OPINION: The Missing Link in luxury watch marketing

Purchasing a luxury watch can be daunting.

For the uninitiated, it can feel like entering a world where all the locals speak an unintelligible language. Should you opt for hand-wound or automatic, for example? If an automatic, would it be prudent to purchase a winder? What complications should you invest in (and how exactly do you operate them once you have them?) And what exactly does ATM mean and what can you do with a 5 ATM watch that you can’t do with a 3 ATM one?

Things don’t get much easier once you’ve navigated these functional complications. You’re then often faced with a dizzying array of aesthetic choices – Hublot’s Big Bang watch has over 100 different versions.

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Despite this complexity, luxury watch brands offer consumers very little help in navigating through the options. Luxury watch advertising relies on aspirational imagery and content to create awareness and desire – but then the consumer is faced with an impenetrable jungle of choice with no help from the brand to make sense of it.

No doubt many are discouraged. A luxury watch is, after all, the ultimate ‘luxury’. The smartphone-toting luxury consumer of the 21st century has no need to spend thousands of pounds purely to tell the time. Those that do plough on will fall into the welcoming arms of the watch retailer, who can help them to navigate that choice. Watch marketers may well feel that’s as it should be, but by failing to take responsibility for guiding the consumer onto the next part of the journey, they’re surrendering control of that consumer to the retailer. There’s the chance that all that advertising investment could be to a rival brand’s benefit.

Of course not all watch purchasers require this level of handholding. The niche market of watch enthusiasts positively wallow in all this variation, jargon and complexity. And certain brands are so prestigious – Rolex, and to a degree, Hublot – that elite consumers will buy them just for the exclusivity that their price points deliver, without giving a great deal of thought to functional criteria or even aesthetics. However, for those brands that don’t possess that ultimate cachet, there’s an opportunity. Or two, to be precise.

The first is that presented by the market identified by the World Watch Report as ‘Watch Novices.’ The market is significant but is unsurprisingly unfamiliar with the industry’s terminology, lacking in confidence, constrained by their lack of knowledge and actively looking to engage with brands who can educate them.

The second opportunity is ecommerce. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025 online purchases of luxury goods will account for 18% of sales across all categories — three times the current figure. Research for GfK tracking suggests that luxury watches valued at over £1,500 are languishing at around 3% of sales online, but retailers such as Aurum Holdings (Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb and Watches of Switzerland) and The Watch Gallery are reporting rapid growth of ecommerce sales. McKinsey’s prediction is suddenly looking very achievable. If self-selection via an online purchase is going to grow 6-fold over the next 10 years, then brands that make the effort to navigate grateful consumers through that complexity and choice are those that are going to benefit.

Of course, theory is one thing and practice is entirely another – how exactly do luxury watch brands take their potential ‘novice’ customers on the next stage of the journey? Native formats – both offline and online – offer one solution. Simple, emotion-driven ads can create desire but complementing these with longer copy ‘explanatory’ formats can help turn that desire into preference. Interactive digital formats offer another solution – allowing customers to navigate simple decision trees within the ads to help narrow down their choice.

This will require extra investment, or a transfer of spend between the discovery phase of the customer journey to a more immersive and informative stage, which is just one step away. But we have no doubt that those luxury watch brands that offer genuine help and guidance will turn a greater proportion of potential customers into enthusiastic advocates.

Charlotte Parks-Taylor is Senior Luxury Client Manager at media agency Cream UK.

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