Why Chinese Fitness Influencers are Best Advocates for Sport Brands

Viral Access
5 min readMar 25, 2019


Health and fitness are the latest buzz in urban Chinese’s lifestyles.

With the growing consciousness of health, Chinese consumers shift their shopping pattern beyond consumer goods. China’s health and fitness industry is estimated to grow over USD 350 billion in profit by 2020. Likewise, Euromonitor also reported that China’s sportswear market has been rapidly increasing and is predicted to hit USD 43.10 bullion by 2020.

As fitness is a giant industry in China and influencer marketing is such a huge deal there, at such KOLs are extremely powerful and valuable for fitness brands to efficiently promote their products and services. But what makes these influencers extremely valuable for sport brands?

Photo source: entitymag

Promote the Lifestyle

The explosion of fitness KOLs all over the country is partially caused by the ambitious nationwide campaign by Chinese government to promote healthier lifestyle for its citizens. But beyond that, KOLs are extremely influential simply because people trust them.

Then there’s a fact that fitness gyms and clubs also utilize KOLs’ voices to further promote the lifestyle possibilities beyond the actual service and products offered. From hitting the gyms with the latest sportswear, taking selfies with workout buddies after exercise session, to inspirational body transformation story that were shared online, these fitness influencers are practically revolutionizing sport industries in China. Fitness KOLs easily generate awareness for these brands through various contents that are personable and share them in various social media channels, from WeChat, Weibo, to Xiaohongshu.

Thanks to them, the number of gyms in China experienced massive growth to over 37,000, especially with the arrival of a lot of foreign gym-franchises and the introduction of multi-purpose gyms that offer specialized experiences.

Mobile Fitness Apps on Rampage

So you do realize that Chinese consumers spent most of their times on mobile phones, right? Along with the rising popularity of fitness in China, the number of fitness mobile apps popping out is also increasing. Mobile fitness apps in a way are freeing users from committing to a full-year gym membership and its expensive deposit. The apps allow Chinese gym-goers to design their own workout schedules while stay connected with their friends. Furthermore, most of the apps usually attract users with free tutorials on almost any types of workout, featuring fitness KOLs to demonstrate the moves. Therefore, fitness KOLs are extremely efficient to promote the apps because of their massive followers on social media.

Beijing market research report showed that by April 2018, the number of active users on mobile fitness apps in China had reached 68.5 million. Fitness enthusiasts value these online apps as trackers to keep their sports data and plan out their exercise routines, while those who aim to lose weight rely on the apps to serve as a private tutor to guide, encourage and accompany them during training.

Market Other Sports Goods

Photo source: MarketingtoChina

With people spending more time at the gym, it is only natural that the active-wear industry in China is also reaping the benefits. Apart from fitness mobile apps and wearable fitness trackers, athletic wears market is also experiencing a tremendous boost.

Adidas and Nike are among leading brands in China that currently stay under the spotlight of the latest sportswear buzz thanks to these KOLs. Some fitness influencers have also collaborated with domestic brands to cater to more specific and unique demands of local people. These sports brands are now considered as fashion items as much as fitness items. At such, there’s a possible market opportunity for a purely functional fitness brands to compete in the future.

Successful Startup: KEEP

Photo source: in.ci.mi.com

One of the example of successful fitness brands is Keep. Established in 2014, the fitness app has steadily growing and now is known as one of the most used fitness apps in China with over 100 million users.

The app offers a variety of training programs and allow users to create custom workout, while stay connected to people to share and comment on their workout progress. It was initially designed for busy office workers with exercises that lasted around 2–5 minutes, but along with the rising of smartphones usage among China’s millennial, Keep narrowed down their niche to target young entrepreneurs who barely have time to go to gyms but still want to embrace the trendy lifestyle.

The brand’s success in becoming China’s hottest fitness app is undeniably due to its effective KOL marketing strategy. In the early ages, Keep initiated a group of people to be active participants in various social media chat groups, who regularly update and share high-quality fitness content to accumulate target audiences to be their followers, while consistently engaging the audiences in interactive conversation. This way, Keep has successfully created its own fitness KOLs with a virtually low-cost budget.

These fitness KOLs eventually become Keep’s most valuable assets to promote their products and services. Utilizing the foundation the KOLs have established throughout the marketing period, Keep launched the next step of the campaign by allowing other fitness enthusiasts to post their own content on its website and chat groups. Keep also allows other fitness brands to create in-app social campaigns and promotions for fitness classes and other services.

What we can learn from here is how Keep utilizes fitness KOLs to create contents that directly aim for potential users of the app. Clear targeting established early on the initiation phase of marketing campaign is extremely crucial. As Keep released direct link to download their app at the end of their campaign to chat groups full of prospective users, the whole community is on rage. The domino effect of the “mouth-to-mouth” marketing resulted in over 40,000 downloads of the app in one day. This is how efficient KOL marketing is in China and with effective implementation, Keep manages to break with a strong start into Chinese market.

Photo source: hksilicon

Additionally, to keep up with its clients’ commercial demands, Keep has since then created its own sports equipment and apparels by collaborating with other sportswear brands. Not only that, on its most recent marketing strategy, Keep also started its own offline gym “Keepland” and invited fitness KOLs to be members and to share their experiences online. This way, Keep has successfully differentiated its brand by integrating social media and e-commerce within its app.



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