using KOLs to increase brand awareness and to strengthen the customer and product relationship to fuel consumption and sales is not a new concept. Pharmaceutical companies have often used physicians and academics as their KOLs to provide advocacy to their medicines.
Today, KOLs are not necessarily academics or people who talk at conferences. They could be bloggers, net idols, professionals or “gurus” in their selected field, or just a normal everyday social media user whose voice and expertise are being shared and recognized on the internet. In other words, they are the “brand ambassadors” for the online community. Many of them actively engage with the target audience via social media channels by posting text, images or videos and have a high degree of public trust and credibility.
There has also been a rise is celebrities, socialites and popular Twitter and Instagram personalities representing brands. Because many of them have a large number of followers in their online communities, their level of influence is sometimes greater than the mass media. Consumers are likely to trust their feedback much more than those promoted via traditional channels.
This is why many brands today are leveraging on KOLs and incorporating them into their marketing strategy to promote their products and services. Not only are they effective in delivering marketing messages to their audience but they also make them feel more genuine, enabling consumers to filter through all the clutter and make quick decision on their purchases.
When Uniqlo, a well-known Japanese casual wear brand, launched its brand in Thailand in 2011, they used a diverse group of KOLs ranging from various ages, professions and genders as brand ambassadors to convey their “Made for All” philosophy. Some of their KOLs included actor and musician Dome Pakorn Lum, illustrator/stylist/singer/writer-Hatairath Charoenchaichana (Oh Futon), dentist and television host Pauline Teng-Lamsam and editor of A Day magazine Wongtanong Chainarongsingh.
Take Theetawit Setthachai, blogger of the popular Diary of Tootsie, which has over 600,000 fans. After participating in the luxurious beauty brand SK-II’s online campaign called #changedestiny, he has become one their most successful KOLs.
The use of hashtag(#) also maximizes exposure for brands across online media. It is popularly used by KOLs in their posts with the product, brand or event’s name, creating awareness and enabling brands to monitor engagement.
Selecting the right KOL is crucial for brands because they are also perceived as the company’s spokesperson, playing a proactive role in adding value to the business. KOLs must have a thorough understanding and knowledge of the product and brand and appeal to the target audience. They must be emotionally engaging, convincing and motivating or else they will be appear be inauthentic.
International watch maker Omega selects ambassadors that embody their values, which are unparalleled class, bold style and elegant performance. Some of the ambassadors include star athletes, award-winning actors and successful entrepreneurs such as actors George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and swimmer Michael Phelps.
Nike is known for focusing on the greatness of the athletes who they appoint as brand ambassadors and in building their image to sell products. After appointing Michael Jordan as its brand ambassador, Nike created a series of Air Jordan brand of basketball shoes which still continue to be a hit with fans today.
Incorporating KOLs into the marketing plan is not only measurable with analytics tools and reporting, but is also targeted which is why it is important to find the right individual whose values and expertise align with that of the brand and their target market.
When selecting a KOL, factors to consider include (a) number and quality of followers, (b) engagement and (c) expertise.
While a large number of followers is impressive and can make them influential, it is important to check the level of engagement and sharing as that can amplify the reach beyond just the followers. The ability of the KOL to generate virality is also important as it allows brand to tap into new market segment which they may otherwise not have contact with.
As people turn to online for advice, it is important for brands to hire the right expert in their field who can build trust and credibility which can help drive awareness and sales. If the KOL is connected and passionate with the brand, it will resonate in what they do and have a greater impact on the brand. One way to discover a KOL is to track keyword and phrases of your product or brand online and see who is talking about you. They don’t have to be any big star or personality and could turn out to be your most trusted and loyal KOL.
In Thailand, TV stars and celebrities are often approached by brands to become KOLs. The popular ones end up becoming brand ambassadors for multiple products, which raises the question of how authentic and passionate they are about the products they represent.
For instance, Thai superstar Atiwara “Toon” Kongmalai of the band Bodyslam was once representing Pepsi, M 150 energy drink and also milk product Dutchmill, which was quite surprising, considering his rock and roll personality.
Cosmetic, fashion and luxury are areas where KOLs are very popular and consumers are looking for advice before selecting the best items and style. Travel, hospitality and cuisine are also other sectors that work with KOLs such as travel and food bloggers to encourage people to travel to various destinations or dine at various restaurants.
In Thailand, transportation app Uber employed celebrities Woody and Paul Taylor as their KOLs. Sports personalities, physicians, entrepreneurs are also used as KOLs for certain brands.
Employees and customers can also be used as KOLs in the form of brand evangelist through testimonials. Happy employees can humanize a company and project an image brands would like to be communicated to the outside world. If they have a blog or are active on social media, they may share their experience. Even a tweet by a satisfied customer can have an incredible effect. Google employees regularly tweet and blog about their perks and facilities, making it one of the most desired workplace.
KOLs are not limited to just big brands and companies with deep pockets. With some creativity, small businesses can also incorporate them into their marketing plans.
If you think your business requires KOLs, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you create an effective communication campaign with KOLs.
(Kittima is the co-founder of Brand Now, a boutique marketing and public relations company with in-depth experience serving multinational and local companies in Thailand. The focus is on below the line and the services ranges from public relations, direct marketing to event management. The company’s clients include blue chip and start-up companies.)