I mentioned that I’ll be dedicating the Watchrant as a platform to experiment and test out ideas that have been brewing in my head for some time. The Experiment Series will document the notion of ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ – the first of which is exploring the idea of creating value with an object.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be familiar with the Watchrant Mug. In short: I’ve produced a limited series of 50 mugs which have been slowly distributed across the globe. The mugs are being given to 50 select individuals who supported the Watchrant since the very beginning – helping it to grow in a number of ways; either through professional advice, feedback on my posts or just general motivation and pep talks. I thought it’ll be interesting to explain the thought processes behind my actions.
“How can I create value around an object?”
That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while – though the context has mostly been around watches. I’m quite interested in how a watch label creates a value proposition outside technical or seemingly more traditional intrinsic aspects. I’m quite far from the business of producing watches, so I can’t offer tiny vessels of mechanical mastery encased in precious metals. I decided to draw inspiration from a few independent watch labels.
Moser & Cie: The tagline for this label is ‘very rare’. Moser takes pride in the fact their watches are produced in limited batches and once they’re gone: they’re gone. Moser also has an iconic design ethos in that their watches are instantly recognisable as a Moser timepiece – even though the label no longer put’s their name on the dial. They’re also rather infamous for their punchy marketing campaigns that accompany their novelty timepieces.
Alexandre Meerson: Meerson timepieces aren’t anywhere in the mainstream; they’re a boutique among boutiques. The label puts focus on practicality and high attention to detail – subtle things that can only be appreciated by the owner – to which Alexandre likes to meet in person. The Meerson D15 is the closest example of what I would call a ‘mechanical G-Shock’ – with bevelled angles representing the contours on an athlete. This quirky design feature always makes me smile.
Vertex watches: Vertex takes a unique approach for a microbrand in that the initial batch of the M100 watches produced were sold to a hand-selected clientele with the extra condition being that future clientele can only be introduced by referral only. (I covered this in my first ever watch review). The [re]founder of the label – Don Cochrane, had a vision of creating a close knit community around his watches and didn’t want to dilute the message of owning a vertex timepiece through mass production.
Avantist: Avantist is a boutique watch label with the idea of ‘creating experiences’ at the core of its horological offerings. If you purchase any of the Wimbledon series timepieces, you’re also set up for dinner with Tennis legend Martina Navratilova. The first few watches were hand delivered by the CEO (Keeran Janin) and this is in part due to Keeran’s determination to meet his clientele.
Right then. That’s four labels with a unique value proposition. If you’ve been paying any attention to this blog for a while, then you’ll have noticed that these labels are all labels I’ve covered on the Watchrant in some form or another. I like to think that when I set up meetings to speak to CEO’s and directors of watch labels, I do more than just take a few pics and walk away. I use my time to ask about strategy and look into pros and cons over execution and wonder what I can take away from each interaction. The Mug project is my way of demonstrating this.
The concept explained:
The main concept behind the project was to dabble in traditional marketing but also have something tangible (as well as feasibly achievable – physically and financially) to signify the Watchrant. I could’ve gone with something like a pen or a small trinket of sorts; but then I realised that nobody really cares for such things. Think about it. How many pens have you collected from random organisations only to be used once or twice and then lost? Or a Key-chain or T-shirt that’s just stuffed in some draw somewhere and never seen again? So I wanted something that could be used over and over again that wouldn’t be thrown away (unless you seriously hate me) and had a useful purpose.
The idea dawned on me: Watchrant mugs.
Now, I could’ve simply made a bunch of mugs and just posted them to people and left it at that. But I thought that was a bit lacklustre and I felt that the mug would’ve been received in the same way that a parent does, when they get given their 6000th crayon and vomit painting from their 3 year old child. It’s a nice gesture and all, but do you really need to put another painting on the fridge? Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I didn’t want to relegate the mug to such a fate. So I had to pump up the hype factor.
The first thing I decided was limited production. This made sense as it created scarcity and also meant that I didn’t have to fork more money than I was willing to spend for hundreds of mugs. I went with a batch of 50 mugs. Once those mugs were gone, that would be it. The mugs wouldn’t be for sale either.
The next thing was decide who to give the mugs to. Do I just post them to some friends and then take a few to a watch fair and just dish them out? I couldn’t see that being the case. I wanted to build my own community and have the mugs mean something to the recipients, just as it means something to me. I decided to give the mugs to 50 individuals who’ve supported the Watchrant since the beginning – it would be my way of showing appreciation for all those who’ve supported me.
I wanted to commemorate the mugs and have them be uniquely identifiable so people knew what they had was extra special and dedicated specifically to them. I could’ve written the words “LIMITED EDITION” but that’s a bit lame (putting the words limited edition is tacky and wouldn’t suite a mug anyway). I could’ve numbered the mugs out of 50, but that would be boring and it’s been done countless times over. I came up with the idea of putting a serial number on each mug – except that the serial number would represent the number of seconds it’s been since the founding of the blog, to the production of the mug. That would tick the box of being unique and also root each mug into the heart of the Watchrant – plus I’m sure that no other media outlets have even remotely done such a thing that relates to the brand to such an extent.
One thing I’m really keen on is meeting people, sharing stories and learning new things. I wanted the mugs to be a proxy towards achieving that. In my personal case, I have a prototype mug which I have on my desk at my workplace to drink tea and coffee. Everytime someone walks by wondering what the big logo means, I instantly perk up and say “Oh boy! Have I got an interesting treat to tell you about!”
It was decided that each and every mug would be delivered by me and I would present them in person. No matter where you are in the world, I will find the time and place to travel directly to you, just to give you a mug. So far I’ve presented mugs in the USA, UK and Switzerland – but upcoming mugs will be presented in the Netherlands, Croatia, Hong Kong and Singapore. The mugs would be produced in series of 5, with each series representing a particular region. As an example, there are 5 Switzerland mugs and 5 American East Coast mugs. This added the final touch to creating a fully unique and bespoke value proposition for such a seemingly menial item and I explain this thought process to each and every individual who receives a mug.
Random story time:
I’ve been asked the question as to why I have to travel around the world to deliver a mug when it would seem that since I’m based in the UK, the immediate people supporting the blog would also be in the UK?
Ah. Well the answer to that is that I actually officially started this blog when I was studying in Hong Kong and the vast majority of people within my immediate vicinity were actually international students. I remember putting up a post on the student Facebook page asking if anyone could help me set up a website since I had no clue what I was doing. The original post had no replies for 2 days. I then made a new post with the addition that I would offer 500HKD to anyone willing to give up some time to help me set up a website. Within the next hour, I received 15 friend requests and nearly double the number of messages in my inbox. One particular message caught my eye as it was someone I knew as a mutual friend. I decided to go with his proposal and we set up an impromptu meeting at the Seafront canteen in Hall 6 of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. It turned out the person I met was happy to just help me out and didn’t want to be paid (But I did insist on buying him lunch at the canteen). Not only that, but he let me host my website on his dorm room server for the first several months for free, before the server eventually died. That was an absolute jackpot for me and advanced the platform by a huge margin. This friend in question was also my saviour when I ended up losing my passport and cash in Zurich last year – letting me stay in his dorm room since I couldn’t check into my accommodation.
With the birth of the blog, the first set of followers I had were my University friends – and although they weren’t necessarily the most keen when it came to horology, they were more than happy to support out a kid with a really niche passion.
So the Watchrant mugs actually embody a lot of memories and storytelling as well. Outside of my immediate friend circles, a good deal of people who currently have one or are yet to receive one are also some of the first people within the Watch industry to take me seriously or offer me advice that has shaped the way I do things.
Setting up each meeting with 50 people across the globe requires immense amount of planning and preparation – but I absolutely enjoy it. It’s an opportunity to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a long time and create conversation around the Watchrant. Imagine 50 sets of dinners, lunches or coffees and in the middle of that is a bright White mug with the Watchrant logo on it. That’s a wide array of perspectives and insight resulting in brilliant source of inspiration for me. It’s also an excuse to use up my holidays at work to travel around the world and explore new places. I was in New York for the first time this year and I’ll be in Singapore later on – carrying a suitcase full of mugs.
Another thing is that I don’t tell people if they’re receiving a mug – the surprise is the best part. I enjoy the look on people’s faces when they unbox a mug and the look of confusion and surprise on their faces. The most common reply I get is “Thanks! I actually needed a mug!” which is perfect for me since I actively encourage people to actually use the mugs rather than sit on shelf. I document each interaction on my Instagram stories which is a great way to share the journey with my followers and create a mini archive of this project.
I’ve also built a small atmosphere of anticipation around the mugs seeing that people have started messaging me asking if they’re going to receive one (to which I give vague responses to maintain diplomacy). There are a few wildcard destinations I have to travel to, but I can’t mention them since the people in question will likely be reading this and figure it out instantly – I’ll just say that Central Africa is in the books.
I think ultimately what this project manages to showcase, is how I’m implementing the bits and bobs I’ve picked up over the last couple of years and turning existing concepts into my own thing. It’s a highly impractical form of marketing but its good fun. It also demonstrates the level of commitment I have towards my projects – If I’m willing to go to this level of detail for a bunch of mugs, just what can I do when it comes to breaking into the watch industry at some point?