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- 25 Jan 2010
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iPhone - An ever more powerful magnet for watch brands

Vincent Brelle, sales and marketing executive at the luxury digital marketing firm IC-Agency, reviews the many opportunities that the smartphone presents watchmakers and suggests useful strategies for developing customised applications.


983_piaget_mediumIn developing these applications, brands are finding means of directly reaching an audience with an interest in new technologies and creating special ties with this public.

The emergence of smartphones has led to a full-fledged revolution in the world of mobile phones. Serving as authentic microcomputers, they offer functions going well beyond those provided by conventional phones. The strength of these state-of-the-art models lies in their applications, which are being introduced in ever-growing numbers thanks to the stimulus of thousands of developer-consumers around the world.

Meanwhile, brands have grasped the value of these new applications as an additional means of communicating and interacting with their target clientele via their own dedicated applications. As the undisputed leader on the smartphone market, the iPhone by Apple naturally represents an ideal medium, as testified by the two billion-mark recently reached for application downloads. Given the dizzying scope of this phenomenon, watch brands are also beginning to make the most of this option.


Watchmaking applications

984_vanclif_mediumLike the majority of players in the luxury industry, not many watchmakers have yet joined the constellation of iPhone applications. There are currently only ten or so, including Breitling, Christian Dior; Rado, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bell & Ross and Piaget. All of these applications share a few common denominators: a “minisite” format that can be consulted free of charge; elegance and simplicity; as well as a vocation for presenting a product and a collection as well as promoting the distribution network. The latter point is a reminder that brands are not just engaging in a stylistic exercise: a decision to adopt the iPhone as a communication medium naturally also implies commercial considerations.

iPhone applications do indeed offer a large number of opportunities, starting with their usefulness in enhancing customer loyalty by making the brand available anywhere, anytime. But the elegant smartphone also serves to cast the spotlight on the latest new releases. Thanks to its geographical location functions, it can easily show users their nearest points of sale. Finally, the technology developed by the California-based company serves to develop and make applications available for purchase from Apple’s official virtual platform, the App Store. This function is not intended to replace existing sales networks, but instead to attract a new audience more in tune with new technologies.

While the impact on brand awareness is pretty obvious, the concrete timeliness of online sales has not yet been proven, especially since making a purchase from an iPhone does not necessarily provide all the security guarantees necessary to venturing into a transaction involving fairly large sums. One must also bear in mind that “classic” e-commerce, meaning via websites, has not yet really proven its worth in the watchmaking world. It is therefore pretty unlikely that this channel will be developed via mobile media in the near future. Nor are there any convincing reasons to assert that online sales are among the real expectations of iPhone users. Like the various social networks, the iPhone might well be a medium that users view from a playful angle rather than a commercial one. This means that trying to use it more as a sales channel than as a medium of communication is probably not a viable approach.


Exclusive applications

985_bellross_mediumThe current applications appear to have a relatively limited life span, since the discovery of a product or a collection is hardly a long-term activity. Brands therefore have two means of taking lasting advantage of the opportunities provided by applications. They can either choose to produce some with a life span superior to those currently on the market; or they can circulate new ones that can be regularly updated in order to offer users new content. Since the world of fine watchmaking is distinguished by content that is by definition exclusive, meaning not available elsewhere, this approach would doubtless contribute to increasing the appeal of the applications available.

Providing users with the opportunity of reserving certain products previewed only via iPhone would for example promote the adoption of these applications among a target public with an averred taste for this kind of privilege. One could even imagine the creation of applications that would be exclusive in their own right and that only owners of one of the brand’s watches would be authorised to download by identifying themselves via the series number of their timepiece. Another possible development might involve paid-for applications. An AdMob survey conducted in July 2009 has shown that 50% of iPhone application users download paid-for applications every month – although most of them download only one to three per month. The most interesting factor to have emerged from this study is that 52% of such users say they have appreciated the free version of a given application to the point of getting an update using the paid-for version. This is perhaps a more effective means of monetizing this new medium than actually attempting to sell products directly via applications. In any case, if they wish to remain consistent with their official offline positioning, watch brands will have no choice but to offer the public an experience that procures the same sense of belonging to a privileged circle of individuals.


Cartier gets an application withdrawn

The popularity of iPhone applications must not lead us to lose sight of the fact that it also implies certain risks, particularly in terms of brand image. Cartier has for example recently had one particular application removed from the App Store. Named “Fake Watch Gold Edition”, it enabled users to see the time on fake models via their iPhone… While this particular case does not appear to be overly serious, it nonetheless serves as a reminder that caution is certainly recommended in situations relating to communication media that are not only popular but also capable of reaching an extremely broad audience within a relatively short space of time.


Vincent Brelle, Sales & Marketing Executive, IC-Agency


This article was originally published on Worldtempus.com

The full study “iPhone Applications and Luxury Brands” is available here

Created in 2000, IC-Agency is a leader in luxury digital marketing. Based in Europe (Switzerland) and in North America (Canada), IC-Agency provides its clients with services such as analysis, promotion and protection for their brands, products and services. Among IC-Agency’s clients are many independent luxury brands, as well as brands belonging to groups such as Swatch, Richemont, LVMH, and PPR/Gucci. In partnership with Europa Star, IC-Agency releases each year at Baselworld the WorldWatchReport, a reference market study that deciphers queries entered into search engines throughout the Internet from millions of prospects for 25 luxury watch brands in seven key export markets.