Luxury leaders have long believed that the online world is anathema to high-end products and services, and embracing it will only serve to undermine the rare and exclusive ethos that underpins the luxury promise.
But a number of family-owned luxury brands have recently come to the conclusion that when it comes to joining the digital sphere, they no longer have a choice.
“Today everyone goes digital and if you don’t want to be forgotten, you have to use the new media roads people are using,” says the revered independent watchmaker François-Paul Journe. “We have to be there, we have to be present.”
“The brand offered a limited edition Speedmaster model for sale on its Instagram feed and sold out of all 2,012 pieces in 4 hours, 15 minutes and 43 seconds.”
In November, Journe’s eponymous brand, F.P. Journe, made a big step in the new media direction when it debuted a dedicated Facebook page (an official Instagram account, now 5,000 followers strong, launched around the same time). While that may sound like small potatoes compared to luxury brands entrenched in online marketing and sales—take, for example, Omega’s recent “Speedy Tuesday” promotion in which the brand offered a limited edition Speedmaster model for sale on its Instagram feed and sold out of all 2,012 pieces in 4 hours, 15 minutes and 43 seconds—but it’s a big leap for a boutique maker eager to acquaint itself with a younger audience.
Which is precisely the point. Driven by a desire to meet millennial buyers on their turf, family-owned luxury firms are finally staking claims on the Internet with strategies that combine social media outreach with online advertising.
At Chopard, a Geneva-based luxury jewelry and watchmaker, digital has been a core part of the marketing mix since 2012, although shifting budgets from print communications to the online space has been a slow process, concedes co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele.
“I think you can qualify us as having embraced digital,” Scheufele says. “We’re not only aware of it but we are also involved. We have a team dedicated to social media. I have a very strong advocate here at home—it’s my wife.”
Even brick-and-mortar stalwarts like Patek Philippe are acknowledging that it’s important to be a part of the online conversation—though the venerable watchmaker resists the idea of engaging in a two-way dialogue.
“It’s almost impossible now to not get involved—because if you’re not involved, somebody else decides what your message is.”
“It’s safe to say we have to think about reaching these younger people, where they’re collecting information and doing research,” says Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe USA. “It’s almost impossible now to not get involved—because if you’re not involved, somebody else decides what your message is.”
“But for now, we want to give out information, provide collectors and aficionados with the message from Patek, and then they can go to the website if they want to make contact,” Pettinelli says.
The Geneva-based firm has yet to join the social media fray (though that may soon change), but has spent the past three to four years studying the online advertising market, “trying to figure out how quickly high-end consumers are moving away from print,” adds Pettinelli.
While high net worth individuals between the ages of 42 and 65—the watchmaker’s target market—are using digital, “they still like to pick up an Architectural Digest or read a Forbes magazine cover to cover,” he says. “We’re watching these things very closely, but for as much as people are assuming digital is going to overrun print, for our market it has not yet done so.”
E-commerce remains the only digital element luxury brands continue to reject, using arguments that center on the Internet’s fundamental lack of personal touch to explain why it’s an impossible place to sell luxury goods as complicated as high-end timepieces. But there are signs even that long-held conviction is changing. Chopard, for example, went against the luxury grain three years ago, when it unveiled its e-boutique for the U.S. market.
“For the moment, we have our core collection online rather than special pieces,” Scheufele says. “But it is also something we consider, maybe offering specific pieces online. There are so many ideas we haven’t explored. It’s certainly something we take very seriously.”
Photo source: Chopard