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Mastering KOL & KOC Influencer Marketing in China 2024

Published on: June 5, 2024

Think you’ve got influencer marketing all figured out? Think again.

China has redefined the game, turning influencer marketing into a high-octane sport. The market value hit a staggering US$13.8 billion in 2023, with a sprightly 16.3% year-over-year growth.

If you’re a Western brand aiming to crack the Chinese market, you’ve likely heard the acronyms KOL and KOC being thrown about with the enthusiasm of a carnival announcer.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Instagram post or TikTok dance challenge. This is a sophisticated ecosystem where a single post can make or break a brand. Here, it’s not just about who has the loudest megaphone; it’s about who your audience actually listens to and trusts.

Forget the standard influencer. We’re talking about Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) who can sway millions and Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) who bring authenticity to the table. 

So, get ready to dive into the unpredictable and absolutely essential realm of Chinese influencer marketing. This is where your brand’s fate could be decided in a single swipe.

Overview:

Understanding the Power of KOLs

KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders, are the heavyweight champions of the Chinese influencer scene.

Imagine your favourite celeb crossed with an industry expert and a top-tier marketer, and you get a KOL. These folks are the influencers of influencers, with millions of followers hanging on their every word, ready to snap up whatever they endorse faster than you can say “sold out”.

A single post from these titans can catapult a brand from obscurity to fame or send it plummeting into the abyss. KOLs wield the kind of power that makes Western influencers look like they’re playing with toy megaphones. Their real magic however, lies in their trendsetting prowess. They don’t just follow trends. They create them, turning unknown brands into household names almost overnight.

Think of them as the rock stars of Chinese social media — high cost, high impact, and, let’s be honest, not always the most down-to-earth. It’s a bit like hiring a celebrity to walk your dog. Sure, you get the headlines and the gawking neighbours, but you’re paying through the nose for the privilege.

These influencers are omnipresent, gracing platforms like Douyin (China’s TikTok), Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), and Weibo. Their star power doesn’t come cheap, but the payoff can be astronomical. 

Just ask BlendJet, a new player in the Chinese market that wanted to enhance brand recognition and visibility. They teamed up with top travel and food KOLs for their “Let You Call the Shots” campaign.

The result?

A jaw-dropping 590% boost in social media impressions compared to their competitors. It was a win-win: the brand got massive exposure, and the KOLs cemented their status as travel and food gurus. Talk about a recipe for success.

Embracing the Authenticity of KOCs

And then we have KOCs, or Key Opinion Consumers.

These aren’t your average influencers brunching on avocado toast. These are your everyday folks who’ve built a following simply by being themselves — relatable, trustworthy, and authentic. They might not have the colossal reach of KOLs, but they’ve got something far more precious: trust. Their followers see them as peers, not celebs, which makes their recommendations pure gold.

Their content might not have the slick finish of a KOL’s post, but that’s exactly why people trust them. They’re the ones who’ll tell you if a product is genuinely worth buying because they’ve actually used it themselves, without the gloss of professional marketing. KOCs are the digital age’s version of good old word-of-mouth marketing.

Brands adore KOCs because they offer a cost-effective way to tap into authentic consumer networks. They’re the ones who can stir up buzz at the grassroots level, getting people talking and sharing.

And here’s the heart of it: authenticity. In a world where consumers are increasingly cynical about traditional advertising, the genuine approach of KOCs hits home. They’re not selling a dream; they’re sharing their reality, and that’s what makes them so compelling.

Mastering KOL & KOC Influencer Marketing in China 2024 - is clinical
iS Clinical's user-generated content on Xiaohongshu and Weibo

Take, for instance, iS Clinical, a skincare brand that gained grassroots popularity among Chinese consumers who discovered the brand from fellow travellers and read positive reviews in other markets. This organic traction gave them the confidence to engage actively in the Chinese market. They organised a soft launch campaign, enlisting KOCs who were already brand advocates to share their honest experiences.

The result? A loyal customer base and a steady rise in sales, all achieved without breaking the bank.

It’s the classic tortoise and hare tale — slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, builds lasting brand loyalty.

Mastering the Balance Between KOLs & KOCs

So, you might be wondering, which one should you choose: the high-profile KOL or the relatable KOC? It’s like choosing between a flashy sports car and a reliable family saloon. Each has its strengths, and the most successful brands are the ones that can leverage both to their advantage.

Take Versa Gripps, a leading brand in functional fitness accessories. They faced the daunting task of breaking into the bustling Chinese fitness market. With a myriad of fitness brands all clamouring for attention, they needed a strategy that would not just make noise but resonate deeply with fitness enthusiasts, drive product adoption, and foster brand loyalty.

Mastering KOL & KOC Influencer Marketing in China 2024 - Versa Gripps
KOL marketing for Versa Gripps

Their solution?

They teamed with professional trainers and fitness KOLs, showcasing the benefits of incorporating Versa Gripps gear into tailored workout routines. The KOLs brought their star power to the table, creating a buzz and drawing a crowd. These influencers, with their chiseled abs, were the perfect billboards for the brand.

But they didn’t just stop there.

They also engaged with fitness KOCs, sharing user-generated content to foster community involvement and brand advocacy. The KOCs were the ones on the ground, sharing their personal experiences and building that all-important trust. They were the ones who made Versa Gripps feel less like a brand and more like a community.

Mastering KOL & KOC Influencer Marketing in China 2024 - Versa Gripps UGC
Versa Gripps user-generated content on Xiaohongshu

The result was a comprehensive marketing campaign that covered all bases. The KOLs’ influence created buzz, drawing attention and excitement. The KOCs, on the other hand, provided the authenticity and trust needed to convert that excitement into actual sales.

It’s a bit like a concert. The KOLs are the headline act that everyone comes to see — big, loud, and guaranteed to draw a crowd. But the KOCs are the loyal fans who spread the word and keep the band’s legacy alive long after the show’s over.

In the world of Chinese influencer marketing, it’s not about choosing one over the other. It’s about mastering the delicate balance between the two, leveraging the strengths of both to create a marketing campaign that’s as dynamic and multifaceted as the market itself.

The Future of Influencer Marketing in China

As we march deeper into 2024, influencer marketing in China is evolving at breakneck speed. We’re witnessing a seismic shift from the era of the KOL to the rise of the KOCand even the emergence of COLs (Cultural Opinion Leaders). These are Gen Z champions pushing Chinese consumers towards domestic brands. They’re the ones who favour foreign brands that truly get Chinese culture, those that celebrate it without resorting to tired stereotypes.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on KOL is reshaping the landscape. Brands need to be savvier than ever, picking influencers with the precision of a diamond cutter and focusing on content that’s genuinely engaging. No more hiding behind glossy ads — consumers want the real you. They crave the warts-and-all reality, not the airbrushed fantasy.

If you’re a global brand eyeing the Chinese market, you need a strategy that leverages both KOLs and KOCs. The big show of KOLs can give you the visibility and credibility, while the personal touch of KOCs can build genuine connections and drive engagement. It’s about balancing the glitz with the grit.

And when you’re ready to dive in, make sure you’ve got experts like WPIC by your side to guide. Navigating China’s influencer market without a guide is like trying to find a needle in a haystack — in the dark — while wearing mittens.

So, let WPIC light the way. You’ll need all the help you can get to shine in this wild, ever-changing landscape.

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