Conservative, slow starter, protectionist and even anachronistic: the watch industry’s approach to digital technology has been widely criticised and described in decidedly unflattering terms.
Admittedly, the eminently tactile and sensual world of Fine Watchmaking does not naturally lend itself to the digital era’s countless rows of zeros and ones. Some might at least grant it this excuse for being merely a distant follower of the digital revolution. The two worlds could indeed have continued to ignore each other almost indefinitely if someone – meaning the customer – had not expressed a clear preference.
In the early years of this new century, watchmaking has thus at last jumped on the digital bandwagon. It was high time it did so, since staying on the sidelines of the digital highway would have been inconceivable for an industry that perpetually demonstrates its innovative capacities.
Despite such a belated awareness, watchmaking is not really lagging that far behind in this domain. The technologies are still fairly new, the various means of implementing them are being established and habits are being acquired. This relative immaturity actually enables some of those who are delaying any action to justify their wait-and-see policy. Will they also end up getting involved in digital communication?
For Dorothée Henrio, Marketing Director of the Manufacture Roger Dubuis, the answer is obvious: “It’s become indispensable, a given part of any strategy. Even though it’s early days yet, one must be part of it for a very simple reason: heightened visibility”.
While some might thus be tempted to believe that going digital is a gateway one may decide to step through (or not), Manufacture Roger Dubuis' experience to date – one of the most sophisticated in the watchmaking sector – proves the exact opposite. “Strategy is as important as execution. One must be capable of putting forward a singular approach, an individual vision, and of interpreting it through the appropriate channels”, says Dorothée Henrio.
"We can surprise our audiences and dare to do certain things that historical brands could not afford to attempt."
In other words, a brand needs to stand out from the crowd. In this respect, the Manufacture Roger Dubuis enjoys two appreciable privileges. The first is its youthfulness: “We’re a young and very dynamic brand, which opens up a broad communication territory. We can surprise our audiences and dare to do certain things that historical brands could not afford to attempt,” admits Nicolas Fermont, Head of Communication.
Secondly, Roger Dubuis belongs to Richemont, which strongly encourages and facilitates the spread of digital technologies within the group. Training sessions, best practice sharing, conventions and even the creation of a Digital Institute: everything possible is undertaken to enable brands to perform well on the digital stage.
Careful scouting and concerted action
The Maison tirelessly leverages these assets. It is active on around 15 major platforms, from the customary YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest right the way through to the most unusual counterparts. And the circle is by no means closed, since the Manufacture is currently attentively examining Tunepics, a channel that serves to associate a picture with a piece of music – and thus to convey emotions more effectively.
This role of scouting new applications implies its own risks. The brand is always prepared, if the return on investment proves insufficient, to hop off a given communication platform – because an app is never really more than the result of a trend or a fashion. The difficulty lies in finding a rare gem, integrating it within the corporate strategy… and implementing it fast enough to remain under the radar. In a confidential aside, the Manufacture acknowledges that it is currently working on exploring a new digital channel in the lead-up to the SIHH 2015.
From brands to media… to media brands
Tactics must be carefully planned, but the outcome is certainly worth the effort. The latest viral “GoodbyeCuckoo, #HelloExtraordinary” campaign run by the Manufacture is a perfect example of how this can work. On paper, based on a plan featuring 30 mini-videos, shrouded in complete mystery as to the purpose, launched between Christmas and New Year in a pre-SIHH period when media tension is at its height, the campaign could easily have gone completely unnoticed!
"YouTube’s staff even came to visit us to make it a case study."
What happened was quite the opposite, with clients, the press, bloggers and professionals all getting into it. The buzz was huge, with 750,000 hits. “YouTube’s staff even came to visit us to make it a case study,” says Nicolas Fermont with a broad smile.
An encounter between a company and its service supplier? It goes beyond that, since digital means that brands themselves have become media that produce their own content. This can be a severe shock for those who have never learned to develop anything other than gear trains, since the others are already streets ahead of them.