When watchmaking behemoth Swatch Group announced mid-last year that it would be pulling out of Baselworld 2019, it seemed to be one more nail in the coffin for the watch and jewellery exposition. The move echoed what industry insiders had been whispering for years: Baselworld wasn’t working anymore. In a further sign of its decline, the fair revealed a line-up of only about 500 exhibitors this year, down from the 1,500 that took part in 2016.
But while the show might be past its prime, it is certainly not completely out of the running yet. One simply has to look to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva to see how a longstanding luxury exhibition can be revived and made relevant for this digital day and age again. So how can Baselworld propel itself back to relevance?
With the changing manner in which people are consuming information, content producers are naturally expected to adapt their methods accordingly. And if there’s one thing that Baselworld is lacking, it is the element of storytelling. Beyond simply being an event that gathers brands, retailers, journalists and consumers together in one place for once a year, the fair has yet to find new talking points and creative ways of presenting itself.
A typical week at Baselworld would see retailers and journalists frantically rushing to and from the booths of various brands, meeting brand representatives for back-to-back private presentations on the year’s novelties or exclusive interviews with top management. While this is, in theory, the whole point of Baselworld, it also tends to breed a sort of tunnel-vision in many of the fair’s visitors. This is further exacerbated by the structure of the fair and lack of relatable or interesting experiences for attendees.
The new Show Plaza at Baselworld promises to offer visitors a more engaging experience.
This is apparently set to change this year, as the organisers introduce new experiential spaces, such as the Show Plaza (as pictured above), which comprises an expansive catwalk that would allow jewellery to be presented in a more engaging format. Another area called The Loop is also said to be making its debut as an exhibition space for the art of watchmaking.
It is a commonly known fact that today’s generation of luxury consumers are not a patient lot. Having grown up in the digital age, they are largely driven by instant gratification – a trait that luxury fashion brands have picked up and capitalised on from as early as 2016. First to kick off the trend was British label Burberry, who recognised that the industry’s typical six-month delay between runway shows and actual product deliveries were no longer realistic in the modern era. The brand readjusted its production timeline and introduced a “see now, buy now” model that allowed consumers to purchase items straight off the runway.
While it may not be realistic to expect that same alacrity of the watchmaking industry – a complex movement could take months to assemble – more steps can be taken to bridge the gap between the product launches at Baselworld and engaging the end consumer.
A complicated timepiece like the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual 'Pour Le Mérite takes more than a year to assemble.
Image: A. Lange & Söhne
For instance, this issue was addressed by Vacheron Constantin at the recent SIHH, when they rolled out a Mini Program on WeChat that allowed Chinese consumers to register their interest in timepieces introduced at the fair, and to request for callbacks from a sales representative. Such a call to action inspires an immediate reaction, and helps to keep the conversation going with potential buyers instead of letting their interests wane while the watches are being produced and assembled.
While the clout of influencers in the Western world may have waned over the years, it has continued to grow for those in the East. This is well understood by luxury watchmakers and jewelers, who have been working closely with celebrities and KOLs (influencers, as they are known in China) alike to promote their products. However, as audiences grow increasingly sophisticated, more thought needs to be put into these celebrity appearances. More than a photo-op, celebrity and KOL appearances at such major exhibitions need to be accompanied with proper amplification strategies.
Earlier this year, the SIHH worked with DLG (Digital Luxury Group) to develop a comprehensive KOL amplification for the fair. Apart from selecting relevant lifestyle KOLs from China (the agency brought in BoyNam and Peter Xu), a clear content strategy was also developed so as to maximise the exposure of the annual exposition in the world’s most populous nation. As a result, the SIHH achieved more than 23 million impressions on Chinese social media platforms, with the hashtag #SIHH2019 attaining a 1499 percent increase in popularity on 15 January (the second day of the fair). It was by far the best performance the had ever seen in Mainland China.
BoyNam doing a livestream session at the SIHH
Image: DLG (Digital Luxury Group)
“Brands have to make sure that KOLs are leveraged in a relevant way, and that the consumers they are reaching out to remain engaged throughout the process,” says Pablo Mauron, Partner and Managing Director China of DLG. “The most important thing is the formulation of a clear content strategy that can sustain continued attention from audiences. Simply bringing in a KOL for a brand’s conference will undoubtedly increase its social media share of voice around that period of time. However, this attention is unlikely to be sustained,” he adds.
In line with changes to information consumption patterns, new social media platforms have come to the forefront in recent years. This includes wildly popular Chinese short video app, Tik Tok (or Douyin, as it is known in China). The power and reach of these up-and-coming applications should not be underestimated, if simply for their reach. Tik Tok, for instance, currently has 500 million monthly active users and 250 daily active users, surpassing the user figures of other popular short video applications like Instagram’s Stories feature, and Snapchat. Besides a wider reach, these new platforms also offer richer content formats, increasing the chances for consumer engagement.
While Baselworld is open to members of the public, the fair has traditionally been focused on catering to the media, brands, and retailers. It therefore offers very few avenues of interaction between brands and event-goers that are not attending for trade or journalistic purposes. In fact, there is not much one can do apart from admiring the year’s novelties through the glass panels outside of brand booths.
More needs to be done to improve the overall experience of fair-goers and to engage them on a deeper level. Beyond plastering QR codes on walls and inviting visitors to scan them for more information and details, steps need to be taken to transforming the entire Baselworld journey. Virtual guides or interactive product displays and presentations are all possibilities that can be considered. If properly implemented, this could also potentially offer journalists a secondary avenue of receiving product information, easing the scheduling crunch for brand presentations as well.
All eyes are now trained on the mega exhibition as it opens its doors officially tomorrow. “We plan to use this year’s show as an opportunity to present our vision for Baselworld 2020 and subsequent years to exhibitors and all interested parties. We have already received very good feedback from important exhibitors on the approach sketched in that vision,” said Baselworld managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff in a statement. The jury’s still out on whether the changes implemented by Baselworld are enough to save it from an untimely demise, but one thing’s for sure: It’s definitely not over yet.
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