What Western brands should know about KOC marketing in China

Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs, have been active on the Chinese marketing scene for some time now. But recently, a new type of influencer came on board – the Key Opinion Consumer, or KOC. If you’re responsible for marketing your brand in China, here’s what you need to know about this interesting and powerful group of Chinese social influencers.

Why are influencers so important in China?

Chinese customers trust the recommendations of their chosen influencers, and follow their advice, tips and steer when it comes to new products and services. This relationship is enabled through trust, and as a result, influencers in China often have more relevance and importance than mass media. Influencers know how to make themselves relatable to their audience, they facilitate word-of-mouth marketing, they are naturally engaging and they drive conversions by influencing the consumer decision-making process.

What are KOCs?

Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) are online consumers with their own small, or niche, followings. They express their opinions about products, services and brands in a market where reliability, authenticity and personal recommendations are highly valued and sought after – far more so than in the West. Key Opinion Consumers are seen in China as being trustworthy, reliable and relatable; all traits that build engagement and connection. These micro-influencers have relatively small numbers of followers, but high levels of engagement, authentic content, trust and follower interactions.

Why are KOCs growing in popularity?

As KOLs have become hugely powerful and prominent in their own rights, often with large follower numbers and valuable product sponsorships, Chinese customers have become warier about the authenticity and honesty of their recommendations. Savvy Chinese consumers know that KOLs are usually being paid to endorse brands, so they are seeking out the honest feedback of smaller KOCs, who are seen as being ‘truer’ experts.

How do KOCs and KOLs differ?

KOLs tend to have large volume follower bases and they can be celebrities in their own right. KOCs are more niche and tend to have tighter, more focused audiences with whom they engage more closely. For brands, the best approach is usually to use both types of influencers as part of an integrated marketing strategy. Still, many smaller brands will begin with the more affordable KOCs and then bring KOLs alone.

How can brands get the most from Chinese influencer marketing?

1. Know your objectives

KOL and KOC marketing share a key objective – to increase your brand visibility and to grow engagement amongst your target audience. The size of your chosen influencer’s audience is less important than the relevance of that audience to your brand. So a KOC with a niche, or ‘micro’ following may actually be more relevant to your brand and its market offer. By really understanding your own offer and target audience, you can better find a KOC with relevant interests, knowledge and a community that matches your ideal customer base.

2. Choose your platforms

Some Chinese social media platforms favour KOCs within their algorithms. For example, Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) values micro-influencer accounts and tends to prioritise them in the feed and also via related topic hashtags. Weibo is also a great channel for KOCs and brands such as Olay and Lancome are already using it to leverage user-generated content and KOC communities. A Chinese digital marketing agency such as Market Me China can offer advice on selecting and using the right social media platforms for your needs in China, depending on your offer, market and industry.

3. Get the most from your KOCs

If you work with a KOC then use your partner to build brand awareness, spread content and engage with potential customers. They might create a new topic about your brand, offer their own true opinions and reviews to existing discussions or invite their own followers to offer feedback in this way. This process can help to convert followers into customers.

It’s vital that you keep your KOC relationship as authentic as possible, with an emphasis on value and loyalty to customers, rather than on ‘buying reviews’. KOCs must always be free to speak their minds, as this is their true value and power. But if your brand sells a great service or product, then the right KOC can share these positive attributes with potential customers in a far more immediate, compelling and results-driven way than a brand could.

4. Ready your product or service

Before engaging with a potential KOC, make sure your product or service offer has been completely optimised for that excellent, honest review. This means ensuring that the customer service is excellent, that you have offered the chance to personalise the experience of your customers in some way (vital to Chinese consumers), that you have considered experiential marketing elements, and that your product or service attributes are of the right quality – and targeted to the audience of interest. For example, for a younger, affluent audience, is your brand unique, authentic / heritage-based, desirable, enabling personal style and expression, sustainable and so forth?

5. Optimise your digital marketing channels

Before you work with any online influencers to promote your brand, products and services, it’s important to ensure your digital ecosystem is optimised and ready. This means having optimised landing pages on your Chinese language website, integrated Chinese payment systems, relevant online advertising campaigns, content marketing and so forth. When influencer marketing is considered as part of a broader marketing strategy and campaign, the results will be far more powerful.

6. Get the help you need

It can be challenging to find the right KOC (or KOL) for your brand in China – especially in a market that is so constantly evolving and growing at a dizzying pace! Market Me China can help you to find the right online influencers and to partner with them in a way that brings true results to your brand, and sustainable benefits over time.

We work with brands to devise effective, multi-channel digital marketing campaigns that integrate KOC and KOL marketing for measurable results. Please contact us in the first instance to find out more about how we can help you.