During its ten-year history, New York creative consultancy Watson & Company has helped transform everything – from boutique hotels, to large commercial real estate buildings and brands.
The company’s expertise lies in luxury hospitality, art, retail, real estate and automotive, counting clients such as Lexus, Vogue, Anthropologie, Kit & Ace and The Ritz-Carlton, among others.
Founder William Richmond-Watson, was (and still is) an artist when he founded the agency with the goal to blend big ideas, in-depth strategy, technology, and design to build brands that connect with the most sought-after audiences in the world. We caught up with him to find out more about what the fashion industry can learn from hospitality brands, the importance of design in brand perception and creating with the customer in mind.
How do you translate your expertise in luxury, hospitality and real estate to retail/fashion/beauty brands? How have you done this with Target/Merona, Ouidad and Vogue?
Good branding relies on the same set of truths across different sectors. Ultimately, we are trying to get to the core of what makes that product or service unique and how it would enrich someone’s life. Once you find that kernel of truth, it’s just a matter of communicating it beautifully and clearly to an audience.
For example, when we worked with Ouidad, a luxury haircare brand for curly hair, we designed an entire campaign around “Let Curls Be Curls,” a mantra that informed the direction of our branding work and efforts. It served as the central idea of our strategy and inspired how we approached the campaign with a bold tone and feeling. We leveraged our expertise in working with multiple luxury, hospitality and real estate brands to give the Ouidad brand the authenticity and boldness consumers were looking for.
How would you go about making brands better, no matter the category or price point?
All brands are capable of being the best versions of themselves; that means creating experiences that are not only memorable, but also enriching and placing design at the cornerstone of those experiences. It is about building better brands to make them more important to people, more authentic, personal and desirable, regardless of price point or its status within culture. Brands can do this by placing design at the heart of everything they do, rather than designing simply for function or aesthetic. Design needs to be rooted in the things that already matter to people, including art, culture and their own personal aspirations.
Can fashion and beauty brands strike a balance between feeling high-end and accessible at the same time?
We believe that any brand can become better and feel better for its consumers regardless of its category or price point. In order for a brand to successfully connect consumers, it ultimately needs to continue adding value to their lives. That doesn’t mean that the brand needs to be fancy, or high-end, just desirable to its consumers. At the end of the day, the art of selling a $10 million apartment is the same as selling a $12 cocktail. What seals the deal is the ability to convey to the consumer that the product they’re purchasing will add value to their lives.
Can you explain what you mean by “there’s no greater luxury than the idea of place?” How does this apply to Watson and your clients? Can you share an example of how you’ve executed on this philosophy with a client in the past?
Creating a ‘sense of place’ is about a feeling of belonging that we all strive for. Whether we are working on a smaller project like The Siren Hotel in Detroit, to the tallest residential tower at Hudson Yards, it is always at the heart of what we do. For example, there is no greater purchase you will ever make than your home, and in our busy, hyper-connected world, we all want to feel like we have a sense of community. The Four Seasons in Downtown New York is a good example of how we took a marquee brand and gave it more context and meaning. For this, we created an online magazine called a ‘Day in the Life,’ and commissioned a Conde Nast writer who lived and worked in the area to tell the story of the neighborhood through film and copy. By highlighting the most notable places and people through a true local’s eyes, we were able to help the brand anchor itself within this neighborhood and foster a deeper connection with its residents.
How can fashion and beauty brands better cater to millennials and their shopping habits?
Retailers and independent brands must understand that millennials do not always simply purchase a product out of need – they become a cultivated part of a brand’s community because of the experience the brand or product gives them. As such, these brands must also have a good understanding of millennial shopping habits; whether they are shopping online or in-store, they expect a well-rounded experience that provides them with a fulfilling experience no matter how they decide to shop. This is because millennials no longer take a singular avenue when connecting with a brand. In fact, the in-store retail experience should be stronger than a brand’s online presence, especially because shoppers are going out of their way to go into your store to have that particular, one-of-a-kind experience with your brand.
For example, brands must pay close attention to what products and services millennials are purchasing most and then figure out why that might be the case. Why do some shoppers prefer purchasing products online versus in-person? Do shoppers prefer the quickness and the convenience of shopping on a mobile device over browsing through stores? In what instance is that the case? These are questions brands in fashion and beauty must ask themselves in order to successfully cater to millennial shopping habits.
What can fashion and beauty brands learn from high-end real estate and hospitality brands?
It’s a two-way street; there is great learning coming from both sides. Ultimately, it comes down to building a sense of community, whether you live in a new development or are loyal to a specific fashion or beauty brand. We all want the opportunity to have this feeling of fulfillment through connection and shared experiences.
Take Glossier, for example. It has disrupted the modern beauty brand industry and has built a significant following and community through its tactful and personable marketing efforts. Glossier is obsessed with its customers and encouraging them to enjoy the shopping experiences both in-person and online, rather than going straight to selling products. Not only has it mastered the online and social shopping experience, but it has also tailored its brick and mortar experience to make consumers feel special in order to further spread recommendations to their friends. This peer-to-peer recommendation model has cultivated the majority of their customers, really providing their fan base with the intimate connection they were looking for.
What will the role of the store / physical spaces be in the future? What will you advise brands that want to keep people coming back to their shops?
Brick and mortar stores have to adapt to become true destinations. When you have the unique opportunity to bring someone into your curated universe and engage them, you should use it wisely. These spaces need to extend the experience beyond just the product to services and concepts that align with the consumer’s ideologies.
For example, Restoration Hardware, has tackled the so-called “dying” brick and mortar model with their new six-story flagship in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Subscribing to the ‘brand as lifestyle’ idea, the store features a rooftop restaurant and bar, an in-house interior design firm, and a garden to give their customers a true experience they couldn’t have anywhere else.
Regardless of where you choose to experience a brand physically, consumers should feel better informed, better taken care of, and better equipped to take on everyday life when they leave that store or brick and mortar environment.
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