The rise of social media in fine watches

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As Rolex announces its move into social media with a YouTube channel, Kathryn Bishop reviews the fine watch brands embracing social media.

The use of social media – whether Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or the emerging Pinterest – is booming among luxury brands that are using it as a portal to tease fans with new collections, show off photos from events or even stream live videos of product launches.

But for all its uses and far-reaching user groups, social media is only just becoming de rigueur for certain brands in the watch industry and, perhaps surprisingly, it is the biggest and best-known brands that are falling behind their mid-market counterparts in terms of online reach.

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In a study released in the latter part of last year, digital innovation think tank L2’s Digital IQ Index report on watch and jewellery brands outlined the best and feeblest performers online among a line-up of 35 luxury brands.

Among those scrutinised in the report were Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe and Fabergé – industry stalwarts regarded as some of the finest makers of timepieces in the world. While Richemont brands Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier ranked particularly highly in the report – taking third and fifth respectively out of the 35 brands with both praised for social media efforts and Cartier gaining particular praise for its iPad app – other well-known brands were exposed as having some of the poorest online efforts when it came to consumer outreach through social media channels. Rolex was ranked 28th in the list, Faberge 34th and Patek Philippe 35th; these low positions for high-end brands might surprise many.

However, there has been an interesting turn of events during the last six months, as Fabergé and Rolex have embarked on high-profile social media campaigns using YouTube and iPad apps, while the addition of share links to Rolex’s site, enabling viewers of the site to link products or pages they like directly to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, has also widened the brand’s online social reach.

The Rolex YouTube channel launch was a big talking point earlier this year when it was launched in advance of BaselWorld 2012. The brand joined the site on February 11 under the username WorldOfRolex and uploaded its first videos in early March. To ensure maximum hits with that first video, Rolex invited two of its ambassadors – tennis player Roger Federer and golfing star Tiger Woods – to star in a promotional videos for the new Sky-Dweller watches.

Since that first video, Rolex’s YouTube channel has accrued more than 288,250 video views and has more than 720 subscribers; impressive figures for a initiative launched barely three months ago.

However, some brands have remained rooted in the more classic forms of marketing and Patek Philippe is the chief example of the world’s best known luxury watch brand that has yet to fully embrace modern methods of marketing.

Despite being placed 35th on L2’s Digital IQ Index, where it was described as “feeble”, Patek Philippe maintains that the reason it has not yet branched into social media is its roots in more traditional modes of communication.

Patek Philippe international communication and public relations director Jasmina Steele explains: “In our fourth generation family-owned watch company personal relationships at all levels and service are key elements of our core values. For the time being, Patek Philippe is not active in social media, we are not present on Twitter or Facebook. [Instead] we continue nurturing rich content traditional communication tools and personal relationships with customers and the retailer network, which are often family-owned businesses, like Patek Philippe, who share the same values as our brand.”

Despite these protestations there is a Twitter page under the name Patek Philippe – though the brand has not said whether this is an official page – but Steele says it does hope to incorporate some level of social media activity on its new website, which will be unveiled in the autumn this year. “In the mid- to short-term the Patek Philippe social media activity [will] take place on our newly redesigned patek.com site,” she says.

For Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre, use of social media sites is several years old. Both of the brands joined YouTube in 2009 and have since been posting videos on a typically monthly basis, while Facebook and Twitter activity for both brands is delivered on a daily basis.

On its Facebook page Jaeger-LeCoultre has subsections with a live stream of its Twitter account and YouTube videos, something particularly advanced in as much as it crosses over the various social media outlets. Both brands also make an effort to respond to consumer questions, whether in English or French, post behind-the-scenes photos and run competitions, such as Jaeger’s recent Mad Men-inspired contest that asked fans to create a 1960s-style advert for its Reverso timepiece.

Such activity appears to be a Richemont-wide trend, with stablemate brand Baume & Mercier similarly boosting its Facebook presence in the past 12 months in parallel with its own re-branding. By December last year Baume & Mercier had more than 214,000 Facebook fans, and chose to reward them with a Christmas advent calendar of daily giveaways and company news. It now has 240,061 likes.

Baume & Mercier chief executive Alain Zimmerman explains that the advent calendar was a way of getting closer to its fans. “Our goal is to further strengthen the relationship we have with our fans, one of listening and sharing,” he says. “This operation is also for the company, as it’s a great way to thank everyone for their continuing commitment to Baume & Mercier, and to celebrate the holiday season with them.” He also noted that he hoped the initiative would bring new consumers to the brand who might want to know more about the company and its timepieces.

Oris is another watch brand that has taken to social media and it says that it has helped it to build relations and sales. “The best thing about social media is that it opens up the possibility to interact and build closer relationships with customers,” says Oris managing director Rolf Studer. “Social media enhances our overall brand experience combined with the bricks-and-mortar stores where our customers can see products and receive sales services. This brings a diverse multichannel communication with a customer base, essentially building on sales.”

For Oris, which launched its YouTube page back in 2005, social media has also been useful when trying to reach and adapt to new markets that the brand is targeting.

For example, Oris recently hosted a photography competition online, inviting its fans to submit images they had taken of an Oris watch with a Formula One theme in order to win one of its new BaselWorld launches. It received entries from across the world, and the winner of the competition lived China.

“For Oris, there are markets that are more active in the [social media] field than others,” Studer adds. “So social media is more important in certain markets, especially in Asia.”

At a mid-market level, Bell & Ross is very much focused on its online marketing, and has gone as far as hiring dedicated digital community ambassador Simon Cudd to work within its digital department. Cudd, a long-term fan of the brand who runs his own Bell & Ross online forum, started work for the brand in July last year. He is tasked with helping his favourite watch brand to develop its presence through heightened presence on social networks.

Cudd’s responsibilities include “generating discussions and developing brand awareness within different web communities”, while also organising real-life meetings with fans and collectors across the world. He has used Twitter to promote teaser clips of the brands novelties at BaselWorld this year, and also advises his Twitter followers on their nearest Bell & Ross dealers, while also engaging with journalists and consumers, posting images of watches and acting as an “ask me anything” gateway for the brand.

The transition between real-life marketing and social media marketing was something that TAG Heuer also played with at the 2011 BaselWorld launch of its Mikrotimer Flying 1000 chronograph concept watch. At the exhibition TAG Heuer held the first live luxury press conference delivered by a brand using Facebook. Its chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin unveiled the much-anticipated watch to a conference room full of journalists while simultaneously streaming the launch on Facebook and a select number of specialist watch sites, thus giving fans of the brand around the world the chance to witness the launch in real time.

Babin says he wanted to create the “buzz of Basel” with the launch, and adds that the internet was the best way to do this due to its instantaneous nature. Following the launch TAG Heuer won 10,000 more Facebook fans.

Such rates of campaign and the development that follows them proves just how successful social media can be for a brand. For a company like Patek Philippe, some might argue that its market position means it does not have to push itself, nor should it be concerned with the exposure, not to mention the amount of effort, that needs to be put into a social media channel. How likely would such a brand be to give away one of its watches to a Facebook fan, for example?

By not embracing social media watch brands risk losing out. Have all – or at least the trinity of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – covered and a brand will likely see returns on its efforts. It is a full-time job, of course, to be on hand to answer questions, post images, and curate the various channels, but one that may also offer rewards through its accessbility.

As Studer explains: “I believe social media enables Oris to strengthen relationships with watch buyers but also allows us to reach people who may be too intimated to go into a watch store and ask questions. Social media makes the world of Swiss watches more accessible and gives brands a greater reach.”

This article was taken from the May 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.

 

 

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