China’s influencer economy is growing at lightning speed, outpacing the rest of the world. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates that the KOL (Key Opinion Leader) market size will exceed $1 trillion (RMB 6.7 trillion) by 2025, increasing fivefold from $210 billion (RMB 1.3 trillion) of 2020. These numbers are impressive, considering that the US influencer market was only $4.14 billion in 2022.
KOLs are a key way for brands to market to local consumers and drive sales in the world’s second largest economy. According to Chinese data and influencer platform PJdaren’s report 2023, despite a difficult macroeconomic environment and multiple lockdowns in China, 58% of brands surveyed said they spent more on KOL marketing in 2022 than the previous year. Additionally, more than 35% of brands surveyed said they invested more than $240,000 (RMB 3 million) in their KOL marketing budgets in 2022.
Today, influencers are an indispensable vehicle for brands to boost their image, build trust with consumers, raise awareness of new product launches and drive sales conversions. Here, Daily Jing presents some luxury and fashion influencers illustrating the influencer market trends in China in 2023.
Savi Sui (@Savislook)
Weibo: 4.2 million subscribers
Xiaohongshu: 413,000 subscribers
Douyin: 200,000 subscribers
Instagram: 265,000 subscribers
Known for her effortless, no-frills vintage look, local influencer Savi Sui has built a strong visual identity that stands apart from other fashion KOLs. “For those who want to be bloggers, one thing to consider is whether you’re irreplaceable,” Sui said. Daily Jing. Although she is not as popular as some international stars, she is favored by many big luxury houses and niche fashion brands due to her unique and nonchalant style. In recent years, niche names such as Nanushka, Ganni, Mansur Gavriel and Missoma have partnered with KOL for their first China campaigns.
Verdict: Micro-influencers are entering the arena and taking market share from established traditional names. “Brands are relying on KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) more than ever. Attracted by their reliability, affordability and performance, most brands have increased the proportion of influencer marketing programs featuring KOCs in 2022,” notes the PJdaren report. Additionally, 71% of brands surveyed responded that they incorporate new KOCs into each campaign.
Meng Zhang and Pablo Zhang (@ahalolo /@ahalolomay)
Xiaohongshu: 236,000 subscribers
Bible: 1 million subscribers
Youtube: 163,000 subscribers
Instagram: 70,500 subscribers
Distinct from the typical influencers who gain fame by posting stylish looks or impressive purchases, the popularity of the Chinese fashion influencer duo flood yard can be largely attributed to their fashion show reviews on YouTube, Weibo, and Bilibili. Their videos challenge mainstream fashion criticism – which often uses obscure or flowery rhetoric – making luxury homes more accessible through casual and informal discussions. So far, big name houses like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga have all been featured on their channel.
Verdict: Interest-based platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou short video apps, Xiaohongshu lifestyle applet, and Bilibili vlogging portal are taking over traditional social and messaging sites Weibo and WeChat and becoming the preferred channels brands for influencer collaborations. More than half of the brands surveyed by PJdaren said they would increase their total influencer investment in the above channels.
Cici Xiang (@empty butterfly chrysalis / @cici_xiang)
Weibo: 2.5 million subscribers
Xiaohongshu: 279,000 subscribers
Instagram: 360,000 subscribers
Chinese model and influencer Cici Xiang’s natural beauty makes her one of fashion’s most in-demand faces, recently featured in campaigns for Gucci, Prada and Chanel. During Spring 2023 Fashion Week, Ferragamo flew Xiang to Milan to attend Maximilian Davis’ debut show. Besides modeling and social media, she has another identity: an art curator. After graduating from the University of the Arts London in 2019, she launched a “C for ABC” project in collaboration with galleries and institutions. Her various roles, interests and connection to art make her a multi-faceted ambassador of choice for high-end names.
Verdict: “Brands rely on brand affinity and engagement rates to determine which influencers to work with,” Pjdaren’s report states. Although niche influencers have a relatively limited fanbase, they can help brands reach hyper-targeted followers who appreciate their aesthetic and are highly loyal.
Zola Zhang (@原是西门大娅)
Weibo: 6.1 million subscribers
Xiaohongshu: 735,000 subscribers
Douyin: 2.87 million followers
Zola Zhang, 35, is one of WeChat’s top KOLs who successfully integrated influencer marketing with WeChat online sales. She has also established a strong presence on Weibo and Douyin, with nearly 10 million followers across the platforms. She is known for collaborating with fashion and beauty brands Ports, Valentino, Guerlain and Lancôme. According to data agency Launchmetrics, his social media post on Weibo for Guerlain earned $192,000 (RMB 1.3 million) in media impact value.
Verdict: China is expected to become the biggest beauty market by 2023, overtaking the United States. In light of this, brands are trying to carve out a place in the booming market with the help of crucial drivers: KOLs and KOCs. “The domestic beauty market and consumer behavior have become probably the most knowledgeable, sophisticated and demanding in the world,” said Lin Lin Jacobs, CEO of the largest international beauty show CIBE. The beauty influencer boom has enabled Chinese consumers to educate themselves through online content. Before buying a new product, they check the online reviews of their favorite KOLs and KOCs.