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Competing with Rolex and Cartier

Jens Fabian Herdieckerhoff
Former Marketing Director at Richemont, IWC Schaffhausen

Learning outcomes

  • How IWC positioned the brand versus larger competitors like Rolex and Cartier
  • How the messaging of IWC was different to Cartier & Rolex and how the message aligns with the heritage of the brands
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Executive Bio

Jens Fabian Herdieckerhoff

Former Marketing Director at Richemont, IWC Schaffhausen

Fabian has over 20 years experience marketing luxury watches. He started his career as a product manager in Germany for Cartier before moving to Richemont when the company purchased luxury watchmaker IWC in 2001. At Richemont, Fabian was the Marketing Director for IWC where he was responsible for the international marketing strategy over 7 years. He then spent 2 years running Burberry Watches at the Fossil Group and is now a luxury market consultant. Read more

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Interview Transcript

I just want to discuss differentiation in the watch space. You have IWC, obviously Rolex, Cartier, which are the two largest brands arguably. How did you look at positioning IWC versus those brands?

That’s a very good question because IWC at the time when we started was so much smaller than both Rolex and Cartier. Just to give you an idea, we’d say if Rolex at the time was building a million watches a year, which is probably about the quantity that it was, we would be building about 50,000. There’s a huge difference in size.

Cartier also being a huge company, but completely different positioning. Rolex was always a relatively masculine brand, but never neglected the women. Always a brand making a lot of gold watches, watches with diamonds with a big appeal to ladies, as well. IWC had almost no female models. Instead of saying, okay, we’re going to make female watches, as well. We said, we’re going to drop it entirely. We’re going to focus on men’s watches. Which doesn’t mean that women wouldn’t buy them. On the contrary, because the fashion for women wearing men’s watches just came up 20 years ago and has never gone away since. We still marketed it all towards men. Cartier on the other hand is a jewelry-oriented brands. Cartier was at that time at least not too much focused-on watchmaking, but focused on jewels, on design, on precious materials.

On diamonds, on other precious materials, which was never important for IWC. For IWC, it was the movement, the technology, and the design. For Cartier, it was the material, the preciousness, the design, the link to the jewelry. A completely different positioning and very feminine. If IWC had 80 percent masculine clients, Cartier would have had 80 percent female clients. Completely different. Rolex is somewhere in between. More or less 50/50.

Also, Rolex being focused essentially on one watch model in different iterations. The Oyster. It’s always that divers’ watch. If it’s a Daytona or a submarine or whatever, it’s always the same basic shape. IWC was very different. It had families. The Portuguese watch is completely different to the pilots watch. It’s completely different to the engineer or the aqua timer or the Davinci even. Each of these families had a distinct identity with a slightly different customer base. That was our strength, that we had five strong, almost equally strong product lines, whereas, the design of both Cartier and Rolex tended to focus on two iconic shapes, the tank in Cartier and very different iterations. Française the classic tank, the tank American, whatever, but always that square tank shape. Of course, it was Pasha and others, but the bulk of the business was always the square tank shape. For Rolex, always the Oyster model. That’s the key difference.

How did the marketing strategy change for each of those companies? How did you see the marketing messaging and approach to communicating with the customer different between Cartier and Rolex versus IWC?

Cartier basically never used a lot of storytelling. They kept very close to their purity. I was once product manager for Cartier watches, do I remember very well. The messaging for Cartier watches was always the product. The advertising of a Cartier watch was always the logo, the watch and that’s it. Based purely on design, materials, and look. There was never anything about the technology. Or storytelling about it. It’s really Cartier is a super brand, everyone knows it. It’s the most famous jeweler in the world. That was very focused and enough to promote this brand. That’s the reason why it’s so big. Rolex is slightly different. They’ve always had their cultural messages and their sporting messages. They two lines of communication, but those have never changed over the years either. Rolex is about Wimbledon, about iconic sporting events, about golfing events, and about opera and classical music. That’s it. They never branched out into any other messaging. Of course, those messages are always the same and they tend to get a little bit boring. At IWC, we reinvented every product line. We added new partnerships, new stories, so there was more to say about the brand. That helped us enormously.

How does that approach to marketing align with Cartier and Rolex’s heritage?

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