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KOLs vs. Influencers: What They Are & What Differentiates Them

While the terms "KOLs" and "influencers" are often used interchangeably, it is essential to grasp their distinctions to leverage their potential for successful brand collaborations.

With the arrival of new methods and strategies to the world of online marketing, we’ve seen brand-new definitions and terminologies appear.

The concept of an influencer is nothing new, but “KOLs” are perhaps a bit more unknown. In order to differentiate between the two concepts and avoid any confusion that may arise, we’re dedicating this guide to explaining the distinctive features and differences between KOLs and influencers.

Struggling to find the right influencers for your campaigns? Discover how to select the absolute best person for your brand and product  with our free guide.

What Are KOLs? – Key Opinion Leaders

KOL is an acronym for Key Opinion Leader and can be defined as someone who’s considered an expert on a certain topic and whose opinions are respected by the public, thanks to their trajectory and the reputation they’ve built for themselves.

For that reason, KOLs have gained the status of experts and are recognized as referential people within their fields. Their achievements and skills are well-known, giving them an aura of authority.

In that respect, these profiles can be very valuable for carrying out marketing actions, since they’ve already gained respect from their community and their opinions are always going to attract attention and be credible.

“KOL is an acronym for Key Opinion Leader and can be defined as someone who’s considered an expert of a certain topic and whose opinions are respected by their public”

 

Key Opinion Leader vs Influencer: What's the Difference?

Since both KOLs and influencers collaborate with brands to recommend products or services, it’s important to define on what occasions these two different profiles tend to be used:

The main difference is that influencers are native to social media platforms since that’s where the very concept of an influencer was developed. KOLs, on the other hand, have parallel professions, such as journalists, entrepreneurs, writers, or politicians.

A KOL can, of course, have a big presence on social media or have a blog or YouTube channel, but these don’t tend to be their main means of communication, nor do they necessarily post very frequently. In fact, engagement on KOL profiles tends to be lower than with influencers, as they often don't have time to chat or engage with such a large following. 

KOLs don’t tend to recommend products related to their professions in exchange for economic compensation. However, there are cases of big-name KOLs associating their name with a brand in exchange for generous compensation. 

A prime example of this is George Clooney, the American actor and producer whose decade-long partnership with Nespresso has succeeded in making "coffee sexy" (in exchange for a hefty 40 million dollar fee). Another example of a successful KOL partnership includes Rafael Nadal, who has been the primary face of KIA Motors since 2006. 

Screen Shot 2023-05-31 at 8.20.51 AMImage source: Nespresso global

In the cases mentioned above, brands have a much more hands-on approach to the content that's being published. Whereas with influencers brands are encouraged to give a certain degree of creative freedom and let the influencer design a post that suits their audience, KOLs are not professional content creators and campaigns with them will usually require a creative team, photoshoots, or recording sessions

Another fundamental difference between influencer marketing and Key Opinion Leaders is the motivation that drives their audiences to follow them.

For influencers, having a community of followers is the most important thing, and it’s for that very reason that they only recommend quality products and services to their followers. The originality and quality of the content they post directly determine their impact and number of followers, which their credibility and identity as an influencer depend on.

KOLs, on the other hand, don’t make a living off of these types of actions but regard them rather as complementary to their day-to-day activities.

How to Incorporate KOLs in Your Marketing Strategy

Incorporating KOLs into marketing strategies is extremely beneficial if a brand wishes to change the public’s perception and associate itself with values such as loyalty, sincerity, and trust, which are characteristics that define Key Opinion Leaders. To return to our George Clooney example above, the actor's experience in non-profits and charity work was put to good use, and he became the face of many of Nespresso's sustainability initiatives. 

For that reason, KOL marketing is directly linked to branding actions, rather than sales objectives. Your KOL will not promote your newest product release, however, they will be the main face that people associate with your brand. If you want your KOL marketing strategy to be effective, it’s important to choose the right figure to lead your campaign.

Just because someone has gained the title of expert within a certain field, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to represent your brand. A special connection between a KOL and a brand is essential, and you want to make sure that your KOL hasn't artificially boosted their audience with fake followers or engagement. 

So, what characteristics should you look out for when searching for the perfect KOL for your marketing strategy?

As well as authority and popularity, the ideal KOL must embody other important characteristics, such as a good personality, charisma, communication skills, and the ability to be a role model whom people can identify with. In the case of the Nadal-Kia Motors partnership, the key trait is inspiration, as embodied in the company's new brand belief that 'movement inspires ideas'. 

Why You Should Work with a KOL

The benefits of influencer marketing are undeniable, but working with KOLs goes a step further:

Confidence and experience are decisive factors when considering a product recommendation. Since KOLs are mainly implicated in branding actions, all of the benefits are therefore associated with the brand and not a product.

Their background and the credibility that they transmit is the best accessory for a brand, making it stand out next to the competition.

By identifying your brand with values such as solidarity, competency, and confidence, you are laying the foundations for success with future marketing actions.


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