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How to be a successful KOL in China?


Why luxury brands willing to expand in China seems to never get enough of  so-called KOLs (key opinion leaders)?

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Tao Liang, nickname “Mr bags”, is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Columbia University. Although he is only 26-year-old, he has already become one of the most successful digital influencers in China, in terms of the ability to drive sales.

People call him Mr Bags because Liang has an unapologetic love for handbags. So, he has worked on capsule collections with different luxury brands such as Givenchy, Longchamp and Montblanc, boasting a huge following on WeChat and Weibo, which are two of the largest social media networks in China. And he also knows how to sell them to his over 3.5 million readers on China’s biggest social media platform Weibo and more than 850,000 followers on WeChat, a microblogging messaging app.

In just six minutes, Liang helped Tod’s sell 3.24 million RMB worth of handbags on his new Mini Program shop within WeChat, called “Baoshop.” The second collaboration between the Beijing-based fashion blogger and Tod’s, 500 pieces of the limited-edition “Wave” backpacks were created — double the amount from last year’s capsule collection.

SEE ALSO: The WeChat luxury index: exclusive insights that luxury brands need now

But how did Liang become a sort of “bag whisperer”? He says that when he was studying in the universities in Los Angeles and New York, he fell in love with luxury bags and loved going on shopping sprees with his friends. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he could turn his passion for handbags into a full-time job but even after he started getting some traction while still in the US, his parents were not entirely happy with his career choice. “Only after I started working with big brands and celebrities like Fan Bingbing they thought that perhaps this was a real business,” he says.

One issue that often comes up with KOLs is authenticity. When you work with different brands, how do you maintain your integrity without alienating your fans, who trust your opinions to be genuine and unbiased? “This is key for me and I really try our best to maintain that,” says Liang. “One of my advantages is that until not long ago I was based in the US so I wasn’t exposed to all the brand partnerships and advertising that the KOLs were doing in China so my content was 100 per cent pure editorial, but then I started working with brands and get first hand information while also giving my followers the right information and guidance.”

So how does Mr Bags, a young man with an innate fashion sense and an encyclopedic knowledge of handbags, guide his followers and win their trust? He only works with brands that his fans “naturally love” and turns down offers all the time. Liang’s fan base is mostly female, and he feels that being a man is not a hindrance. On the contrary, by virtue of being a guy, he is able to provide useful and unbiased advice.

“My name is Mr Bags and lots of people find this name interesting but also confusing because generally bags are for women,” he says. “Normally when girls shop for a bag they don’t think too much and buy it right away, on impulse, so I help them think more rationally. For example, I categorize all the bags and tell them which ones are the classic pieces and the ones that have more staying power and the most iconic ones so I provide some logic behind their purchases. I think that as a guy I’m more objective and I can give them useful tips. I tell them that if you buy a bag that you can use in your life and enjoy it then you feel that your money is well spent and worth it.”

Liang believes that his editorial work must come first.“Many people think that KOLs just have fancy lives and go everywhere for fun but in China we have so many channels, like WeChat and Weibo, so it’s really a lot,” he says. “I was just updating my channels on the way here. Editorial content is more important for me; 60 per cent of what we do is still editorial.”

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Achieving the right balance between authentic content and remunerative ad-driven projects is the key factor for being a successful KOL, something that is not always as easy as it seems but Liang has already mastered so far.