Tag Archives: branding

8 marketing lessons learned from buying a watch

A few days ago, I bought this:


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



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.


I’ve been burned before.


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.

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.


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.


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’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.

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?



Apple isn’t Apple anymore

Apple recently released its newest ad promoting the iPhone 5s. Take a look.

Chirpy, feel-good indie music accompanies people doing incredible things with their iPhones. Painting murals, plotting courses, administering medical aid to impoverished people. The possibilities are truly endless.

And that really is the message of this ad. With an iPhone 5s, you are empowered to do amazing things–things you might not have realized possible.

It’s a pretty ad. But it’s terrible.

Who needs a soul when you have product features?

The thought process behind this ad is not hard to see. People view iPhones as lifestyle devices. It’s popular and ubiquitous, but market research probably showed that most people don’t know what their phones are capable of.  I certainly didn’t know that I could take a horse’s pulse with a phone.

This led to a well-meaning marketing head at Apple requesting that the agency create an ad focusing on product features, in order to educate consumers. This led TBWA to create an ad focusing on the specific and surprising capabilities of the iPhone 5s.

So what’s the problem?

Replace the iPhone in that advertisement with a Samsung Galaxy. Or an LG G3. Or a Sony Xperia. Would the advertisement still make sense? The answer is yes. This is the mark of a troubled advertisement.

The message “your phone empowers you to do amazing things” can be applied to the majority of the smartphones on the market–certainly those competing with Apple. If anything, Android phones already have a better reputation for amazing capabilities due to their customization and the fact that for the past couple years, Android manufacturers have led the way with new features (e.g. waterproofing, smart watches, etc.).

This ad is a clear departure from what made the iPhone so popular in the first place: accessible technology through Apple’s sleek and easy-to-use UI, all in a styling form factor. Other brands caught up to Apple, but Apple, rather than innovating to stay ahead of the competition, began to chase competitive features.

If Apple continues along this path, then it will suffer in the face of Android’s dramatic increase in market share.

Iconic Apple

Smart phones have changed the world as we know it. It has given us the power to communicate easily with the world at-large. But recently, smart phones have increasingly become commoditized with fewer features to distinguish them. This means that branding will become more and more important (See: Selling the Neighborhood). If Apple focuses on product features and less on the brand qualities that makes Apple iconic, then it’s easy to see where Android competition can eat away at Apple’s position in the market. In the absence of a clear differentiator, brand takes precedent.

So what is the solution?

Apple should return to its roots in order to convey a clear message to potential customers: the Apple design philosophy is about simplicity and style–not a million features you will never use.

Here’s to the good old days.


There’s something incredibly arrogant about this OOH ad. It’s like Apple isn’t even trying. Never mind the fact that the ad itself blends into the building. It’s just a side view of the phone. You know what? I’m sold. Where is the nearest Apple store?



Selling the Neighborhood: Quick Thoughts on Branding

Around this time last year, I was assigned a theoretical brief to promote LG in the Hong Kong mobile market. LG sits behind major competitors such as Apple and Samsung, and its marketing at the time focused heavily on new product features, such as curved screens (“Thrilling!” said no customers).

I spent a lot of time thinking about this brief, because it was given to me as part of the hiring process for my current employer (Spoiler: I got the job).  Around the same time, I was thinking about moving after my lease expired, which was about six months away. Starting the process, I spent most of my time thinking about which neighborhoods I would like to live in.

I realized then that mobile phones and apartments are very similar in terms of buying behavior. Not everyone is in the market for an apartment, but that doesn’t stop people from “shopping” different neighborhoods.

  • “I want some place quiet, but I have a limited budget.”
  • “I need to be at the center of things.”
  • “I want to be near public transportation and have a view of a nearby park.”

Mobile phone customers are the same way. If someone buys a mobile phone every two or three years, then the majority of product-specific advertising they see will be completely irrelevant, no matter how interesting it is. Most customers realize that the product will be out of date by the time they are in the market for a new phone.

This is why branding for companies selling high involvement, low frequency products is so important. Customers are frequently shopping for neighborhoods (i.e. brands) rather than for specific apartments (i.e. products). The next time I buy a phone, it might be an Apple 6, 7 or 300s, but since I have no way of knowing what that product will be, I first settle for the neighborhood (Apple) and then when I’m ready to buy, I do so based on existing brand preference.

Frequently CMO’s must meet certain objectives for individual product launches, so they are hesitant to engage in any meaningful branding at the expense of product-specific campaigns, which are only relevant to a particular audience, and are quickly forgotten by everyone else. It’s a common problem, but one that will certainly not go away as phones become increasingly commoditized. Customers only care about processor speed or screen size up to a certain point. When the market becomes saturated with such features, all that is left is branding. The Apples and Samsungs of the world are left in a good position. But what about the LGs and HTCs?

Would you buy a great apartment in a bad neighborhood?

5 Tips from a Social Media Ninja

The social media revolution is upon us. Just ask anyone how they spend the majority of their time, and they’ll say surfing social media networks like Facebook or Myspace. Successful businesses are taking note with many CMO’s citing social media as being the single most important thing they think about at night, behind branding, distribution and traditional advertising.

After all, most people want to hold earnest conversations with the brands they know and love. Consequently, there is an increasing demand for experts who know the ins-and-outs of the dynamic world of social media. Here are five types for getting social media to work for (and not against!) your business:

#1 – Have a social media presence.

Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. And yet, there are literally thousands of self-appointed social media experts and gurus out there who derive credibility for lists such as this one. The fact that you read past that horrid introduction is a bad sign. But who knows? Maybe it’s early and you haven’t had your morning coffee yet. Or you’re recovering from open heart surgery. No worries. We all have bad days.

#2 – Post content regularly.

Another simple, but topic-rich suggestion for… Oh dear. You’re still reading.

#3 – Engage with your customers.

Respond to your customers’ feedback! And here you are. Still reading. You should know something, friend. This entire article is not what you thought it was—a clear road map for “cracking” social media, from a knowledgeable millennial1. It’s a joke. A ruse. At your expense.

What? Were you expecting a social media ninja? Listen, I don’t know what your business objectives are, but unless they are heralding another Meiji Restoration, you don’t need a ninja. You certainly don’t need one who spends his days among the digtirati trying to find the next #YOLO.

I wish this screen capture were doctored. But it isn't.
7,712 new enemies.


#4 – Encourage conversations.

An engaged customer is literally the happiest person in the world. Here are examples of posts that are sure to spark conversations:

Thank goodness it’s Friday #TGIF

(This is a secular spin on an old favorite)

Sure is hot today #weather

(Topical AND accurate, especially for members of your audience near the equator)

Which sausage would you rather eat? (include a picture of two delicious sausages, labeled A and B)

(You don’t have to be a sausage brand to talk sausage)


Nothing demonstrates expertise in a given field more than what amounts to word diarrhea.
Nothing demonstrates expertise in a given field more than what essentially amounts to word diarrhea.


#5 – Post content regularly.

This is literally the same thing as #2.

OK, time for real talk. I love marketing because it’s an interesting and exciting mixture of science and artistry. We aren’t persuading people to act today; we’re not even persuading people to act tomorrow. We’re just trying to get them to pay attention for a little bit and notice us so that one day, when our product or service matters, they will remember us.

That’s it.

We’re not trying to subliminally manipulate them nor should we believe our audience takes the short bus to work every day. Everyone in the world wants the same thing: relevant stuff. It could be fun. It could be entertaining. It just needs to cut through the clutter of Branded Nonsense and deliver some value. Nothing is free in this world, especially people’s most valuable commodity: time.

Some real thoughts on social media:

  • Social media is important, but the idea behind a given post or campaign is 100x more so. Screaming at your audience is as worthless as screaming at a crowd of confused Japanese tourists in Times Square.
  • Social media is where people go to seek value. They want to chat with friends. They want to read interesting articles or view silly pictures of cats. They want to stalk ex-girlfriends and spend all night trying to figure out whether they want to ask the girl they really like on a coffee date. They don’t want to converse with companies, ESPECIALLY if they have nothing relevant to say.
  • Just because you can say something, does not mean you should. Saying something just to create noise is a waste of time (and more times than not, budget).
  • Beyond all else, ask yourself: would I share this piece of content with my best friends without being laughed at? If you say yes, ask yourself the same question repeatedly until you’re absolutely sure.

OK, social media ninjas. Here’s hoping you abandon #YOLO in favor of some decent content strategy.



1. Put this on the list of words bound to boost your SEO. Right up there with “engagement” and “social media revolution.”


Branded Nonsense is Born

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was good.
But no one knew about the Word. This was a classic awareness issue.
And thus advertising was born.

Welcome to Branded Nonsense, a blog devoted to criticism, admiration, love and hate for all things marketing.

My name is Kevin Grubb and this is my site. I’m a Strategist in Hong Kong’s marketing industry. I love my job. I get to play in different industries and create really cool things.

But people hate advertisers. And for good reason: we suck.

No really; we do. We suck.

We created things like this:

And for this, we should be scorned. For every brilliant ad, there are ten more lazily pushing Branded Nonsense. And I want to change this, slowly and steadily.

We live in a crazy world full of amazing things. With their media money and influence, brands can develop interesting content to entice their customers.

This blog talks about value. In exchange for attention, brands can offer value.

You can learn more about the purpose of this blog on its About Page.

In the meantime, stay tuned for more Branded Nonsense.

Virally Yours,