Digital content is officially inescapable. The digital universe is expanding by 40% every year, and we experience more than 601 digital interactions per day between online browsing, media outlets, mobile apps, TV shows, and more. Many of those interactions are brand-generated and designed to influence consumers. However, 92% of consumers are more likely to trust a recommendation from a stranger over branded content. Having recognized this quirk of human reasoning long ago, brands today are in hot pursuit of the key opinion leaders (KOLs) and other influencers who can help bring more customers into the fold.
Although KOLs may generate only a small amount of content related to a specific brand or product, those few messages can resonate with a huge audience and have an outsized impact on sales. The world saw this recently when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at a press conference and quickly removed two Coca-Cola bottles on the table in front of him, replacing them with a bottle of water. That simple action had several impacts: Coca-Cola stock tumbled by almost $4B, other soccer players imitated the move (or called on Coca-Cola to sponsor them instead), and several organizations—including IKEA, Evian, and WHO—capitalized on the incident to promote their own products.
What are key opinion leaders (KOLs)?
A key opinion leader (KOL) is a trusted, well-respected influencer with proven experience and expertise in a particular field. For example, in marketing, these thought leaders could be physicians, hospital executives and others that hold knowledge in their field. These leaders have such a strong social status where their opinions are listened to when making important decisions in the relative field.
Key opinion leaders can kickstart trends by starting conversations around a topic that consumers find interesting, react to, and then spread to their friends and acquaintances. This kind of trend-starting has long-term implications for brands and markets, which may react by adjusting marketing messaging, pursuing new product development, or even evaluating competitors for M&A opportunities. For these reasons, KOL content is a critical source for understanding and predicting consumer behavior in CPG markets.
Partnering with the right KOL is a new, highly valuable element of a strong go-to-market strategy. And because key opinion leaders can be an early predictor of long-term trends (long before consumers are on board), keeping an eye on what they’re saying and doing can be used as a predictor for growth, product innovation, and effective messaging trends.
Key opinion leaders vs. influencers
While the terms “key opinion leader” and “influencer” are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between them that give each a different purpose and impact on your marketing strategy. Influencers earn income as promoters through the online personas they’ve built, typically through social media content.
KOLs are experts or industry leaders in their field, with credibility that extends far past social media. You might see KOLs being interviewed on TV, in news articles, or in court based on their professional experience; they’re the subject matter experts who make themselves available to educate the public or jury. An influencer can be a KOL, and vice versa. But the big difference between influencers and KOLs is this: KOLs spend their time working in their area of expertise, while influencers spend their time communicating online about their area of expertise.
How to extract actionable insights from key opinion leader content
The key to making the most of KOLs insights is analyzing what they’re saying alongside everything else that’s happening in the industry.
Skai uses state-of-the-art NLP and machine learning algorithms to analyze KOL content in conjunction with other ecommerce and retail data types, such as product specifications, product reviews, social media, sales data, demographics, and more. Skai first establishes the taxonomy of online discussions related to a specific industry and brand, allowing algorithms to find connections and correlations across multiple connected data sources.
Next, we establish clear KOL identification and selection methodology, focusing on two primary criteria:
Diversity: a diverse selection of key opinion leader content sources can provide richer data sets
KOLs that are active in numerous channels, such as social media, blogs, personal websites, and external media sources have greater audience reach and are thus more valuable. KOLs that are active in a specific channel can be balanced with other KOLs that are active in other channels, creating a cross-channel KOL distribution. Geographies are an important consideration, too. In general, KOLs covering international brands are preferred over KOLs focused on local brands. However, when addressing specific geography, local KOLs might be a valuable addition.
Diversity should be reflected in the types of KOLs as well. A combination of professionals, industry insiders, and social influencers can create a strong balance. The vertical and category coverage plays a significant role, too; KOLs addressing products in multiple categories often discuss topics that relate to trends and unmet needs across categories. Since such content is highly valuable and reduces taxonomic bias for specific categories, we rank KOLs with broad vertical coverage higher than those without.
Reach: substantial reach means more meaningful insights
We make note of each KOL’s follower counts, website traffic, and source diversity when considering them for inclusion in our data sources. The most valuable KOLs focus on the here and now in their content, mirroring the vertical’s taxonomy “speak”. They’re well versed in the latest trends relevant to the category, with opinions about existing products as well as what’s needed in the future.
Skai’s KOL search process results in an extensive list of candidates, scored according to diversity, relevance, coverage, and reach. The highest-scoring 20-30 KOL are usually selected, depending on the vertical.
Marketing executives and brand managers can gain effective and actionable insights from Skai’s market intelligence platform. KOL content is a critical piece of the intelligence puzzle, made all the more valuable when that content is analyzed in conjunction with a wealth of other data to deliver a full picture of the current market and predicted trends.
To find out how Skai can help your organization unlock truly powerful market intelligence, contact us.