KOLs: What They Are & Why They're Key to Your Marketing Strategy

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Caroline Forsey
Caroline Forsey



Over the past few years, influencer marketing has become an incredibly successful strategy for brands looking to reach a targeted audience on social media. And, with an average ROI of $6.50 for each dollar spent, it's undoubtedly powerful.


If you're a marketer, I'm willing to bet you've heard the term 'influencer' before. But what about key opinion leaders, or KOLs … have you heard of them?

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Despite certain commonalities between KOLs and influencers, the two terms aren't synonymous. And if your brand is looking to reach a specific, niche demographic, you might want to consider implementing a strategy that incorporates KOLs.

Here, we're going to explore what KOLs are, and why they're a critical component of your 2019 marketing strategy.

What are KOLs?

To consider what a KOL (key opinion leader) is, let's start with a real-life example.

Jaclyn Hill is a makeup artist and YouTuber whose channel focuses primarily on beauty products. With 5.8 million YouTube subscribers (as well as 6.2 million followers on Instagram), Hill is considered a makeup and beauty expert by her online community.

In 2015, Becca Cosmetics partnered with Hill to create a limited-edition highlighter known as "Champagne Pop". The product was extremely successful, breaking Sephora's record for most-purchased product on its first day of release.

Becca Cosmetics could have chosen another influencer to collaborate with, but the brand knew Hill had a specific niche community they wanted to reach.

Hill was ultimately more than just another influencer to Becca Cosmetics -- she was a KOL, or key opinion leader.

A KOL is similar to an influencer in regards to follower size, but a KOL has a more targeted audience. For instance, Hill's YouTube channel is dedicated solely to beauty trends and products. If she were to post a cooking video, it might not be well-received by her community. Her fans rely on her as an authority figure in the beauty space.

Since KOLs are considered experts on certain topics, they're often regarded as trustworthy and authentic. Their authenticity enables them to have influence on the opinions and preferences of their audiences -- which is why partnering with a KOL is a particularly powerful strategy for your brand.

There are three major benefits to using a KOL as part of your marketing strategy. Let's dive into those, now.

Benefits of KOLs for Your Marketing Strategy

1. A KOL can help you target your ideal audience.

Whether you're interested in boosting awareness or generating leads, a KOL can help you quickly identify and reach your ideal audience. Essentially, a KOL has done all the hard work for you -- she's taken the time to engage with a specific, niche audience, and she's grown a community centered around a specific interest.

A KOL is a particularly powerful opportunity to reach your ideal audience. For instance, let's say your business sells organic smoothie products. Your product is relatively niche, so you don't necessarily need to cast a wide net when attracting and engaging new leads.

Rather than posting Facebook ads or cultivating a strong presence on Google, you might be better off reaching out to a KOL like Massy Arias, who has 2.5 million followers and posts content exclusively related to health and fitness. Since Arias' typically posts organic health and fitness content and has proven an expert in this realm, her fans are more likely to trust when she recommends your product.

2. A KOL can help you generate sales.

A KOL can help you attract attention to a new product or raise awareness of your brand, both of which can help you boost sales. With 82% of consumers saying they'd follow the recommendation of an influencer, it stands to reason a KOL could have tremendous impact on your bottom line.

Alternatively, your company might consider collaborating with a KOL to create an exclusive product -- like "Champagne Pop" by Becca Cosmetics and Jaclyn Hill. Since your KOL is well-aware of industry trends and uniquely engaged with the consumer market, she's more likely to help you identify areas for improvement in your current product or overall marketing strategy -- so you'll get the most for your money if you use her as a collaborator, as well.

3. Increase your own reach.

A KOL can help ensure you're reaching the ideal target market for your brand -- and, additionally, she can enable you to reach a much larger percentage of potential consumers than you might've otherwise.

Without a hefty marketing budget, it could be difficult for your brand to reach one million people via traditional advertising methods -- plus, traditional ads don't allow you to target a specific group of people.

Alternatively, you could collaborate with a KOL who has one million followers on YouTube, Instagram, or another platform, and reach one million people who are specifically interested in your industry. A KOL partnership is cheaper, quicker, and potentially more effective than most traditional advertising methods -- so, if it makes sense for your brand, why not try it out?

How to Find a KOL

Finding a key opinion leader in your industry is relatively easy. On YouTube, you might try searching keywords related to your product or service, and peruse the various accounts that show up as search results. Alternatively, you could search hashtags on Instagram to find influencers who specialize in a specific, targeted field.

You might also check out "The Ultimate List of Instagram Influencers in Every Industry (94 and Counting!)" -- since these influencers are separated by niche industries, you'll likely find a key opinion leader whose audience directly matches your target market.

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