Key Opin­ion Lead­ers: Who are They and Why do Brands Need Them?

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Communications And Public Relations - Writ­ten by: Kit­tima Sethi

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 to and cre­ate aware­ness of 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 for 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 nor­mal ev­ery­day so­cial me­dia users 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 in 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 com­ing via tra­di­tional chan­nels.


This is why many brands to­day are lever­ag­ing 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 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 in 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 hash­tags (#) 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 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 whom 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 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 KOLS infl uen­tial, it is im­por­tant to check their 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 brands to tap into new mar­ket seg­ments which they oth­er­wise may not have con­tact with.

As peo­ple turn to the in­ter­net for ad­vice, it is im­por­tant for brands to hire the right ex­pert in the fi eld who can build trust and cred­i­bil­ity and help drive aware­ness and sales. If the KOL is con­nected with and pas­sion­ate about 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 key­words and phrases as­so­ci­ated with your prod­uct or brand on­line and see who is talk­ing about you. They don’t have to be a big star or per­son­al­ity but 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, the M 150 en­ergy drink, and the milk prod­uct Dutch­mill, which was quite sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing his rock and roll per­son­al­ity.

Cos­met­ics, fash­ion and lux­ury are ar­eas where KOLS are very pop­u­lar and for which con­sumers are look­ing for ad­vice be­fore se­lect­ing the best items and style. Travel, hos­pi­tal­ity and cui­sine are also 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, and en­trepreneurs are also used as KOLS for cer­tain brands. Em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers can also be used as KOLS in the form of brand evan­ge­lists 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 sat­isfi ed cus­tomer can have an in­cred­i­ble eff ect. Google em­ploy­ees reg­u­larly tweet and blog about their perks and fa­cil­i­ties, mak­ing it one of the most de­sired work­places.

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 Brand Now and we’ll help you cre­ate an eff ec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paign with KOLS.

Kit­tima Sethi is the co- founder of Brand Now. She can be con­tacted at kit­tima@ brand­now. asia.

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