For the past several years, young people have fallen out of the habit of wearing a wristwatch. After all, who needs a wristwatch when you have a cell phone? Most young, tech-savvy people prefer to simply use their smart phones as their time pieces, without strapping an additional item on to their wrist.
But according to a recent article in the New York Times (“The Wrist Watch is Reimagined. Will Young Shoppers Care?”), watch makers are trying to recapture the interest of young consumers by reinventing the wrist watch. HP and Fossil have teamed up on a new wrist watch with wireless Internet and Bluetooth capability that would alert the wearer whenever new e-mail, Facebook or Twitter messages arrive. The wristwatch wearer could check in on Foursquare at the push of a button or quickly send auto-replies to their online social network. The idea is that a wristwatch could soon become much more than just a way to tell time – it would be a “connected watch” that would be a portable Wi-Fi hotspot on the wearer’s wrist.

With all due respect to the people who created this product, it seems like a solution in search of a problem. Who needs a watch to tell you to check your e-mail? People already have all of these capabilities on their Smartphone’s without adding another accessory to the mix.

Years ago in a book called “Marketing Imagination,” Theodore Levitt cautioned that too often, companies get carried away with the idea of “innovation” regardless of whether the customer actually needs or wants the product. It doesn’t matter how fancy your technical features might be – if your product doesn’t solve a problem that your customers actually care about, you’re not going to sell very many of them.  In other words, is your product relevant to the customer?

I would be curious to hear if the developers of the “connected wristwatch” have done any market research, customer focus groups, or other studies to identify the ideal target market and actual appeal of this product.

Wristwatches are still big business in America. According to the New York Times, the casual watch industry had sales of $2.35 billion in 2010, up 4 percent from 2008. However, sales have grown fastest among older consumers (33% increase from 2008-2010 among 35-44 year olds, and 104% for age 65 and older). Young people just aren’t buying wristwatches any more: watch sales have dropped considerably among 18-to-24 year olds – falling 29 percent from 2008 to 2010.

Perhaps instead of trying to add unnecessary bells and whistles to a product that young consumers don’t care about, the wristwatch industry should focus on its core market of older customers who are still actively buying wristwatches.   There clearly is relevance in this target market.

Instead of trying to make a wristwatch into a Smartphone (but without many of the features that make Smartphone’s great), the wristwatch industry should take a hard look at the inherent competitive advantages that make people want to buy watches.

What is it about watch that makes people decide to buy one and wear it? Is it a kind of personal fashion statement, a sign of status and stability, or an emotional connection?

Millions of people still choose to use a wristwatch instead of just glancing at their Smartphone’s to tell time; watch makers need to find out what is unique about the experience of using a wristwatch, and decide how they can market that experience as a sustainable competitive advantage.

The flip side is a watch created many years ago by Tissot, a division of Swatch Watches.  They created the first ever touch screen watch, long before “touch screen” was in fashion which allow the user to touch it for the barometer, temperature, altitude, etc.  But they let that watch and its competitive advantage become Tissot’s  best kept secret.  Their marketing did not reach the relevant market for this watch, bikers, hikers, pilots, love the watch but most didn’t know it was available.

Innovation for its own sake often leads to wasted money and wasted time. Sometimes it’s better to get back to basics and take a hard look at what got you here – and use that traditional foundation to craft a long-term competitive advantage.  And when you find relevance, shout it from the roof tops so your market knows its available.

Contact Smart Advantage for more information on how to do this for your company.

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