Neuromarketing study: How much "smart" does the perfect luxury watch really need?

There is still a lot of uncertainty in the Swiss watch industry about the luxury watch of the future, and various brands are frantically trying to introduce a variety of "smart functions". An independent neuromarketing study investigates whether this is the right way to go.

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Foreign smartwatches are taking an increasingly large slice of the pie in the global watch market. This also affects Swiss luxury watch brands, whose bosses often still believe that smartwatches pose no threat to them. Apple, for example, is in the process of conquering the wrists of the world after the pockets of its trousers (cf. HZ Insights Podcast). Last year, Apple sold an estimated 31 million watches. In turn, the Swiss watch industry now sells 7.5 million fewer watches than in 2015 - the first year of sales of the Apple Watch.

Rolex and Co. have yet to make a serious counter-move. Is it time for the local watch brands to become truly "smart"? This current neuromarketing study with a focus on Switzerland shows which aspects of a smartwatch are also exciting for luxury watches - and which "luxury watch characteristics" on the other hand must not be neglected under any circumstances by going smart.

First smart efforts are already perceived emotionally

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The EmoMap (comparison of different EmoProfiles) shows which brand emotions come closest to those of a perfect smartwatch. The presentation of the results follows the rules of multivariate statistics and standard mathematical procedures. Simply: It's not about up, down, left or right - the distances between the individual pins are decisive. The closer these are to each other, the more similar are the emotional feelings in the subconscious.

If the emotions of various luxury watch brands are analyzed, it is immediately apparent: Luxury watch manufacturers with smart models are emotionally closer to smartwatches than those manufacturers without watches with smart functions (see chart above).

On the one hand, this finding may be obvious due to the logical result, but on the other hand, one must keep in mind that the brand emotions of each manufacturer in the study were collected completely non-verbally and completely detached from any smartwatch topics. In addition, this emotional map (EmoMap) provides further exciting (strategic) clues and questions:

a) A few products are enough to move brand emotions in the direction of "smart" (for all manufacturers with smart models, luxury smartwatches make up only a small fraction of the total product portfolio)

b) Certain luxury smartwatches had a greater emotional impact than others. For example, Hublot, among others, "made" the biggest shift towards smartwatch emotions in the subconscious of potential customers with their "Big Bang Referee 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia". Followed by Tag Heuer (for example, "Tag Heuer Connected") and Breitling (for example, "Exospace B55 Yachting"). And the luxury watch brands Montblanc, Alpina and Frédérique Constant already appear more "smartwatchy" than Rolex, Omega and the like, which do not yet have any smart models at all.

c) Is this chosen path towards the smartwatch strategically the right one at all? Or does it run the risk of diluting the company's own brand and missing the desired emotions of potential watch wearers?

"Smart" must not overshadow luxury motifs

The emotion volumes (emotional relevance) of the different motives show that the purchase motives of a classic luxury watch are all more emotional than those of a smartwatch (see chart "Average emotion volume of classic vs. smart motives"). There is a good reason for this: topics such as social status, family heirlooms and investment are psychologically much more profound than fitness tracking and news. Luxury watches thus classically play on much more deeply rooted motives that move and drive people internally than the new smartwatches. "Smart" topics (today still) pay off on comparatively and generally more "superficial" motives.

By including smart aspects, Rolex and Co. can score particularly well in the consumer brain if they combine them with classic motifs. If, on the other hand, they focus too much on the smart trend, they run the risk of not playing enough into consumers' basic motivations when buying a luxury watch. Potential smart features should therefore definitely be charged with a deeper meaning.

Average emotion volume of classic vs. smart motifs

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The motifs of the classic watch trigger 53.7 percent more emotion in comparison. The smartwatch motifs, on the other hand, are significantly less profound.

For luxury watches, the following still applies: main motive = status

Which motives drive the purchase of a classic luxury watch (see chart "Most important motives luxury watch")? The most important emotional motive for buying a classic luxury watch is owning a valuable object and being able to show it off to others. In second place in this motive ranking is the fact that a luxury watch is a piece of jewellery on the wrist. Both motives pay tribute to the need for status. A luxury watch is therefore unconsciously primarily a status symbol, even if this is often verbally denied.

Consumers also buy luxury watches to pass them on within the family. Patek Philippe, for example, has been playing this motif (3rd place in the ranking) particularly well and for years (see Patek Philippe campaign).

The motive to buy a watch as an investment plays a clearly subordinate role. The "investment in value" argument is ratio-based and helps buyers to reduce so-called cognitive dissonance. It is therefore a justification for the purchase if one does not feel entirely comfortable because of the high price.

So, in summary, consumers in the classic luxury watch market buy a watch to wear, to show to others, and to pass on as a family heirloom - not to lock away in a safe and hope it will increase in value.

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The motive of "owning something valuable and showing it to others" comes closest to the gold standard of a luxury watch. Far from it is the motive to buy luxury watches as an investment. The values represent the deviation to the emotional desire. The lower the value, the less important the emotional motive is in the subconscious.

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"Inherit or bequeath a family piece" - Patek Philippe has successfully played on this motif in its advertising campaign for years.

If smart, then communication instead of tracking and info

Within the scope of this neuromarketing study, the most important purchase motives for a smartwatch were also examined non-verbally. Comparing these "smart" motives with the emotional desires of the classic luxury watch reveals which smartwatch functions luxury watch wearers actually want.

The motif map (see chart "Which smart aspects fit the perfect luxury watch?") shows that the motif "communicate with others" is emotionally close to the perfect luxury watch. The motive "pay electronically with the watch" is further away, but could still play a role for the perfect luxury watch. The motifs "be informed at all times and everywhere" and "track my everyday life", on the other hand, clearly play a subordinate role.

Consequently, Swiss luxury watch manufacturers would do well to integrate smart communication functions into their products. These could be communication features in the narrower sense, such as telephoning, WhatsApp and e-mail. Another option would be features that reconcile the need for communication and socializing with the aforementioned need for status.

On the other hand, possibly also payment functions and the connection of watch and bank account also beyond the pure payment would bring the luxury watch even closer to the desire emotions.

Swiss luxury watch manufacturers should clearly distance themselves from tracking functions. Consumers don't want to go jogging and track their performance with a luxury watch - there are pure, classic smartwatches for that. Information functions are also less desirable in the subconscious. A luxury watch should not display weather information or news - and also not provide World Cup results (this may be interesting for a short time for freaks, but contradicts the long-term target feeling of a luxury watch).

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The EmoMap (comparison of different EmoProfiles) illustrates which smartwatch functions are best suited to a luxury watch. The presentation of the results follows the rules of multivariate statistics and standard mathematical procedures. Simple: It's not about up, down, left or right - what matters are the distances between the individual pins. The closer these are to each other, the more similar are the emotional feelings in the subconscious.

Conclusion: What does this mean for Swiss luxury watches?

Smartwatches are conquering the watch market - Swiss luxury brands must react. What options are open to them? One thing is certain: Swiss watchmakers could benefit from smart functions. Those who master the following challenges can (re)gain significant market share in the future:

1. luxury watch can benefit from smart functions. But how do you prevent the "classic" luxury watch motifs from being diluted by this?

2) What could the smart communication functions (and possibly also payment functions) of a luxury watch look like in concrete terms? And how can these be meaningfully combined with the status motif?

3. what overarching strategies and communication concepts are needed to win back lost market share from Apple & Co. Perhaps also on the path of digital distribution - another field that the Swiss luxury watch industry has left to the smartwatch manufacturers for far too long.

Note: This study was conducted by Zutt & Partner. The management consultancy specializing in neuromarketing offers free of charge Workshops on the study (detailed results, interpretations, further information on the study and initial solutions). Werbewoche.ch publishes the study free of charge out of editorial interest.

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