The CMO Interview

Timex Retools to Address Needs Beyond Time-telling

Under New Leadership, Including Chief Marketer Stephen George, 157-year-old Brand Watches for Growth Opportunities

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Iconic brand Timex has shaken up its executive ranks in recent months with the appointment of Stephen George as its new senior VP-CMO in December and a new CEO, Gary Cohen, named in February. The pair boasts stints at top-tier marketing companies: Samsung, Gillette, Playtex, Norelco. And Mr. George says that 's no mistake.

Timex Senior VP-CMO Stephen George
Timex Senior VP-CMO Stephen George

His and Mr. Cohen's backgrounds, as well as those of the rest of the executive team, will be key to shepherding the 157-year-old brand into a new growth phase, said Mr. George, who previously served as founder of consulting firm Silvermine Ventures. That will include developing new technologies and thinking about categories, like wellness, where Timex has not typically been a major player. He says there are also opportunities for more partnerships with complementary brands like J. Crew. The retailer is now selling a selection of Timex watches ranging from a $50 kids watch to a $195 piece inspired by the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Partnerships, like the one with J. Crew or the one with the New York Giants, which involves naming rights for the football teams' practice facility, and sponsorships -- Timex sponsors the New York and London marathons -- are all a part of Mr. George's marketing plan for the brand. Mr. George declined to comment on measured media plans, but according to Kantar, spending behind the brand is minimal, surpassing $10 million only once in the past five years.

"You're going to see more from us," Mr. George said of his plans for the brand, though he noted that didn't necessarily mean more measured media. "What we're realizing, increasingly, is there's a value in investing in our relationship with consumers and creating that dialogue, tapping into their lifestyle interests and really becoming a relevant part of their life experiences."

In an interview with Advertising Age, Mr. George explains why it's premature to predict the end of the watch, the opportunity that exists in marketing a century-old brand, and what we can expect to see from Timex moving forward.

Ad Age : Timex is competing with cellphones and mobile devices today, in a sense. How do you combat that ?

Mr. George: When you talk about people increasingly using mobile devices to tell the time, and not wearing watches, first of all, a lot of these trends tend to be cyclical. And it might be a bit premature to predict the end of the watch. Contrary to a lot of what you read about that , in the last couple of years, there's actually been an increase in interest among younger people in watches.

Second, and this is probably the more important point, any brand or any business should really be in the business of providing relevancy and meeting the needs of its consumers in specific usage occasions. We don't necessarily view mobile devices as a threat. There are times when you want to be carrying a mobile device, and there are times that you don't want to be carrying a mobile device. It's really about understanding that better and positioning products and the brand more effectively to meet consumer needs.

Ad Age : It sounds like you're talking about expanding beyond watches.

Mr. George: We're looking at devices that do a lot of different things and also happen to tell the time. So, for example, Timex has had the Ironman series for 25 years. That's an example of a part of our business that 's really focused on endurance athletes and meeting their needs. And their needs go far beyond just time telling. It's about heart-rate monitors and split timing. It's about increasingly sophisticated technology like GPS, in order to measure speed and distance as you're running or performing any other physical activity. Another area that we're expanding into is the wellness category. In this case, where Timex can play a role is fitness-measurement devices, like pedometers and heart-rate monitors.

Ad Age : What's the opportunity or challenge in marketing a century-old brand?

Mr. George: It's fascinating to work with a brand with such a rich history that resonates very strongly with consumers. And [being] in a space that is changing from a technology standpoint, and from an innovation standpoint -- bringing those two things together are what makes this such a great and exciting opportunity.

Ad Age : Are you capitalizing on post-recession nostalgia for Americana?

Mr. George: With the recession and with the trend toward Americana, that has played very beautifully into some of what Timex stands for, because we are an iconic brand in many respects. But there is a much richer future for Timex beyond a trend toward Americana.

Ad Age : Have you spent little on measured media because the marketing budget has been cut or because you're looking at things beyond measured media?

Mr. George: It's more the latter. We are challenging ourselves to think differently about the consumer-purchase journey. And we're saying it's no longer appropriate for us just to engage with consumers when they're absorbing traditional media, reading a magazine or watching TV. We're taking a very hard strategic look at how to engage with consumers at each touch point along the way. And what we're finding is that more of our investment is being spread along the purchase journey, and we're being more [mindful] in selecting different vehicles in order to engage with consumers.

Ad Age : Why does it make sense for the head marketer to handle e-commerce, as you do?

Mr. George: The line is blurring between marketing and engagement with your consumers and commerce. It's important to have an organization that 's flexible enough to meet those kinds of challenges.

[And] the definition of e-commerce is changing. Originally e-commerce meant setting up a website and selling your product online and then fulfilling it directly. But increasingly a lot of those transactions are taking place off of the company website. What becomes increasingly important is , as you look at the consumer journey, how can Timex partner with some of those third-party retailers to provide a more satisfying, more engaging experience for consumers?

Ad Age : What's on your wrist right now?

Mr. George: The Timex Intelligent Quartz, our new IQ watch. It's [part of ] a new line, which is very sophisticated [and] will enable us to do lots of different things, in terms of technical functionality. It has six motors as opposed to a more basically functional watch. It enables us to really put a lot of additional functionality and features into a very handsome watch at an exceptional value. It hits the market later this year.

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