The Latin phrase tempus fugit, or “time flies” in the most common English translation, has taken on new meaning in our hyper-connected lives where unfathomable amounts of information are literally at your fingertips.
Something extraordinary happened in the watch business in Switzerland in late September – Audemars Piguet SA and Richard Mille SA announced their intent to leave the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH), the previously unmissable industry trade show for watchmakers and their channel partners that takes place in Geneva every year.
Audemars Piguet (AP), one of the most famous and recognizable names in the luxury Swiss watch business, was founded in 1875 by legendary craftsmen Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet. Their unmistakable, revolutionary style includes the famed Royal Oak line, the world’s first luxury sports watch. The company has been family owned since its founding.
If Audemars Piguet is classic, Richard Mille SA a relative newcomer founded in 1999, is avant-garde in every aspect, including the use of cutting-edge materials and timepieces that can withstand shocks up to 10,000g.
The decision to depart SIHH by AP and Richard Mille is no aberration. Several months ago the Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch manufacturer with no less than 18 brands, also announced a similar departure from Baselworld, the industry’s other major trade show.
So what is going is in the watch business, one of the most conservative business sectors in the world? Trade shows are Marketing 101. These companies are industry stalwarts, not fledgling startups with miniscule marketing budgets. What major shifts are happening in their respective business strategies to enjoin such drastic action?
Like many manufacturers whose products are made for the consumer market, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille are pivoting to a direct model that bypasses traditional multi-brand retail channels for a pure-play brand experience online, or in their own stores. Engaging directly with their end-users not only speeds up the exchange of information between the manufacturer and the consumer, but it also blocks other brands from stealing customers. Negotiating channel partnerships, whether new or existing, is the key output from a traditional trade show, but now manufacturers are deciding they are better off on their own. How did this happen?
The Internet makes everything happen faster, including customers deciding to switch brands. Knowing how a customer values their interactions with you, the vendor, makes decisions like abandoning trade shows for more direct paths to your customers much easier to make.
With a reservoir full of event data and a better way to measure how customers value your brand, the winners will stay a step ahead of the competitive pack by focusing their time on the customers who matter. Tempus fugit indeed.