Rising to the Top: Marketing for Micro Brand Watch Companies

How does a startup watch company get noticed? Have you ever wondered how social media marketing works? We take a look at both topics as we look at three startup watch companies and their efforts to break into the watch industry through marketing. We look at what works, why it works, and what doesn’t work when it comes to establishing and communicating a brand.

I caveat this post by admitting I am not a marketing expert, but my general experience is that those who claim to be marketing experts actually are not because marketing is too complex in the days of social media. At Watch Ponder, we do have enough experience with marketing to understand the complexities as well as how to make it work. I’ll be evaluating these companies and the field of marketing for Watch Startups through this perspective. If you are a marketer and disagree, feel free to leave your comments below.

Background of the three companies and their products

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(Company photo)

TiMe22

TiMe22 – this is a company currently on Kickstarter making Grade 5 titanium watches that are literally scratch proof and have a lifetime warranty, all for $400-550, depending on if you want a quartz or automatic model. Both models use Swiss ETA movements. The watch was designed and engineered in the Netherlands and has been featured in TechCrunch among others. Their watch has a unique 1970’s vintage watch feel, which is all the rage. I would say it’s a watch for the person who needs a watch of steel, but it’s literally 100x harder than that. Read more about their watch from an earlier post. If you are interested, buy soon because the watch will sell for over $800 after the Kickstarter is over. TiMe22 has executed a very disciplined marketing campaign including professionally filmed infomercials about the TiMe22 watch (below).

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BM&Y

BM&Y – this is a startup company out of Australia & Hong Kong, that makes very attractive and affordable automatic watches. We had a chance to get our hands on one of their watches and try it out for a few weeks. It is a well-crafted watch that pays very close attention to the cosmetic details. Coming in at a price of less than $500, I was thoroughly impressed. It bears the quality signatures of a watch costing 4x as much. It also boasts an exposition back where you can see the finely crafted automatic movement through a viewing glass on the reverse side of the watch. The blue colors of the watch that I tried were absolutely stunning. BM&Y has focused their marketing primarily on Instagram as well as their website, which is put together very well. 

ORION

Orion – This is a startup out of the US that also makes fully automatic movement watches, founded by a 26-year-old watchmaker named Nick. We did a full profile on him last week.. Their watches are currently for sale on their website for less than $500. I think my favorite part about the Orion is it’s the perfect size at 38mm and it has a vintage feel while sporting a modern flair (again, vintage is the look to have right now). Orion’s marketing has been fairly limited but spread very quickly via word of mouth due to watchmaker Nick’s devoted following from his previous projects.

What is marketing and why does one need it?

(Author’s work, logos are registered Trademarks of their respective companies, Source of stick-person drawing: funkyjunk.com)

Marketing is essentially who a company targets and how they translate their product or brand vision to that specific customer. I have previously written a few posts on marketing, so I will not belabor this introduction to marketing, but a few key things that companies must ask themselves to help direct their marketing efforts (click here to read in detail):

  1. Who is the target customer, specifically (age, job, gender, income, interests)?
  2. What does the customer perceive about the company? Is the message the company hopes to send the message the customer receives?
  3. What is the customer’s willingness to pay for your product? Are you charging too much to reach the customer who would want your product?
  4. Does the customer you’re targeting actually use the type of product you are attempting to sell?
  5. How can the customer buy your product? Are you selling it at the places your target customer actually shops?
Breitling Marketing

(Author’s conglomeration)

If I had to sum up marketing in a few words, it would be a set of questions: What does the company think they are selling (the value proposition) and what does the customer think they are buying? If these two are the same, the marketing is successful. If these two are in conflict, it is anyone’s guess how sales will turn out. A company can have an excellent product, but if they target the wrong customer, market the wrong features, or don’t know how to reach their customer, their product or company will fail. This is a challenge for all startup companies because none of them have experienced marketers (usually) and they must figure it out while learning a whole new industry.

 

How is marketing for a micro brand different?

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BM&Y Watch with blue strap (company photo)

Marketing for a startup watch company is different than marketing for Rolex, though due to the rise and effectiveness of social media, the two are starting to intersect more and more. Startup companies have the unique position of having to make a potential customer aware of their product while also gaining enough legitimacy to convince them to buy their product. For example, BM&Y Watches (who makes a very attractive and high-quality watch) must first make you aware of their brand, and then also make sure you understand and believe that they make a great watch. Rolex does this too, but their name brand alone makes customers aware and proving their value becomes a game of proving its worth the $10,000, not necessarily that they make a nice product (which everyone already knows). Startup watch companies also have small budgets. They can’t afford professionally produced advertising nor can they afford massive ad spends. Therefore, they rely on whatever ad materials they can put together in-house, and spend very small advertising budgets, relying mostly on social media sharing (i.e. free advertising) to get their message out.

All three of the companies I interviewed used various forms of paid advertising on social media, but all with modest budgets. Paid advertising is essential to getting exposure on places such as facebook, where the algorithms limit how many people ever see your posts (you can have 10,000 followers and only 1,000 will ever see your posts without be willing to pay to “boost” your post). Google also relies heavily on collecting ad revenue, which means to pop up in a google search result, companies must be willing to pay money, especially as a new company. Once a company becomes more relevant, they will start moving closer to the top of google’s search results without paid marketing. Therefore, being around for a while with high relevance (also known as search engine optimization — SEO) plays a large role in whether a startup can get noticed for free.

 

The Social Media Landscape

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(Source: instagram)

Social Media is the most prominent form of marketing among watch startups. There are a few obvious reasons for this. First, it allows mostly free marketing or relatively inexpensive paid marketing. Second, it allows targeting a very specific demographic. Many of the social media platforms allow companies to target users based on age, gender, location, income, and interests. This allows startup companies to get their product in front of a very specific audience, keeping their marketing expenses to a minimum. However, for a watch startup, social media marketing might not be the most effective means of marketing. For example, if targeting corporate executives who wear luxury swiss watches, social media is a poor venue for advertising because many of those people do not have social media or use it very often.

That’s why understanding the target customer is critical. Does the customer you intend to make your product even use the social media platform you intend to use? Yet, online presence creates a perception and the perception becomes a reality. Take Audemars Piguet. It’s doubtful that many of their 950,000+ followers buy AP watches, yet their astronomical growth on social media creates a perception of it being a strong product, which fuels a positive reputation among potential future customers. It moves from just-another-luxury-watch-company to an aspirational product. As the New York times noted in their article on luxury brands social media marketing: “retailing experts say that how a company is viewed online — not just by its primary customers, but also by the wider online population — can have a significant impact on a brand’s overall reputation, particularly with digitally literate young shoppers.” In summary, social media marketing creates an aura or perception around a company which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy which becomes critical to driving consumers towards your product. In other words, if everyone else thinks it’s a cool product and has one, your social desirability bias leads you to also want one (think: what drove you to buy your first iPhone).

KICKSTARTER (KS) 

In our previous post, we talked about KS in the context of using it to test demand, but I also want to talk about it in the context of marketing. The catalyst effect (or “everyone else is doing it”) bias creeps into KS. You see this in products that get introduced and don’t hit their target right away; if they hit their target, they quickly surpass their target by 200%. However, if they don’t hit their target, the campaign can quickly stall for no fault of the product, rather people avoid backing a project unless they think it will actually get funded. This has somewhat happened with TiMe22, who will most certainly get funded, but the contributions are recently hovering at 70% funded, and then in a few days, will jump higher again in segments. According to KS statistics, most of a project’s funding occurs in the very first 3 and very last 3 days of a campaign. This does cause problems for some new companies as the perception-is-reality problem creeps in and can sink an otherwise great product. I spent 2 hours sorting through watch startups on KS in preparation for this article and noticed a few KS trends: about 85% of watches on KS go unfunded; those that do get funded tend to have very low targets (<$15,000 goal —  for reference, TiMe22 has already raised over $28,000), and their watches tend to be very inexpensive (<$125). That means that many of the watches getting funded on KS are not necessarily watches that an enthusiast would want (though I did note 1 or 2 exceptions). TiMe22 is a product that will most certainly get funded, and having been one following their launch very closely, it is amazing they didn’t blow through their goal in the first 24 hours. If you have an interest in their virtually indestructible watch, now is the time to get one before their Kickstarter is over and the prices double.

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Kickstarter.com data showing that 98.5% of failed projects never reach 60% funding. TiMe22 is currently well over 60% funded, implying they have a 99% chance of successful funding based on historical trends.

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TiMe22’s Kickstarter Campaign.

As a side note, though I have never seen it, I would like to see one of the luxury brands such as Omega, AP, or Rolex launch a KS for a new, innovative special edition watch as a way to access a whole new aspiring younger customer. The luxury brand marketers will argue with me that this dilutes the brand, but I disagree and think it falls in the same category as marketing on Instagram (the rules of brand dilution have fundamentally changed with social media). Imagine being one of the first 5 backers getting a special edition Omega for $500? Imagine: the social media buzz around trying to be an early backer for a special edition collector watch? Imagine: the collector value of a watch that was only produced in small quantities and only available to KS backers? Watch companies are seeking to innovate themselves towards a new and younger crowd. This would be a drastic but effective way to own the social media headlines for a month. I’ll finish this idea with a great quote from eConsultancy on Luxury Marketing: “Luxury is about desirability, product excellence, exemplary service and fundamentally a brand promise. If exclusivity and scarcity is the strongest value in a luxury brand…it won’t be a brand for long. The continued proliferation of social media, live streaming, interactive apps and buyable shows…proves that everyone wants [the newest thing] today. The inclusivity that social media gives to luxury fashion brands will continue to fundamentally change [these brands].”

BLOGGERS

Obviously, I am biased as a writer for Watch Ponder, which primarily serves as a blog. A blog is a forum for someone with ideas to post their ideas, though many “blogs” are actually owned by large media corporations. Over time, bloggers develop followers who regularly read their content (you can do this by following our RSS Feed, signing up for email alerts about new posts, follow us on facebook, or following us on Feedly which is a content reader).

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The Orion watch we sampled for a week (Watch Ponder photo)

Bloggers are a great way to get a new product noticed IF IT’S A GOOD PRODUCT. Bloggers test out the product, write their thoughts on it, and then post for their thousands of followers (for example, our site has a little over 18,000 followers who will likely see that there is a new post available — actual article views will vary depending on the topic and views can be delayed by days or weeks as people catch up on their reading). However, bloggers that are seen as credible and have large followings become an excellent way to get someone to vouch for a new product. The drawback is that many blog sites (including the Watch Ponder) require a sample product to test and ensure quality, usability, and durability before recommending to their readers. Many startup companies don’t budget these product samples into their financial calculations and this limits their ability to tap the blog community who can quickly become “product evangelists” and their quickest access to a devoted customer base. Not every company we write about gives us a sample to keep, but every company at least sends a temporary sample (which we return). The only exception we make is if the company is a Kickstarter, at which point we evaluate it based on the product specifications. An example of this is TiMe22’s campaign, which we studied in depth and decided to do a review based on the overwhelming evidence of the product’s likely quality once produced based on the parts used and the engineering behind the watch. I have personally backed their campaign with my own money. Once a watch is produced, we only review it if we can try it out.

TiMe22 has done an excellent job leveraging bloggers. So far, they have appeared on TechCrunch, a major “blog” (actually more of a major online publication), as well as Gadget Flow, Reddit, the Watch Blog, and the list goes on. Orion watches tackled this by producing a handful of prototypes (early production watches) and sent them around to bloggers to try. I had the chance to try Nick’s Orion watch before sending it on to another blogger.

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A sampling of the support TiMe22 has managed to garner through their effective use of blogs

INSTAGRAM

If you are unfamiliar with this platform, it is a picture sharing social media program that allows smartphone users to share photos with a wide audience using hashtags. Among luxury brands and watch startups, this medium is quickly taking over for marketing to the younger generation. Users are known to be about a 50/50% split between men and women, making it a great way to reach a broad audience. “Over half of American teens and people in their early 20s are on Instagram, and it is even more heavily used among higher-income youth. Americans in this demographic rely heavily on mobile devices, and posts to Instagram can only be made using one, adding to its popularity. In its infancy, Instagram was heavily skewed toward female users. As of 2015, many more males have come on board and make up nearly 50% of daily Instagram users.” (investopedia.com)

bmny

BM&Y Watch with vintage leather strap (company photo)

All three of the companies we interviewed for this article reported Instagram as their most effective means of reaching their audience because they get to showcase their watches in a very visual way (after all, watches really are art for your wrist). A few companies have mastered Instagram. I monitor many luxury watch brands and their effective (and ineffective) use of social media. Audemars Piguet currently owns Instagram much better than their competitors. Their Instagram grows daily by 3,000+ followers through effective use of videos and explaining their product. They will surpass 1M followers in the next two weeks despite being a relatively niche brand known primarily among luxury watch aficionados. Rolex adds 200,000 followers a month right now, but this is a result of their brand name, not necessarily due to effective use of social media marketing (in other words, this is not much of an accomplishment considering almost everyone has heard of Rolex). I did some research on the topic and two luxury companies noted for their effective use of Instagram are “top performers like Tesla and Cartier [who] focus on quality over quantity [of posts], making sure each post is carefully crafted and timed for maximum impact.” Unsurprisingly (or maybe it is surprising), the time of day and the quality of the content are much more important than the number of posts. Nobody wants their IG feed overwhelmed by a rapid-fire succession of tourist-style pictures.

nobody-pays-attention

Read the captions of each post. The one instructing people NOT to like the photo got MORE likes. (Author’s work)

Instagram does have a few drawbacks. First, it serves as click-bait; in other words, a company posts a photo, adds a few hashtags, and users like the photo. That can be the end of the interaction. There is no website hit as a result, no sharing of the photo, no following the user. In fact, rarely do users even read the caption under the photo making it ineffective messaging (see the experiment we ran, shown above). This is why the use of videos are effective. At Watch Ponder, the photos that drive the most effective website traffic are the cartoons we occasionally post. They are abnormal to what users typically see in a watch feed. While they get fewer “likes”, they drive many more website clicks by a factore of 10.

orion-1

(Company photo)

The second drawback of Instagram is FOLLOWERS. Marketing directors at major firms now want to know how many followers a new company has, such as the startup companies we are following, to know if they are a popular company. Have you ever used the number of followers to help judge if a company is good or not? It seems valid, but can actually be very deceiving: TiMe22 = 6,700; Orion = 1,100; BM&Y = 3,000. Having sampled these watches, number of followers has ZERO correlation to quality. I was recently emailed by someone offering to collaborate on Instagram who had 97,000 followers. I took a look at their Instagram feed; despite 97,000+ followers, they had only posted 104 pictures over a 6 month period and they were mostly selfies. Something wasn’t right about this account; for someone to have that many followers, they should be posting very strong content regularly, and the content should have a proportional number of likes. Accounts with 1,000-10,000 followers should be getting 100-200 likes per photo. An account with almost 100,000 followers should be getting 1,000-2,000 likes. A popular Instagram account with low engagement or poor content indicates a company getting users through nefarious means (i.e. fake followers).

22TiMe Robusto

(Company photo)

TWITTER

The experts say twitter is the best way to reach readers. I think it totally depends on what you’re selling and if you can meet your target customer on twitter. Of the 3 startup companies I interviewed, only TiMe22 has found twitter to be an effective means to reach potential customers. My personal experience with twitter is that it’s great for boosting a website in google’s search results, but otherwise is very ineffective for driving conversations about watches (though I bet I can get some marketers to get into twitter wars with me over this post) See what I did there? I showed that marketers use twitter, but not necessarily watch enthusiasts. Marketers might also be watch enthusiasts, but they don’t go to twitter looking for watches. Watches are “art for the wrist” therefore people go to platforms where they can see pictures such as Instagram. Twitter does allow for pictures, but it’s not the place people turn to browse beautiful images en masse. I will caveat all this by saying that many luxury brands have figured out how to meet their target audience on twitter. A luxury company called Chanel posted a video to both twitter and Instagram and was followed by TalkWalker, a marketing blog. “The video lasted 2.5 mins [on twitter] and drove 7,841 retweets and on Instagram it was just 14 seconds but generated 184,000 likes and 3,100 comments. Both posts were among Chanel’s top performing over the period measured.” In conclusion, twitter can be effective for a startup luxury company marketing, but it can be a tougher nut to crack.

PINTEREST

Unsurprisingly, none of the companies we interviewed used Pinterest as a medium to reach customers. All of the companies make men’s watches, while over 70% of Pinterest users are women. This does bring up a lesson though for would-be entrepreneurs: don’t get sucked into the idea that you have to be active on all forms of social media. Be active on the ones that your (main) customers use and also ones that you are willing to engage on. If you pick too many, you will fail to keep up with all of them and will soon be good at none of them. The important thing is to find the right medium to interact with your potential customers and do it well.

FACEBOOK (FB) 

Facebook is an effective tool for directing people to your website, but only if you are willing to pay. They have excellent tools that allow companies to target specific people for advertising, including gender, age, location, income, interests, even likely political affiliation! When you see ads in your news feed, it is not by accident, it’s because an ad likely appeals to your interests among other variables. However, FB also does a good job (unfortunately) keeping you from seeing content from groups or companies you follow unless they pay FB or its very popular content. For example, only 10% of users might be exposed to a post initially, but unless it gets initial engagement from users (clicks, likes or shares), it quickly falls in relevance in FB’s algorithm, meaning not all of your users will see the post. The quality of your users isn’t necessarily up to the company either. People follow FB pages for various reasons whether it be that they like the pictures or they want the written content. However, the company has no control over which user each form of content is presented to, which can limit its impact and its results. FB is willing to “boost” the post with paid advertising, which exposes it to more users anyway. 

Second, it is very difficult to gain followers on FB. Instagram uses hashtags and allows a company to be exposed to thousands of new potential followers at a time. FB is much more difficult for new users to discover. This is why FB is not a preferred medium for many startups attempting to get the word out about their product quickly: it’s hard to gain followers on FB and once you have them, it’s hard to get your content in front of them. Instagram and Twitter tend to be an easier method to reach users quickly. 

On a good note, the interactions with FB followers are of a much higher quality. FB drives much more web traffic than any other medium and also allows sharing of posts (which is critical for start-ups looking for free marketing). For example, some of our stories from Watch Ponder have been individually shared over 175 times, meaning they now have access to 175 more networks than before. BM&Y said they really enjoyed using FB because it allowed the chance to interact with customers, get their feedback, as well as analyze who is on the site using the demographics analytics package that FB offers (google also offers a package that allows businesses to know what type of people are searching for their site). Orion and TiMe22 both reported strong use of FB, but neither said it was their preferred medium of communication.

In Conclusion

Marketing is a fascinating topic, especially when it comes to watches. Many companies try to differentiate themselves from the rest. Some companies like Tag Heuer want to be the watches for racers, while Breitling wants to be the brand for pilots. New companies have to make these choices somewhat early in their life, then get that message to customers. As if the challenge of designing and producing a watch wasn’t enough, the goal of this article was to give you a brief introduction to the crazy and somewhat complicated world of marketing for startups, and how difficult getting out their brand message can be. As always, the comments section is available below!

**I sampled watches provided by BM&Y and Orion; all watches have been returned to the company. I have not sampled a TiMe22 watch as it is not in production yet.

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I have a passion for watches and am a collector of luxury watches. I write opinion-based articles that try to bring the business lens to my writing to provide readers with a view of the business, marketing, and strategies of the watch industry companies I look into. In addition to Watch Ponder, I do speaking, freelance writing, and publish in other watch blogs and magazines. I do this as a hobby and because of my passion for watches. I am also a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

  • Michael, thanks for reading and your reply. I think you pointed out the lesson we were trying to make: unless a post “gets a lot of likes” it’s exposure stops. I think you give followers too much credit through. Many posts never appear in front of most of your users, some who could follow for the picture content, others who follow for the written content. Depending on who sees the post dictates who and how many likes it gets, and it’s further prioritization in the algorithm. As far as your other comments, we have posts that have over 12% engagement, which by social media standards is very high. Again, there are many factors that go into Facebook as a medium, which makes it a very effective means to engage followers, but also very complicated for a startup attempting to scale quickly.

  • Hey, Liam from The Watch Blog here. I have to say I think one of the most effective ways for these startup watch brands to get in front of their main audience is through contacting watch blogs like Time22 have done.

    The main benefit being that firstly it doesn’t cost you anything most of the time. Secondly, you are appearing in front of a highly geared audience who you know are interested in your subject. Sometimes paid advertising really can just get away from you and you end up overspending or spending on traffic that just isn’t going to convert at all for you.

    I do like being able to feature new Kickstarter campaigns when I can, it’s normally just a question of how much time I have available to dedicate to it though. Personally, I like inviting brands to come along and introduce themselves etc.

    I favour Twitter over Facebook when it comes to engaging with a fan base. Instagram isn’t something I’ve used much yet but there are some micro brands who absolutely excel in this area with watches. I realise Daniel Wellington aren’t a micro brand but if you see what they’ve achieved with their Instagram page it really is very impressive. Not many brands get to that level.

    • Liam, great emphasis and I totally agree. As bloggers, I’ll admit we are probably both biased, but I agree. I think bloggers are willing to test out just about anything (due to love of the field) and give their thoughts. Usually, it’s a great product and bloggers then become “product evangelists”. I would really appreciate hearing how you have employed Twitter. Please email me if you are willing — I’d like to hear what has been working for you and how you best employ it. Thanks for reading!

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