8 marketing lessons learned from buying a watch

A few days ago, I bought this:

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It’s a Hamilton Day Date Automatic, and I love it. I had been thinking about this purchase for nearly six months, so it was quite a milestone for me. Granted, it’s not an ultra luxury watch, but it’s special to me as it represents the culmination of a few achievements I’ve celebrated recently.

It wasn’t until after I purchased the watch that I started to think about the marketing surrounding the Hamilton brand and how I had moved through an extensive customer journey.  As a marketer, I am normally fairly aware of the tactics being used to target me, but this time around, I was pretty much oblivious to the journey until after the fact.

In retrospect, my purchase raises a number of interesting insights about the watch market and the role of various touch-points in influencing a purchasing decision.

My Journey through the Funnel: An Analysis

Awareness

Capture

That is my Victorinox 241404 Chrono Classic. I bought it before I moved to Hong Kong because I figured I needed a “grown-up” watch to compete in the high-powered world of public relations. I walked into Macy’s and checked out the watches and only saw one or two brands I even recognized. I owned a Swiss Army Knife, so Victorinox was at the top of my consideration set. Then it was a matter of picking one out that I thought looked cool.

Lesson 1: No matter what you sell, sometimes people will just buy whatever they’re familiar with, without research or extended consideration.

Fast forward about four years. My Victorinox has been sitting in my drawer, battery dead, for nearly two years. At some point, I had simply stopped wearing it or anything else on my wrist. This was a typical phenomenon. Young people like myself simply do not buy or wear watches the way generations have in the past.

In 2015, one of my clients launched a smartwatch–one of many new devices on the market designed to redefine wrist-wear. I was tasked with trialing the device for a month to learn more about its features and its role in everyday life. While I ultimately didn’t see the value in wearing a smart device that needed to be charged every two days (I’m not the only one), I did become re-accustomed to wearing something on my wrist. I wanted to make use of my old Victorinox.

I replaced the battery, and started to wear it again, but simply wasn’t happy with it. My sense of style had evolved since my senior year of college. And every time I saw a watch ad or someone wearing a Fitbit, I was reminded of that fact. The less I enjoyed wearing my current watch, the more I started to think about replacing it. Suddenly, it seemed as though watch ads were everywhere.

Lesson 2: Demand generation can come in multiple forms, but once the lever is pulled, marketing communications become immediately more visible to prospects.

One day, I was walking in the MTR (Hong Kong’s wonderful subway system) and noticed an ad for Hamilton, a brand only vaguely familiar to me. I noted three things about this ad:

  1. Its imagery evoked a sense of excitement and wonder by using vintage aviation as its visual focus.
  2. Its tagline, “American Spirit, Swiss Precision”, immediately and clearly positioned the brand as having American style (i.e. martial, simple, clean) with a Swiss movement ticking away inside.
  3. The hero product itself reflected my evolving preferences.

Ultimately, those three elements created a memorable experience at a touch point not typically associated with deep, meaningful engagement.

Lesson 3: OOH advertising for luxury brands need not be complicated, but it needs to be more than a product shot to be successful. It must also represent what it means to be a member of that luxury brand’s exclusive community of buyers.

In Hamilton’s case, its clear brand positioning is an evolution of the brand’s history as an American brand acquired by a Swiss company that would eventually become Swatch Group, the world’s leading watch manufacturer and marketer. Its American origin story differentiates from other European brands through its style, and its brand imagery occupies its own niche. The closest comparison would be Breitling, which focuses on modern aviation, with the addition of celebrity endorsement (John Travolta) and a modern military style.

At this point, I was aware of Hamilton and had a slight affinity towards it. Now to see if it’s any good.

Consideration

I’ve been burned before.

Shinola-Runwell-Watch

Before I started caring about watches again, I was interested in only one other watch brand, Shinola. American-made with a class style, in many ways Shinola is similar to Hamilton for its unique story and aesthetic.

However, when I researched the brand, I found that many people on social media felt that Shinolas were overpriced for their quartz movements and that its Detroit heritage story was all flash and no substance. I still like Shinola, but the divisive opinions about the brand online tempered my excitement. The fact that these are not sold in Hong Kong completely killed my enthusiasm.

Lesson 4: Brand belongs to both the company doing the selling and the person doing the buying. Storytelling is important, but remember your audience will interpret that story based on their own experiences.

For Hamilton, there were a few touch points I engaged with to determine a) whether or not Hamilton is a good brand and b) which model would be best for me. These were my criteria:

  • Automatic movement
  • Simple face with no chronograph
  • Leather or fabric bracelet
  • Face size between 40 and 42 mm
  • Sweeping second hand
  • Very easy to read dial
  • Well regarded brand

Note that this list of criteria is unique and would only make sense in a high consideration market. No one walks into a McDonald’s or buys a stick of deodorant with such an exhaustive list of desired features. Outside of luxury and fashion, we see similar trends in other high-priced, high-consideration industries, especially real estate and technology.

As Hamilton was high on my consideration list, I was able to visit http://www.hamiltonwatch.com/ and explore watches that met my criteria. From there, I narrowed down my search to its Khaki Field line, a mid-ranged series of watches inspired by watches given to soldiers.

The more watches I saw, the more I became convinced that I would be happy with Hamilton style. I subscribed to the brand’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and was surprised to discover that Hamilton had been featured prominently in recent Hollywood blockbusters Interstellar and The Martian.

watch-lovers-are-going-crazy-for-the-model-seen-in-interstellar
A scene from Interstellar. Note Matthew McConaughey wearing a Hamilton Day Date Pilot’s watch, similar to the one I ultimately purchased. Business Insider has an interesting article about how Hamilton placed their products into the film and how a major plot point centers around the watch–a notion that should send any marketer drooling!

Lesson 5: Product placement is perhaps less useful as an awareness driver than it is as a consideration driver.

When we’re watching a movie or TV show, we are typically focused on the story. As such, it’s easy to ignore placements, but when we get to the consideration phase, placements help us associate the brand with stories we are already familiar with. Omega’s work with Daniel Craig and the James Bond franchise is an excellent example of this. Rather than just having the placement do its work in the films, traditional advertising featuring Bond wearing an Omega reinforced the brand’s emerging mystique.

For my last criterion, I needed to determine whether or not Hamilton was a brand that would hold its value over the long term. I didn’t want to buy something flimsy or something that carried a negative reputation. And for that, I couldn’t find my answer on Hamilton’s owned properties (e.g. social, web). I had to look at reviews and watch communities.

Lesson 6: Social validation is a critical driver of any luxury product. Encouraging positive conversations about the brand should be a marketing objective for perception-driven luxury brands.

I discovered quickly that Hamilton’s biggest “uncommunicated” message (i.e. the one that isn’t communicated in its billboards or website) is its value. Many watch enthusiasts are vocal about their appreciation for Hamilton’s Jazzmaster and Khaki lines of products, saying that they are the best “bang for the buck” in the mid-range. Beyond this, many watch lovers post fond testimonials for the brand, highlighting its quality and long-term durability.

Both sides of the brand equation satisfied, I committed mentally to buying a Hamilton… when the time was right.

Lesson 7: Purchase isn’t always going to be immediate, particularly with higher cost/consideration items. Then the challenge becomes to present the customer with as many reaffirmations of their commitment as possible.

Purchase

I decided I wanted a Hamilton around December last year, but I had other non-luxury expenses to take care of–getting married being the most critical.

So I waited. And waited. During this time, I continued to be exposed to a number of touch points which carried forward my interest in the brand, subtly reminding me that the product was out there waiting for me:

  • POSM: Point of sale merchandising promoting Hamilton products is distinctive, consisting of orange and black signage with aviation models or equipment. Every time I passed a watch store, I checked for the Hamilton signage so I could look at the products first-hand.
  • Social Media: Instagram and Facebook served as a the primary, regular sources of Hamilton promotional material, but I also explored Pinterest and YouTube. These platforms did nothing to diminish the value of the brand for me–which is a fear some luxury marketers have when they consider using social media.
  • Complementary Retailers: While I waited for the right time to buy a new watch, I decided to enhance my much-scorned Victorinox by purchasing new NATO straps online and subsequently following that retailer on Instagram. The owner of that online storefront posts a new picture every day with different brands using colorful or interesting straps. I learned a lot about different brands through this, but continued to pay special attention to the Hamiltons that would pop up from time to time.

Not all paths lead to purchase however. There were a handful of barriers to purchase for me.

  • Many stores in Hong Kong only sell the higher end range of Hamilton watches, a reflection of the cultural preferences in the city regarding style. Finding a store that sold Khaki Field watches was extremely difficult.
  • While Hamilton has an online store, I did not feel comfortable ordering a watch online, especially one that I had not seen in person. This is a common phenomenon in the luxury industry.
  • Many brick and mortar retailers in Hong Kong are run by sales people whose salaries are commission based. Walking into these stores often feels like being eyed by hungry vultures. Occasionally, I would avoid looking at their offerings because I knew the sales staff would be pushy. This is not Hamilton’s fault as the sales people have no brand preference (outside of wanting to sell you a very expensive watch), but because it is not a high tier luxury brand, they cannot have their own flagship stores the way Omega, IWC and Rolex do.

Eventually, the stars aligned and I decided to pull the trigger on the Hamilton that met all my criteria.

Lesson 8: Barriers to purchase should be actively sought out by the brand, and minimized as much as possible.

Loyalty

Now that I’ve purchased a Hamilton watch, I feel happy about my decision. I even posted about it on watch enthusiast forums and received compliments (and validation).

hamilton-box_large
Hamilton’s “unboxing” experience is simple, but lacks a call to action reinforcing brand loyalty at a critical time.

Will this be my last watch? Absolutely not. This leads us to our final view of the marketing funnel: loyalty.

I will continue to enjoy my watch for the near term, but when I get a significant promotion or a new job, then I may again decide to purchase another watch. Will I choose a Hamilton or will I choose a different brand?

At the moment, in spite of my current sanctification with Hamilton, I may very well decide to switch to a different brand to diversify my collection. Indeed, Hamilton is best known for its range of products between US$500-2000. If I want to buy something really luxurious, I’ll have to switch away.

But does it have to be that way? Loyalty for luxury can be built by allowing the customer to feel connected to the brand in a way that extends beyond products. Here, loyalty programs should not be about discounts but about exclusivity. Offering Hamilton users access to exclusive communities or content would be an important step for the brand to influence second sales as well as advocacy in an industry that we have already seen is susceptible to that.

A few recommendations for Hamilton

Being a marketer and having gone through the marketing funnel, I noted a few areas that could be improved to enhance the experience.

  • hamiltonwatch.com and shop.hamiltonwatch.com are split into distinct sites with identical styles. For some reason, traveling between these sites is difficult. If you’re exploring hamiltonwatch.com, it should be easy to get to the ecommerce platform, but currently it is not. When you land on a product page, you only get a description, pictures and the user manual. Even if the typical customer doesn’t purchase online, there should still be a more direct way of doing so. This may be a function of my IP address being located in Hong Kong, but even then, the store finder should be more visible to complete the journey.
  • The unboxing experience was adequate but lacks meaningful resolution. There’s nothing effecting advocacy or loyalty. At the very least, there should be some sort of compelling call to action that encourages buyers to provide their email addresses for future brand communication. Hamilton could incentivize with this value-added services such as extended warranty protection.
  • As previously mentioned, post-purchase content reinforcing exclusivity can be employed post-purchase to validate the sale and encourage repeat purchases.
  • I noted in my research that Hamilton’s CEO claims that the brand has achieved over 400 product placements in Hollywood. A chronicle of this would be very interesting content on their website, although it would have to be managed against the way the brand wants to position itself (it would be too easy to make Hamilton a “Hollywood” watch, for better or worse).
  • In terms of products, I was surprised that Hamilton hasn’t stepped into the smartwatch space considering its heritage with electric watches. Hamilton is likely evaluating the staying power of smartwatches as a trend, but the pedigree of the brand lends itself well to experimenting with the space. Given the popularity of aftermarket straps, there may be an interesting space for Hamilton to occupy with smart bands (similar to what Montblanc is doing).

Final thoughts

When I was going through the process of buying a watch, I wasn’t thinking about it as a marketer. This retrospective analysis has uncovered some interesting insights regarding marketing channels and branding in the digital age.

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The final product.

Of course, I can only offer anecdotes supported by my professional experience, but it still a useful analysis that may offer a human layer to the statistics we see everyday in research reports and press releases. Indeed, we are all consumers who should be asking: what can I learn from my most recent customer journey?

 

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