Who watches the Swatchmen: Innovation in marketing strategy

To Innovate comes from the latin word Innovare: to renew, to restore, to change.

By default, when the word innovation pops up, people tend to think about technological advancements. About improvements in processes, methods, services, and products. Innovation seems to be about hardware, materials, machines.

But what about innovation in marketing concepts? What about renewed ideas in how to approach similar products? With technological advancements today being more easily replicated than ever, innovative ideas, finding new ways to address markets, are more important than ever.

Products can be designed, manufactured, and distributed, but it is marketing strategy and the powerful ideas behind it that truly move customers to the new products.

An example of various types of innovations (processes, materials and marketing concepts) can be found if we briefly analyze the evolution of the watchmaking industry

Since the 1800’s and until the 1940’s Swiss watchmakers were the pinnacle of their industry. If it wasn’t Swiss, it wasn’t truly a watch. The Swiss took pride in the intricate mechanical movements that composed their precious watches, almost a jewelry item. Brands like Beaume & Mercier, Longines, Omega, Piaget and Rolex were back then marketed around values such as quality, exquisite elaboration, expertise and heritage. Highly priced and considered as “investments”.

In the 1950’s in post war US, a technological innovation took place around the TIMEX brand. The first watch to fully employ mass production, enter and own the low price segment. Manufactured with lower quality materials they drove costs down. A watch wasn’t a jewel anymore. A watch was something that told you the time, and anyone should be able to afford one. Along with the manufacturing innovation with cheaper processes and materials came an original campaign that directly addressed consumer’s concerns around the quality and durability of the TIMEX watches (their tagline being “It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin”). They developed campaigns with live demonstration tests in a distinctive manner that stuck with consumers.

Within a decade a third of all watches worn in the USA where TIMEX.

Fast Forward to the 1970’s when Japanese brands like Hattori Seiko, Citizen and Casio fully leveraged the new Quartz technology and blended it with a me-too strategy (Swiss appearance, Quartz insides) all still within a lower price segment. Quartz components also allowed for multifunctional watches.

By this time, the Swiss watch industry was in crisis. Their whole way of developing and marketing their product was now largely updated, and their share of market had shrunk massively.

1980’s. Enter Swatch. The landing of the Swiss Industry into the low price segment. Theirs was a wholly new approach marketing a watch brand. Swatch innovated not on technology. It innovated in design and in positioning, and managed to reinvent a country industry.

How did they accomplish this? Swatch created a message. Swatch was not only about the watch in itself. It wasn’t the cheapest, it wasn’t the best. Swatch was the watch that had something to say and wasn’t afraid to say it. It managed to position itself as a new form of expression. Loud colors, cool designs and low-ish price, creating even a collectors vibe around the brand. Where predecessors internationally had established connections around functional values, swatch built a brand that bonded emotionally with consumers through an innovative marketing strategy. Swatch changed the rules of the game and relied heavily on TV campaigns to fully extend their image (In the 90’s Swatch was ranked among the top 100 advertisers in Europe in Television)

The three waves (US, Japanese, Modern Swiss) were waves of innovation. The first two were more technological in nature: US more geared in processes, the Japanese in materials. Swatch originated no doubt from the technological advancements, but it’s main strength was innovation in its marketing approach. Swatch innovated in the way it connected with consumers. Not so much hardware but ideaware.

Take care amigos,


(Post ended to the tune of Beautiful day by The Eels)