Cracking Breitling’s Marketing Codes With CMO Tim Sayler

Lara Mansour   |   17 - 02 - 2018

You know the name and can’t mistake the logo but as far as must-have timepieces go, Breitling may have fallen off your radar. How do you inject new life into a historical brand? We sit down with their Chief Marketing Officer Tim Sayler to discuss the Navitimer 8, the new logo and plans to conquer air, land and sea.


We are here in Zurich for the Navitimer 8 Launch, why did you decide to start with this line?
It’s the first new line from a new team that came on board only five months ago so it’s an important launch to show where the brand is heading. We chose very carefully how to do the first new launch so this watch is a pilot’s watch, and we are leveraging the core and the strength of the brand. It’s totally inspired by the legendary history of the brand, but at the same time it’s a watch that takes all these strengths but presents the new look for the brand with a more elegant, pure design. It goes back to the 30s and 40s so for those reasons it’s a careful and conscious choice to launch with that product and that collection as the first new direction.


The medium to high range watches  market segment is seeing a high amount of investment, with Breitling what is your strategy to stay ahead of the competition?

It’s a competitive segment and we see Breitling staying in that segment, we don’t have the ambition to pull the brand this upwards. Breitling is between 3,500 and 10,000 Swiss Francs. It’s a watch that provides great functionality, great quality, great reliability, great design from a great brand. But yes, in that segment we are not the only ones. Saying that if you look closely, we believe we are competitive as every watch is cost certified and comes with a five year guarantee. With the Breitling brand and history, We have a big chance.


Tell us more about certification of second hand watches?

This is one of the things we are working on very hard. Obviously this is an opportunity and we are not the only ones looking at that in the industry, to get some level of control in your own second hand market. We are going to introduce a brand certified pre-owned label, so these are watches that are second hand that we take back in, we refurbish, equip with a new guarantee and a brand certified pre-owned label.


Navitimer 8 Automatic with blue dial and stainless steel bracelet.


For the past several years the brand’s communication focus stayed on Pilot watches and didn’t move on with the rest of the market. How are you taking forward the brand’s image and what objectives have you set for this year?

We see the glass half full. There are many strong basics and so much history but the brand has become stuck in a niche. The aviation niche was extremely narrow and it was great to be so strong in that but its too narrow now and the brand has lost the touch with a younger audience in terms of how it presents itself, it’s sort of got stuck in the 90’s in the look and feel. So this is our challenge and opportunity, there’s strong brand awareness, strong memories and such a strong history. In a nutshell we want to enlarge the brand from not just aviation but into other fields that are totally authentic to the brand – we are going to be in air, land and sea. Secondly, we are going to completely revamp the brand so we are upgrading corporate identity, upgrading the campaign etc. Nothing that we are proposing is invented, everything is authentic and inspired by the roots. Breitling fans today might say ‘well this is not Breitling’ but you only know the last 20 years so this is why we are calling this campaign Legendary Future.


Let’s talk about the logo. You kept the B, buy why did you remove the wings?

The logo we are using is the original logo for the 1950’s and 60’s. Changing and touching such a logo is always very delicate and you always go through an initial phase of resistance. But if you look at the history of many brands, a brand has to upgrade its logo. Styles get out-dated and don’t look contemporary any more. We thought the logo was cluttered and over loaded, and not in line with today’s aesthetics as today you want something cleaner and nicer. Secondly we are air, sea and land and not just air so the wings are too specific. What we say now with logo is Beauty, History – that’s the hand written B that’s from the history and still very strong – in a logo you don’t need more.


We heard of a women’s line,  what can we expect?

Breitling is a very masculine brand, we sell a small percentage to ladies. That said, I found it interesting in some countries the brand still has very good awareness and positive feelings for women. We are working on a completely new collection that we will present in fall. It will be a truly first men/woman line but a line that can really stand alone as a female collection. It’s an opportunity for us, it’s not going to dominate the brand, we will not forget that it’s a masculine brand. If you look at the underlying core of Breitling, it’s purpose and action, Breitling is a watch you wear to do something with, it has a strong personality and you can play it in an interesting way for women. We are not going to deny our identity, but we are going to make it interesting for women.


In a digital world, to what extent do you think over communicating in the luxury segment kills desire?

Personally I do think it’s a risk. I saw this year that every brand shifted into digital and social, and it depends on who you are as brand but for me it can be too much for the customer. It can appear too in your face, so as always the digital world is moving fast but it’s something I watch with a lot of attention and think it’s a risk to over do it. For Breitling not really, we have a lot to catch up on. You can see on our Instagram the expression of where we are going and people are interested to learn more about the brand so before we risk of doing too much, we have a long way to go. For me, it’s key that we respect the brand.


Navitimer 8 Roadshow in Shanghai.


How challenging Is it to maintain history and heritage with a brand like Breitling and still remain attractive and modern in your communication with everything you do today?

That’s the eternal challenge. We are going to do is: we are going to balance it. The new collections we are launching are not vintage collections, they are modern and we design them as modern watches. What we are going to do in parallel, because a lot of people don’t know about the heritage of the brand, we will also launch re-additions. Those are replicas of signature pieces of the brand throughout the history that today fall right into certain trends of vintage. These will be limited volumes with an objective to speak to certain audience that likes this pure authentic vintage style but also on a broader level to educate. On those two feet we can balance both sides.


What is the main message Breitling is giving this year?

The message is two words and it’s the campaign we are running right now called Legendary Future. We invite you to discover the legend that is Breitling with a look to the past and glimpse into the future. We need to tell them to come and discover –  or rediscover – what Breitling truly is because it not just the last 20, 30 years and based on this legend of 140 years we are aiming to transport the brand into a new future.


Breitling vintage.


What are your main objectives for Breitling?

I see a huge opportunity in the brand and we all in the team believe that. When I went to university some 20 years ago in Switzerland, the cool rich guys wore Breitling, and today that’s not the case anymore so the objective is to give the brand that status again and make it that brand of choice.


What would be a promise you give yourself and Breitling?

A promise to myself is to do the best we can. To Breitling, we have a very good and ambitious plan. If you look at what we have turned around in the space of four, five months it’s really astonishing. The team is a new team that needs to find itself but given that it’s incredible, so the promise to Breitling is to keep on pushing.



Onwards and Upwards: Breitling CEO Georges Kern Travels Towards a Legendary Future