The internet sometimes presents a strange paradox for luxury watch consumers and enthusiasts. On the one hand, it has become a daily, essential tool for millions of people the world over in little more than a decade, and yet on the other hand it is still considered with a degree of mistrust by many brands of horology.
The question is, why? And more importantly what will be the consequences of these drawn-out, toe-dipping exercises?
What’s Stopping Them?
Perhaps it is the speed? The internet is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace, at odds with an industry whose core business model is based upon time (and the slow passage of it). Maybe the internet is too vague, too broad? The watch-making industry is governed by laws of precision and the unpredictable nature of the internet is in direct contradiction with its well set standards, based upon personal relationships and confidentiality.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that the internet can (and will) easily survive and grow without the aide of the luxury watch industry, but is the converse true?
If Facebook’s most recent statistics are to be believed, there are over 500 million active users each month spending a combined 7 billion minutes interacting with their peers, catching up on all the latest news and trends, and most importantly learning about new products and concepts. Can any brand, luxury watch oriented or not, really afford not to be operating effectively in this space?
There is one thing for sure: no matter the brand positioning strategies companies have adopted, it’s hard (impossible even) these days to move forward without the internet. Ignoring it is a dangerous game, and just as bad is seeing it only as a simple tool without many real practical applications. However, the more innovative companies have embraced the issue and created special roles for Community Managers (see our interview with Jérôme Pineau, from Marvin Watches, here).
Marvin’s Community Manager Jérôme Pineau
And yet many of them still hesitate – taking a kind of wait-and-see attitude to see how things go. This is a dangerous bet on the future, as it implies that, one day, all the uses and habits of the web will finally be stable. There is nothing less sure, as the web is in a constant state of transformation.
In a bid to try and get some more insight from the industry players themselves, the Watch Lounge asked a number of mainstream horology brands one single question:
“In the process of the continuous growth of a brand and its image, can the Internet make the différence?”
As a first point, it’s quite significant to note that many brands decided to simply ignore our request. Although it would seem they are quite happy to talk to us about any number of other topics, internet strategies evidently is not one of them. This very first observation reveals a web which is still a quite unknown object, one in which brands identify doubts and fears more than opportunities.
Why these fears? Firstly, because brands can’t comprehend how a channel governed by complete opposite rules to their own can, in the end, help them achieve their goals. Major watchmaking houses try to build their reputation upon luxury: the luxury of taking his time, the luxury of final pieces, the luxury of booklets and stores, the luxury of customers. On the contrary, the web is based upon various other values, such as real-time, non mastered exchanges, large consumer audiences, and uncertain futures. How do you reconcile these two seemingly conflicting universes?
These are questions that Ludovic Ballouard simply sweeps away when considering the inestimable added-value the Internet brought to his business : “The internet really makes the difference! It allowed me to launch my brand and stay independent! I would never had the means to launch my business only with paper. If people like my watch, they freely talk about it and spread positive news about it all over the world“.
In fact, this phenomenon of third party endorsement is what each and every brand desperately seeks. But by fear of the opposite phenomenon, wide-spread denigration, many prefer to stay away from social media. The precautionary principle, some would say. But many times, despite this precaution, Internet users will in the end talk about the brand, even if they are not invited to. And this is where negative comments can pop up…
“Indeed, if web users disliked my watch and if negative comments had been posted, I could have considered a brand new strategy, from scratch, of my brand and it’s awareness ! Internet is all about criticism”, continues Ludovic.
Still, managing criticism when you’ve spent the two last centuries working with a top-down communication model can be quite a touchy exercise.
For Jérôme Pineau, Community Manager of Marvin Watches, “the Internet has had a significant impact on brand and image building in the luxury world, and horology is no exception.”
So why are brands are so reluctant then? Because for too long they’ve been focused on their own products, and sometimes, on their related environments (such as sport, culture, etc.). But for Jérôme, the rules have changed:
“Brand building can only be accomplished around the customers. The customer IS the brand and its image is their perception of it. And if the customers are online, then this is where it makes sense to reach out to them. This phenomenon is planetary in nature. It reaches across geographic and cultural boundaries.”
The Final Word
In the end, the last psychological barrier for a real web strategy is the fear of an omnipresent web, that will take the priority over the other channels of communication. A statement that Jérôme quickly refutes: “It makes sense to leverage channels like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube without neglecting the classical ones as well. Because a balanced strategy is typically more effective as long as all efforts are integrated and aligned around a consistent message. The objective is to be no longer talking AT the customer, but WITH them”.
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