TOKYO -- Chinese startup Bolome is using social media "influencers" to help Japanese companies reach consumers in its home market, a strategy the venture says is more effective than ordinary internet advertising.
The Shanghai-based Bolome provides e-commerce services through the WeChat messaging app. It has exclusive contracts with about 90 Chinese influencers -- WeChat users who have significant followings and use their clout to promote products.
Combined, Bolome's social media stars have around 80 million followers.
The company helps the influencers set up storefronts on the app and sell goods. Bolome handles procurement and inventory management, and splits the proceeds.
Bolome's unit in Japan is offering a service whereby it acts as an intermediary between Japanese companies and the influencers. Bolome distributes the clients' products for free to the influencers, who in turn write reviews and sell the merchandise in China through WeChat. The partners decide for themselves what to tell their fans, and are under no obligation to spread positive assessments.
Bolome says this approach is the ticket to boosting name recognition in China, where influencers -- also known as "key opinion leaders" -- play a major role in marketing strategies and online reviews are considered crucial sales drivers.
The Japanese companies provide Bolome with batches of products worth at least 300,000 yen ($2,669). The greater the value, the more the influencers will pitch the goods.
Bolome hopes to win around 200 corporate clients by 2019. It plans to target makers of cosmetics and daily necessities, in particular, as their sales in China depend heavily on e-commerce platforms.
Founded in 2015, Bolome's main business is a namesake cross-border e-commerce app for selling Japanese and South Korean consumer goods in China. It runs the WeChat-based service on top of this.
Monthly sales via the namesake app are estimated at around $10 million. Bolome wants to develop the influencer-powered business into another revenue pillar.