How U.S. Marketers Are Losing The Key Opinion Leader and Influencer Battle

After traveling to China, I was struck by a significant difference in the way in which they think about marketing. I interviewed a number of C-level executives and across every interview, there was a pattern that emerged. Each individual talked about leveraging KOLs—key opinion leaders—as a central element of their marketing plan.

What struck me is that after having interviewed hundreds of marketing experts from the west, I’ve not heard such a focus. While marketers in the west will readily talk about advertising or promotion, they rarely emphasize influencers as a priority (although in fairness, interest has increased over the past couple of years).

The more I learned about how the Chinese are using influencers, the more I realized that they are far ahead of the U.S. and other western countries. To understand the difference, I talked with Tamara McCleary, founder and CEO of Thulium, a brand amplification company. McClearly is also a top influencer (see here for top CMO influencers), working with Huawei in China and a number of different companies around the world. Her insight on how Chinese marketers are winning the influencer battle is below.

Kimberly Whitler: I recently published an article about how China-based marketers are beating western marketers (see Harvard Business Review article here and Harvard Business Review ideacast here). As a key influencer yourself, do you agree and more broadly, what do you think?

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