When you put on your watch, what is the experience you are getting out of the watch? What is the image you are projecting? What is the personal brand you are communicating? What is your identity? In this blog post, we’ll focus on what you consume and communicate when you buy a watch.
One of the lessons that has stayed with me from a marketing a class is that consumers don’t just buy a physical product. A memorable marketing teacher from my MBA program always asked us to consider, “what are you REALLY buying when you buy that product?” Pepsi doesn’t just market a sugary drink. It’s crafted a whole image around Pepsi (e.g. Pepsi Generation, Pepsi Challenge). When you choose Pepsi, you are choosing the young, hip drink as opposed to the old, boring, classic Coke. You’re not just drinking sugar water — you are identifying with the Pepsi Generation (what you feel) and sending a signal to those around you.
Let me give another example. Let’s say you hire a general contractor to build a deck onto your house. The contractor pulls up in a 4-door electric-powered sedan, polo shirt tucked into khakis, and pulls out a Rubbermaid container full of tools to start work. How confident are you that you’ve hired the right person? You may be entertaining some doubts, even though there is no functional difference between a deck built by this contractor and one built by a contractor with a more traditional vehicle, clothes, or toolbox. And just as a customer may have unspoken expectations of how a contractor should look and act, contractors are also part of a subculture with generally accepted standards of dress and equipment (just like any other professional group such as bankers, consultants, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, etc). When you see a rugged and well-used tool box full of DeWalt tools unloaded from a truck, you feel that this contractor means business.
Let’s bring this discussion back to watches (which is why you are likely reading this). For 90% of watch wearers, the purpose of finding a watch is to tell the time. This article is not for them. This article is for the 10% who just love watches. (We fully acknowledge our iPhone tells more accurate time, but we don’t care).
Watch companies marketing efforts (see title collage above) have probably shaped how you think about the experience you would be consuming with each major watch brand, whether you realize it or not. I’ll throw a few examples out there: Breitling = aviation, Longines = horse racing, Ulysses Nardine = diving, Omega = James Bond (and space exploration), Tag Heuer = racing. If you buy these watches just because you just think they look cool, these marketing efforts have failed. Chances are that you feel a specific connection to a particular brand, even if it’s in your subconscious. When you buy and wear that watch, not only do you put something on your wrist that you like, but you are also initiating an experience. Don’t believe me? Let me draw it out. I’ll do this for two examples.
You might be thinking, “I don’t buy watches for any of these reasons. I buy the watch because I want to show OTHER people.” Same difference. You chose a watch for the things you associate with that brand and that help define your personal brand (More on this in our next post). You want other people to perceive certain things about you. Ultimately, you chose one brand over another with “the marketing circles” in mind.
You also might be thinking, “I buy a watch using objective criteria of quality alone.” This is a mute argument. Many of the watches we’ve discussed are ALL of high quality. Of course, there are plenty of nuances here that will be discussed in further posts, but for the most part, they all keep excellent time, they are made of excellent materials, and all have mostly excellent warranty programs.
You might believe that choosing a particular watch brand is purely a way to signal wealth. But the “watch-as-conspicuous-consumption” argument is equally weak, as many of these product lines land in very similar price ranges. (Be sure to check out our post Marketing 103: Don’t be a watch SNOB & The Watch Snob Strikes Back).
It really comes down to a brand or look preference, and there is a reason you CHOSE one brand over another: the experience the watch gives you or the experience you want to portray. This is perfectly normal. 90% of people will look at your watch and say “I don’t get it, your watch tells time!” That’s ok– every person has a hobby that helps establish who they are. Some people do this through clothes, or cars, or handbags, or travel. Each of these outlets allow a person to say, “I’m a professional” or “I’m an adventurer” or “I’m into extreme sports” or “I’m an athlete”. Let me give you an example. If you are big into camping and rock climbing, you probably wear a lot of fleeces from Mountain Hardware or REI, you likely have a nice set of Merrell shoes, and for a watch, you might have something with a nice Suunto watch or another durable watch on a Kevlar or NATO-style strap. All of these help you feel the experience of being an adventurer. Just as clothes, cars, handbags, and travel contribute to a person’s lived experience, so a watch functions the same way for a watch enthusiast.
Everyone buys watches for different reasons, but most customers buy them as “art for the wrist” or a symbol of status. Regardless of which buyer you are, you ultimately have to choose a watch from among the large offerings. With all this in mind, take a look at the watch on your wrist and ask yourself: what are the experience circles I am getting when I wear this watch?