There are exceptions to every rule. And at the Richemont Group, that exception is IWC. The Swiss brand, which thrives in the spotlight, has been able to place its watches under it as well over the past decade, in films, on the red carpet, and most infamously on the wrist of Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. During our recent visit of the IWC Schaffhausen manufacture ealier this week, we sat down with Yan Lefort, the brand’s Global Head of Sponsorship and Partnerships to discuss the IWC exception.
Every year, IWC steals the show during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with a cast of celebrity ambassadors so dazzling it brings competing brands to your booth. How do you do it?
It’s part of the brand DNA. It’s the biggest and most important night of the year as you can imagine, and it opens the curtain and presents the new collection. So from a business point of view, it’s really important. It’s also a way to stand up in front of all the other brands in the Richemont Group that are present at SIHH. So it’s a massive marketing hit and our ambassadors bring a lot of visibility.
Is IWC an exception in that sense?
The brand has been driven by Georges Kern’s vision and his marketing savvy. In that sense the brand is very different from the rest of the Richemont group. I would say we own this territory, which is great, and it’s paying off. Now we need to keep it.
How do you do that?
Authenticity. Authenticity is part of everything that we do. We need to be authentic when we talk about the brand, when we talk about the product. Without it you can’t be credible, and you cannot build on top of a brand that is not credible. Especially when you’re talking about luxury products with this sort of price tag.
And how do you build credibility in the luxury industry?
We work with our ambassadors in a very specific way. There needs to be true interest from these people towards the brand, towards the product and the people behind it. And they need to be convinced. We don’t do testimonials for example. Most of them have been there for many, many years, so it’s a genuine relationship. They’re really involved.
In a way, you were also involved with IWC before you joined the brand…
I come from the sports marketing industry, with many years in F1 looking after brands and sponsors there. It was big challenge for me to take that step out of the sport. Not many have the opportunity, or want to. I was actually already an IWC collector. I bought my first, a Pilot Chronograph in 1999, and added a Portuguese, an Aquatimer and an Engineer to my collection but I did not think that one day I would be working in the watch industry. It was too far away from my world. Both worlds are very different. In terms of positioning they are similar, but otherwise from a business point of view things are run very differently. You cannot compare a sport that sells broadcasting rights to a brand that relies on wholesale and retailers.
But you’re close to F1 still, and were instrumental in strengthening the brand’s relationship with the sport…
It’s funny you know. Many brands (not just watch brands) make the mistake of going into F1 with a communication strategy based entirely on winning. But only one team can win. So if you’re not that team, your whole story is dead. So we didn’t have that approach at all when we joined Formula 1. The whole point for us was to showcase the behind-the-scenes of F1 with the Ingenieur through performance and innovative materials. When the team started winning of course it gave more visibility and more emphasis but it was never part of the core strategy. It’s the icing on the cake and it looks like this year is also going to be a great year for IWC.
This year is the year of the Portugieser though…not the Ingenieur. Do you find it difficult to communicate on the entire collection when only one family gets revisited each year?
Absolutely, this is spot on. So there are six product families in the brand, and six different universes. Historically we’ve been re-launching the families one-by-one but of course when you do that you risk alienating some great stories. But we’re starting to change that and we’ve already made some big steps. So for example during the year of the Aquatimer, we had events for Saint-Exupéry (in the Pilot family) and I think we’re going to be going in that direction more and more which is great. Next year is the year of the Pilot but you will see there will be a lot of different things.
Will you be adding to your collection?
If I do well, a Big Pilot.