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Million-dollar cereal brand founder on how to utilize the power of key opinion leaders in business

Written by Julianna Wu Published on     6 mins read

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From being a social media KOL to a USD 16 million brand, Yao Jing shares what it’s like to build a cereal brand catered to Chinese consumers.

2018-founded brand Wangbaobao features cereal-based food products that are healthier than traditional deep-baked oatmeal. Thanks to successful social media marketing, its products have gained huge popularity among China’s younger generations. Yao Jing is one of the three co-founders of the brand. She had experience managing three social media KOL accounts, each with over 100,000 followers, prior to founding the company.

Different from instant oatmeal and puffed oats, Wangbaobao uses low-temperature baking to process its cereal, while the product usually comes with raisins, dried fruits, nuts, and even dry milk and yogurt. “Each bite offers a different cereal experience, so consumers are always full of anticipation for the next bite,” said Yao Jing.

Oasis (OS): What was the motivation behind launching your brand Wangbaobao?

Yao Jing (YJ): Around 2015, we wanted to build our own consumer brand but had no idea how to do so. We didn’t have a background in the F&B industry and thus had no idea what products would be welcomed in China. We decided that we could do market research first by being a Key Opinion Leader (KOL).

We did plenty of social media marketing for many consumer brands. During our time operating KOL accounts, we identified a clear trend in China that consumers are pursuing healthy and convenient food.

By studying the different food products in China’s supply chain, we realized that most cereal choices that China had were imported from overseas. We felt that there were no cereal products that were localized and catered to the needs of Chinese consumers. There were also no other price points that they could compare with, as there were no domestic products available. Identifying the market gap helped us create a product meant for a Chinese market, and we eventually launched our brand, Wangbaobao, in May 2018.

OS: What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

YJ: One of the challenges we faced was in the initial stages of building the product. In the beginning, we were looking to collaborate with bigger factories that could produce cereal for us. However, we didn’t manage to reach a consensus as they had a more traditional take on this. They didn’t understand why we wanted to launch a totally different product since the current ones sold in the market were all similar. I could see that they had no motivation in doing this because they didn’t share our vision.

It took a long time, but we eventually built our own factory to supply our product. We didn’t have experience in this at all, and I even took courses to learn how to check for food product safety. This was because we had to hire people for our factory, and I had to know if they would be reliable when conducting food safety checks. This was by far the most important thing to me, as we are launching a product that people would consume. By learning the essentials, I would be able to ensure that our products are safe for consumption.

OS: How has being a KOL helped you in your entrepreneurial journey?

YJ: Firstly, we had a close relationship with our fans, which helped us greatly in the analysis of consumers’ needs and demands. Also, having operated social media accounts, we had the advantage of knowing how to market our products on social media, which is completely different from traditional marketing. This is also very different from traditional advertising. Lastly, being a KOL has also helped us in understanding how products are being distributed. All these factors helped us gain an advantage once our product was launched.

Wangbaobao did a joint campaign with bookstore chain OW Space in a couple of cities in China, featuring the theme of “be full both physically and mentally.” Photo courtesy of Wangbaobao.

OS: From the perspective of a commercial marketing CEO, is it easier to launch consumer products with a KOL background rather than start from scratch?

YJ: Personally, I feel that the product is the face of the brand. The product must be able to solve the needs of the consumers, but at the same time, connect with them emotionally. For example, some brands are able to brand themselves as lifestyle products on social media.

Regardless of the business model, I think what’s more important is the values and lifestyle that the brand portrays. I don’t think the business model makes a difference, or will any method be easier. When a company decides to launch a product, they have to figure out their plus point. Some are better at marketing than others, so they build a brand image before finding a product to fit it. Others might want to build a product first before adding in features that the market currently needs. To me, there is no one path to success; any method can work.

OS: What are the similarities and differences between running a KOL social media account and managing a company?

YJ: The similarity is that in both cases, we cannot do things based on our own views and preferences. Be it the company, the product, or even the marketing content and style, all of it has to be done with the demands and needs of the consumers in mind. It is important to build a rapport with those consuming your products. If we were to market something just because we feel that this is the right way to write content, the users might not understand it, and that would be rendered useless.

The difference is that, compared to a social media account, managing a brand is a long-term investment, both in terms of time and money. When we’re managing a social media account, all we measure is the engagement and sales of every post. However, sales cannot be the only way we measure success for a brand because there are many factors that build the foundation for a brand’s success. For example, there are brands that do promotions and discounts, which helps sell products. However, this does not help the brand in the long term, as there is no other foundation that holds the brand other than the price factor.

OS: Is it a necessity to build a brand image for consumer products?

YJ: There is a need for an emotional connection between the consumers and the brand. We choose to call ourselves a brand and not a product, and that is because we feel that it needs a unique representation of what it really is.

When we call it a product, it feels as though it’s more of a business and transaction. However, a brand would be different. I would equate this to friendships—why is it that some of us end up being friends out of all the people that we meet? It’s because there is an emotional connection, and you click well based on similar values. Similarly, if we were to create an image for the brand, it helps with brand loyalty in the long run.

OS: What would you do differently if you were to start all over again?

YJ: It has been exactly three years since we launched the product. In hindsight, I probably didn’t manage the manpower well enough back then. In the initial stages, when the company was progressing quickly, we lacked the manpower, which pushed back many of the other things that we probably wanted to do. If I were to turn back time, I’d spend more time hiring talents to help reduce friction in the company.

If there is anything I’d still do the same, it is the perseverance and hard work that I put into the company. That includes building the factory on our own, all the way to launching the product. I’m thankful that we didn’t follow the herd but stuck to our own belief that our brand would succeed. Building this brand is probably one of the most memorable things in my life.

WRITTEN BY

Julianna Wu

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