Prestige Brands Forum: Jean-Claude Biver On The China Luxury Market
Part two of Jing Daily’s Q&A with Jean-Claude Biver, CEO and Chairman of the Swiss watch label Hublot, from last weekend’s Prestige Brands Forum in Shanghai. In part one of our interview, Biver discussed the importance of the China market in Hublot’s ongoing expansion strategy, as well as some of his observations on current trends shaping China’s luxury watch market. In part two, Biver tells us a little about Hublot’s recent partnerships with popular celebrities like Jet Li and Han Han, the company’s interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR), and his observations about China’s unique “watch culture.”
On Hublot’s involvement in sponsorships and the company’s entry into China:
Biver: We are [involved] in the NBA: the Miami Heat and Dwayne Wade. In football, we are the official timekeeper of the World Cup, and the official timekeeper of [UEFA] Euro 2012. We are also the official timekeeper and sponsor of Manchester United and the official watch of Formula 1. All these three elements: Formula 1, football and basketball, are very active in China. The Chinese love the NBA, the Chinese love football, the Chinese love Manchester United, the Chinese love cars and Formula 1. So those three elements we will keep, but what will we add to that for China?
We will add some activities for the One Foundation, together with Jet Li. Jet Li is our ambassador, and we are going to raise some money for One Foundation. We are going to do a special watch with Jet Li, and we are going to do special promotions. Then, we have, of the same scale, also…for charity, we are developing some activities with the blogger Han Han. So those two elements, Jet Li and Han Han, are a specific strategy used for China.
The blogger Han Han is a young man. TIME magazine last year mentioned him as one of the hundred most influential people on earth. Every year, TIME makes a poll of the hundred most influent[ial] people and he was one of the one hundred. He has a very strong blog, he’s followed by millions and millions of people and he’s quite young. He’s very open. Quite modern, sometimes a little bit provocative.
We believe very much in blogs. We believe in social media communication. In China, he has the biggest blog, so we want, through him, to enter the social media communication.
On charity and corporate social responsibility:
Biver: For us, charity is important because that’s our own concept. We spend about two percent of our turnover on charities. So it’s an international attitude we have everywhere, not only in China. So of course, when we decided to come to China eighteen months ago, we wanted to keep this charity concept and to develop it with One Foundation in China. So, what can I say?
It is my personal view that we have a responsibility in sharing today, especially if you are in luxury, we should always try to do a few actions that bring money to the people that have the need for it. And I was very happy to know Jet Li, who told me he was ready to help us or we were ready to help him, I mean, it’s a win-win situation. We believe that it’s a good approach and we can do it.
I think it will become important everywhere. You know, more and more, we are now discovering that the world has become a village, and if the world is a village, that means we are very close to each other and whatever happens to you, happens to me. We see it now with the nuclear [disaster in Japan], if something happens in Japan, you cannot say that [is just] Japan because it can come to you. It just needs a little bit [of] wind and you have it, although it is not born in your country. So countries have no limits anymore. The world becomes global, and if the world [is] global, we will have to learn to share.
On the challenges of tackling the Chinese market:
Biver: I think, as much as I know it, the most difficult part is probably to make them know that you exist, because the market is so huge and the communication tools are so expansive and so numerous that the most important element is how can I make my brand known. How can I create awareness?
If you tap into a small country like Switzerland, it’s very easy to get awareness because five million people are living there, you make a few ads, and everybody has seen you. In China, it’s totally different. So probably the most important, the most difficult step, is to make your brand known, to create awareness. Therefore, when you come through football, which is popular, when you come through basketball, which is popular, and when you come through Formula 1, which is popular, and when you come through Jet Li, which is popular, then you create large awareness. And that is what we try to do. And among this awareness, then you then have also part of it are your customers, because football is popular, yes, but every billionaire, every millionaire watches football also. So you get the whole [land]scape.
On China’s “watch-conscious” attitude:
Biver: I think it’s a phenomenal growth, and one thing that will make the growth is not only that China is growing, that’s clear, but, I [give] you now, a very simple example. If you have 100 people in America who can afford to buy your watch, you can afford it, easy, easy, give me one. You have 100 in China, the same. How many of these hundred Americans who can afford to buy your watch will buy it? I guess 50. How many of these hundred Chinese who can afford to buy it will buy it? I guess 99. Why? Because in China, to wear or to have on your wrist an expensive, high quality, exclusive watch is part of a culture, is part of your dress. In America, they don’t have this culture, so maybe only one out of two will have it and buy. The other, they will not mind having a lousy, cheap Timex watch on the wrist, and you will never find a wealthy Chinese or a wealthy Filipino or a wealthy Thai or a wealthy Singaporean with a lousy, $50 Timex watch on their wrist, while in America, it’s very common.
So [this is] what I call “watch conscious.” Asians are very much “watch conscious.” They know [what] they need and they will never go around with a lousy $50 watch because they believe this doesn’t give them face. They need an expensive watch that is at the level they are.
[The trend] has been lasting in Asia for, already, 100 years. The Japanese are like that, it’s an Asian attitude. It’s also a South American attitude, the only people who are less sensitive to this are Americans and Europeans. But Latin people, Italy, Spain, Latin America too, is the same as in China.
Next up for watchmaker Hublot will be a watch designed by Jet Li featuring Tai-Chi related motifs, which will launch in September with an unveiling in Shanghai. With Hublot’s emphasis on becoming a part of the customer’s world rather than stating that their watch is better via simple advertising, the brand has shifted its focus in China onto a stronger awareness of the luxury lifestyles of wealthy Chinese. As Jean-Claude Biver told Jing Daily, modern, young entrepreneurs in China are connected to the future and “will need a watch that represents what [they] are doing.”
Biver went on to say that he hopes to see his company get more involved in soccer/football, basketball and Formula 1 sponsorship, activities that will leave target customers with the impression that “Hublot is part of my world.”
Special thanks to Jean-Claude Biver, Charmaine Clarke from CEIBS Marketing & Communications, and Shanghai correspondents Sara White Wilson and Rex Jiang.