"Strong brands are a company's most valuable asset"

Victorinox focuses on strategic brand management and innovation. CMO Veronika Elsener explains in an interview how family values and change promote global success. She provides insights into the marketing strategies for positioning Victorinox as a trustworthy, modern brand and emphasizes the source of inspiration of the "genius loci" at the company location.

Veronika Elsener, Chief Marketing Officer at Victorinox (Image: zvg)

m&k Werbewoche.ch: I have just been able to visit the Victorinox production facility here in Ibach, under the expert guidance of Hans Schorno. It was a great experience. I saw a poster saying "Employer of the Year 2024". Ms. Elsener, how do you become Employer of the Year? 

Veronika Elsener: I don't think this is something that can be created at the touch of a button. There is a development behind it, there are values and leadership work behind it. In this sense, I believe that an important aspect is of course the family that stands behind this company, has shaped it and acts with foresight and for the long term. There are many family businesses like this in Switzerland. We have changed a lot in recent years in the wake of all the developments, strategies and globalization and are constantly working to ensure that our employees have a secure workplace. We have created various aspects to be an attractive employer.


What is the DNA of a family business to ensure its continued existence?

These values are very important and shape the company and its entire development from the very beginning. Family values are already geared towards the long term per se. I would also say that the environment here is formative. I call it a genius loci, a place of power, characterized by tradition and history. Such environments also produce special people who are committed and loyal and want to do a good job. I believe this is an important basis for Victorinox's success. And, of course, taking nothing for granted. You have to constantly work at it and be prepared to go along with change.

View of the Victorinox production halls in 1943 (Image: Victorinox)


Her LinkedIn slogan is: "My Passion is Brand and Thought Leadership". Ms. Elsener, could you tell us more about your management style with regard to innovative thinking? Perhaps using an example from your day-to-day work?

Openness and courage are important values. We empower our employees through training, workshops and further education as well as the use of new methods, tools and resources. We discuss lessons learned from projects in internal retrospectives and integrate them into future projects. Our internal learning platform enables our employees to further their education in relevant topics. We are currently working intensively on agile organization, design thinking, AI and data-driven technologies. We are anchoring these topics through internal workshops, for example to further strengthen knowledge and commitment to the brand, to become more efficient and effective in our marketing activities or to use AI in campaigns. Constant change is part of our everyday life.


Is there a specific moment, a characteristic that is an expression of your very personal leadership style?

I believe that openness and the courage to try new things are characteristics that have always accompanied me. They allow me to engage with new topics and areas, take them on board and then develop them further together with the team.


And how would you define your passion for brands?

Strong brands are a company's most valuable asset. They create trust and orientation. Brands must be built, maintained and permanently anchored. Investments in intangible brand value are just as important as investments in equipment or production facilities. Brand management is in a state of constant, careful change. For my team and me, this is an exciting task that is associated with a great deal of passion. Over the last few years, I have been able to acquire knowledge and experience in the field of brand management and marketing.


How would you describe the Victorinox brand essence?

This year we launched our evolved brand strategy and defined the brand essence as follows: "We believe that being prepared makes life better. As the manufacturer of the original Swiss Army Knife™️, founded in 1884, we stay true to our heritage by offering thoughtful and masterful solutions to ensure our customers are always prepared for their everyday challenges."


Can you still remember your first experience with a Victorinox gadget?

In my childhood, I had my first encounter with the "pocket knife", as we call it in Switzerland, through my father. He always had one in his trouser pocket. As a child, I noticed how omnipresent the product was in his everyday life and how he always stroked the knife bowl with a special gesture after use.

Victorinox classic Swiss Army Knife at the factory in Ibach, Canton Schwyz (Image: Beat Hürlimann)


Which is your favorite blade on the classic folding knife from Victorinox?

I don't have a particular favorite tool. The well thought-out thing about the Swiss Army Knife is that it combines a variety of useful tools - and I particularly appreciate the versatility and multifunctionality of the Swiss Army Knife.


Outside of your professional activities, you show an interest in music, literature and sport, activities that you prefer to enjoy with your family or friends. To what extent are your personal interests reflected in your everyday working life?

Activities such as sport and hiking are important to me for relaxation and regeneration alongside work. They help me to maintain a good balance. Maintaining contacts, building relationships and drawing inspiration from experiences outside of work - all of this consciously influences my professional activities.


You are not only CMO of Victorinox, but also a member of the Executive Board. Where do you see yourself particularly challenged as CMO at the moment?

We face a variety of challenges in marketing. These include the increasing number of communication channels and the extensive volumes of data that we have to deal with. The automation of marketing processes and the explosion of the marketing system landscape also pose significant challenges. In addition, we are observing increasing consumer power and changes in customer behavior. In general, we are experiencing a virtualization of companies, products, services and performances. Last but not least, artificial intelligence is also playing an increasingly important role. All of these topics require an open mindset from management and my team. There has to be a willingness to constantly question the status quo.

Victorinox headquarters in Ibach with a view of the Mythen (Image: Victorinox)

Are you ever afraid of missing the boat?

Anyone who has grown up in Switzerland and witnessed the country's transformation and the agility of the economy has already been given a strong foundation. This creates confidence in one's own self-efficacy and helps to master difficult moments.


And where do you see yourself particularly challenged as a member of the Executive Board?

To be successful globally, we need to understand the different product categories and adapt to cultural, economic and legal differences. Efficient supply chains, talent management, innovation and sustainability are crucial. Not to forget Risk management. Our Swiss company, which exports 80 percent of its products, is struggling with the strong Swiss franc. Implementing price increases in saturated markets is an extraordinary challenge. We have to carefully monitor our costs on site and invest in automation at the same time. Operating globally in five industries requires in-depth industry knowledge. In summary, we find ourselves in an area of tension between changing customer needs, increasing competitive pressure and new technologies, while at the same time response times are decreasing.


In 2022, you and Victorinox won the gfm Marketing Award. The long-term focus on the well-being of employees was also emphasized. What specific steps are you taking to position Victorinox as an attractive employer, especially for young people?

People are very important to our company. We are a family business that takes a long-term and far-sighted approach. We offer our employees flexible working time models (annual working hours, flexitime, home office, holiday office) that give them a lot of freedom in their personal life situations. We strengthen the sense of community with various initiatives. We are active in promoting health. We also support personal development with a range of measures. Employees can actively contribute to ideas management. As you can see, we basically use similar resources to other companies. I believe the difference lies in our character as a family business.


The Marketing Award also recognizes innovative marketing strategies and effective measures. What would you highlight as particularly innovative in your marketing strategy?

Our marketing strategy is based on our enhanced brand strategy, which is geared towards the basic emotional needs of our customers. We address these needs in words and images to strengthen the connection with our current and potential customers. In doing so, we not only focus on product features, but also rely on digital measures and artificial intelligence.


And which measures are particularly effective?

For us, the most effective measures are those that best convey the added value for the respective target group. We differentiate between longer-term measures to strengthen brand and/or category awareness - where the focus is on emotional fit and relevance for the target group - and short-term measures with high efficiency. The latter communicate added value via a message that can be grasped quickly and are placed at the right touchpoint of the customer journey. In addition, the efficiency of measures in the area of luggage that are played out with an affinity for time, content and touchpoints shows us that cooperation is an increasingly relevant part of our marketing mix.


Victorinox takes Swissness out into the world. How should companies today use Swissness as a driving force for their marketing activities? What advice would you give to start-ups in particular?

Start-ups should consider whether the Swiss Made label offers an advantage for their company. Depending on the effort and costs involved, it may be worth investing in Swiss Made in order to strengthen the brand image through positive attributes. Competitive advantages of Swissness/Swiss Made can be: precision, reliability, quality, stability, fair conditions, tradition & exclusivity, trust. These attributes must be supported by an action plan and proof points and not remain empty words. The entire company must support and implement this. It is also important to bear in mind that Swissness and Swiss Made are regulated by law and stipulate what percentage of manufacturing costs must be incurred in Switzerland. These laws give the Swiss Made seal its value and its positive attributes.

World-famous and exclusive: Swiss cross as brand logo (Photo: Victorinox)

According to the Brand Asset ValuatorIn addition to Swissness, cocooning has also emerged as a success factor in a long-term study by Ogilvy and Wunderman Thompson. This refers to a return to the familiar and the tendency to spend more time at home. How do you anticipate such trends if they are relevant to your brand?

In recent years, we have repeatedly taken measures to track global trends in the various categories. To this end, we have set up a small, fine internal Consumer Insight department. In addition, our employees are continuously guided by various trend platforms, as well as our internal newsletter in this area. We also receive market trends from our most important markets. We have also established an innovation team and are working on building a community platform. It is important for us as a company to understand consumer trends and examine how they fit in with our business and brand strategies.


A community platform sounds interesting. Can you say two or three words about what's already ripe for discussion here? Are there any influencers?

Veronika Elsener: Yes, this term can of course be broadly defined. We can see from the various forums and all the feedback from our customers on various communication channels that there is a real need to exchange ideas with us. We have therefore decided to offer such a community platform. We have now laid the foundations with the new website and the technology with which we can connect such a community.


Is the aim of this community platform also to generate ideas for new products?

Absolutely, that is already happening, even if less so with a targeted platform or process. We are already receiving ideas and suggestions. With this platform, however, we can collect them in a much more targeted way.


Victorinox is known for its successful brand collaborations, such as with the Felchlin chocolate brand. What role do such collaborations play for you?

Sponsoring and brand partnerships are part of our marketing mix in all relevant Victorinox markets. For the past four years, we have been pursuing a strategic orientation at global, national and regional level. We link all commitments to a specific product or product group to ensure a clear focus. We are increasingly focusing on global partnerships and cooperations. With Adidas, we developed a sneaker and a matching pocket knife, which opened up new target groups for us. We created a limited edition designer pocket knife with Off-White and Virgil Abloh. These collaborations position Victorinox as a modern global brand. In the future, we will increasingly focus on long-term partnerships and product developments such as the license partnership with Flechlin for our chocolate knife.


In Promarca's "Brand of the Year" ranking, you take 10th place and are recognized as a trustworthy brand that does not come from the Food & Beverage sector. Nevertheless, you were still in second place in 2020. How do you keep the brand attractive for the next generation?

We are delighted with our 10th place and that our customers consider us trustworthy. Trustworthiness is the basis of every brand! The drop in the ranking could also be due to the fact that we invested less in marketing during the pandemic and were therefore less present. To remain relevant for future generations, we follow trends, listen to customer feedback and invest in suitable product and service innovations.


How strongly is AI represented in Victorinox's marketing?

At Victorinox, we took measures early on to successfully integrate AI. In 2023, we established an internal AI policy and an AI committee to safeguard the potential benefits of AI while ensuring an ethical framework. AI is already being used in numerous marketing tasks, such as content generation, translations, copywriting, social media, headline testing and much more. AI will have a major impact on marketing by automating tasks, providing insights and improving personalization. It does not replace the marketing team, but augments their capabilities and creates a kind of symbiotic relationship between human creativity and technology. This opens up opportunities for more personalized and differentiated customer interactions, automation of repetitive tasks, effective customer segmentation and personalized marketing campaigns.


You have recently Brand positioning and are focusing entirely on the idea of being prepared in a new global brand campaign developed with Publicis. What is the main objective of this positioning?

We want our customers to always feel optimally prepared with our products - be it with our pocket knives, kitchen knives, watches or our luggage. We also want to convey this feeling in our communication. You never know what life will bring, but you can make sure you are prepared for anything. At Victorinox, we have made it our mission to prepare our customers for everyday challenges with well thought-out and masterful solutions. This positioning is relevant to our customers and is based on their needs, our beliefs and our heritage.



"Treat everything with the highest care" is the message in the brand film, which also features the Travel Gear, Swiss Army Knives, Cutlery and Watches product segments. What is behind this message?

With this we want to express that we act with attention to detail and always strive for perfection. Our products are carefully designed to fulfill their purpose perfectly. We strive for excellence and focus on uncompromising quality and precision.


On LinkedIn, you mention your ability to analyze complex issues, solve problems in an agile way and make difficult decisions to move forward in the areas of brand strategy, marketing and digital commerce. Can you tell us about your most difficult decision-making moment so far and what impact it had?

Building up the brand management and marketing division at Victorinox has really challenged me at all levels in recent years. My magic word is: focus. I had to decide time and again what was important for the company and the brand and what was not. Perhaps the most important moment for me was when, after careful analysis, I proposed an organizational change in 2017, which consisted of moving from a divisional to a functional organization. This paved the way for consistent brand management globally and, in retrospect, I consider this decision to have brought success to our company.


Werbewoche.ch: Where do you get inspiration for your own creativity?

I think it's a mix of different activities. It's not always important to actively do something. Sometimes it's just necessary to have time to think, read a good book or visit a museum. These are certainly sources of inspiration for me.


Do you have a special story from a customer in connection with one of your Victorinox products?

Veronika Elsener: Yes, there was a concert in the concert hall in Sydney where a pianist told us that his sheet music slipped into the grand piano just before the concert was due to start. He had a Swiss Army Knife with him and was able to open the part of the piano and get the sheet music out so that the concert could begin. This is a nice story that shows that with our products, such as the Swiss Army Knife, you are always well prepared, no matter what happens.


That's a nice story. In the movie "Armageddon", the Victorinox logo can be seen on the drill used by Bruce Willis' team to drill a hole to blow up the comet hurtling towards Earth. How did this come about?

Veronika Elsener: That was many years ago. As far as I can remember, our branch at the time was involved in targeted product placement.


Werbewoche.ch: Wow! Yes, a masterpiece!

Yes, you said it. Very good. It's surprising that you were able to retrieve that now.


I've seen the movie umpteen times. After all, it saves the world. That's what you like to see. And Victorinox in the middle of it all.

Thank you very much.


Thank you very much for the interview.



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