The KOL Workshop outlined how travel retail brands can embrace the KOL opportunity

In a superb session at the Virtual Travel Retail Expo yesterday, FILTR and leading Asian communications consultancy QINRIVE hosted a KOL workshop that brought together a roster of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) covering perfumes and cosmetics, wines and spirits and fashion and lifestyle.

The panel comprised Chinese actress and influencer Karen Lee; Josue Romero ‘The Garnish Guy’; Paul Kristoff ‘The City Lane’; Singapore-based beauty KOL Yurina; and DeisgnByGemini and MakeSure Founders Elena and Giulia Sella.

The workshop was co-hosted by FILTR Communications Director James Brown, QINRIVE CEO Kelly Gao and The Moodie Davitt Report Fashion, Beauty & Social Media Editor Hannah Tan-Gillies. It also featured a virtual Q&A session with Yurina.

The KOL panel discussed the most important insights and trends in the burgeoning KOL sector and outlined how brands can embrace the influencer opportunity. While traditional means of communication may be curtailed due to the crisis, KOLs offer an innovative avenue to reach customers and engage with new audiences.

Karen Lee has an audience hailing from all over Asia Pacific, while Yurina (right) has a following of over 2.95 million on Weibo and is one of China’s top beauty KOLs

“We have groups on WeChat with specific interests like beauty, fashion, tech. These groups are very strong and are very connected to KOLs. Most of the VIP shoppers on my livestreams come from these groups, ” said Yurina. “The people who get into these groups are my true fans and need to be qualified by administrators. I try to go into these groups once a week and talk to my fans.

“Since COVID-19, healthcare and skincare topics have also become more popular in China right now. China is growing so fast, so the content is constantly changing,” Yurina added.

The Sella sisters are also exhibiting their #CleanVibesOnly philosophy and hand sanitiser brand MakeSure at the Virtual Travel Retail Expo

The Sella sisters commented, “What our followers want is our unique point of view and strong aesthetic. We also create Instagrammable installations, which is our favourite way to partner with brands and interact with our audience in the real world. We think KOLs will become more important because of the growing digital trend. It’s important for brands to find KOLs that really resonate with their brand values.”

In Asia Pacific, KOLs have found new ways to monetise their audiences, particularly through livestreaming. Livestreaming has become a key growth driver for brands amid the COVID-19 crisis and building relationships with KOLs is key to tapping into this opportunity.

Lee said, “Consumer behaviours are moving towards online shopping. There’s a lot of opportunity for brands and KOLs because we can do a lot of engagement with new audiences who want to imitate KOLs’ lifestyles.”

(Left) Paul Kristoff invites audiences to see the world through his eyes; (right) Josue Romero creates content around the world of spirits

It is critical for KOLs to find niches, topics, and content that resonate with their audience base. In the same way, brands must seek out the right KOLs who are genuinely aligned with their values. Paul Kristoff from The City Lane stressed that he will only work with a brand that links back to his core values. “It’s all about authenticity,” he said. “My focus this year is all about reminiscing about travel and linking travel to closer-to-home experiences.”

So, where next in terms of monetisation? It’s all goes back to authenticity. Brand collaboration and monetisation will only work by fostering trust, authenticity, and relevance between KOL, brand and audience. Kristoff added, “Brands are realising a deeper connection is required, whereas in the past they would simply pay for sponsored posts. I want to work with brands that really connect with me to find that link. The story is important as well. The influencer you are working with needs to relate with your brand.”

There are multiple areas for growth in the KOL market, particularly in the travel retail channel. According to our panel, KOLs can play a key role in encouraging customers to travel again or help them evoke memories of travel through alternative experiences.

Yurina said, “There’s many ways for travel retail brands to work with KOLs to increase awareness. Many Chinese consumers have never travelled abroad and so KOLs can really help them in that area. KOLs can also help brands online and offline through live-streaming at events and showing their audiences the travel retail stores, enticing their audiences to visit them.”

She added, “In Sanya, they have increased the [duty free] quota and a lot of Chinese consumers don’t know that. I think we can do a vlog on this and inform more consumers about Sanya duty free’s new shopping policy.”