Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When Does a Brand Become a Brand?

Shamelessly borrowed from the World-Wide Info-Web
I got into an interesting discussion with a colleague on this topic recently, and frankly it really bears some further discussion.  What triggered the "micro debate" was the proliferation of so-called "micro brands" in the watch business.  Essentially, these are the hopes and dreams of watch enthusiasts who through the aid and assistance of factories and assemblers in (usually) Asia, create a watch to sell to the general public.  This is usually facilitated through social media, a watch discussion forum, Kickstarter, or all three at once.

The success of these efforts vary, and as is often the case in any business venture, very dependent upon forces outside of the owner's control.  Having taken the plunge myself a few years ago, I can tell you that it doesn't matter how much encouragement, how many 'atta-boys and pledges of future support you get.  Those don't pay the bills ; )  What matters is sales, plain and simple.

The big brands will "poo-poo" these startups, often categorizing them more as "upstarts".  The belief being that they (the big boys) have been at it longer, know more, have story, tradition, etc. behind them.  It is also interesting that more often than not, they will make statements like:
"That's a micro brand.  They don't make anything!"

And that's where I have to call bullshit, and bring us to the point of today's post.  While I might be wrong about the etymology -
the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

I am fairly confident that the original use of the term "micro-brand" probably started here in the US, and it was based on the term "micro brewery".  For those unfamiliar with hoppy beverages, micro-breweries are small, often independently owned breweries that produce extremely limited amounts of beer for sale (typically) in the immediate area.  Sometimes only at the micro-brewery itself.  And the fun part about a micro-brewery is that they produce the beer on site.  

And here is where we hit the first flaw in the logic of some of the big brands - and the Kool-Aid they are slipping the general public.  Because, gentle reader, with a few exceptions watch brands in many cases make very little of what they sell.  Many of them still assemble constituent parts, but the number of brands even doing that any more is beginning to dwindle.  

Some big brands, with beautiful advertising pieces and tales of artisans painstakingly creating watches are really more in the marketing, advertising and sales business.  Because, in fact, their watches are produced almost entirely outside of the rarified confines of what can best be described as their sales and shipping offices.

Yes, your watch is being assembled by skilled watch makers and technicians, but in many cases your watch from Brand X is being assembled right next to watches from Brand Z, in the same building that is assembling watches for brand Y, A, B, C... well, you get the picture.  And if it weren't for assemblers, most brands would be hard-pressed to continue existing.  During a visit to one well-known brand's FACTORY a few years back, I was informed that while they made movements there, they did not assemble any actual watches, as it was cheaper to have that done by assemblers.  So the only actual watch making that I saw taking place in a fairly large facility was the restoration room, which was dirty, cluttered, understaffed and, if I'm being honest, pretty depressing to look at.

And moving beyond mere production, let's consider continuous history.  As Biver the Great has demonstrated, with a good name and some artful story telling, you can imbue almost any brand with greatness.  And while it worked for him at Blancpain, it is becoming more and more of a challenge.  

Shamelessly Borrowed from the World-Wide Info-Web
The Gremlin and the Yugo died as car brands for very, very good reasons.  And no matter how we might view things through the lenses of sentimentality, several watch brands died for good reasons too.

Perhaps the most interesting twist in this tale is that with all of the big brands feeling very real pain this year, several micro brands are not only surviving, but thriving.  Now whether or not this is a real trend remains to be seen.  And how long it will be before the watch cognoscenti  stop being so snotty and actually examine watches and brands based on merit, rather than the contents of their swag bags is anyone's guess.  But keep an eye on Gavox, Orologi Calamai, and some others.  Slow and steady progress may be counter-intuitive to the micro-brand credo, but these two micro-brands are steadily building a very solid reputation for quality and authenticity.  And doing so without the Kool-Aid ; )

Shamelessly Borrowed from the World-Wide Info-Web

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