Getting closer to consumers with KOCs, the Chinese micro-influencers

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The value in word-of-mouth marketing is undisputable. Michaela Zhu, marketing executive, and Emily Hassett, business development executive, both of Emerging Communications, explain the importance of cultivating key opinion consumers (KOCs) to bolster product recommendations and elevate brand reputations.

69% of China’s gen Z discover products and brands through friends and on the internet, which means getting a great recommendation is key to convincing them to purchase. An endorsement from a Chinese key opinion consumer (KOC) is more relatable for China’s youth than traditional influencers and – in our experience – is a missed opportunity for many western brands’ China marketing strategy. But what is a KOC, and how could they drive results for your next marketing campaign?

KOL versus KOC – what’s the difference?

Larger influencers are known as key opinion leaders or KOLs. They typically have a large following and can act as a spokesperson, brand ambassador or thought leader for products and brands. They usually have a very professional approach and work with bigger brands.

KOCs on the other hand are micro-influencers with a small following (usually only a few hundred), who both consume products and create content. As everyday shoppers themselves, they are more relatable and trusted by consumers when making purchasing decisions.

Why is influencer marketing so important in China?

Influencer marketing is a well-established marketing strategy worldwide. But China’s collectivist culture gives influencer marketing a whole new meaning in the Chinese market, as audiences put comparatively higher value on recommendations and word of mouth than their western counterparts.

China’s gen Z have a huge influence on the country’s trends, and their unique characteristics lend themselves well to influencer marketing. Everything has to be ‘smartphone-first,’ consumption trends are seen as part of pop culture and it is vital to spend a lot of time on research and reviews before making a purchase. China’s youth also love to share beautiful things, viewing purchases as an extension of themselves and as a form of self-expression. In particular, KOCs are seen as sharing in the high value placed on consumption, and their opinions and reviews are highly appreciated in the early research stage.

Building authenticity and trust through KOCs

2021 saw global skincare brand Clinique jump on the micro-influencer opportunity and drive engagement through KOCs. The result? The second highest trending topic across Little Red Book and other user-generated content (UGC) platforms, and Clinique going viral on Chinese social media.

KOCs are authentic to consumers as they are the consumer. The content they share is not brand-focused but shares their daily life, which is more relevant for their followers. Their lower follower count means they have less incentive to create content for the advertising fee only, enjoying a more personal relationship with followers than a KOL would.

Brands can engage with KOCs to:

  • increase brand awareness, creating new themes about products or brands and setting the tone for engagement

  • spread content, adding to the discussion with comments and opinions

  • interact with potential consumers, inviting opinions and comments and increasing engagement

KOCs and Little Red Book – a winning combination

When western brands first approach China marketing, it is a tempting strategy to maximize user reach by focusing on KOLs only. But as user attention fragments across multiple platforms, the cost of attracting traffic rises. To optimize ROI on influencer spending, brands are increasingly paying attention to the quality of the traffic they receive from their influencer campaigns. For the right campaign, strategic use of KOCs can be an advantage as they are typically less expensive and bring results equal to (if not better than) KOLs depending on the brand and the channel used.

Little Red Book, or Red, is China’s answer to Instagram and where KOCs really come into their own compared to KOLs. This is due to the Red algorithm, which prioritizes high-quality content over any other metric such as follower numbers or number of posts. This means if the content quality is similar, KOC content is as likely to go viral on Red as KOL content. Why spend all your budget on a single influencer when you could spread the cost over multiple KOCs, improving reach and diversifying the sources of content? Download our guide to Little Red Book.

It’s a common misconception that influencers are only relevant for consumer brands. But in collectivist-driven China, influencers are used to great effect in campaigns across almost all kinds of businesses and markets. In our experience at Emerging Communications, opinions from KOCs play a key role in any long decision-making journey such as property, investment and even B2B. For example, our property clients have been able to drive hundreds of qualified inquiries for rented apartments and property sales from high-net-worth Chinese using targeted KOC content, with lifestyle-focused content from KOCs on Little Red Book.

To learn more about KOLs and KOCs and how to integrate Chinese influencers into your marketing strategy, download our Chinese Influencer Guide.