brand recognition

Ice Watch -- putting it all together

Jean-Pierre Lutgen CEO of Ice WatchThe sleek business card of Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch, displays the addresses of his two offices: one located in Bastogne, a Belgian town near the border with Luxembourg, and another one in Hong Kong. From Europe to Asia, this funky brand has become true arm candy for millions of fans. Although the company was founded only 3 years ago, it’s difficult to refer to it as a startup, as the high brand recognition of Ice Watch internationally puts this company already in the league of well-established funky brands. Today, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, the creative and entrepreneurial founder and CEO of this funky brand, talks about his passion for Asia, plastic, marketing and putting pieces of the puzzle together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the concept behind the brand of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Ice Watch is based on two main elements: people’s desire to seize and express change, and a strong identity. To address the former, we have put together 10 different watch collections. Collections change twice per year, just like in the world of fashion. Their affordable price (staring at Euro 59 per watch) allows people to buy several watches at a time, so that they could match their different outfits, and different moods. We know that many of our customers like to collect different models of Ice Watch. Because they like change! Even our brand slogan is, “Change. You Can.”

The strong identity is seen not only in the funky and refreshing design of the watch itself, but also in its packaging, which has become an inseparable part of the product, and of the brand as a whole.

ice_watch packaging

SCHMOOZY FOX: To prepare for this interview, I’ve watched several videos about Ice Watch in which you talk about the company. But you rarely talk about yourself. What is your background, and how did you make Ice Watch happen?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I studied at the university in Louvain-La-Neuve, and then I spent 10 years running a small corporate gifts company in Bastogne. I was quite different from my university friends, who all went on to work at established companies, and followed structured career tracks. My corporate gifts company had many ups and downs throughout the years, but I overall I enjoyed this highly entrepreneurial experience.

SCHMOOZY FOX: But besides studies and work, there must be other personal interests and skills that made Ice Watch possible?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen (smiling): You know, I think that success in life does not suddenly appear out of nowhere. Same with me, I can now see that a lot of my interests, passions and experience have developed over time. They were like pieces of the puzzle, lying around scattered on the floor. And finally, I put the puzzle together! For instance, as a small boy, I liked playing with pieces of plastic. I’ve always loved Asia. And I’ve appreciated the power of smart marketing. In addition to that, during my experience at the corporate gifts company, I made precious contacts in China, who later on became my very trustworthy manufacturers of Ice Watch. So, in the end, many of my passions, interests and skills fell into one place.

colorful ice watch

SCHMOOZY FOX: Often startups think that their brand will take care of itself. How did you approach the brand strategy of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: My impression is that most startups apply brand thinking in the best case only to the product. This is not a recipe for success. For me, a strong brand concept was the starting point of the whole business. The raw idea was mine, but I bounced it off many knowledgeable people, and invested the necessary time into refining the concept over and over again. Afterwards, I made sure that each element of my business strategy supported the brand concept.

I did think through the brand strategy early on, indeed. I also knew that expansion of the brand, and the growing demand for the watches had to match our ability to scale up production very quickly. And this is when I could rely on the already established network of reliable business contacts in Asia. A combination of brand thinking and dedicated production facilities was really powerful.

SCHMOOZY FOX: It’s hard to believe the amount of press coverage internationally that Ice Watch has received since its launch. Can you attribute this success to a single event or a series of activities?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I worked with PR firms in each of the countries where we were launching Ice Watch. But instead of fully outsourcing press relations, I myself was fully involved in organizing events and press conferences for journalists. I guess, as a complete outsider, I just thought out of the box all the time and spotted unexplored ways of connecting with journalists. For instance, instead of inviting them to the Ice Watch launch events by email, I insisted that we send them empty Ice Watch packaging boxes. When they received attractive boxes, of course they were curious to see what was inside. And when they opened them, they saw a custom-made invite which replaced the actual watch. They were intrigued, liked the packaging, and wanted to discover the product as well!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is the blond lady who features on almost all ads of Ice Watch? Is she a celebrity?

Melissa Ice Watch ad

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: She certainly has the looks of a celebrity! Her name is Melissa, and she is very far from the world of fashion and modeling. She works in her mother’s restaurant in the Netherlands. I had a very clear idea of what kind of woman could be our brand ambassador. I explained what I was looking for to a well-known fashion and art photographer from Antwerp, Marc Lagrange, and he found Melissa. The photos, as well as the rights to use them, cost me 10 000 Euros, which was a ton of money for a startup! But in reality, it’s very affordable compared to what I would have paid for a well-known celebrity!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s behind the name “Ice Watch”?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Brand naming was an important aspect of the overall strategy for us. Initially, we wanted to make transparent watches, and “Ice” was a good match. But even though we extended the concept to a variety of materials, not only transparent, Ice Watch was still our top choice. “Ice” represents purity. Nowadays, when humanity has to deal with the problems of rising temperatures and climate change, ice has become a luxury! In other words, Ice Watch is pure, democratic, transparent in the way it communicates and connects to people, and luxurious at the same time!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Where do you get so much energy to develop your funky brand?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: From working with people! I travel all the time, and I don’t sleep very much, but once I start working with passionate people around me, I find the energy back.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, why is Ice Watch a funky brand?

Olga Slavkina & Jean-Pierre LutgenJean-Pierre Lutgen: The watch industry is rather traditional and somewhat conservative even. Ice Watch has stormed this product category by a refreshing concept, and its democratic values. “Funky” also signals “affordable” to me, and Ice Watch has become a true affordable luxury, able to brighten up the mood of many people around the world.

Diffusion brands vs parent brands

A significant advantage that successful luxury brands have, is that they have a good chance to launch diffision brands. Diffusion brands are a form of a line extension, discussed before.  They are “step-down line extensions of existing  luxury brands, normally less expensive than the  main-line merchandise.” ((How Young Adult Consumers Evaluate Diffusion Brands: Effects of Brand Loyalty and Status Consumption, Ian Phau Edith Cheong , Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009))  They are often called second lines, subbrands and endorsed brands. Think of them as “children” of their more established “parent brands”.

Armani dot com screenshot

Examples of diffusion brands abound in the fashion world, for instance. Armani launched  Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein introduced CK, and Prada started a diffusion brand with a whole new name: Miu Miu. In all of these cases, the important condition for introducing diffusion brands was very high brand loyalty and brand recognition of parent brands. In other words, unless the brand equity of your parent brand is high, it might not be even a good idea to start considering diffusion brand launches.

There are several observations that I want to make in relations to diffusion brands:

  1. By launching a diffusion brand, a parent luxury brand de facto enters a whole new world of new luxury (also referred to as mass luxury and affordable luxury). I wrote on this subject before. New luxury is where many funky or funky-to-be brands develop.  If done properly, the new luxury positioning can bring enormous benefits to both: a child brand and the parent.
  2. Diffusion brands are a good way to target consumers who are usually much younger than the main target market of parent brands. They can tap well into the trend of status consumption, “The motivational process by which individuals strive to improve their status through the conspicuous consumption of consumer products that confer and symbolize status both for the individual and surrounding significant others.” ((Status consumption in consumer behavior: scale development and validation, Eastman, J. K., Goldsmith, R. E., and Flynn, L. R.  Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. Summer 1999, 41–52.))
  3. Empirical research demonstrates ((Phau, Cheung, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009)) that diffusion brands have the same quality and status perception among younger target market as parent brands. This is a great way to appeal to a younger audience, and chances are that it will later on develop preferences for the parent brand as well.
  4. Importantly, the success of diffusion brands is often determined by a brand naming strategy. To put it simply, if a child brand bears the name of the parent (like Armani Exchange has a name of the parent brand, Armani), the benefits reaped from the existing status of a parent brand are almost immediate. If, however, a child brand is given a totally new name (Miu Miu vs Prada), such benefits are much less apparent. ((ibid.))

Armani Exchange screenshot

Diffusion brands are not a phenomenon characteristic exclusively for luxury products and services. On the contrary, they frequently occur in a very vast and complex area of brand architecture.