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Marketing Mix Podcast with Doug Zarkin

Doug Zarkin discusses building an iconic brand in the age of Amazon

January 16, 2019

Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast with Jeff Ragovin is Doug Zarkin, CMO at Pearle Vision. Doug tells the story behind Pearle Vision, redesigning iconography of a traditional brand, and new opportunities for brick and mortar stores in the age of Amazon. In discussing the rise of the online marketplace, Doug believes that creating an in-store personalized experience continues to build consumer trust in ways that the online space cannot.

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Jeff Ragovin: Tell us a little about the story behind Pearle Vision.

Doug Zarkin: Pearle Vision, like many iconic brands, started with the vision of a founder. In our case, this brand was started in 1961 by Dr. Stanley Pearle, in Savannah, Georgia. He was a good doctor but above all, was a true visionary. He combined what he did really well as a doctor- which was to care for people- and put it under the same roof as a store where consumers could get the best assortment of frames and lenses. He really extended that commitment to care from the exam room to the retail floor.

Jeff Ragovin: Let’s talk a little about the recent “Raise Your Glasses” campaign. Why did you do it, and what were some of the stories that your consumers shared?

Doug Zarkin: We really wanted to establish this brand as a neighborhood destination people trust for not only their eye care but, also their eyewear needs. We recognized a few years ago that we need to do some significant research to understand what trust means in our category. In our case, trust is earned through a series of small moments- both on the retail floor and in the exam room. For instance, the time that a doctor takes to actually ask a patient how they are feeling, or the time a doctor takes to actually listen to the questions that a patient may have. When consumers are on the retail floor, the optician is able to discuss the lifestyle needs and choices of that patient so they can find the perfect lens for them. All those things combined, really ladder up to a strong degree of trust.

In August 2018, we launched an initiative with Billie Jean King, about a young lady called Olivia. She has big dreams and big aspirations- but also has a vision acuity problem. Like most kids going to the doctor, there is a bit of trepidation. As Olivia meets with the eye doctor we realize that Olivia dreams of being a professional tennis player- one of the many things on the inspiration wall in her room. This gives us the opportunity to put Olivia in the perfect pair of glasses; frames that happen to look eerily similar to those of the iconic tennis legend, Billie Jean King. Olivia needing glasses is not a bad thing- but in fact, is a tool that is going to help her aspire to be who she really wants to be. 

After shooting the campaign with Billie Jean King, we realized that we wanted to extend our relationship and the commitment that she has to really affect people’s lives for good. In the late fall, we launched an initiative called “Raise Your Glasses” to really celebrate the fact that people recognize that they need vision acuity support. For every 10 photos of someone wearing a pair of glasses uploaded to the hashtag “#raiseyourglasses” one child in need was able to get corrective eyewear through our relationship with OneSight.

Jeff Ragovin: How did the program do?

Doug Zarkin: It was immensely successful, not just in terms of participation, but also to reinforce that Pearle Vision is truly a brand of people caring for people. For us, the commitment and the results we generated from “Raise your Glasses” can be measured in a couple of ways. We had around a thousand folks post photos- but being able to track activity in the world of social media can be unbelievably challenging. For us, one of the biggest measurements was actually in the comments we got and the feedback we got from our associates. It reaffirmed the fact that Pearle Vision equity stands for genuine eye care, and everything we do is centered around that.

Jeff Ragovin: We live in the age of Amazon and digital retail. How is that affecting the business?

Doug Zarkin: Brands need to earn the right to establish a brick and mortar experience. Brands need to be able to develop an amazing experience no matter what they’re selling, with a product assortment that is curated for the needs of those in the community around where the location is based. You can no longer just set up shop and expect people to walk in. Amazon has really reinforced that brick and mortar stores need to establish their brand positioning and most importantly, create a fantastic, authentic experience. You need to identify what you stand for, and not be afraid embrace the art of sacrifice. Not being everything to everybody will allow you to focus, and to win.

Jeff Ragovin:  Are there ways you could potentially partner with online marketplaces?

Doug Zarkin: All things are on the table, but there is no mad rush at the moment to sell glasses online. For us, the quality of care really comes from a personalized experience. However, we’re also embracing technology to make that experience even stronger, more genuine and more accurate to give that consumer more value.

Jeff Ragovin: Talk to us about how you completely revamped the brand in the past 7 years.

Doug Zarkin: I had a phenomenal group of people around me to help bring this vision to life. I joined Pearle Vision at a time when the brand was very flat and growing very slightly- for a franchise business, that’s unacceptable. The permission to think differently was inherent in joining the organization. We spent the better part of the first six months curating our brand position. Once we were able to pinpoint that, that became the North Star to redesign our iconography and our brick and mortar stores, as well as figure out who our primary customers were going to be. We also developed a digital footprint to really embrace that target and provide them with what they needed most- the ability to connect with their neighborhood eye care center. 

All of this comes back to the premise that marketing is positioning, and positioning is about the art of sacrifice. We recognize the need to really focus on eye care in order to be a brand that sells a significant amount of eyewear. If consumers come in for their eye exam, we’re building the trust that extends to converting them on the retail floor. The result is a more vibrant, loyal consumer base and a deeper appreciation for the end to end experience that delivers holistic health and wellness from the exam room to the retail floor.

Jeff Ragovin: Why did you update the brand logo?

Doug Zarkin: A brand statement begins with the iconography, and ours needed a much clearer reason for being. Pearle Vision has always leaned towards the color green because green is a statement of health and wellness, but we wanted to give it a fresher feel. At the end of the day, the icon needs to instantly communicate what we sell. It offered us the street credibility to really talk like a market leader because we’ve been doing this for 57 years. The spectacles in our icon, what we call the “Harry Potter”  spectacles, are a homage to the fact that our brand was created in 1961.

Jeff Ragovin: What are some things you enjoy doing outside the office?

Doug Zarkin: The most impressive job I have in my life is being a husband and a father. But when I get moments for myself, you’ll find me on the tennis court. Relationship with your consumer is no different from a tennis match. Tennis is a game of setting up to win the shot, and when you’re dealing with consumer marketing, what you’re really doing is creating a relationship and having a volley with the consumer. The winning shot that you take is what inevitably motivates the consumer to take action and visit or purchase. I look at our marketing plan as an analogy to how I play tennis- you want to create a volley and therefore, a relationship. When the opportune time comes, you go for the winning shot and that gets you the point.

Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.

Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes