Watch Your Brand | 3

Start with the brand, the rest will follow…

With brand image being so important, it is easy to see why watch manufacturers spend such enormous sums on advertising and sports sponsorship. Unfortunately, too many Swiss watch manufacturers, for all their brilliance in creating, manufacturing and selling exquisite watches, have yet to truly master the discipline of strategic brand management. Consequently, most marketing programmes fall into the “just another watch campaign” category (i.e. a backdrop of some aspirational imagery with a yacht, powerboat, sports car, aircraft, etc., a bland English headline, intelligible to all international audiences, a standard ‘ten-to-two’ shot of the watch, some technical credentials and a line about how long we have been making watches…), alternatively, the brand logo might simply appear as the ‘official time keeper’ at some sports event (which, as everyone knows, amounts to little more than ‘name-drop’ publicity). With the greatest of respect to these esteemed firms and their advertising agencies, how many watch advertisements can you recall and describe right now? Leaving aside the exceptional “You never actually own…” campaign from Patek Philippe, few of us can manage more than a couple of others at best. Now, how clearly could you describe the different watch brand personalities? Probably not very accurately – other than to highlight the prestige of big names.
Now try the same test with cars, drinks or clothing brands and notice the difference. In the luxury watch industry, it is as if marketing expenditure is regarded as a necessary ‘cost of entry’ to the luxury brand marketplace and, provided the anecdotal feedback from the trade and the retail distribution is satisfactory (corroborated, hopefully, by the eventual sales of the watches), that is enough. For the average consumer (as opposed to the avid watch geeks), the challenge of differentiating between the many alternative brands means that the most dominant, consistent brands stand-out even more strongly. The retailer can redress the balance somewhat by presenting the case for the others, but, by that stage in the process, many consumers’ minds will already have been made-up. A glance at the correlation between brand strength and sales trends across most markets will demonstrate this.

Effective brand management is also key to mastering the other two decision-making themes: ‘product design’ and ‘personal engagement’. First, with respect to product design, a clearly-articulated sense of the brand’s values, personality and vision will enable a well-defined creative brief to be prepared which can save time and eliminate confusion. All too often new designs rely on the instinct and imagination of the creative studio to anticipate and create what it believes customers will find attractive, within the context of their own personal interpretation of what the brand stands for. Any doubt will generally resolved by erring on the side of caution rather than risk alarming distributors or end customers. So, when a new consumer trend emerges (such as the demand for sports watches with black cases and rubber straps – as pioneered by brands such as Hublot and Bell&Ross), many high-end manufacturers will literally spend years trying to decide whether or not it is appropriate for them stick with the familiar or embrace the trend. A clearly-defined and well-articulated brand, on the other hand, makes it quick and easy to determine whether such an approach was ‘on’ or ‘off’ brand. The third theme, ‘personal engagement’, refers to the final process of actually bonding with the product by handling it, trying it on, evaluating its quality, determining the choice of finish or colour options then, ultimately, assessing its value for money and after sales support, before making the commitment. Once again, a well planned brand strategy will inform and direct each element at every stage in the customer journey so that all touch-points project the same consistent values – from quality of the bracelet (the clasp, like the car door handle, is the first tactile interaction with the product and needs to be “on brand”) to the design of the presentation box, and from the working of the warranty to the price-point that clinches the deal.

There probably is no other product quite as enigmatic as a luxury watch. Nor is there a market quite as enigmatic, nor a strategic brand marketing challenge quite as ripe for change.

Part 1: An extravagance that defies logic…
Part 2: Intimate appeal, some brands have it…

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3 comments

  1. I’m new to this blog, so I assume this issue has been addressed previously, but your point about personal engagement is critical.

    For my sons — and actually increasingly for me — luxury watches (or any kind of watch) is not on the radar screen. Between cell phones for my two college-age sons and my Blackberry, I don’t need a watch to tell me the time.

    I assume the watchmakers realize that and yet I cannot recall ever seeing anything that reinforces the importance of a watch beyond time. And their client base is getting older.

    And if the product itself doesn’t engage me, then I don’t need to worry about distinctions between the various brands.

    — Peter Osborne
    Bulldog Simplicity: http://www.posborne1.wordpress.com

  2. Thanks for your feedback Peter. Your point is a good one, if your need is for an accurate timepiece, the answer is to use your phone (or buy a disposable quartz watch from the supermarket), which will be no less accurate than a €20,000 mechanic watch. The joy of the luxury Swiss watch is its precision-engineered beauty. A stylish watch makes a strong style statement and probably remains the only jewellery (along with cuff-links and wedding ring) that a man can wear without risking accusations of ‘bling’. Interestingly, TAG Heuer is taking its brand into the phone market with the Meridiist – whose clock is, ironically, more accurate than the most expensive TAG Heuer watches!

  3. Thanks for responding, but I think you’re missing my point. It’s not about the accuracy of the timepiece; it’s about creating a demand for it. And that, at the heart of it, is the job of a brand: to create a market for the product be it a person (job search) or a luxury watch.

    There is an entire generation of consumers growing up who don’t feel they need a watch because their noses are buried in their phones or PDAs. TAG Heuer seems to be making my point; they recognize where their future market is. But it’s not about accuracy; it’s about functionality and demand.

    The ad on your posting is about a father handing down his watch to his son. I believe it totally misses the point — the only reason my sons would want the nice watch that sits on my dresser (because I set it aside in favor of my Blackberry) is because it will be a piece of me when I’m gone.

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