What are KOLs: How to Build Your Brand Strategy in 2021

Traffic is the currency in the digital marketing world. We have talked about the 6 best paid traffic sources and 6 best free traffic sources to boost business in our previous posts, and today we will dive into one of the most effective traffic sources – partnering with KOLs or influencers.


Marketers should be familiar with influencer marketing, an incredibly powerful strategy for brands to reach a targeted audience on social media. Most people know what an influencer is, but what about key opinion leaders? Have you heard of the term KOL? Is it the same thing as an influencer?


While you might haven’t realized it, KOLs are making waves in every industry. What a KOL says can cause a stir in the market. This is why a smart brand should use KOL as part of its marketing strategy to win in a crowded market.


Therefore, in the post we’ll explore:


  • Definition of KOLs
  • Difference between KOLs and influencers
  • Benefits of KOLs for brands
  • Successful examples of KOLs
  • Tips to find KOLs



What are KOLs?

KOLs, better know as Key Opinion Leaders, are authority figures in a certain field. They often have professional or expert status and are often regarded as trustworthy and authentic.


For example, they may have written many insightful books on a particular topic, or they may have helped create a new patent that raises their profile. They could exist in academics, publishing, sports, entertainment, and any other industry. They could be experts, commentators, or they could be athletes. They have become KOLs not because they have visibility themselves, but because their views are authoritative and well recognized and trusted by the public and other laypeople in their industry.


That’s why people tend to rely on their opinions for niche expertise, and why it is important for businesses to partner with KOLs.





KOLs vs Influencers: What is The Difference?


Although KOLs and influencers have much in common, they are actually different and cannot be confused.




When it comes to influencers, it usually referred to those online celebrities with a large number of followers. They usually spend a lot of time engaging online and work hard to brand themselves and attract as many as followers.


For influencers, as long as they can generate the expected number of views, then they actually do not necessarily need to have expertise in a particular field. Once they gain enough followers and views, they can start to make money by promoting products or services of other brands. And that is exactly their final goal.


KOLs, by contrast, are dedicated to their work in their lifetime rather than try to build their influence. For example, many university professors are given KOL status because of their titles. These people don’t need to strive for popularity; their influence is generally a by-product of their expertise and authority.


Besides, generally speaking, most KOLs are reluctant to touch on a product or service publicly when it is not necessary, as promoting something could damage their credibility and be seen as mercenary.


In this case, compared to influencers, KOLs are more impartial, objective and authoritative.


Note: in some cases, influencers can be key opinion leaders and vice versa. As audiences are increasingly shifting their time, habits and attention towards the digital world, KOLs, brands and marketers are turning to seek a strong online presence, making the lines between KOLs and social media influencers blurring.




Why KOLs are Invaluable to Brands?


Cooperating with KOLs is undoubtedly a successful brand strategy. Before we discuss the benefits of KOLs to brands, let’s take a look at the impact of KOL on influencer marketing:


  • 74% of consumers believe that word of mouth influences their buying decisions, and KOLs lead the way in word of mouth.
  • 92% of consumers trust earned media (KOLs) over paid advertising.
  • More than 67% of marketers at U.S. companies with more than 100 employees want to use influencer marketing to boost their brands.


See? KOLs play an important role in influencing customers’ purchasing behavior, and working with them would certainly be beneficial for brands.


First, KOLs can help brands target the ideal audience. As KOLs have already grown their own community centered around a specific interest, brands can easily reach the specific and niche audience through the relevant KOLs.


In addition, KOLs can expand the reach of brands. While targeting audiences on advertising platforms, such as Google ads, is expensive and ineffective most of the time, partnering with KOL can help brands reach a surprisingly large audience.


What’s more, KOLs can grow the revenue of brands. A positive mention or endorsement from a KOL could greatly enhance brand awareness and strengthens brand image, and thus generate more sales for the business.




Successful Examples of KOL Marketing


Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s top soccer player, is one of the few athletes to have a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike. While this $1 billion deal may seem inflated, the fact is, Nike has got a stunning return on its investment thanks to Cristiano’s social and digital value.


Cristiano Ronaldo



Megan Rapino is a U.S. soccer champion beloved by fans for her powerful and inspiring image. She partners honestly and generously with Schmidt’s natural deodorant and engages with the audience in a funny and genuine way, which brings huge sales for the brand.


Megan Rapino




Considerations to Work with KOLs


Not every company is suited to working with KOLs. Before considering working with a KOL, you have to take these factors into account.


Work with KOLs



As with any marketing campaign, the first step in KOL marketing is to identify the target. For brands, it is crucial to figure out the marketing goal before working with a KOL, such as increasing brand reach, selling more products or getting more followers, and adjust the strategy accordingly.



Unlike paid advertising, KOL marketing is not a one-and-done work. It is time-consuming for brands to build enduring partnerships with KOLs. And it will takes time, effort and patience to get long-term results.



It is important to choose a KOL who shares contents relevant to your business and industry. KOL marketing strategy only works when you partner with a KOL whose audiences align with your target market.



The reach of a KOL is a prerequisite that you must consider. All else being equal, the more audiences a KOL can reach, the better the promotion effect, and the more the brand can get from him.



Engagement is the key metric to measure someone’s influence online. It is an indication of how involved the KOLs are with their audience. In this case, brands should choose those KOLs with higher positive engagement.




Wrapping Up


KOL marketing is here to stay, and once done well, it can help brands reach much more audiences, enhance brand image, better interact with customers and gain a higher ROI than other marketing channels.


While the marketing world is ever-changing with new innovations and techs, this guide will help you get started to build your KOL marketing strategy in an easy and smart way.


Keep in mind all unique considerations, keep trying even if you fail, adjust your strategy to trends, and always be prepared for change. Finally, you will find yourself benefit a lot from this excellent tactic.


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