Switching From KOL to KOC as a Successful Strategy in China

KOL China

In China, key opinion leaders (KOLs) are extremely influential in shaping consumer behavior. However, as the market continues to mature, consumers are increasingly looking to less “sponsory” sources (KOCs) for product recommendations and information. Fashion brands and luxury brands that want to stay ahead of the curve should consider making the switch from KOL-based marketing to KOC-based marketing. Here’s why.

What is a KOC?

KOC means key opinion consumers (or micro-influencer), as opposed to the KOL (key opinion leaders). KOCs are considered “normal” people, most of the time they have less than 10,000 followers. The difference is that a KOL is contacted by the brand, a micro-influencer will often apply to become an influencer. They often are popular, good looking and with a sense of aesthetics for photography for example.

The pros of KOCs for Marketing in China

KOCs are more authentic

Most of the KOCs play a role and are not considered as authentic by the audience. KOCs work in a similar way to word of mouth as KOLs, but they can convince easily as customers identify easily to a micro-influencer. This kind of authenticity attracts engagement, awareness, and brand recall.

KOCs are cheaper

On average, a micro-influencer costs around $100 to $200 per post on Instagram. But not all of the available influencer platforms give the brand right to use the content thereafter. Making good use of several KOCs can produce a higher return on investment than one KOL.

KOCs are less demanding

KOCs are not full-time influencers, they consider influence as an additional activity. They are easy to reach through a lot of platforms proposing various profiles. When KOLs can always ask for more when dealing with your brand because they are famous, KOCs are more easy-going, so they are a good choice to simplify the negotiations.

The cons of KOCs for Marketing in China

Limited visibility and reach

KOCs obviously don’t have the audience of macro-influencers, and with most influencer platforms setting a 10k follower limit, the visibility and reach of content are capped. The fact is that a KOC can often have a higher engagement rate than KOLs.

Limited control on the content

Brands often provide a more or less precise and detailed brief according to what they want. Choosing a KOC, which is not fully professional, increases the risks of brief interpretation. Once the contract is modified and signed, the power is in the KOL’s hands.

Limited quantification of the benefits

It is way more difficult to quantify the return on investment of a KOC, as it is difficult to know exactly if obtained results are attributed to him. While visibility, reach, and engagement can all be easily measured and reported on, a micro-influencer only builds awareness and increase sales indirectly.

What is a KOL?

KOL is for key opinion leaders or macro-influencers. Macro-influencers are famous, known by many, and can use his name as a brand. These kinds of people are often celebrities who have followers in the region of tens of thousands or millions. KOLs are reached by brands through a PR agent or their social media profiles.

The pros of KOLs for marketing in China

Higher visibility and reach

Thanks to their large audience, KOLs increase easily and faster brand awareness and engagement. As they are professionals, they have the numbers on their side and can prove a real added value for the brand, for example in terms of sales.

More control over the content

A brand can often choose the exact celebrity and give them precise instructions on what to post, meaning the outcome can be almost predicted. A good KOL use can make your brand very popular and build a reputation around a product.

Easy quantification of the benefits 

ROI in a KOL campaign is often easy to define than that of a micro campaign because many brands will set up a unique offer code for a KOL campaign. This makes it easier to attribute sales to a precise post or macro campaign as brands can easily track how many times an offer code was used online.

The cons of KOLs for Marketing in China

KOLs are less trusted by the audience

Product placement is often obvious, and thus inauthentic. People can see through a devised post and therefore trust the content less. While this kind of marketing is great for reach and awareness, people often don’t trust that the influencer really uses the product and assumes they are mainly money reasons behind it.

KOLs campaigns are more expensive

Celebrities will also generally require much higher payments than micro-influencers, usually from $2,000 to $100,000. The problem is that when KOCs suit the market prices, KOLs can settle their own price depending on the provided service. For a single macro-influencer post, you will need a lot of them from a KOC to reach the same level of awareness.

KOL campaigns are harder to execute

Campaigns with KOLs often take longer to organize and may require a PR agency. Getting hold of a celebrity or their manager is one thing, but standing out amongst many other requests, is another. Celebrities can also be picky with which brands they endorse, so showing them how your product will raise their profile and personal brand is also important.

So, which one will fit your needs?

Switching from a KOL to a KOC strategy is an emerging trend among brands. Both influencer types have their pros and cons, but nowadays KOCs are more efficient as they are authentic. Depending on the budget, you can choose one or more KOCs to display your offer and create a mass effect, instead of capitalizing only on one KOL that will cost you more for less effect. Assess your KPIs and choose accordingly, you could also choose both if this strategy fits your needs.

How to communicate with a KOL in China

Associate the best of both

The right posting formats contribute to increasing targetting and community sense toward your brand. KOLs are excellent choices for spreading content but the difference is that they don’t increase the community, they also reach the daily audience.

“KOL” as a buzzword

  • The memorability of posted content by a regular individual is 3 times higher for a brand
  • The memorability of posted content by a KOL is 11 times higher for a brand
  • +317% searches for “KOL marketing” on the Internet

Luxury brands should make better use of influencers

Luxury brands often think either that using a KOL to promote their products is not exclusive and kills scarcity, or that they have to multiplicate the KOLs. KOCs who have fewer followers can produce a higher return on investment compared to that a top league KOL. 

The key to success is to consider that KOLs have to be considered as long-term allies; instead of using tons of them for a short term, brands should consider nurturing this relationship to maximize their lifetime value.

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