Citizen's Richard Low: It's Time for an Industry 'Got Milk' Campaign
Citizen’s veteran special markets executive feels his company’s brand and collection has never been stronger in the incentive, recognition, and gift market. His pressing issue? The need for an effective outreach campaign to promote the industry’s value and reason for being.
For Richard Low, Vice President of Citizen Watch, the Citizen brand is stronger than ever. The addition of Bulova to the Citizen family, he says, has enabled the two companies to take a commanding lead in the $150- to $1,500-retail price point market, and the addition of two new mid-priced diamond-watch lines by Citizen has expanded its offering for women. The brand’s flagship Eco-Drive light-powered watches, he adds, are more popular than ever in an era of environmental sustainability. Where does Low believe the biggest opportunity lies: “This industry needs a ‘Got Milk’ campaign.”
Low observes that “the rewards and recognition industry has done a good job going after the largest corporations,” but, he adds, “the industry has not done a good job of positioning itself as consultants. Many companies don’t see the value.” Another big challenge or opportunity, he says, is the category that no one seems to penetrate: “the mid-size companies that have never heard of us. The industry associations have not done a good enough job to evangelize this industry and the value we offer. Maybe we have to reach people through media such as the Harvard Business Review.”
An Industry Without a Brand
Asked what he thought of the industry’s brand, Low replies: “Our industry doesn’t have a brand. There is no consensus or understanding of what we do or that we even exist. If I talk to a pharmaceutical representative and say what I do, usually the only way to explain it is to refer to an incentive trip or sales contest they might have experienced.”
As to how to reach this potentially large untapped market of mid-size companies, Low isn’t sure the incentive, recognition, and loyalty companies can do the job, because in many cases the budget opportunities are not large enough. “Many small and mid-size companies don’t have the ability to invest in incentive programs on the scale large enough for an incentive or recognition company, but some do a reasonably good job putting together effective programs on their own. A first step is to educate those people that they can get much more bang for their buck and a better experience buying through the industry than through retail.”
The opportunity, he says, is to educate management that there is a market that can not only provide better value and a more effective reward experience, “but can help these companies apply practices and tools to make their programs more effective. Small to mid-size companies can benefit from the same formula that can help large companies: Happy employees make happy customers.”
The Bulova-Citizen Integration
From Low’s point of view, the Citizen brand has found great synergies by taking the best of what Bulova and Citizen bring to Citizen Watch America. “This year we were able to launch a full customization program allowing us to decorate dials as well as provide case-back engraving for many models inhouse, with warranty intact, with very quick very turnaround.”
The other big news, he says, “is the launch of three unique women’s collections that bring us into price points we have not been able to effectively cover in the past. This includes the company’s two new Capella and Ceci diamond watch collections. “These bring us into collections topping out at about $850 at retail.” Low credits being part of the Bulova family for enabling “us to offer a much wider array of product. Citizen and Bulova are the No. 1 brands at retail at our price point—the mid-price luxury range of $150 to $1500, according to NPD,” a leading retail research company.
Eco-Drive remains the brand’s signature collection—the light-powered sustainable story has broad appeal with both men and women of all ages because of the combination of style, functionality, practicality (no batteries) and sustainability. “We are the de facto leader in this category.”
The Power of Brands
Low believes that the industry’s biggest asset, in fact, the retail industry’s biggest asset, is the power of brands. “People talk about the threat of the gray market in retail. I think the biggest threat is Amazon, which has turned retail into one big flea market. Because of their size Amazon and online retailers like them degrade brand value. All they want to do is ship boxes, so brand experiences have become the only way to stand out.” Why? “When a brand stands out, people seek it out. When people feel good about a brand, they are more focused on the experience, relationship and value and less driven by price.”
Turning back to the time piece market, Low observes that the smart-watch onslaught has leveled off, perhaps because the category has become so broad, people have become somewhat tired of the maintenance involved with updates and connecting with other devices, and because the post-Millennial Gen Z generation appears to have a declining affection for gadgetry. The general appeal of watches as jewelry and fashion did not go away as many people predicted during the era of smart phone hype, he points out.
In the special market’s arena, Low says he has experienced an increase in sales of the Citizen brand as gifts through the promotional products market. “I am seeing more gifting across all price points through distributors and in general. Distributors have greatly expanded the number of doors they knock on within their customers’ offices. They know there may be three or four people in the building that may buy something. They are getting into advertising, human resources, marketing offices, and are more open to selling brands as gifts. ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute) and PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) have done a better job of helping more distributors understand that gifting using brands is another income opportunity.”
Low believes it’s imperative for the rewards and recognition industry to focus on outreach. “If you don’t keep moving, you don’t thrive.”
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