Case Studies - Product Design

How Titan’s Sonata Changed Brand Perception Through Design

A customer insight helped India’s largest selling watch brand create a new product range that improved brand image and became a commercial success

sonata watch on a background of grey gears
ONE BIG THING

Dig deep to differentiate between research and insights. Unveil would not have been possible, if the Sonata team hadn’t differentiated between consumers who wanted mechanical watches vs consumers who wanted just the look of these watches.

Sonata, from Titan Company, is India’s largest selling watch brand.

Typically priced under Rs. 3,000, the brand has wide appeal amongst a mass audience. (Note that Sonata carries the Tata – and not the Titan – logo as endorser across products and communication). Its long standing narrative has been around Khud pe Yakeen – underscoring the message of taking setbacks in one’s stride and never giving up.

The Consumer Insight

The rise of social media has led to the democratisation of fashion trends. This shift has left many brands catering to India’s mass consumer segment, struggling to keep pace with the rapidly evolving aspirations of their audience.

Sonata, too, was perceived as unfashionable by its target audience. Current product expansions (from slim watches to fashionable plating) were simply not pushing Sonata’s image far enough.

Says Subish Sudhakaran, Marketing Head, Sonata, “We knew that following trends was not the answer – we needed to create a trend that resonated with our audience and was affordable for them.”

Consumer research showed that the mechanical look for watches had significant traction in the market. However, skeletal watches that use mechanical movements are expensive and beyond the reach of a typical Sonata consumer. Digging deeper, the team identified that a large segment of consumers were indexing on the style of the mechanical movement – not the functionality itself. There was a fashion-led consumer who was quite different to the traditional mechanical watch consumer, and they were willing to let go of the functional and technical aspects of a mechanical watch, as long as they had aesthetic details like visible wheel movement and multi-layered detailing.

Addressing the Insight

The Sonata team started to explore how they could imbue a quartz movement with the visual attributes of a mechanical movement at an affordable price – far from an easy journey. For a quick comparison, mechanical watches from a brand like Fossil, start at Rs. 10,000.

Using In-House Movements

“Our biggest challenge was to find a way to deliver the watch at Rs.2,500,” says the team.

The answer lay in adopting and customising an existing in-house movement, instead of buying one. Sreenivasan K, General Manager, Titan, explains that “Dial cut-outs with a laser-cut top plate and aesthetic looking gears were added to the quartz movement to mimic the look of a mechanical watch.”

How the final Unveil look was created

Process and Manufacturing Innovation

Designing a layered look with depth posed challenges, as the dial design had to be cohesive with the internal movement. No new machinery was bought and the teams found workarounds with the current manufacturing setup. Unlike other Sonata products, the design did require some manual intervention and hand assembly was provided for.

Opening up the Design Canvas

Mechanical movements come in limited colours, but now that Sonata was using an in-house quartz movement, this restriction did not apply. “The design team could explore  colours and styles to truly create product differentiation, “ says Suparna Dapke, Group Manager, Titan who headed design on the project.

This new collection called Unveil is the world’s first skeletal quartz watch and offers 12 design templates.

Three sonata watches against colourful backgrounds
Without the restriction of limited colours, Unveil offers a wide selection of designs

The Unveiling

Unveil was launched in early 2022, with an average price of Rs.2,500. Keeping in mind that the price was still a stretch, given the typical Sonata price of approximately Rs.1,200, the look and feel of the communication was decidedly more premium. The multi-lingual campaign took a hyper-local approach across TV, outdoor and radio.

The Results

An unequivocal success, Unveil has become Sonata’s highest-grossing collection to date. It has helped the brand widen its offering in Rs. 2,000+ segment and contributes to 22% of the revenue from that premium band.

Sudhakaran says that brand track studies too, have shown a marked improvement in the perception of Sonata’s brand image, with attributes like ‘pride of ownership’ and ‘offers fashionable watches’ moving up sharply. Unveil 2.0 with a new collection was launched earlier this year.

3 Comments

  1. Is this what mercedes did as well back in 2014-15 when it was being perceived as an old man’s car and wasn’t being considered as cool & trendy by the youth !!

  2. Amazing story . Thanks for sharing . This can open doors for lot of other products which are struggling to keep pace with new era .

  3. Outstanding. Love the insights. Well written and to the point. I learned about Titan. Sonata. And brand differentiation.
    Last but not the least – about good engaging writing.

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