Three Innovation Lessons From India’s Titan Watches

“We were too busy being strategic to do something obvious,” said Mr. Harish Bhat, the COO of the Time Products division of Titan Industries Limited.

That was just one of many choice lines I heard when listening to Bhat talk about ’s efforts to create new growth businesses, including two new and successful watch lines: , for women, and Fastrack, for younger consumers.

Titan is about a $1.5 billion unit of The Tata Group, a massive Indian conglomerate. The world’s fifth largest watchmaker, it owns 60% of the Indian market, and has been growing robustly. As Bhat went through his presentation, I wrote down the following lessons:

    1. “Live” new markets. It would be easy for Titan to focus most of its efforts on deepening its penetration in its strongest market segments. But Titan consciously chose to go after markets in which it had significant growth potential. For example, Titan’s research suggested that as few as 20% of Indian females owned watches. For both its RAGA and Fastrack lines, Titan put people who “looked” like the target consumer in key leadership roles, and spent a good deal of time trying to understand target customers in a deeper way. Importantly, senior leaders invested time in understanding the markets and consumers as well. “We didn’t just sit and watch a presentation or engage in long-winded analytical debates. We did it.” Involvement helped Titan make bold decisions later on. “When a leap of faith is shared by the senior leadership team, it is that much easier to take.”

 

    1. Rethink the offer. Titan found that potential female consumers were put off by relatively utilitarian watches, but they would happily wear multiple bracelets, rings, and chains. The team at Titan wondered what would happen if they turned a watch into an elegant piece of jewelrythat a woman would happily wear. Growth exploded.bhat.jpg
      When targeting the youth markets, Titan ran different types of advertisements and created very different looking watches, under the racy brand name, Fastrack. As Fastrack watches took off, Titan decided to stretch the brand into new categories such as sunglasses. In both cases Titan rethought key elements of its offer, and reaped the benefits.

 

  • Expect some failures. While the program has largely been a success, Bhat noted there have been some bumps along the way. “We had some horrid failures, and I am sure we will have some more. Fortunately, we learned very quickly from these, and that’s what matters.” That’s typical. Even the best venture capitalists are wrong 70% of the time. If you are working only on one or two efforts, the odds of achieving breakthrough growth are pretty low.

 

RAGA and Fastrack have had strong commercial success, given Titan’s confidence that innovation efforts based on consumer insights can pay off. Living new markets, rethinking the offer, and preparing for failure are three important lessons for any would-be innovator.


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