LONDON — Chinese key opinion leaders who are shaping the future of Chinese culture are the main focus of streetwear and pop culture site Highsnobiety’s second white paper.
Following its first white paper on gaming and fashion published in April, the second edition, “The New Key Opinion Leader Is Here: Long Live the Cultural Opinion Leader,” unveiled Monday, explores a new generation of Chinese influencers who are holding the key to future consumer marketing.
For instance, the paper said Chinese influencers drive 10 times the size of social commerce compared to the U.S at an estimated size of $242 billion.
Highsnobiety spoke to 11 industry experts on China and influencers themselves, such as Edison Chen, Leaf Greener, Bohan Qiu, Sensen Lii, and Hazel Meng to help the fashion industry understand who are the leading cultural opinion leaders — a term Highsnobiety coined to describe those influencers who are shaping the future of Chinese culture, and who have a broader set of interests beyond just fashion that they discuss, cultivate, and share through social media — and what matters to them creatively and culturally.
Chen, cofounder of Hong Kong-based fashion label Clot, believes that “the next generation of KOLs in China are going to create culture — combining domestic and international references online and then translating it into something of their own making. It’s now finally coming back to the community and building it.”
The white paper’s author, Tony Wang from the Office of Applied Strategy, a management consulting and brand strategy agency, added that “with the rapid rate at which China is developing, especially from a tech and social commerce perspective, the insights we’ve discovered around the rise of an entirely new class of Key Opinion Leaders are not just applicable for global brands trying to grow their presence and relevance in the country, but also to understand the trajectory of the influencer economy on a broader, global scale.”
“China, in many ways, is now a barometer for global markets in the new luxury landscape and brands need to understand the dynamics of the influencer economy in China in order to succeed globally,” he said.
Thom Bettridge, editor in chief of Highsnobiety, said the latest research project on the new luxury marketplace in China is Highsnobiety’s way of “approaching a topic that a lot of our peers in the industry are super interested in but do not quite understand.”
“Through our research, we discovered that the classic marketing strategy of influencing the Chinese market through Key Opinion Leaders is much more outdated than most observers think. And like we’ve discovered from getting to know audiences in our major markets in the U.S. and Europe, ‘influencers’ and the cultural pioneers who actually influence luxury are two very different things. That’s the central idea of this project.”
The white paper also answers the questions of what common misconceptions exist around KOL marketing in China, what platforms these COLs should be using, and what kinds of content will influence Gen Z consumers.
The report features qualitative insights from TD Reply, a research firm and China marketing specialist based in Berlin and Beijing, to explore the question of what’s next for the influencer economy.
The last part of the report includes five pieces of strategic advice, seen below, on how brands can engage with these influencers in order to drive awareness and relevance among China’s Gen Z consumers. They are:
1. Involve COLs into the brand conversation on a deeper level: let them be part of the product development cycle, have them also co-design limited edition products versus seeding them products, paying for a sponsored post, and/or inviting them to local events.
2. Work with COLs outside of fashion and bring them inside a fashion context.
3. Tap into influencers on emerging platforms like Little Red Book, Bilibili, or Poizon to create more authentic and viral content.
4. Partner with emerging content creators who don’t have a large following, but who are influential within their own circle because of their compelling point of view.
5. Bring in COLs from the Chinese diaspora, many of whom are living or studying abroad, and can bring a multihyphenate lens that bridges global and Chinese culture into a single perspective.