Can the Gleam of Excessive-Finish Watches Thrive on Audio-Solely Clubhouse?

It has been dubbed the perfect social media platform for a pandemic and lockdown fashion too.

Clubhouse, the $ 1 billion invite-only social audio app, has Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Drake among its members. Beauty, fashion, technology, travel and luxury brands have experimented with the vibrant platform and are now grabbing the attention of the luxury watch industry.

But as this community begins to speak up, questions arise about Clubhouse’s relevance to the physical, visual world of luxury watchmaking, and more generally about the app’s overall chances of success.

Currently Clubhouse only offers audio chat with no content sharing. It is only available on Apple’s iPhone. You can download the free app, but you can only use it if a member has invited you.

And chances are it will soon be competing with competing products from social media giants. Twitter is set to roll out Spaces this month, while Instagram has already responded with Live Rooms, which includes live video but is limited to four speakers at a time. Facebook should also develop its own platform.

However, some watch brands say Clubhouse has the power to grow their business.

“The clubhouse made a lot of sense to me,” said Christophe Grainger-Herr, Managing Director of IWC, who has attended the brand’s weekly clubhouse meeting entitled “The things that make us tick” since the end of January.

“It’s talk radio, but in the open-room format, like Instagram Live, but with full interactivity,” he said. “That seemed attractive because you can connect one-on-one with a global audience. You have a directness and immediacy. “

In April 2020, Clubhouse was featured on Apple’s App Store by an entrepreneur, Paul Davison, and a former Google engineer, Rohan Seth. The men had founded their California start-up Alpha Exploration Co. just two months earlier.

The concept of the “interactive podcast”, as described in the clubhouse, offers live chat without recording in a virtual room. There are speakers, but moderators can invite viewers to participate. And viewers can leave the session at any time.

By the end of the year, the clubhouse’s membership had grown, but not as quickly as its reputation. In December, British Vogue published an article describing it as “the new FOMO-inducing social app”. And then, in January, it was reported that Andreessen Horowitz, the blue-chip venture capital firm that initially invested, had invested $ 100 million in Clubhouse to achieve that $ 1 billion valuation .

However, the platform continues to be a niche site. The app has reportedly been downloaded nearly 13 million times. But even if all of these people got invitations and became users, the audience would still be tiny compared to Facebook, the world’s largest social network, which was reported with 2.8 billion monthly active users in 2020.

It didn’t make any money either, as it’s free to use by brands and viewers – at least for now.

With chat rooms focused on the watch and only reaching double digit, sometimes triple numbers, some are wondering why people like IWC care. “There’s too much hype about clubhouse,” said David Sadigh, managing director of Digital Luxury Group, a specialist marketing agency. “It’s a great place when you have a topic that you own and can offer a deep dive into that topic. But it’s not relevant for all brands right now. “

Even so, Mr Grainger-Herr said he has already completed many of the appointments he would normally have done during the Clocks and Miracles of Geneva, which begins Wednesday, so that he can contribute to the IWC clubhouse meetings during the event. He said they would run “24/7”.

Brands on the platform said their use was more about researching new forms of social media than about reach. “An integral part of our brand position is inclusive luxury, to be open in our approach,” said Tim Sayler, Head of Marketing at Breitling. Last month, the brand, which has recently moved into gaming, started planning #Squadtalks on Thursdays. The speakers will discuss everything from aviation to blockchain.

“Everyone can raise their hands in the clubhouse and participate,” said Sayler.

Dan Noël, founder of Swiss digital marketing agency Starterland, said Clubhouse has the potential to bring luxury brands and their consumers together. “Even people with money are looking for brands that represent and contribute to something socially,” he said. “There is a shift. Customers want direct, authentic connections to brands. The clubhouse offers two-way communication. “

The low cost of social audio also makes it attractive, companies said.

Julien Tornare, managing director of Zenith, a member of the LVMH group of watch companies, said his brand uses Clubhouse because it is “logistically much easier” than generating expensive video content for channels like YouTube and Instagram. Mr. Tornare and his colleagues appear as themselves rather than the brand to reflect the more “personal” nature of the platform.

He also said he was far from convinced that the clubhouse would last, but that it was worth the effort. “We have to be there,” he said. “Right now it’s the one.”

The clubhouse format poses challenges to luxury homes, just as the internet has done for years after its adoption by most businesses.

“The problem for luxury brands is that they are obsessed with the look and feel,” said Noël. “Brands need to find a way to create emotions with their words, which could be scary for them. And it’s live, so one bad word could be really harmful. “(Shortly after Clubhouse debuted, there were complaints that hate speech and harassment were on the rise. The app has since added blocking and reporting features.)

Mr Tornare said he was not concerned about risks. “There are some CEOs who try not to be exposed to the press or a direct audience,” he said. “But I think if you want to communicate, at some point you have to take a risk and be exposed. It’s part of the job. We have to be open to criticism. “

By and large, watch room users reported polite audience exchanges. “All of the guard rooms I’ve been in have been civilized and respectful,” Andrew Carrier, a London-based watch enthusiast, wrote in an email.

Mr. Sayler von Breitling agreed. “In the clubhouse I only see constructive, polite, civilized conversations. Maybe that’s just because of the invitation. “

Mr Carrier said the informal nature of the platform had also resonated. “The sheer audio and spontaneity of the experience means brands have to give up the aspirations and congestion that sometimes come with more traditional marketing activities,” he wrote. “There is no hierarchy in the clubhouse. We’re all just people with a somewhat strange obsession with watches. “

Suzanne Wong, editor-in-chief of the watch website WorldTempus and co-founder of the weekly clubhouse space WatchFemme, which aims to highlight women in the watch world, said she had similar experiences. “You can’t fake your profile and you will be asked to link your other accounts,” she said, referring to social media platforms. “If you comment badly, do so in front of an audience that can see who you are. It limits trolls that way.

“It’s like being in a town hall because when you get to the microphone, people see who you are,” she added. “That way you get a quality audience. People don’t log on to the troll anonymously. Instead, there are people who are really interested. “

With Clubhouse not yet providing insights into user behavior, watch brands and analysts said it was too early and the audience too small to measure the effectiveness of Clubhouse as a marketing tool. And there was little evidence that the sessions were attracting new watch buyers.

“I felt like I knew 60 to 70 percent of the audience,” said Tornare of a clubhouse meeting that Zenith hosted on the occasion of a recent collaboration with artist Felipe Pantone. “It’s a way to share a topic that you like instead of learning about watches.”

Mr Noël from Starterland said the small, intimate nature of the clubhouse could be beneficial for both the platform and the users. “It doesn’t mean that if you have few followers, you can’t be in control,” he said. “That is one of the advantages of Clubhouse. You don’t need a big platform to show your values. Go into the rooms and start a club, not to sell your stuff, but to get your values ​​across to the audience. “

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

“I am of the opinion that Clubhouse is trying to build a content platform and a platform for creators,” said Sadigh of the DLG, referring to Clubhouse’s announcement in March that it is developing a new accelerator program with which content creators can target their target groups be able to build up and monetize. “At some point, people will pay to be part of groups and exclusive conversations. And that goes far beyond the times of Covid. “

Mr Noël said he believes social audio has something to offer. “Audio is probably the smoothest way of communicating between people. The less friction you have in your communication, the more traction you get,” he said. “The clubhouse is a direct link between people that mimics real life. And we know that when a social network is emulating something in the real world, it’s a good sign that it’s not a fad. “

But he warned. “If Clubhouse wants to exist in 10 years, it has to find a way to keep traction and get some money from the model. And they need to provide metrics for brands and content creators. “

Others disagree. “So far, it’s been an early adopter platform,” said Sadigh. “The enthusiasm is not reflected in the numbers. There are a lot of people there, but how many are active? One percent is addicted, two percent use it a few times a week, but 97 percent are sleeping. Instagram and Facebook have managed to change people’s habits so that even non-early adopters check their phones 20 times a day. We are a long way from that in the clubhouse. “

James Marks of Phillips Perpetual, the used London clock showroom and frequent clubhouse user, went a step further.

“It’s just social boredom,” he said.