The role of Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and Key Opinion Consumers (KOC) in the world of Chinese consumers
China has already entered a new consumption era where the chain of production, sales and services are all reconstructed around consumers’ needs. The young generation of Chinese consumers have become the main driving force and their shopping behaviours have changed significantly compared to previous generations. They have grown up with technology and are extremely familiar with mobile interactions. Thus, it has now become more important for brands to understand the needs of consumers as well as their shopping behaviours. Our Concept M China team can’t help but wonder, how can we win the hearts of these young Chinese consumers? As a brand, what can we do to better interact with them?
There is an interesting term in Chinese marketing, ‘Zhong Cao’ (种草), which literally means ‘to grow grass’, but metaphorically means ‘to form an interaction’. This can be a very odd name to foreign audiences, but in Chinese culture, growing grass represents the process of ‘nothing to everything’. Once the grass seeds are planted, it will grow uncontrollably. This process of growth is very similar to the process of ‘Zhong Cao’ in marketing, where once the seed of awareness is planted, people will become aware of its existence. When consumers start paying attention, their curiosity will then become the most important element that promotes the growth of ‘grass’, which in this case, refers to brands and products. This is culturally specific to the Chinese market and it has become a very effective method for brands to communicate with potential customers.
The key question is, WHERE and HOW do we ‘plant the seed’? Advertisement? No. Advertisement is now perceived to be too stagnant and out of fashion. Even though it has not completely lost its function and value for brand promotion, its impact has been greatly reduced. Mobile internet, on the other hand, has become the dominant force in the Chinese market and many advertisers are looking into the new possibilities it offers – the combination of mobile technology and creative consumer content. Here is where the role of a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) comes into play.
In the digital world, social media users who have high popularity, strong appeal and specific knowledge about an industry can qualify as KOLs. According to an AdMasters finding on China Digital Marketing Trend in 2019, companies and brands consider KOL marketing as one of the top priorities for social media communication, and KOL promotions have taken up 60% of the market. Thus, KOLs, WeChat Accounts and Live Broadcasts have become the major focuses in the digital Chinese marketing industry.
Due to their popularity and influencing power, KOLs have adapted the strategy of planting grass seeds and promoting brands and products to consumers through personal testing. They are able to direct their viewers’ attention to specific features and share their experience of the product. Consumers are intrigued by this shared experience, which would then increase their awareness and more importantly, increase the likelihood of a purchase. This is also a reflection of KOLs capacity to ‘drive sales’ (带货能力). Also, instead of spending large amounts of money and personally experiencing various different products on their own, KOLs have somehow become their substitute for experimentation. The word ‘experience’ is Ti Yan (体验) which highlights the ‘physical’ and ‘experimental’ aspects. By watching KOL content, viewers can fulfil their fantasy and expectations of experiencing a product. Therefore, it is very important to select the right KOL – one who shares the brand’s values and can convey these values and essences to potential customers in a professional but approachable manner. This ‘professional and yet, approachable’ feeling created between KOLs and their viewers is particularly important as many consumers feel that, when watching live streaming content, KOLs are speaking to them directly. In some way, they are like a celebrity in their field, but they are closer to viewers and they are not perceived as unreachable.
Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs), on the other hand, have emerged in the past year and they play a complementary role to KOLs. KOCs present themselves as experts in the field and, in contrast to KOLs, feel almost like a friend. Although they are not as well-known as KOLs, they share their experience from a ‘real’ consumer’s point of view. It often feels more like sharing their personal stories rather than selling a product. This personal touch drives the trust between KOCs and their viewers. Many viewers feel much closer to KOCs as they come across as the boy/girl next door, who share the same consumer experience, as well as someone living an ordinary life with similar life struggles. They speak the same language, are relatable and down-to-earth. In this way, a level of connection is formed, and an emotional bond is established.
In summary, as marketers, we need to understand the different emotional needs that can be fulfilled by KOLs and KOCs, as well as the role they play in the mind of Chinese consumers. Sometimes, a big fan following does not necessarily guarantee success but the connections that are formed with viewers is very crucial in developing the awareness of a brand. Planting the seed is the first step and watering it with trust and reality provides more value to the life of Chinese consumers.
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