How Pearle Vision Uses Data To Connect Customers With Local Franchises

"Data doesn't make decisions," Pearle Vision CMO CMO Doug Zarkin said at MMS 18. "Data is designed to give you bread crumbs that could lead you to eventually make a decision."

The challenge of connecting a global brand to a product as individual as eyeglasses and eye care comes down to two things for Pearle Vision CMO Doug Zarkin: putting the use of data behind the local eye care specialists who primarily operate the Luxottica-owned chain’s roughly 600 U.S. locations.

“Data doesn’t make decisions — we do; marketers do; agency leaders do,” Zarkin said in a panel discussion with Alexander Rea, Creative Technology Officer at DDB New York, and Bark CMO Jay Livingston at the Modern Marketing Summit this past week. “TAs a client partnering with your agency, as an agency looking to staff your business for your client, it isn’t about the widgets that allow you to process data. It’s really about the people that know how to ask the right question, and they can understand what the data is saying.

“It would be foolish to say that you should ignore data,” Zarkin continued, “but it’s also equally foolish for all of us that have experience-and all of us in this room clearly do, or else you wouldn’t be here-to disregard that experience because a crosstab told you to do something.”

There is no “secret sauce” to what makes Pearle Vision, or any other brand, incredibly successful, Zarkin added. Especially when it comes to a retail segment like eyecare, which Zarkin conceded has become incredibly commoditized.

Peare Vision CMO Doug Zarkin, Bark CMO Jay Livingstone, and DDB New York Chief Technology Officer Alexander Rea at the Modern Marketing Summit in New York

“When you can buy two pairs of glasses for, essentially, two cups of coffee at Starbucks, it’s very challenging to differentiate your brand,” Zarkin said.”But if I were to strip away all of the great things that we do, and get to the essence of what makes Pearle unique in our space, it is truly about a brand of people caring for people. In our case, that care is genuine eyecare.”

“Genuine eyecare” in Pearle Vision’s view, is represented by its locally owned and operated franchises. About 70 percent of Pearle Vision locations are run by doctors and opticians, he pointed out.

By living and working in the communities in which they operate an eyecare center, it helps ensure a more natural commitment to care, to the people in those neighborhoods, Zarkin said, allowing a national business to have a smalltown touch.

“That commitment to being that neighborhood destination that people trust with their eyecare and their eyewear needs, is not just a couple lines in the marketing mantra,” Zarkin said. “It is, honestly, a DNA belief system that allows our locations to thrive. It’s those moments of decisions, where you can take that extra step to get to know your patient, to get to know your customer, those small moments where you can really earn trust, that, frankly, leaves you better than most. That is allowing us to grow. That’s allowing us to thrive.”

Don’t Blame Amazon For Killing Retail

Most businesses across the retail spectrum have been worrying about Amazon as an enemy — or “frenemy,” at best. But Zarkin blasted the frequent refrain blaming Amazon for taking customers away from brick-and-mortar brands.

“When you hear people talk, in our space, that Amazon is killing retail, that statement is stuck in the middle of the intersection of Dumb and Stupid,” Zarkin said. “Amazon is not killing retail. Amazon is killing shitty retail, and we should be thrilled.”

The reason retailers like Pearle Vision should be thrilled is because, 10 years ago, “anyone” could open up a location in a suburban strip mall and  do okay. And because the barrier to entry was comparatively low — you essentially had a natural point of attraction for shoppers — brands didn’t have to try too hard to differentiate and satisfy consumers.

Now, big box as small box retailers have had discipline and focus forced upon them by the challenge that e-commerce and Amazon have presented.

“That is not a bad thing,” Zarkin said. “As consumers, we want to know what we get when we walk in, or whether we visit again. We want to understand the value that we get from investing our time and our money, and it’s a very simple equation. Whether you make $50,000 a year or you make half-a-million dollars a year, value equals experience divided by price.”

Ultimately, what will save retailers is not competing with Amazon on discounting, he said. The ability to create a fuller shopping experience — which includes making it convenience and worth the value — is what will tip things in a retailer’s favor (or not).

“At Pearle, we’re a brand that’s owned and powered by doctors, who actually went to medical school,” Zarkin said. “They went to real medical school, and have an actual degree. Why should we charge $39 for the product that we sell, or give away the eye exam? That’s also at the intersection of dumb and stupid.”

In Zarkin’s telling, Pearle has focused energies on “delivering an amazing experience,” so that it can charge what it considers a reasonable price for its products and services.

“Brands that are succeeding in any space have figured out what their value equation is, and they’ve optimized both the experience side, and figured out the sweet spot for what the pricing side should be, and that’s why consumers see value,” Zarkin said. “Value leads to trust, which leads to loyalty, which leads to growth. Sounds so simple. It’s incredibly hard, and it’s not something that we do perfectly every single day. But we try.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.