Not a day goes by without some mention of social media, a partnership with an influential blogger, or a marketing campaign made possible by new customer databases. Never before have there been so many ways to keep brands, retailers, influencers and end customers connected, and yet discussions at the 21st International Watch Marketing Day, held early December in La Chaux-de-Fonds, confirmed that not everyone is enjoying the same digital experience, depending on how comfortable they are with World 2.0 or how long they have been riding the digital train… or not, for those brands that have chosen to stay on the platform (and for how long?).
Digital is about immediacy and rapidity whereas watchmaking is rooted in timeless values and emotions.
The first point under discussion was Big Data, two small words that strike both fear and fascination into our hearts. How do we sift through this mass of information to go from Big Data to Big Intelligence? Particularly given that watch brands, like their customers, are little inclined to revealing all. The first obstacle, as described by Arnaud Dufour, a lecturer at HEIG management and engineering school, and David Sadigh, CEO of Digital Luxury Group, lies with the intrinsic differences between the horological and digital worlds. Digital is about immediacy and rapidity underscored by cold hard data. Watchmaking, in contrast, is rooted in timeless values and emotions, not to mention long cycles that are tied to manufacturing processes. Bringing these two worlds closer together is of no interest, unless both sides stand to benefit.
Internet, the world's shopping mall
For example: thanks to the Internet of things (Industry 4.0), brands can theoretically reverse the production chain – and when the end customer can personalise his or her watch at will, and with reasonable wait times, it’s a win-win situation. Or is it? When drawing up their digital strategies, watchmakers cannot ignore the essence of the brand. Maintaining this distinctive identity in a product that has been tweaked to suit the customer’s wishes is no easy task. Vice-president of communication at Omega, Jean-Pascal Perret suggests that brands approach customisation with caution: “Of course it’s important that we provide the best possible service, but without being intrusive. Better that we concentrate on the product and its qualities. Our role is first and foremost to bring pleasure thanks to our timepieces.”
Of the 978 watch stores in Switzerland, almost 600 of which are independent retailers, 56% don't have a website.
It’s no secret that watch brands, and more so Fine Watch brands, continue to take a cautious view of e-commerce, although the situation is evolving. Online sales have still to exceed an estimated 7% to 10% of total but this figure is increasing and could, suggests Arnaud Dufour, reach 20% to 25% within the next five to ten years. The possibility that the internet could become the number-one sales channel suddenly seems less remote – particularly as online margins are higher than in brick-and-mortar stores where overheads are considerably greater. Whatever the case, customers routinely research their purchases online and marketeers need to take this behaviour into consideration if only to ensure they enter the physical store armed with the best possible intentions. On this note, Thierry Huron, founder of the Mercury Project which inventories every watch point of sale in Switzerland, made this enlightening remark: “Of the 978 stores in Switzerland, almost 600 of which are independent retailers, 56% don’t have a website. Even before we start thinking about using social media or sophisticated digital tools, that’s where we need to begin.”
For what strategy?
Moving to the other end of the spectrum, the most digital-savvy brands are increasingly pairing with influential bloggers, in many cases for targeted operations. The impact these partnerships actually have is hard to quantify, although brands do now have the tools to know what they are getting into. They can, for example, know whether a blogger’s followers are genuine or paid-for, and how substantial his or her interactions with the watch-buying community are. According to Raphaël Ly, digital communications manager at the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, “digital tools open up new possibilities for sure, but the basic question remains the same: what is my strategy? Who do I want to engage with and why? Do I want to raise my profile or sell more? It’s only once we have clearly defined what we want to use digital for that we can take full advantage of its potential.”