Long time before the term web 2.0 got widely known (the term became notable after the first web 2.0 conference in 2004, organized by Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media), there were plenty of social-networking web sites for horology fans. Most of these sites started in the second half of the 1990s, think of WatchUseek and TimeZone etc. These sites had (and still have) an enourmeous amount of information on all kinds of wrist watches and all kinds of brands.
However, for the sake of clarity, I will also refer to those pre-web 2.0 days as web 2.0.
It is remarkable that the watch manufacturers and watch dealers didn’t know (and sometimes still don’t know) what to do with this social-networking thing. Part of them still ignores the social-networking web sites because the grey market is a bit too present on those communities for them.
Another part of them has incorporated their own forum (like IWC) to – at least – be in control of what is going on amongst the watch community. Angelo Bonati, CEO of Panerai, some times post a message on the famous Paneristi forum, to show he (Panerai) feels connected to the Paneristi community. It is a great marketing tool for Panerai, to see what’s up amongst collectors and Panerai die-hards.
Most brands (either manufacturers or authorized dealers) still do not participate on those forums. Some of them are ‘reading’, to see what the small group of on-line collectors / adepts have to say about their brand or store, but the whole idea of communicating through these forums/portals/blogs seems to be ignored. It can be even worse though. I still get the shivers when I read on official websites (Ebel for example, see below) that all watches of their brand that are being sold through the internet, are not genuine or have at least a ‘dubious’ origin. Well, to my best knowledge, watches from the so-called ‘grey circuit’ are most of the time stamped by an official dealer. This means that these watches are perfectly genuine and that the original dealer who stamped the watch, made sure you can bring it in for warranty issues or service. Ebel seems to forbid authorized dealers to sell their Ebel watches through the internet, while the sales corners on forums offer new ones (dealer stamped) by the dozen. Or what to think about the watch sellers on watch market portal Chrono24? Authorized dealers are probably having a hard time by these restrictions. It must be frustrating to tell customers ‘no’ when these customers tell them about the percentages they can get off a watch offered through them via Chrono24 or sales corners on forums and asks whether the authorized dealer can offer him/her a similar deal. How can a brand expect an authorized dealer to compete with the grey market when these official channels aren’t allowed to use the internet in a proper manner? Some of the brands seem to use the web technology for their own website only (e.g selling brand related books, handling requests for brochures, handling requests for information on vintage watches). I think it would be nice to see that they will take it to the next level and be a true competitor to the grey markets.
At the same time, web 2.0 is used by brands (like Panerai, Doxa, IWC etc) to check whether the customer is hungry for new models. Web 2.0 is a full functional marketing tool, they only have to keep an eye on the message boards and they know what’s cooking. This information can be used to create new models (even new brands) and can be used to manage a part of the after sales service. Problems with watches are being discussed on these forums, especially when the problems are structural. Let’s take the Omega caliber 33xx for example. This movement had its share of problems since the beginning of the introduction. The problems seemed to be structural, as the Omega forums got flooded with cases of broken movements of this type. Omega COULD have used this information on forums and blogs to take control over the situation, and send out a message to the authorized dealers to pay extra attention on these watches when being sold or when they come in for a service or repair. They even could use the watch portals/forums to send out a message to the watch community that they were working on the problem (or solution) for these watches. I think that such messages would have done good to the (brand’s) image of these particular watches.
Now, for the good things of web 2.0 and horology. I am happy to see that a number of authorized dealers seem to have found a way to use this technology for their business in a positive way. Watch portals and forums like Horomundi, the Dutch Rolex Forum, TimeZone, Paneristi etc organizes so-called Get-To-Gethers (GTGs). These GTGs are meant to get to know the persons behind the posts and contributions and discuss their passion, watches. It seems to become a trend that authorized dealers attend these GTGs as well, to be able to introduce themselves and to demonstrate that they are willing to be ‘in’. I have attended several GTGs and noticed that the on-line watch community really appreciates these visits of the authorized dealers. Most of the time they will bring the latest brochures and tell the on-line watch community about the latest products of the brands that they represent. I have seen Panerai BeneLux presenting their latest inhouse movements on a GTG in Antwerp in 2005. A Dutch authorized Rolex dealer was present at the most recent GTG of the Dutch Rolex Forum in 2008. Besides getting questions from the online watch community, the dealers can gain some information on what’s on the customers mind. This way, a brand or authorized dealer can participate in the customers needs. Of course, the watch community does not represent ALL customers of a certain brand, but since every house hold seems to be online and googling, it should give a pretty good idea of what’s hot and what’s not.
Conclusion: Brands should not be scared and find a way to use the web 2.0 technology. It could probably save on some traditional marketing costs as well ;). It will probably also bring a better understanding between manufacturer and authorized dealer. Because the latter one must be getting tired to sell ‘no’ to the e-aware customer.
Of course, this post is subject to my own thoughts on the matter. I would be interested to hear other opinions on this. Perhaps I am all wrong ;)