If “woman is the future of man”, as Aragon declared, young people are, less poetically, the future of watches. While timepieces are increasingly status symbols, Franco Cologni, non-executive director of Richemont Group and president of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) Cultural Committee, believes the greatest challenge now is to win over young people who are tomorrow’s decision-makers and the next day’s consumers. Pursuing these new consumers is becoming a hot priority.
"An under-exploited niche"
Watchmakers, it seems, are having trouble getting to grips with young people’s very different references. This digital-savvy generation, who grew up with TV and the internet, want to be seen and heard, their way. Writing in the press, a French sociologist describes their reaction as “community individualism, a strange compromise where leisure keeps them in perpetual childhood but at the same time life’s sharp edges have them mentally grow up fast.”
“It’s my hope and wish that the watch segment make the 16 to 25 demographic a priority,” declared Kalust Zorik, president of Watch Marketing Days Association, suggesting this maybe isn’t the case. Mr Zorik went on to add: “Swatch, in its day, succeeded in getting young people excited about its products and the possibility of watches to collect and show off. Tissot is playing something of a similar role today with its T-Touch. Otherwise though, fashion brands have cornered the market. We can only hope that youth, with its love of fashion, can make the move to mechanical watches and the high end of the scale.” Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, pulls no punches: “So much the better that watchmakers aren’t exploiting this niche fully. It leaves us free to push ahead.” Provocation aside, the segment still has to find the right way to connect with Generation Y.
Real-time contact and information-sharing are the most obvious of the available options. Accustomed to finding anything and everything online and in seconds, young people are impatient by nature. They want it all and they want it now; and price isn’t necessarily an obstacle. Rocketing sales of iPhones and iPods confirm they’re willing to dig deep if the product they’re buying matches their expectations. But how can manufacturers interest them in high-end timepieces given competition from technologies that broadcast time far more accurately than a mechanical watch? First and foremost, brands must implement an innovative marketing scenario that will target, seduce and win the loyalty of these new consumers.
Brands are taking their first, timid steps to reach this moving, and unpredictable, target with a slew of online initiatives and buzzes. iPhone and iPad apps abound but many fall short of the mark in terms of content. The ultimate app has yet to be invented. Cartier’s application will “reveal all the secrets of its Fine Watch collection. It’s about history, expertise, savoir-faire, new creations, exceptional collections, complication movements, and all down to the smallest detail,” explains Arnaud Carrez, CEO of Cartier Suisse. “We have put a lot of care into this iPad application to give watch aficionados a genuine experience with films, 3D models of parts and navigatable exploded movements.” But is this enough?