The Countdown till Launch
We received our prototypes in August 2018 - less than two months before our intended launch date. We had to make the necessary preparations and fast.
Robin met with watch journalists and bloggers in Europe. Wilfried shot our Kickstarter campaign videos in Beijing. We had also loaned our prototypes to various collectors across the world to get further feedback. It was crazy, hectic, and incredibly exciting.
East vs. West
Atelier Wen draws from both Chinese and French design inspirations and so we had aimed from the start to make a microbrand that would appeal both to Chinese and international audiences.
But spreading the word about Atelier Wen worked very differently in China and in the West. Launching in two distinct geographies required two distinct strategies and as we had neither the people nor finances to run both simultaneously, we had to make a choice. That is how we decided to introduce the brand to global audiences through Kickstarter.
Back to Mainland China
However, launching in mainland China had always been part of the plan. And thanks to a successful initial crowdfunding campaign, we finally had the resources we needed to get started.
China was and is a very unique market and we knew that the strategies we had used in Europe and North America would not apply here. The whole team had to put their heads together once more and begin the launch preparations from scratch.
Setting Up Our Online Platforms
Social media today is integral for brands to be discovered by their audiences and this is very much the case in China. As such, we started by registering Atelier Wen on several platforms like WeChat, Weibo, Zhihu, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu. Putting up our official accounts on these channels was laborious and time-consuming, but it was a necessary step to expand our reach.
When the accounts were finally up, we had to set our sights on content creation. Creating content was yet another arduous process with each social media platform requiring posts in very specific formats to drive engagement successfully. Thankfully, we were not alone in doing this and our team of interns was instrumental in helping us spread the word.
Testing Out Strategies
The strength of a brand lies in its authenticity and the appeal of its story. And Atelier Wen’s story - springing from our personal lives and motivations - was certainly authentic and out of the ordinary. But we now had to find places to tell this story and engage an audience.
We first turned to Zhihu (a Chinese equivalent of Quora) for long-form articles about our brand and Chinese watchmaking and though organic traffic was slow to build up, we eventually created a loyal following and high-quality content that people could refer to to learn more about us.
Our content on Weibo and WeChat also yielded equally positive results. We have Wilfried and his TV celebrity status to thank for that.
On the other hand, engaging in forums (which had been a substantial source of visibility in Western countries) proved rather ineffective in China. Indeed, such “traditional” forms of social media have all but died out in China and been largely replaced by the large social media platforms (WeChat, Douyin, Weibo….). The disparity of results from multiple channels in different geographies certainly kept us on our toes. We had to do trial and error to see which strategies worked and which did not.
PR also did not turn out the way we had hoped. We were able to secure coverage in many top-level TV channels, newspapers, and fashion/watches publications, and yet the results were nowhere near what we had experienced in the West. Again, traditional media in China is not near as influential as it once was and has been superseded by all kinds of bloggers and content creators on the large social media platforms.
Through trial and error though, we gradually built up greater awareness about our brand in China and only had one piece of the puzzle left to put in place: distribution. For this, we decided to opt for a hybrid strategy by creating and operating our mobile store on WeChat and selling on Tmall through a partner, T-Time - the largest online seller of Chinese watches in China.
The Launch Party
Finally, all that was left to do was organize a launch party to top it all off! We had invited the press, our partners, supporters, and friends to come together to celebrate this milestone.
Following a relentless month, we held the event in late April in Beijing. It was set in a traditional hutong courtyard and saw more than 100 attendees.
The weather was not perfect. The traffic that day was very jammed (leading to a few attendees being late) and there were a couple more hiccups along the way. But when all was said and done, it was heartwarming to see everyone in China who had contributed to the project reunited under one roof. It was an exhilarating moment and the high point of a long, tiring, but infinitely rewarding launch process.
And so, two years after that rainy afternoon in Warwick, Atelier Wen was finally fully launched worldwide.