By Domenica Di Lieto, Chief Executive of Chinese marketing consultancy,
Marketers focused on Chinese markets have just got over the heightened competition for consumer attention surrounding the Lunar New Year. Now Valentine’s day and other looming calendar events mean renewed marketing intensity for some brands. But extra investment in not always necessary to succeed in winning audience attention.
This is not to advocate that calendar based national event opportunities should be ignored, but marketing does not always have to be on a large scale to generate significant sales. An increasingly effective way to drive sales for busy calendar events is to utilise the potential of User Generated Content (UGC) and Key Opinion Consumer (KOC) marketing. These channels have become the most effective conduits for targeting Chinese consumers, and making buyers from prospects.
Marketers outside China are familiar with UGC from Instagram and Facebook, but KOC marketing is worth explaining. KOCs are brand buyers and enthusiasts, and their social media followers have a close interest in the product related content they post about. KOCs are not the same as KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), who often have extremely large numbers that follow them. Their value commercially is from their social media dedication to a particular brand or product category, and the fact that it attracts followers with the same interests who necessarily have an appetite for more information. They trust KOCs as a source, and eagerly await new content. This makes followers prime sales prospects for given brands.
By treating KOCs as VIPs, and providing them with insights and unique offers, they will message followers on behalf of brands. It may be necessary to pay small fees, but nowhere like in the case of KOLs. KOC followers enthusiastically receive messages, which results in sales, builds brand loyalty, and leads to lookalikes being recruited. A positive pattern can be developed in which social media audiences buy as they grow in number.
The rise to prominence of UGC and KOC marketing is partly due to the fall in consumers being influenced by celebrity endorsement and KOLs. There has been a shift towards what are considered more authentic sources of buying information and motivation.
In addition to the UGC and KOC options, there is also another way marketers can benefit from nurturing social media interest groups. They can build and grow proprietorial Community Management groups. Focus can be on selling, but also have great value from using communities as a research facility, and for significantly growing followers.
Community management happens by brands building their own followings, but doing much more than sending them offers and sales messages. They can be used to test ideas for new products, acquiring insight on what buyers want and how they want it, test promotions, and how promotions should be delivered. Because communities are brand enthusiasts, they can be consulted on a broad range of subjects and will answer enthusiastically.
Community management can be run as a major profit centre because members are perfect sales matches. They are primed to engage, buy, and become brand ambassadors that repost to peers, plus they recruit peers. The cycle of recruit, promote, sell, recruit can be repeated to generate effective brand growth. The results can be very significant.
However, there is a caveat to community management, UGC and KOC marketing. It requires having a high degree of knowledge and experience of working at ground level with social influencers and consumers. It is not the same as utilising KOLs and celebrities, in which the primary concern is cost.
Chinese brands usually have inhouse marketing teams dedicated to UGC, KOC and managing social communities. They are good at it, but nearly all brands from outside China have limited knowledge of how to get started, plan or undertake the processes involved. Specialisations are needed to gain the trust, create the correct content, and nurture individuals and groups.
Deploying social media strategy that is focused on low profile high resonating influence is a smart move. It is cheaper than hiring celebrities and big name KOLs, but for European and US brand owners it generally means altering agency supplier. The big network agencies with a presence in China rarely have the knowledge and experience to plan and produce ground level social activity.
The result is the need to hire Chinese talent. This is no bad thing. Marketing in China has been ahead of the West for several years, and there is no substitute for growing up in China’s commercial environment as a digital native, as well as having an ingrained understanding of language and culture.
UGC, KOC marketing and community management provide long term benefits, but require commitment. Each discipline will build followers and sales. But more than that, when the Lunar New Year and other calendar events come around, it is relatively easy to apply seasonal promotional tactics having the confidence of knowing the right targets receive the right messages without fear of being drowned out by the noise of high spending rivals.