China Marketing Must-Know: Who are KOCs and why they matter?

Last year in China a new type of influencer made its way, the Key Opinion Consumer (KOC), consumers like everyone else. Brands with KOC thinking have opened a new era of vigorous marketing. But let’s see why KOCs are important for brands and how to create a KOC marketing campaign.

Why influencers are so important for brands in China?

Chinese consumers growing purchasing power is changing purchasing habits. It translated by a will to have access to more new products and shopping experiences. Taste is becoming more refined as well as needs. This both in terms of product quality and in terms of the validity of the contents connected to them and the people who convey them.

How can companies make the most of their investment in the Chinese market?

Influencers in China definitely are a fundamental part of a company’s communication strategy. This above all by virtue of the deep bond of trust with the followers, who are none other than the end customers of the company itself.

Influencers are seen as having more importance and relevance than mass media because they are able to connect and relate to their audience. In fact, KOL and, more recently, KOC marketing works extremely well in China. The influencers engage with their followers, by developing a relationship and making themselves relatable. They have an ability to make things trend and that is an opportunity foreign brands should be looking to invest in.

These influencers create word of mouth which is incredibly important in terms of consumer decision-making in China.

Read our KOLs Guide for China

Despite the recent and growing importance of KOCs as a marketing strategy for companies, a 360 ° influencer marketing strategy should not do without KOLs or KOCs.

In fact, being two different types of influencers, the types of audiences they attract are also different. While the former has the following of the masses, the latter attracts niches of more attentive consumers. The winning move is therefore to integrate collaborations with both types of influencers in China.

Of course, this also depends on the budget. Since if the budget is small, you can start to start less expensive collaborations with KOC, and later you can add those with KOL.

From KOL to KOC marketing: the reason is reliability

KOLs have always been a successful marketing tool in China because they have an unprecedented ability to connect to specific consumer segments based on demographics and lifestyle choices, which is not always the case with other marketing channels and tools.

Despite their ability to create engagement, the problem that many companies have faced is:

What is the right KOL for my brand?

A KOL with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers might be attractive, but sometimes it may be better to go with a KOL that has fewer followers but a stronger community niche that represents your brand. The goal of KOL marketing is to increase not only the visibility of your company but also to increase the involvement of your target audience with your brand. Some KOLs have a large following, but many of these may not respond to your brand.

From KOL to KOC marketing: new opportunities for brands

KOL marketing has been a powerful marketing tool in China for quite a few years already, but recently a shift from KOL to KOC marketing has been noticed and it is supposed to be one of the marketing trends in 2020.

The position of consumer opinion in marketing has become higher, making KOC more and more important and the epidemic situation at the beginning of the year accelerated this trend. Why? There are several reasons that we will face later, but the most important one is that they are more reliable.

They are simple consumers who express their opinions and in a market like China where recommendations and reliability are everything, how could they not have become increasingly important for brands?

What is a KOC (Key Opinion Consumer)?

In the field of marketing, KOC is not a new concept, for example in the United States, the word micro-influencer appeared two or three years ago. This type of blogger, like a KOC, has a relatively small follower level and wins with a large amount of content, authentic content, and a high interaction rate.

KOCs have a few hundred followers and are almost entirely involved in product reviews on social media. Even though most of KOC doesn’t have a big fan base, they are the key to letting consumers make a buying decision because they are generally seen as more trusted due to their authentic and reliable content.

They are therefore characters with whom it is easy to identify and who inspire a lot of trust in other users. For this reason, some Chinese brands have already made their ambassadors. Among these, is Perfect Diary, has become one of the main cosmetic brands in China thanks to KOC.

The social Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), thanks to its algorithm, seems to be the most suitable to reward these small accounts. In fact, it often shows them at the top of the feed and refers to them through hashtags of related topics that users are talking about a lot.

What are the differences between KOLs and KOCS?

  • As mentioned, the main difference between KOL and KOC is in the number of their followers. KOLs have huge fan bases which, however, could mean they do not always have the total trust of their audience.
  • Chinese consumers have become more sophisticated and they have a lot of options to avoid traditional marketing. They know KOLs get paid to do reviews and due to also a few cases of influencers scandals. On the contrary, KOCs are first of all consumers who decide themselves which product they want to try and review. Even though they don’t have a huge fan base since their expertise is to give reviews, their voices are more reliable and readers actually refer to their reviews.
  • The radiation range of the KOC population is smaller than that of KOL, but their penetration is larger. For example, in the “private domain” such as groups and circles of friends, it has a strong circle-level spreading power and achieves large-scale sound volume.
  • Compared to KOL, KOC is often based on the identity of brand consumers to express their true feelings and share their own life experiences. The content they produce often presents a lifestyle and personalized style. The content output form is also different, such as actively outputting UGC content such as brand trial and evaluation.

One of the challenges KOC marketing presents to brands is the requirement to put advertising into the hands of consumers. In the age of social media dominance, it doesn’t matter what a brand says about itself, it matters what customers say about a brand.

How can brands take advantage of KOC Marketing in China?

KOC helps brands for several reasons:

  1. Increase brand awareness (They can create new topics about your brand or certain products to set the tone for additional engagement),
  2. Spread content (They can add to the discussion by providing their reviews and opinions),
  3. Engage with potential consumers (they can invite their followers to provide their own opinions and reviews. This will potentially improve engagement and can convert passive followers into active consumers).

How to set up a KOC marketing campaign?

Since KOC marketing costs are low and conversion is efficient. More and more brand traders and marketing distributors are beginning to focus on the “real” power of these key opinions consumers.

Many brands have even begun to accelerate their own KOC campaigns, but how to set up a KOC marketing campaign?

It is crucial to keep the authenticity of KOC as pure as possible. Rewards for KOC should depend on the honesty and value delivered to other potential consumers.

Brands can’t precisely control what KOC tells others, but brands can use incentives to shift KOC recommendations from casual to intentional. The goal is to reward KOC for communicating with potential customers in a way the brand can’t.

Some KOC will be motivated by past satisfaction, post-purchase rationalization, and emotional/psychological reinforcements, while others will only be motivated by tangible goals and rewards.

Companies, to develop KOC, can put efforts into:

  • Customer Service (Nothing outperforms excellent customer service when it comes to developing KOCs),
  • Personalize customers’ experience (It will make interacting with the brand uniquely special),
  • Experiential Marketing (You can modify customer contact points to create micro-moments specially designed to activate customer coercion to share unique life events).

What are the steps to finding a KOC?

  • Identification: Use social listening tools to identify customers who have above-average influence
  • Incentive: Add incentives to defend existing loyalty programs
  • Reward: Use a variety of physical and psychological rewards to motivate KOC potential, such as discounts.

Consumer word-of-mouth communication represented by KOC has attracted brands’ attention

In the era of new consumption characterized by the online world as the best way to interact with others, more and more brands begin to focus on the emotional demands of young people and guide their word-of-mouth communication through KOC marketing campaigns.

For example:

  • Perfect Diary relied on the KOC strategy on Chinese social platforms like Little Red Book, Weibo, and Wechat. The conversion achievements brought by the real word of mouth contributed by KOC are remarkable.
  • Pechoin launched the theme activity of #Pechoin inviting you to create a dream# in Kuaishou, driving KOCs with different professional identities to actively participate in the spread of the brand image.
  • L’Oreal, Olay, and Lancome have also started mobilizing consumers to create and share UGC content on social media such as Little Red Book and Weibo.


Two main types of KOCS marketing: “Superusers” and “KOC IP”

Superusers help brands through UGC

Users with high levels of activity and loyalty who can deeply recognize the brand are generally considered to be “super users”. They are a source of brand traffic and can contribute several times to the value of ordinary users.

Superusers tend to love new ideas, creativity, and sharing desires, and they are familiar with the use of social media. Their UGC content has helped many brands to communicate with Chinese consumers and become visible in the huge Chinese market.

A KOC IP is the brand’s own KOC

For example, Perfect Diary used WeChat private domain traffic to successfully incubate its own IP “Little Wanzi” and build “Little Wanzi” as its own KOC IP. It is a pioneering approach to KOC marketing.

The advantages of “Little Wanzi” lie in its “truth” and “the elimination of distance”. In fact, like a normal girl:

  • She loves drinking milk tea,
  • She publishes daily life,
  • She chats with her circle of friends
  • She shares her experience with skincare and beauty
  • In the WeChat community, She regularly carries out live transmission, sharing, and promotion activities.

Through the creation of a community, Little Wangzi” will carry out refined operations on users to complete the loyalty and buy-back of products, combining e-commerce channels such as Youzan and Taobao to create a closed circuit business suit.

What is important in China is the reliability

Whether it is to make the consumer a loyal fan of the brand, or to create an IP profile as a brand spokesperson, what is fundamental is the user’s word of mouth.

Reliability is paramount for brands in China. Chinese consumers tend to spend a lot of time online choosing the right brand and product to buy. But if they don’t know and don’t trust a brand, they will hardly buy its products.

Therefore, emphasizing the brand with humanity and specificity and building a positive and intimate emotional bond will become the top priority to obtain consumer “trust”.  KOCs are an excellent way to achieve this in China.

gma agency

In order to promote your brand and if you have any questions related to KOLs and KOCs marketing in China, contact GMA now!

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