“Influencer”: Is This The Most Overrated Word In Watchmaking?
by Martin Green
With the progress of technology, new words get added to our vocabulary and old words are given different meanings.
Influencers have been around for as long as humankind exists, but where in previous centuries this power was mostly in the hands of nobility, priests, elected officials, or successful entrepreneurs, it is now wielded by teenagers with a camera and an Instagram account.
The silver bullet
When sales figures plummet in an industry, it is common practice for brands to review current procedures and identify areas for improvement. The more sales are nose-diving, the more likely it is that standard procedures are either rushed or skipped altogether. Marketers tend to go after what is known as a silver bullet strategy: a simple and highly effective solution to a complex problem.
In the world of watchmaking that silver bullet has been identified as the influencer.
Mind you, an influencer is not an ambassador. Either enjoying or having enjoyed a successful career outside the scope of the brand he or she is professionally endorsing, brand ambassadors use their popularity to (hopefully) positively help the watch brand by association (see What’s The Deal With Celebrity Brand Ambassadors? Are They Really A Good Fit For Watch Brands?)
Influencers, however, do not have such a careers; all they do is “influence.”
The aim of marketing and advertising has always been to influence potential and existing clients and customers so that they purchase more products. Marketing departments determine which tools to deploy to achieve this and analyze rate the effectiveness of each of them. This last part has been under fire for obvious reasons in the watch industry.
Essentially, the purpose of marketing is to sell a product, which means that it needs to be promoted among people in the target group, which consists of people most likely to take an interest in the offering and have the disposable income to afford to buy it.
Power of the masses?
Influencers’ power is measured by the sheer volume of their followers. The more followers on social media, the more they charge a brand to feature their products on their channels.
While this does mean that the brand gets a lot of exposure, it unfortunately says very little about the quality of that exposure. I recently dug into this topic when I saw that a Swiss haute horlogerie brand that I hold in very high esteem had hired the services of such an influencer.
The brand flew her out, first class of course, to a major event it was staging, where even the CEO seemed to have been caught in the aura that this influencer cast. The results were a string of posts on social media that got a lot of “likes.”
I am pretty sure that the marketing director of this brand was probably very pleased when he was able to report the amount of “impressions” that the brand scored with this move.
Job well done? Not so fast.
While the exposure seems enormous and well worth the investment, quality is also lacking, to say the least.
When I looked into this influencer, I noticed that the vast majority of her followers were teenagers, and I seriously doubt that there were many among them who are able and willing to spend $10,000 or more on even the least expensive watch by this brand.
I am also curious what the focus of the influencer’s followers is: do they just like the overall style or do they really connect to the brands as well? The latter would make the brand itself less important, as a black Chanel dress could easily be exchanged for a similar looking example from H&M. Or to put it in watch terms: why would a follower buy a gold Piaget Altiplano when a gold-tone Timex is close enough for them when it comes to looks? This is important to know as many influencers don’t stress the qualities of the products they are flogging, but more their price and visuals.
When it comes to haute horlogerie, this means omitting the vast majority of what makes these quality watches so special and worth their premium price.
Of course, we are working here on the assumption that these posts make a conscious, and lasting, impact. However, on social media people tend to be quick to like and equally as quick to forget what they liked.
Of course, we can make the point that any action is better than none at all, and this type of modern marketing will at least contribute to increased brand awareness, which may push sales at a later date. But that turns the silver bullet into a delayed scatter shot in the dark.
Same script, different cast and props
That same influencer mentioned earlier featured a different watch brand a couple of weeks later on her channels, one whose products are priced below $200. This was the same type of product, the same type of approach, but all of a sudden it makes much more sense for her followers.
While the brand in question also has to keep a keen eye on the quality of its marketing investment, the price point of its products means that the effectiveness most likely increases as the audience’s income does; in other words, this influencer’s audience can far more easily afford the second product over the first.
In the end, it comes back to one vital question for brands: who are your customers, even the potentials?
When you have the answer to that, you know at least who you need to influence, leaving only open the question of how to do that.
But as successfully as they may be in promoting some products, I think very few influencers will have much effectiveness when it comes to promoting haute horlogerie.
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Also published on Medium.