Key Opinion Customer marketing is a new and powerful branch of KOL (influencer) marketing that’s taken the Chinese social media industry by storm. It helps brands to:
- Connect to its customers like never before
- Understand its customers and what they want
- And reach new customers without breaking the bank
But what is it, exactly?
And how does it work?
In this article, we’ll be delving into everything you need to know about KOC marketing and why it’s time international brands seriously pay attention to it.
Introducing KOC Marketing
In a nutshell, KOC (Key Opinion Consumers) marketing is a new form of social media marketing in China that’s based on the promotional power of pre-existing customers.
These are customers that brands can lean on to promote their products, improve their products, and launch new products to instant success.
They’re a brand’s No.1 fan — the first in line for a new product launch, and the first to leave a glowing review on social media or an e-commerce site.
And that right there is why they’re so powerful.
By using social media to (often indirectly) promote a brand with their reviews, KOCs are an authentic and trusted way to give products the ‘social proof’ they need to gain traction in China.
But a KOC isn’t just any old consumer leaving a review.
To be considered a ‘KOC’, a consumer needs to:
- Be an avid social media user
- Have a small but mighty following (usually no more than 50,000 followers)
- Be within a brand’s target market
But how does a KOC become a KOC, exactly?
The great thing about KOC marketing is that a lot of it is already done for you. Most brands in China — whether big or small — will already have their own KOCs… they just might not know it yet.
If, for example, your products are praised on social media by a handful of ‘micro influencer’ customers — you’ve got the beginnings of a KOC marketing strategy.
This alone can deliver some great results — and for free, too!
But the secret to serious success with KOC marketing in China is to actively invest in it and build a strategy that takes it to the next level, which we’ll be breaking down later.
Why is KOC marketing so important in China?
The importance of KOC marketing comes down to one thing: consumer behavior.
First, Chinese consumers are extremely savvy. They know when a promotion is genuine, and they know when it isn’t.
Take celebrity and high-profile influencer endorsements, for example.
Whilst these were once an important part of the consumer journey in China, they’re now seen for what they are — paid-for-promotions that don’t necessarily reflect the ‘promoters’ real opinion.
As such, KOL marketing fills an ever-expanding gap. It offers brands the opportunity to have their products promoted by ‘micro-influencers’ that are trusted, reliable and authentic.
Because remember: KOCs are pre-existing fans of a brand.
They don’t need to be paid to promote a product — they do it already by sharing positive reviews, and mentioning it on their social media profiles.
When you combine this with the fact that almost 90% of Chinese consumers read online reviews before purchasing a product, it’s clear why KOC marketing is so important.
It offers a solution to building a positive reputation online (by encouraging reviews from KOCs) in a way that avoids all the pitfalls of KOL marketing.
What is the difference between KOL and KOC marketing?
The fundamental difference between KOL and KOC marketing comes down to two things.
First, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are:
- The popular social media ‘influencers’ in China
- They have millions of followers
- They earn a living from promoting products and collaborating with brands
KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers), on the other hand:
- Have far fewer followers and are common customers
- They’re not paid to promote products
- Their ‘promotion’ usually comes in the form of organic, self-directed reviews and social media posts
Secondly, KOCs and KOLs tend to have different intentions.
Whilst a KOL is likely to promote the brand that pays the highest price, a KOC will only ‘promote’ a product they genuinely recommend and use themselves — hence why you’ll find them in the review section on product pages, not in glossy photo-shoots and magazines.
These differences are reflected in the cost of both marketing tactics. KOL marketing can be very expensive, whilst KOC marketing is free until you want to scale it up.
Why is KOC marketing only just taking off, then?
More and more consumers in China are becoming aware of the pitfalls of KOL marketing and paid-for-promotions.
As a result, instead of looking towards influencers for product recommendations, customers are increasingly looking to themselves — in comment sections, on review sites, and on social media.
Because KOCs are customers, just with a slightly bigger profile than the rest.
They can be trusted, and aren’t involved in any ‘celebrity’ scandals that might discredit their opinions, which is happening more frequently in China, as social media continues to expand.
Also, there’s the fact that new social media sites, like XiaoHongshu, offer the ideal platform for KOCs and UGC (user-generated content) to shine, which we’ll be covering a little later.
How can brands take advantage of KOC marketing?
As we’ve covered, KOC marketing can often occur organically.
That is, if you launch a product that takes off, you’re more than likely to attract the attention of KOCs who will spread the word.
But if brands want to really take advantage of KOC marketing, they need to actively encourage it.
This is about three things: attracting, reviewing, and working with KOCs. Let’s go ahead and break these down, one-by-one:
1. Attracting KOCs
First, brands building a KOC marketing strategy need to start with attracting potential customers who might fit the bill. To do this, brands should:
- Always encourage customer reviews by making it easy to leave a review on your website, and hosting product giveaways for those who do.
- Engaging with fans on social media by responding to messages and creating hashtags to get involved.
- Search social media for the users who mention your brand the most.
- Create advertising campaigns that target your ideal customer.
All of this will set the wheels in motion for a KOC strategy that converts. It’ll increase a brand’s social media relevance, increase the number of online reviews it receives, and increase the amount of fans it has willing to do their marketing for them.
2. Reviewing KOCs
Once a brand has taken the necessary steps to attract potential KOCs, they then need to filter through and identify what KOCs might have the most promotional power. This will include ticking boxes, like:
- Having a small but mighty social media following
- Being a genuine fan of your brand
- Being in the target market of your brand
3. Working with KOCs
After identifying powerful KOCs, it’s time to scale up your strategy and work with them to generate results. This could take the form of:
- Sending gifts to encourage reviews and social media posts
- Creating marketing campaigns that feature their advocacy
- Hosting live streams with them to gain access to their network
- Inviting them to focus groups to learn from their opinions and ideas
Too much incentive can quickly turn a KOC into a KOL. You should treat your KOCs as fans, not business partners who are being paid.
How to set goals and achieve a positive ROI with KOC marketing
The number one goal of KOC marketing is to drive advocacy and build a positive reputation that’s led by influential customers.
But, brands should keep in mind that KOC marketing is a mid-to-long-term strategy — it’s unlikely to generate the immediate results a KOL campaign might be able to, for example.
That doesn’t mean KOC marketing is worth any less than other forms of more traditional online advertising though.
In fact, KOC marketing has a pay-off that — in time — will achieve a far higher ROI than other forms of marketing, since it’ll constantly generate new leads through securing fans and increasing brand awareness regularly.
To achieve a positive ROI, avoid spending too much money on KOC marketing in a short period of time. It’s also a good idea to attract, identify and work with KOCs alongside other traditional marketing methods for maximum impact.
Tick those boxes, and one recent study has found that KOC marketing could deliver an ROI of $1-4 per dollar invested. Impressive!
KOC Marketing in action — Introducing Perfect Diary
After just three years of launching, Perfect Diary became the biggest makeup brand in China with a social media following bigger than the likes of L’Oreal, Tom Ford and Estee Lauder combined.
By launching a KOC marketing strategy that created brand awareness and brand advocacy at unprecedented speed.
At the center of this was XiaohongShu — a popular social e-commerce site in China that puts customer reviews at the point of purchase.
Within just twelve months, Perfect Diary became the most followed account on the platform by carrying out a KOC and KOL strategy that looked like this:
As a result, Perfect Diary was able to attract users and convert them into customers on the back of user-generated content (like reviews and photos) led by KOCs. This escalated quickly, and generated a continuous stream of engagement.
Perfect Diary attracted (and created) KOCs by:
- Encouraging customer reviews
- Always asking users to like, comment and bookmark their posts
- And hosting product giveaways to those who do
This is a prime example of how KOC marketing, combined with more traditional marketing methods, can be extremely powerful and significantly speed up a brand’s growth in China.
Are you ready to launch your KOC marketing strategy?
You’re in the right place.
Here at AdChina.io, we can help you build a marketing strategy that’s driven by traffic from the most important advertising channels in China.
Book your free demo today, and unlock the world’s most important market without all the hassle.