What Is a Key Opinion Leader? Definition and How To Use One

Updated February 3, 2023

Many industry professionals and consumers value the opinions of highly esteemed experts in their field. Hiring a key opinion leader to promote a brand, product or service can be an effective way to reach a wider target audience, become more respected in the industry and increase sales. Picking the right key opinion leader for your niche and using the proper promotional efforts can help you stand out in your industry. 

In this article, we review what a key opinion leader is, why it's an important role, how to use a key opinion leader in your marketing strategy and how they differ from influencers.

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What is a key opinion leader?

A key opinion leader is a professional who's an expert in their particular field of study and maintains a well-respected social status in their industry. Since they're established leaders in their niche, companies and individuals typically listen to their thoughts and opinions to help them make certain decisions and purchases.

Organizations hire key opinion leaders to talk about the features of their products or services and the benefits they can provide customers. Common examples of opinion leaders include:

  • Politicians

  • Consultants

  • Designers

  • Advisers

  • Doctors

Related: 8 Types of Endorsements in Advertising

Why are key opinion leaders important?

Key opinion leaders are important because they've gained significant respect in their fields, causing several industry professionals to value their opinions. If a key opinion leader promotes a product, service or brand, this can raise awareness of it to their audience and lead more people to purchase or learn more about it.

Some key opinion leaders may already use a brand and choose to tell others about the product. Common channels for key opinion leaders include:

  • Social media

  • Television

  • Website content

  • Blogs

Seeing that a key opinion leader uses and prefers the product you sell over another can make you stand out from the competition.

Related: What Are Opinion Leaders and Why Is Their Influence Important?

How to use key opinion leaders in marketing 

Try to find a key opinion leader who would use and enjoy your product. You should also hire one who has strong credibility in their field with a highly respected opinion by people most likely to purchase the product you sell. Follow these steps to use key opinion leaders in your marketing efforts:

1. Define your organizational goals

Before you can hire the right key opinion leader to promote a product, determine the goals you'd like to reach with their promotional efforts.

Decide on what you'd like the key opinion leader to accomplish, which could be building brand awareness, establishing yourself as a thought leader in the industry or proving the effectiveness of your product. Think about the target audience you'd like this key opinion leader to help you reach as well.

Related: A Comprehensive Guide To Organizational Goals

2. Determine an ideal KOL

After gaining a better understanding of the goals you'd like your ideal key opinion leader to help you hit, you can establish the characteristics of your potential key opinion leader. Since you know your audience, you can decide on a similar audience for the key opinion leader to have as well.

Consider finding a key opinion leader with values who align well with the company's own. This can make them more motivated and excited to promote the company. Their audience may also trust their opinion about the product more because they know the key opinion leader genuinely believes in it.

Determine the profession you'd prefer the idea key opinion leader to have as well that's related to your brand and product. For instance, if you're selling toothpaste, a dentist could be an ideal key opinion leader to promote your product.

Related: How To Identify Your Target Demographics

3. Search online for the KOL

Since you have the characteristics and preferences of your key opinion leader, you can search for the right one for you. Conduct online research on your industry and find relevant materials like industry newsletters, articles, events, seminars or webinars.

You can locate well-known industry experts who make regular contributions to establish themselves as experts, like guest speaking at events, writing opinion or factoid pieces or hosting educational or instructional seminars.

You can also search for industry professionals regularly in the press for certain achievements and awards. Once you've located highly esteemed key opinion leaders, you can start reaching out to a few with content and materials that relate closely to your product or brand.

Find their email address via social media or on their company's website and send a professional message informing them about your product and why you believe they'd be the best key opinion leader to promote it. From there, you can send them your product and establish a partnership.

4. Create a marketing strategy

Develop a strategy for the key opinion leader to follow. You can select which outlet to promote the key opinion leader on based on research conducted on your target audience. For instance, if you learn your audience regularly watches the news, you can book your key opinion leader on a news segment discussing your products and their benefits.

Other potential marketing ideas to use when featuring your key opinion leader include:

  • Guest-appearing on industry podcasts

  • Contributing to blogs or articles on your website

  • Speaking about your product at industry events

  • Mentioning your product during webinars

Related: How To Create a Marketing Strategy (With Examples)

5. Build your budget

The strategy you're able to implement typically depends on the budget you have available. Meet with the key opinion leader to determine how much they typically charge to speak on your product.

Those with stronger industry credibility who are established in their fields may charge more than others. Work closely with the key opinion leader to negotiate a price that properly compensates them for their value and knowledge, while still maintaining a fair budget to promote the product on the necessary channels.

Related: How To Design a Marketing Budget

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How do key opinion leaders differ from influencers?

Companies typically hire either influencers or key opinion leaders to promote their products to fans and followers. Influencers are typically individuals who gain a strong following through social media outlets, allowing them to persuade their audience to try or purchase certain products.

This allows an organization's brand to reach a wider audience and builds its reputation in its industry. Instances where you would use a key opinion leader rather than an influencer include:

Levels of expertise

Most key opinion leaders spent several years working and gaining expertise in a certain field, allowing them to gain high credibility. Many of them typically influence other industry professionals who are deciding whether to buy a product based on facts and research.

Key opinion leaders typically gain their credibility through a strong social media following. They're rarely experts on certain topics, but knowing they use and enjoy a product can often cause their followers to try or purchase it as well.

Related: A Guide To Influencer Marketing

Income source

An influencer's primary source of income is typically through promoting products they believe in and regularly use. They can often maintain an impressive wage by educating their followers on the benefits and features of products through social media posts.

Brands can typically pay influencers for each post they share or they may earn a commission for products sold to their followers using a unique discount code shared on their profiles. Most key opinion leaders have full-time jobs in their industry, which is where they earn a majority of their wages.

Since they have higher credibility in their niche, rather than on social media, it can cost you less to hire them to promote your product than it would for influencers. However, professionals with high-demand specialties may also charge a higher rate for promotions and KOL roles.

Related: How To Create a Digital Marketing Strategy


Companies usually hire influencers to gain access to their audiences. They typically review the influencer's followers to determine if they fall within their target audience. The influencer then promotes the brand's product to an audience that's likely to purchase the product.

Other organizations that need credibility in a professional and more traditional industry often use key opinion leaders to back up claims and establish the product's credibility. Common industries that key opinion leaders typically promote brands for include:

  • Pharmaceuticals

  • Healthcare

  • Biological sciences

  • Clinical trials

  • Medical devices

The industries with products influencers often promote include:

  • Lifestyle

  • Fashion

  • Fitness

  • Beauty

  • Travel

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