What was the biggest challenge you faced in building and maintaining the IWC brand?

Basically, the challenge we faced was how to keep the different stories all together and not become confusing. IWC at that time was turned into a carbon neutral company. For example, we did face some questioning over our relationship with Mercedes AMG. People at the time, it was pre-electric cars. People would say, “How can you support high-powered cars, racing cars and at the same time be carbon neutral? How does that work?” We could prove that actually AMG was on the forefront of developing technology to reduce carbon consumption, but we had to make sure that made sense.

We also had to make sure that the different stories didn’t contradict each other or that the brand essence becomes lost. Always focus again on the authenticity, on the rooms, on the basics and make sure that all of the stories you have around stay around and don’t take over the core of your brand. Focus on the authentic values of your brand, your brand DNA and don’t let one or the other of your stories take over the brand. It’s a matter of balancing it.

What is the most difficult part about that storytelling? Let’s say you’ve got a new world; you’re opening up a new product line for this year. What do you find the most challenging?

Basically, it’s how can you be interesting and original at the same time because everyone is looking for stories, new stories. Again, if you talk about pilots’ watches, there are many brands that produce pilots’ watches or divers’ watches. The stories quite naturally will tend to be relatively similar perhaps. If you want to protect the ocean, you need to make sure you have the story that’s unique. That’s really what it’s about. How do you stand out from the noise? Your story has to be more interesting, more coherent and better than the story of your competitors. That’s really the key to it.

When you’re telling this story across different channels especially today, what techniques do you use to bring it to life, let’s say online versus in the print channel like you mentioned?

At the time and I think it still goes today, we believed in the power of imagery. Beautiful pictures. We would always invest a lot of money into top photographers, into top imagery to make sure that it’s absolutely perfect. Customers today are bombarded by pictures every day. They look at a thousand pictures on Instagram a day. How do you stand out? The quality of your imagery has to be perfect. That’s really the key to it.

What about the language used in the messaging?

The language has to be both sophisticated and easily understood at the same time. That’s definitely a challenge. It also depends on the language and it has to be culturally adequate. At IWC at the time, we had some very provocative type of advertising, slightly macho oriented and so on. We found out very soon that that was an absolutely no-go, both in the Asian markets because that type of humor did not strike a chord in Asia because they simply wouldn’t understand it. It didn’t work in the U.S. because you have a lot of protests from feminist groups that are like, “How dare you be so macho.” Nobody cared in the German-speaking world. They thought it was funny. The cultural sensitivities are very different. You have to be careful that you create a coherent message that works globally. Also, don’t be afraid to adapt it locally if need be. Probably a message that works in all cultures is very hard to find and it would be too simple and too bland. Keep the basis globally but adapt locally. An old world but the local approach is still right.

When you’re building a brand identity, like you said, you go back to the heritage, you keep the foundations. When you’re using specific words or building that identity, how do you look to use language to create the feeling or emotion at the customer? Are there certain words that you look to use or the ways that you’d approach speaking about the brand in order to drive the certain feeling and emotion for the customer?

Not for a brand like IWC too much. You’d have some humor, some catchy phrases. We kept that because the humor was always a driver of the brand. That was only the first few words. Then it really gets down to some relatively technical language. That has to be understandable, but still technical enough to appeal to the techy clients that we had. It takes some really good text professionals to create a text that is catchy, technical, and sexy at the same time. Not easy to do, but apart from the imagery, it’s true, it’s very important.

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