BITE Focus

“The dead fish swims in the direction of the current”

The importance of counterintuitive thinking, intuition and connecting the next generation were top of the agenda for Hublot’s Chairman speaking at Leaders Week at Twickenham Stadium.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE


Highlighting the fallacy of slavishly following the latest trends, Hublot Chairman Jean Claude Biver quoted Confucius to warn that “The dead fish swims in the direction of the current.” 

In a wide-ranging and energetic conversation with Kate Bosomworth, Chief Marketing Officer of M&C Saatchi, Biver brought to life the importance of counterintuitive thinking in an era of big data and focus-group obsessed brand building. 

Biver explained that while the Apple watch is a phenomenal product, it actually serves as an opportunity for a luxury watch brand such as Hublot. He explained, “What it has done is make people who have never worn a watch get one, so it is easier for us to sell to them,” he explained. 

We cannot lose sight of the need to be connected to something that lasts, rather than something that will become obsolete.

Jean Claude Biver

The value of craft and heritage in a digital age

Challenging the assumptions surrounding the rise of digital automatically equating to the death of the craft of analogue watchmaking, Biver was passionate in his advocacy for the craft and beauty of watchmaking. “We cannot lose sight of the need to be connected to something that lasts, rather than something that will become obsolete,” he explained. 

Biver added, “Technology goes to the future by destroying the past. But art goes to the future in connecting with eternity.”

It is a strategy which has paid dividends for Biver, who brought back mechanical watchmaking after buying the Blancpain brand with Jacques Piguet at a time when the majority of his competitors were investing heavily in electronic watches. He went on to sell the brand to the Swatch group. 

The power of intuition in a data obsessed world

Biver, who has recently stepped down from the day to day operational responsibilities of being president of LVMH’s luxury watch division, shared the importance of trusting your intuition in building a brand and praised the intuition of women, in particular. “If you are passionate you transmit passion; love is invisible, but it is so strong,” he explained. 

Having reached the age of 71, Biver is gearing up for the next stage of his life and work, proving that creativity and age are not mutually exclusive pursuits. Alongside his role of Non-Executive President of the LVMH watch division he revealed plans both to ‘give back’ and potentially launch a new watch brand, targeting young people.  

Being connected with the next generation of consumers has always been central to Biver and Hublot, and he noted that sport is at the heart of this strategy because it talks to the next generation. He noted that he asks himself, “who will buy this watch in 20 years’ time?” To this end Biver has long been obsessed with talking to the next generation. He shared that at one stage the average age of his advisory board was 16.

It is a strategy that has been transformational for Hublot; LVMH paid almost half a billion for the brand (£250m) in 2018. Biver went on to transform the TAG Heuer and Zenith brands. 

A brand must have a message, a strong philosophy. We must sell design, beauty, fashion and art.

Jean Claude Biver

The advantage of authentic ambassadors 

Focusing on the intersection of entertainment, sport and culture has been keen to building the Hublot brand. Biver noted that as the brand’s customers attend a diverse range of sports from Formula 1 to football or a Miami Heat game, it makes sense for the brand to partner with a diverse range of athletes and creators from beyond the world of sport.

Biver also revealed that Hublot ambassador Diego Maradona, the Argentine footballer, always wears two watches, one on either wrist. The back of each watches features engravings of each daughter, with each set to the time zone of the country each daughter lives in. 

“The perfect ambassador is one that has a relationship with the brand; it is not just about the money,” he noted. Revealing how important this emotional connection is he shared how football manager Jose Mourinho always wears the same watch because it is the watch he won The Champions League wearing. 

The experience economy

Busting the myth that consumers look to the watches in a functional way, primarily to tell the time, Biver instead asserted that “the day we sell watches we are dead.” He noted, “Who is buying a watch like this to see what the time is? You buy a watch to look at a beautiful watch.”

He shared how he began his career selling watches in Germany, only to face confusion from potential buyers when he turned up at sales meetings without any product; he first wanted to tell the story of the brand, the craft and the passion behind the watches. 

He explained, “A brand must have a message, a strong philosophy. We must sell design, beauty, fashion and art,” he explained. Noting that simply selling a product, rather than an experience, is a dead-end.  

As Biver’s experience underlines in an era in which marketers are all too often enthralled with the rise of technology; craft, creativity and intuition can provide the ultimate competitive advantage. 

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