We have already seen why KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) have reached a certain importance in China.
Question is: are influencer a good solution in wine business as well? And are they actually affecting sells and moving big volumes of wine?
How has the world of wine changed in China in the last decade.
The wine industry in China has grown significantly in the last ten years, both in size and complexity. Only in 2011 the market focused almost exclusively on Bordeaux producers, Chinese wine producers were relegated to the last step of the wine pyramid, there was not even a shadow of specialized shops and wine education was just moving its first steps.
If we look at the current situation, things have changed dramatically. There has been an explosion in the consumption of New World wines, particularly those from Australia and Chile; local producers have managed to position themselves in the premium segment of the market; e-commerce sales are taking over; influencers are succeeding in making wine known to the urban middle class throughout the country and it is no longer the preserve of the elite.
Perhaps we can find the answer to such a radical change in influencers, back then and now.
In 2011, in the top 50 wine influencers in the world, 5 of them were already firmly linked to the Chinese market or, more generally, to the Asian market, indicating that the country was moving in the direction of a progressive opening and growing interest in wine.
But who were these influencers?
Decanter, ten years ago, listed Don St. Pierre, the Canadian CEO of ASC Fine Wines, as one of the most influential personalities in the world of wine in China, who had already opened his company’s Chinese branch in 1996. We then found Wu Fei, president of COFCO Wine & Spirits, the owner of Great Wall, a leading domestic wine producer.
Alongside them also Robert Shum, the founder of Aussino World Wines, the largest operator in the market for direct sales of wines.
In short, the picture ten years ago presented us with personalities closely linked to the real wine business, first and foremost world-famous importers and distributors, even before leading figures in China.
Who are today’s influencers?
There is certainly an important change that has taken place in the last ten years: the shift from the trend of buying wine almost exclusively as a gift for important occasions to that of a product to be bought for oneself and, therefore, to be tasted in person.
Here the influencers come into play, personalities from which to take inspiration.
But let’s call them, indeed, by their name: KOL.
This term encapsulates the preponderance of these characters’ connection with the world of social media, where they operate and find their retinue.
While in Western countries consumers are mainly influenced in their purchases by mass media, in China, it is currently social media to have the lead. Buyers trust the public figures they follow and admire, their personal reviews, which they feel are more authentic than traditional advertising.
For example, among the best known Chinese wine KOLs today, we find the undisputed, and now very famous, Wang Shenghan, better known as “Drunk mother goose” or, even more so as Lady Penguin, which is the name of her project: a hybrid between a social media platform, an online wine shop and a club for wine lovers. Lady Penguin, a graduate of Brown University in Marketing, started with a simple wechat account and today has over 3 million followers on Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok) and 1.3 million on Weibo. In 2019, in the occasion of Singles’ day, she sold wine online worth RMB 20 million ($2.8 million).
Alongside the Chinese wine star, Oliver Zhou, general manager of Vinehoo.com, a B2C platform that attracts hundreds of thousands of wine lovers, is on KOL’s most trusted list. And finally, Terry Xu: wine educator, wine journalist based in Shanghai and presenter, trained in Bordeaux and certified as a wine trainer in six other wine regions of the world. We conclude with another pillar of Chinese wine education: Fongyee Walker, the first Chinese Master of Wine, recognized as the greatest wine educator in Beijing.
As you can see, we are talking about personalities that belong to a wider working spectrum and not only are canonical importers.
This is certainly a sign that things are changing and that the consumer prefers to rely on those who can educate and guide him to purchase, in a simple but competent way.
So today’s KOLs belong exclusively to the academic sphere?
The explosion of KOL as a point of reference for shopping and lifestyle has certainly benefited those who have dedicated years to their personal training in the field of wine and who today are internationally recognized as successful wine trainers.
But are they the only ones to be taken as a reference? And are they the ones who move the biggest numbers when it comes to wine sales?
Probably the answer lies in the type of wine you want to sell and the goal you set to reach.
The Australian wine promotion agency, for example, invited the Chufei and Churan sisters, also known as the “Kardashians” of China, for a two-day tour of Australia in 2018″. The twins have a great influence on the Chinese domestic market and in particular on women belonging to the middle-upper class.
The choice to be promoted by the two sisters lies in the fact that, as sentenced by Sarah Heller MW “in China people want something surprising and classy”.
Another example of KOL, which has shocked the Chinese market, although not belonging to the ranks of wine trainers or wine lovers, is certainly Li Jiaqi. Li is also known as “The Lipstick King”, for selling 15,000 lipsticks in 5 minutes during a livestreaming on Taobao. Li started his career as a beauty assistant in a L’Oreal store and has been famous since 2017 thanks to his livestreaming. Today Li has 42 million followers on Douyin and 9 million on Weibo. Obviously, Li doesn’t just sell beauty products, but he also goes far into wine. In a livestreaming where he promoted products for Chinese New Year, he sold 20 thousand cases (of 6 bottles) of Beiwei 37, a red wine produced by Great Wall, in 30 seconds, after describing it, quite simply, as rich in notes of raspberries and cherries.
Alongside Li Jiaqi, for fame and sales potential we have Viya “The Queen of Taobao”, with about 18 million followers, selling absolutely everything from rice to machines.
Viya is the most influential livestreaming host in China at the moment and in a recent live Great Wall red wine sales session, “zodiac signs” themed, she sold 30 thousand cases in one minute.
This means that the sales generated by the last two KOL mentioned, within a few minutes, are comparable to the annual revenue of an average-sized distributor.
The cost for it? Viya will get from 2k to 25k Euro for a post based on the product she is promoting and the kind of activity she carries out.
All this leaves room for one question: can influencers replace more traditional sales? Will a cosmetics KOL be the new salvation for a winery that wants to promote their product in China?
Only time will tell us, but it is also true that every wine wants its sales strategy and, every customer segment wants a taylor-made communication. So it is conceivable that all these promotional path will live together without waging war, and the correct answer is that you will have to chose the most suitable solution for your business.