Montblanc went from a German based pen maker to a luxury brand producing high end fountain pens and moreover, watches that are in the same league as Audemars Piguet. This happened over the course of a little more than a century which is remarkable both from a brand positioning and marketing perspective. Their latest attempt at becoming an established brand in the watch space is the 1858 model. AdAsia interviewed Head of Marketing for Montblanc South East Asia, Benjamin Goh, right before the launch party at the Ion Orchard Sky Observation Deck. The Observation Deck had been changed into an impressive mountain landscape, where upon entering you all of a sudden felt like you were walking on a path through the mountains with projections and real sand on the floor. To make the experience complete, special mountain themed cocktails were served.
The legendary Fabrique d’Horlogerie Minerva SA watch manufacture was acquired by the Richemont Group in 2006 and was assigned to Montblanc. The Swiss watch making brand has been around since 1858 and is one of the few remaining manufactures that have the skills and technical knowhow to build complicated mechanical watch movements completely by hand. Over the past 160 years their focus has been on innovating these movements. Minerva gained recognition for its precise chronometry and became a leading specialist in the fabrication of professional mechanical watches. Because some of their movements were capable of measuring time accurately to 1/100th of a second already in 1916, Minerva’s mechanical stopwatches were part of the history of modern-day motor racing.
Montblanc has issued luxury watches based on Minerva’s knowhow since 2006. The recently introduced 1858 range builds on that. So how does it specifically contribute to Montblanc’s range of watches? What is the storyline from a marketing perspective?
“For Montblanc, the aim is not to dissolve Minerva within the brand but to instil its values. We do this by channelling all the values and heritage of Minerva into Montblanc’s watch collections. In 2017 e.g., we launched the Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition as part of the Montblanc TimeWalker sport watch collection. It reprised Minerva’s 16.29, an early monopusher calibre, and thus it encompasses the entire story of Minerva in one piece. Similarly, for the new Montblanc 1858 collection, the movement of the Pocket Watch Limited Edition 100 is derived from the same M16.29.
“The product is always central to all our communications and with its level of credibility, it is for marketing communications to bring the message across.
“In the case of the 1858, we leverage the expertise from the Montblanc Villeret manufacture, formerly the Manufacture Minerva, and Minerva heritage. We presented a new execution of one of Minerva’s famous calibres in the 1858 Monopusher Chronograph and a new Manufacture complication in the 1858 Geosphere.
“Once legitimacy has been established, we branch out to tell the story. The origins of the collection and its exploration roots emanate from Minerva’s military watches from the early 20th century where the timepieces were meant to combine accuracy with legibility and robustness. That is why today’s storytelling is very much focused around nature, mountain exploration and in a more general sense, exploration.
“We did this through campaigns such as the global ‘Montblanc 1858 Spirit of Exploration’. This campaign started in October 2017 with a press trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, followed by the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève in January 2018, with presentations and interviews with our global management, and in June 2018 the local event with Julien Miribel, our watch specialist from Minerva who is based in Singapore now.”
What is the Montblanc marketing strategy in comparison to other luxury brands? Montblanc is not only a watch brand but carries other products. Is there a cross-portfolio strategy?
“We have a wide range of products, including writing instruments, watches, leather goods and accessories. Each category and each collection has their own identity and they are communicated as such.
“As both a brand and a Maison, we represent the Highest of European Craftsmanship, having established manufactures where savoir faire is highest. No matter the product or category, they all embody a companion quality that is reflected in longevity and desirability. Notwithstanding the instantly recognisable snowcap Montblanc emblem which is the ultimate seal of innovation, quality and expression of style.
“Marketing is important to tell our stories, but our products have stood the test of time because they have substance.”
How do you take decision on the ATL/BTL mix or traditional vs. digital if you like?
“Print is relevant, but the entire industry is changing and we know it. We have to review the entire marketing channel mix. If you want to target certain segment, you need to figure out how you can best reach them.”
How do you convince people to join your brand?
“We have CRM activation although there is no specific Montblanc membership programme. Retail plays an important role in creating unique, personal experiences for customers. For the 1858 this will then of course be based on the mountain exploration theme.
“In addition, we do what all brands need to do: acquisition through media and communication. This launch event is definitely part of that and is by far the biggest marcom and PR initiative for this year.
“With this we are targeting new segments. We are reaching out to younger consumers who are adventurous and want to explore the world, in line with the trend of going back to nature and the growing interest for adventure. For this it is necessary to include social media to communicate with younger consumers. The result was a global campaign for which explorer Chris Burkard developed a Digital Logbook. This Digital Logbook is available on Instagram, and in particular, via Instagram Stories as part of our content strategy.”
How important is e-commerce for Montblanc? Can I order an 1858 watch online?
“What is important for Montblanc, is that we provide an excellent customer experience, and that includes being present where our customers are at.
“The luxury consumer journey is no longer linear but has evolved into a cycle. Ultimately, we need to ensure that all touchpoints work well together and deliver a branded experience that is consistent throughout the customer journey.
“The decision to enter e-commerce depends on purchase behaviours, infrastructure, maturity of the market, and many other factors. In the US for example, e-commerce is definitely an important channel. We retail through our website, and also through distributors such as Mr Porter where you can purchase selected models.”
How does Montblanc work with agencies?
“Montblanc is a global brand so there is a need to maintain a singular voice that speaks to the global audience. Most communication campaigns are cascaded down from the global team, but we practice flexibility when it comes to local events e.g. on-ground engagement activities and the use of key opinion leaders. This global consistency combined with local flexibility allows us to be local in every market.
“This is reflected in the agency roster. We have a global media agency but we work with local events and social media agencies. We do have centrally developed guidelines for social media but how it is executed locally is entirely up to the local marketing team.”
What are the challenges when you are localising campaigns?
“Today’s audiences are very globalised and well-travelled. In the case of mountain exploration, we took an aspirational approach. We may not have mountains in Singapore. but we have a large audience that has either an aspiration to explore or has done it on their travels.”
What is it you are particular proud of for this campaign?
“As a marketing team, we continue to contribute to building the credibility of the brand. We are also targeting a younger, aspirational audience and we have many elements we can use in our storytelling. That makes the 1858 collection for me a very satisfying product. We have developed a lot of different assets and we work with various key opinion leaders. In addition, we hope that through our communication, connoisseurs, collectors, watch-enthusiasts and other in the industry sit up and take note of our 160 years of credibility in watchmaking.”
Do you use research for your marketing?
“From a marketing aspect, we don’t let research drive our strategy, rather we let the objectives do it for us and that in turn drives the brand stories. For the 1858, as we said, we focus on the aspirational exploration lifestyle. The advantage when you take this approach is that it gives your marketing a lot of flexibility. There are many angles we can take on the theme and we target different customer segments with different messages and creative assets.”
How do you measure success, how do you ensure that you still have a job next year?
“The KPIs are defined in the area of brand awareness and conversion. What is most important to us is an uplift in brand awareness, followed by an uplift in sales. The brand awareness should definitely show an increase in the perceived credibility of Montblanc as a watchmaker.
“The standard metrics for awareness such as reach in terms of circulation and impressions apply. In addition, we also track engagement and conversion from our campaign activations and assets. The overall campaign is still underway, so we don’t want to comment on performance right now, but from what I’m hearing, the first results have been very encouraging so far. When it comes to brand awareness, we hope to increase that, in particular when it comes to educating our audience, so they understand the history and 160 years of uninterrupted Swiss watchmaking behind Montblanc timepieces.”
The launch event was certainly well organised, and the mountain themed cocktails were strong and tasty, with an audience that, judged by the watches quite a few of the attendees were wearing, was certainly of the more stylish well to do kind. Whether they were actual nature explorers or mountain cljmbers, checking out the 1958 collection for usability in extreme circumstances, we do not know.
Editor-in-Chief: Matthieu Vermeulen