Lunar New Year in China is a time of hyper-intense competition for consumer attention. Many brands don’t just compete for sales—they use the festivities as a showcase to grandstand. Campaigns have reached a point at which the theater and surprises have become an attraction to be looked forward to in their own right.
But not every New Year marketing rollout has to be a spectacle to be successful. Showpiece brand displays can mostly be left to those with the biggest budgets. With so much noise in the marketplace, trying to get heard takes extra resources. Resources that can often be used to better effect at another time, and some activity can actually be counterproductive to brand reputation.
The most obvious example of this was prior to COVID, with the annual long-haul holiday migration of millions of wealthy Chinese tourists passing through airports in the West just before the New Year. They experienced duty-free beauty shopping courts featuring seasonal Mandarin language promotions, Chinese point of sale, and the help of Chinese-speaking staff employed for the festival period. On the return journey the outlets were back to normal as if the customers from China no longer existed—something many found disrespectful, as though they were cash cows being taken advantage of for just a small window of time.
This is not to say no New Year marketing should take place, but it does not have to be high profile to be very effective. One way to achieve significant sales returns without having to apply a big budget for calendar events is to place more focus on User Generated Content (UGC) and Key Opinion Consumer (KOC) marketing. Conveniently, these two channels now also happen to be the most effective overall at turning sales prospects into buyers.
While brand marketers in the West understand the use of UGC from Instagram and Facebook etc., KOC marketing is worth explaining. KOCs are brand loyal buyers that also have social followers. This is not the same as being a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) that may have millions that follow them.
KOC follower cohorts are generally small, and number generally no more than a few thousand. However, based on the dedicated interest of the particular KOC, the self-selecting nature of their audiences means followers are necessarily prime sales prospects for particular brands, and interaction with them through a KOC resonates to a very high degree.
KOCs can be influenced to make brand-led posts by treating them as VIPs and providing exclusive offers and insights. Payment may be needed to create a working relationship, but much less than in the case of KOLs. Followers avidly absorb authentically received information, which generates sales and extends brand loyalty, and followers recruit lookalikes they think will be interested in KOC content.
Chinese consumers are turning away from celebrity endorsement and big-name KOLs as sources of information and buying inspiration. There has been a seismic shift toward reliance on peers and KOCs.
However, communicating with known brand and product interest groups on social media can be extended to create significant benefits other than just sales. It can be used to build community management groups. Rather than focus being just on selling, it can be on research and significantly driving follower numbers up.
Community management can be used to test ideas for new products, understand what the core buying audience wants and how they want it, and whether a promotion will work,and how it should be implemented. You can ask communities anything you want to know, and they will answer enthusiastically.
Not only that, community management is also a significant profit center. Individual members self-select. When they do this, they put themselves forward into a group specifically focused on a particular brand or product type. They are perfect sales matches ready to engage and buy, and if managed effectively, they will become brand ambassadors that broadcast marketing offers and recruit peers who in turn buy and become recruiters themselves. Groups can be grown very quickly.
If there is a downside to UGC and KOC marketing, it is that most brands from outside China do not know how to get started, or manage the processes involved. It is not like using KOLs and celebrities where the key consideration is cost. When it comes to working with those at ground level, whether for UGC or KOCs, it requires experience and knowledge to gain the trust, tailor content exactly, and closely manage on a permanent basis.
In the case of KOCs, they have to be accurately sourced initially, and each KOC has to be fed relevant content and incentives individually and regularly. There is very little leeway in getting this right—done incorrectly and necessary bonds may be broken.
So while UGC and KOC activity is usually considerably cheaper than employing KOLs and celebrities, it requires knowledge and ability most US and European brands simply don’t have, certainly in-house. The only answer is to employ local knowledge. This doesn’t mean one of the big Western network marketing agencies located in China. They usually have little of the required practical experience. It means employing a consultancy with indigenous expertise in creating UGC and KOC strategy, and implementing it.
The right partner is important because UGC and KOC marketing is a long-term commitment. It will exponentially grow followers and sales, and when it comes to calendar events, it is possible to simply dial up activity knowing you will be talking to exactly the right buyers in exactly the right way. Seasonal sales are guaranteed.
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