Many people who need corrective eyewear visit eye care stores every year as a regular part of life. This repeat type of business has become more and more attractive to a host of competitors who see the potential for long-term customers. These days, a slew of online-only outlets have begun to offer eyewear, putting pressure on their traditional brick-and-mortar rivals.
Pearle Vision, owned by the Luxottica Group, is a brand known across country and beyond and has been working in this market for than 50 years with franchise locations from coast to coast. Even with its established history and market presence, Doug Zarkin, VP and head of marketing for Pearle Vision, says the brand continues to innovate on ways to attract that local customers. He spoke with Street Fight about the ways the brand gets in its customers’ line of sight.
With Pearle Vision’s already well-known presence, why is it still important to make that connection with local customers?
If you go back into the journals of the Pearle Vision brand, it starts with the vision of our founder, Dr. Stanley Pearle, who believed that there was an opportunity to combine a best-in-class doctor with an unmatched commitment to care from the exam room to the retail floor. Combine the best products and state of the art lenses available into an offering that would allow him and Pearle Vision to become that neighborhood destination the community trusts with their eyewear and eye care needs.
For us, as a brand that’s stayed true to that vision, to become that neighborhood destination is at the forefront of winning the battle for patients and customers. Consumers now more than ever in our category have choice. They have choice through the internet, and the optical landscape has heated up in the last decade. If you don’t take seriously that notion of being that destination, of earning that trust from your neighbors, you inevitably put yourself in a position where you are trying to compete in a marketplace where you simply can’t—rather than compete in a marketplace where you simply should, which is in your backyard.
Are there particular approaches, technologies, or strategies that Pearle Vision has been using as a brand to make that connection with the neighborhood and be competitive?
It is an interesting blend of high tech and high touch. In the high tech world, we employed the programmatic approach to buying pretty early on in its life cycle. Back in 2013, we made a very bold move to programmatic as a means for buying a majority of our display work. We’ve since expanded on that to purchase a number of different media elements including video.
The biggest thing for us is our ability to geo-target both our national media as well as our local media. Going back to the narrative of winning the five-mile battle for patients and customers, it’s important that when somebody is searching something as vast as the internet for an eye doctor that accepts EyeMed, or a retail location that carries Ray-Ban, that we connect them as quickly as possible with their neighborhood Pearle Vision. Using IP addresses and geo-targeted technology, we take our national media and distill it down to its local form—that’s the technical, IT, high-tech immersion. The high-touch version is that in 2013, we began a community outreach program called CORNEA that reinforces neighborhood eye care activations. We go to high school football games, churches, synagogues, we go to local health fairs, assisted living facilities and bring our associates and conduct screenings, cleanings, and adjustments as a means to introduce ourselves and the people behind our brand to our neighbors. It has turned out to be an immensely popular and successful program in driving patient and customer acquisition.
These small events — and this year we’ll do nearly 500 of them around the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico — allow us to compete where it is most critical to win, which is within the five miles in and around our eye care centers.
Is there much feedback and information that flows from the eye care centers to your headquarters so you get that local pulse of what each market is looking for? How does that relationship work?
We are a franchised brand. Eighty percent of our locations are owned by doctors and opticians so we are a locally-owned and operated business. If you’ve ever worked in a franchise environment or know anyone who has, the feedback pipeline is quite large. If you are not doing a good job of driving the profitability level of your local owners, be assured that you will know. They will not hesitate to tell you. We take it a step further; we develop not only a national marketing plan for the brand but we develop upwards of 90 individual local marketing plans that allow us to ensure we are winning that local battle for patient acquisition.
The franchise system is about feedback, leading by listening and influencing.
Are there any specific new technologies Pearle Vision is looking to explore for its local marketing efforts?
The world of programmatic is constantly evolving. Think about it as high-definition television. When it first came out, there were a bunch if shows in HD and now you have 4K. Programmatic is a model that continues to refine itself. We are looking heavily into optimizing for programmatic. We are doing a tremendous amount of work on what we call appointment-based marketing.
For us, engaging a consumer when they want to engage in a medium, we have found that to be more effective than simply throwing messaging into the marketplace. There are a number of media outlets that we are looking at that are more appointment-based that we are taking advantage of. Our reputation management has become an initiative.
People used to be able to tell you, in the moment, what they thought of you. If they have a bad experience at a restaurant, a patron will tell a waiter or a hostess. That has now become a highly refined, highly explosive, high opportunity in the world of the Web. Ratings and reviews represent the most important marketing outlet that can drive the failure of a business. A negative experience is not an easy thing to overcome. A positive experience is an amazing asset to leverage. Next to your frontline associates, real customer experiences are essential. We are doing a lot in the world of reputation management.
We’re working with partners like Yelp and Yext to help us manage the flow of feedback and leverage our ratings and reviews. A heavy investment into first-party data in terms of feedback on our experience. A brand is as good as its worst experience from a customer. We spend a tremendous amount of time listening to consumer feedback and working to refine our experience model.
Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.