Can the Gleam of High-End Watches Thrive on Audio-Only Clubhouse?

It has been called the perfect social media platform for the epidemic, and also a lockdown craze.

Clubhouse, invitation-only social audio app is valuable For $ 1 billion, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and Drake are counted as members. Brands of beauty, fashion, technology, travel and luxury have been experimenting with buzzy platforms, and are now attracting the attention of the luxury watch industry.

But as the community begins to speak its mind, there are questions about the relevance of the physical, visual watchdog world of the clubhouse and, more broadly, the app’s overall opportunities for success.

For now, the clubhouse only offers audio chat, in which no content is shared. It is only available on Apple’s iPhone, and while you can download the free app, you can use it only if you have been invited by a member.

And chances are that it will soon be in competition with rival products from social media giants. Twitter is set to roll out Spaces this month, while Instagram has already responded with a live room, including live video, but is limited to four speakers at any one time. Facebook is also said to be developing its own platform.

Yet some watch brands say the clubhouse has the power to grow their businesses.

“The clubhouse made a sense of sorts for me”, said Christoph Grainger-Herr, IWC’s chief executive, who has attended the brand’s weekly clubhouse session, which has been launched since the end of January, “The Things That Make As Tick “.

“It’s a matter of radio but with an open room format like Instagram Live, but with full dialogue,” he said. “It sounded fascinating because you can connect with audiences from all over the world, one-to-one. You have a directness and clarity.”

In April 2020, the clubhouse was introduced into Apple’s App Store by Paul Davison, an entrepreneur, and Rohan Seth, a former Google engineer. The men joined their California-based start-up, Alpha Exploration Co., only two months ago.

The “interactive podcast” concept, described as a clubhouse, offers live, stranger chat in a virtual room. There are speakers, but moderators can invite audience members to participate. And audience members can leave the session whenever they want.

By the end of the year, membership of the clubhouse had grown, but not as fast as its reputation. In December, British Vogue was published An article Describing it as “the new FOMO-inducing social app”. And then in January, it was reported that blue-chip venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, an early investor, had put $ 100 million into the clubhouse, leading to a $ 1 billion valuation.

The platform, however, continues to be a niche site. The report says The app has been downloaded nearly 13 million times. Yet even though all those people were able to receive invitations and become users, the audience would be smaller than the world’s largest social network, Facebook, which was finished by 2020 Reported 2.8 billion monthly active users.

It has not made any money, as usage by both brands and audience members is free – at least at the moment.

Gathering audiences in only double, sometimes triple figures, with clock-centric chat rooms, some are questioning why the choice of IWC is troubling. “There’s a lot of hype around the clubhouse,” said David Sadiz, chief executive officer of Digital Luxury Group, a specialist marketing agency. “This is a great place if you have a subject that you have and can take a deep dive into that subject. But this is not relevant for all brands at the moment. “

Nevertheless, Mr. Grainger-Herre said that he had already completed a number of appointments that he normally held during the Watches and Wonders Geneva, which begins on Wednesday, so he would attend the IWC’s clubhouse during the event Can contribute to the session. They said they would run “24/7”.

The brands on the platform said that their use was as much about exploring new forms of social media as it was about accessibility. “An important part of our brand’s position is inclusive luxury, which is open in our approach,” said Tim Sutler, chief marketing officer at Breggling. In the past month the brand, which has recently gone into gaming, has begun to determine the schedule on Thursday calling #Squadtalks, with speakers who discuss everything from aviation to blockchain.

“At the clubhouse, everyone can raise their hands and participate,” Mr. Siler said.

Dan Noel, founder of Swiss digital marketing agency Starterland, said the clubhouse had the potential to bring luxury brands and their consumers together. “Even people with money are looking for brands that represent something from a social point of view, which contribute,” he said. “There is an innings. Customers want a direct, authentic connection with the brand. The club house provides bidirectional communication. “

Businesses said the low cost of social audio also makes it attractive.

One of the LVMH group of watch companies, Zenith Tornare, chief executive, said her brand was using the clubhouse because it was “logically much easier” than creating expensive video content for channels such as YouTube and Instagram Was. Mr. Tornare and his colleagues reveal themselves to reflect the more “personal” look of the stage rather than the brand itself.

He also said that he was far from thinking that the clubhouse would move, but it was worth the effort. “We have to be there,” he said. “Right now, this is the one.”

The clubhouse format presents challenges for luxury homes, As the internet did For years after its acceptance by most businesses.

“Noel said,” the problem for luxury brands is that they look and feel superior. “Brands have to find a way to create emotion with their words, which can be frightening for them. And it is alive, so a bad word can actually be harmful. “(Shortly after the inception of the club house, There were complaints That hate language and harassment was spreading. The application has since added blocking and reporting features.)

Mr Tornare said they were not concerned about the risks. “Some CEOs are trying to avoid being exposed to the press or to direct audiences,” he said. “But I believe that if you want to communicate, at some point you have to take some risk and be exposed. This is part of the job. We have to be open to criticism. “

Users of large and viewing, related rooms reported exchanges of polite spectators. “All the watch rooms I’ve visited have been decent and respectful,” wrote London-based watch enthusiast Andrew Carrier in an email.

Mr. Sailor of Breitling agreed. “At the clubhouse, I only see constructive, polite, polite conversation. Maybe just because of the invitation.

Mr Carrier said the informal nature of the platform also appealed. “The experience-only and effortless nature means that brands sometimes have to abandon the pretense and baggage that comes with traditional marketing activities,” he wrote. “There is no hierarchy in the club house; We are all people with a slightly weird obsession with watches.

Suzanne Wong, chief editor of the watch website WorldTempus and co-founder of the weekly clubhouse room Watchfam, Whose aim is to expose women to the world of the watch, she said she had similar experiences. Referring to social media platforms, she said, “You cannot fake your profile and you are encouraged to add your other accounts.” “When you make a comment in bad faith, you are doing it in front of an audience who can see who you are. It limits trolls that way.

“It’s like a town hall because when you come on the microphone people see who you are,” she said. “So you get a qualitative audience that way. People are not logging in to troll anonymously. Instead, you get people who are really interested.”

With the clubhouse yet to provide any insight into user behavior, watch brands and analysts said it was too early and too small for viewers to measure the effectiveness of the clubhouse as a marketing tool. And there were some signs that the new Watch buyers were drawing in sessions.

“I felt like I know 60 to 70 percent of the audience,” Mr. Tornare said of a clubhouse session that Zenith had recently hosted to collaborate with artist Felipe Pantone. “It’s a way to exchange on a topic of your choice, not to learn about watches.”

Mr Noel of Starterland said that the small, intimate nature of the clubhouse could work for both the platform and the benefit of users. “It doesn’t mean that if you only have a small number of followers, you can’t have influence,” he said. “This is one of the benefits of the clubhouse. You do not need a large platform to show your values. Go to the rooms and make a club not to sell your stuff, but to spread your values ​​to the audience. “

But will the clubhouse – and social audio in general – survive when people return to the office and enjoy life beyond their living rooms?

“My impression is that the clubhouse is trying to create a content platform and a platform for creators,” said Mr. Sadie of DLG, a new accelerator program to help content creators create and monetize their audiences. Ki announced the clubhouse. “At some point, people will pay to be part of groups and special conversations. And he goes beyond the time of Kovid. “

Mr. Noel said that he believes there is something to it in social audio. “Audio is probably the most frictionless way to communicate between humans, and the less friction you have in your communication, the more traction you’ll get”, he said. “The clubhouse is a direct connection between humans, simulating real life. And we know that when a social network emulates something in the real world, it is a good sign that it is not a fad. “

But he warned. “If the clubhouse wants to exist 10 years from now, it has to find a way to keep traction and get some money from the model. And they have to distribute the matrix to brands and content creators. “

Others disagree. “So far, this is an early-adopter platform,” Mr. Sadie said. “Discussion is not reflected in numbers. A lot of people are joining, but how active are they? One percent are addicted, two percent use it a few times a week, but 97 percent are sleeping. Instagram and Facebook succeeded in changing people’s habits, so that those who are not early adopters are also checking their phones 20 times a day. We are away from it at the clubhouse. “

Phillips Peripual’s James Marks of London-owned Watch Showroom and a frequent clubhouse user went ahead.

“It’s just social boredom,” he said.

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