3 Lessons of Innovation Marketers Can Learn From Watchmakers

Their keen eyes afford a valued accuracy and efficiency

There's a definite correlation between the intricacies of watchmaking and innovation in advertising. Getty Images

In the mobile marketing industry, we’re junkies for innovation. Absolutely addicted to the next great idea, we pursue improvements and upgrades. We’re innovating when we introduce programmatic techniques like header bidding. We’re innovating when we advance the private marketplaces that premium publishers demand, introducing PMP guaranteed and allowing our partners to lock in better pricing, audience profiles and access to inventory.

We’ll need to keep innovating along these lines, too. Emerging interfaces such as voice-based assistants and the inevitable (if slow-moving) AR and VR spaces will require new ideas. When the tools we build to drive meaningful on-device moments evolve, advertisers get to be more creative. Their campaigns succeed, and consumers become more engaged with the relevant content they expect.

My passion for creating innovative mobile moments that connect consumers—whether it’s in-app display or programmatic video—stems from my passion for great innovation. I look for instances across all industries. I am a horologist, for example, and my enthusiasm for the elegance and miniature genius of watchmaking—centuries into its evolution; talk about the original mobile device!—fuels my quest to innovate in my own work.

For example, Patek Philippe is the watchmaker I probably watch the most. It’s been in business for more than 170 years and, by all accounts, has fundamentally changed timekeeping technology as we know it. In the following sections, I’ll break out some of their innovations and connect those examples to ways that mobile marketing similarly innovates to improve and grow over time.

Meaningful change comes one technological improvement, one evolved industry standard, one measured and elegant step at a time.

Innovating for accuracy 

When it comes to both watches and mobile marketing, accuracy is the name of the game. In both spaces, we’re after reliable ways to measure something that’s often difficult to pin down: the measurement of time, in one case, and metrics around people’s online/offline activities in the other. In both cases, we have to work with the details of how we actually evaluate things because it’s these details that matter most.

In Patek Philippe’s world, for example, specific parts of a watch work like a pendulum in a clock: tiny components that regulate the way time is measured and displayed. These components are constantly being pulled at by external factors, such as temperature changes and magnetic fields that can throw off the way the time-regulating parts of watches work. To offset that threat, Patek Philippe recently introduced a new kind of metal alloy that is resistant to heat and cold, magnetic and centrifugal forces and gravity. Using that alloy on these sensitive parts, the watchmaker increased its timekeeping accuracy to a mean rate of plus two, minus one seconds per day. By way of comparison, comparable watches could come in at plus five, minus three seconds per day. A small detail, but a prime example of how innovating to a better iteration has an outsized effect.

If you think about that kind of innovation in terms of marketing, even small changes are significant when getting closer and closer to a truly accurate measurement of campaigns. Just shifting a brand’s measurement approach from, say, using offline visit data as a performance metric and repositioning it in its proper role as a tool for optimizing targeting efficiency can improve analysis by eliminating outcome inflation of up to 100 times in marketers’ analytics. That’s a strategy-changing effect from a relatively minor shift in how the analytics work, just like what we saw in the balance spring.

Innovation for streamlining and efficiency

In the watch world, the internal mechanism of the watch itself are another realm for innovation. One thing that Patek Philippe did in creating its recently improved watch mechanisms was to take 37 components tasked with tracking a second time zone—showing the hour in Tokyo for a wearer in Chicago, for example—and eliminate 25 of them. Assembling the insides of the new watch system became a lot faster and simpler. The innovation to a simpler approach also helped shave some 20 millimeters off the watch’s silhouette, creating a flatter, lighter experience.

Efficiency and streamlining: This kind of innovation, focusing on reimagining and simplifying the approach to a problem, is one that marketing and ad tech similarly benefit from. For example, VPAID immediately comes to mind. Loaded with video interactivity and creative capabilities that exceeded what most users wanted most—i.e., viewability verification—the overloaded standard often lengthened load times, compromised fill rates and depressed completions for advertisers. And so, as Patek Philippe did with its new internal mechanism, the IAB did with VPAID, sunsetting the standard to replace it with simpler, more efficient specs.

A post-script and a call for even more innovation in the programmatic video space, VAST 4.1 is directionally better but still requires collaboration and simplification from all parties to truly deliver. Let’s get back to work on VAST.

Innovation that adds up

One key takeaway is that innovating in small and elegant ways, like a watchmaker would, is a path forward for the improvement of marketing and ad tech in the digital space. If we need to invent something to replace something else, we see how that can work with VAST and VPAID. If we need to innovate in a small way, a shift in how we deploy our analytics tools, mobile marketing can successfully do that, too. We should never be afraid of going small; meaningful change comes one technological improvement, one evolved industry standard, one measured and elegant step at a time.

Don’t miss Brandweek, coming up September 23–25 in Palm Springs. No panels, no sales pitches—just three days of interactive discussion, problem-solving, entertainment and networking. Learn more here.

JT White is the senior director, product at Verve.