The Key To Building A Major Brand


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All 'Bout Brands

Most of the time, we discuss marketing from an agency's perspective (I mean, we can't help it! After all, we are an agency). But, this time, we decided to change it up. So, we invited Doug Zarkin onto our show, who has tons of experience building and commercializing brands for sale to the general public.

So, CMO's and brand owners—this one's for you! And, of course, we're here to give you all the deets. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares the key to building a major brand from the expertise of Doug Zarkin, who is the VP and CMO of Pearle Vision.

EP288 The Key To Building A Major Brand

A Little More About Doug

Doug is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Pearle Vision, which is one of the largest optical retailers in North America. He has a wealth of experience in marketing; Doug has five North American Effie Awards, a Clio Award, and has been twice recognized as Innovative Marketer of the Year by the CMO Club.  His career has been incredibly diverse across CPG, retail, entertainment and agency, with leadership experience at Grey Global, Avon, Warnaco, Kellwood and Victoria's Secret PINK, which he launched from test market to a $400 million national brand. 

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: So I love starting off, while chatting about you, how did you get to where you are today?...It's amazing what you have actually done, and not many marketers have had as much opportunity to launch and reinvigorate brands.

Answer: So I'd like to say that it was part of a grand master plan. What I will say is when I graduated graduate school, after making the decision to not pursue both my JD and my MBA, I decided about a semester into that joint program that that wasn't for me, plowed through my MBA in 13 months and came to New York, knowing that I wanted to run a business and a brand and got some great advice. This is pre-LinkedIn, not to date myself too much, but I called a family friend, who is in the world of marketing and advertising, and his advice to me was very simple, "Doug, if you want to be driving the train, you got to get on at the back and work your way to the front. Learn all the roles and functions. Speak the language of the roles and functions. And most importantly, when you're finally in that C-suite, in that position of leadership, you'll be in a great position to motivate and understand how to get the best out of your people that are now in those roles and functions."

And so starting at the agency business, which is really at the end of the train about execution, working my way through client side opportunities of growing scale. And now I find myself at the Premier Optical Franchise brand in North America, Pearle, and I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've been given, and I'm grateful for the people that have helped me get here. I think most importantly, I'm grateful for the lessons that I've learned along the way that hopefully have made me as good a leader as I can be.

Question: What are some of those lessons you've learned that stand out to you?

Answer: So early on in your career, you're encouraged to climb the mountain as fast as you can—focus on performance, strive for excellence. I was one of those guys that was in at 8:30 and was leaving at 7:00 back in the days where there was no such thing as business casual so it was shirt, tie and suspenders, and was just plowing ahead. And it wasn't until I got into a position of leadership that I realized that there's no sense in getting to the top of a mountain if there's nobody with you, not only to help you take the selfie, to take the picture with you, but most importantly, to celebrate the journey with.

And so understanding that performance and leadership go hand in hand, it is not easy to do what we do for a living. If you think about what marketers do, it's incredibly arrogant. Our job is to get into the mindset of a consumer and motivate them to take action. Talk about arrogance. To be able to think you can do that is a little bit ridiculous. The power of people in helping you do it is not really drilled into you when you're getting your degrees or when you start out, and so I would think [there's lots of importance in] developing a strong leadership mentality, to bring people with you on the journey.

The second thing I think is to celebrate progress, not just perfection. Again, as you're working [your] way up the career ladder, it's about delivering perfect deliverables. And perfection is very few and far between, and there are very few things that need to be perfect in order to be successful. So I think the notion of celebrating the progress along the way.

And I would say the third thing is really adopting the 80-20 rule...If you can get to 80% confidence, you go, you do, you release it. It's understanding the 20% that requires you to be a 100% perfect. That is critical. What that helps you do is marshal resources correctly. It helps you avoid micromanaging. It helps you really figure out how to prioritize all the things that you need to do. And it's liberating to know that something doesn't necessarily need to be perfect in order for it to be successful.

Question: So with Pearle Vision, you have approached the brand in a very novel way where you have pretty much upended the strategies, you have reinvigorated, you have used content to bring it back to life. How did you approach [it] and how did you help shape the culture to enable that to happen?

Answer: So for us, we recognized pretty early on in my tenure that we were in a very competitive, extremely commoditized category. And at the same time, what we actually sold wasn't necessarily as differentiated as one would think. One out of every two sunglasses on the planet sold is a Ray-Ban. So the fact that we sell Ray-Ban is not really a big deal. That's a point of market entry. And that's not the case with everything that we sell, but the majority of the products that we sell, you can find in some of our sister brands and also some of the independents.

What we came to recognize pretty quickly was the notion that consumers make emotional decisions before they make rational choices. And in our case, that emotional decision-making was about, should I trust you with the care of my eyes? And so we needed to start telling stories, i.e., content that would allow us to showcase why we were the destination that you should choose. This brand has an incredibly strong heritage, and much like a house that was poorly decorated, you had to strip a lot of the crap off the walls to realize that the bones of the house were beautiful. And when I joined the business about 10 years ago, that's exactly what we did...we had had five different brand positionings in eight years. There was a lot of chaos. There wasn't consistency. And especially for our franchise business, you are as good as your worst location.

So we really needed to bring everything into alignment and take a much firmer hand into how we were expressing ourselves, both on and offline. And I think through the power of emotional-based storytelling with our Small Moments campaign, with the work that we do in social, we've been able to rightsize the perception of the brand, and now we're up there as the highest brand from a quality of care perspective in the industry.

Question:  With the content that you're producing right now, how is it a different approach than a traditional ad campaign? Because it is. Because you're doing extensions on it. You're getting PR campaigns behind it. You're getting film festivals in some cases to be supporting your content and helping leverage it and bring it to more people. How is that internally wrapping your head around that and using that as a showcase?

We're getting better. We're not great at it, candidly. We have been a little bit slower than I would like to adapt to the evolution in what's going on with content on Facebook and Instagram. We have to take a much deeper approach [and we have started to do that]. When something is posted on Facebook and in Instagram, it's a self optimization platform but you have reels and stories now on Instagram and you have to be able to design that snackable bit of content for the platform. And I think we're getting more purposeful in our decisions there.

Relative to extensions, I think the key thing there is to be humble. How many people actually really care what we have to say on certain topics? We have to be very choiceful into what we talk about. Yes, we have a right to talk about eye health and eyecare. And as a brand that has prioritized women, especially somebody that we call the chief health officer who's making all of the health and wellness decisions for herself and her family, we absolutely have earned the right, and we were recently recognized by the Women's Choice Award as the best eyecare optical brand for the fourth consecutive year. We have a right to talk to her about a variety of issues related to health and wellness, but we have to be careful in how we do it. We don't want to take too big a step because as quickly as you've earned the trust as a valuable source of content on things that are meaningful to her from us, that's as quickly as you can lose it by talking about things that are well outside your remit.

Question: What's in the future with Pearle Vision? Where are you going to be going? Are you doubling down on all things content creation, staying away from inauthentic celebrities? We know that one is not going to happen with you guys again, but what is the next horizon?

Great question. So I think for us, our commitment to care and continuing to build the care perception of Pearle Vision is at the heart of what we do. How do we continue to earn the trust and be seen as that genuine expert eyecare provider in the neighborhood? And that really comes through some innovations that we're rolling out. Currently, we are rolling out a digital fit technology that allows you to ensure that your perfect pair is indeed perfect, down to the millimeter because in eyewear, a millimeter of fit in your glasses. It's the difference between seeing clearly and having a massive headache. Anybody who wears glasses will tell you.

It's also about ensuring that we're bringing innovative products to market. Ray-Ban Stories is a product that our parent company recently launched, and we're excited to bring that product into Pearle and also make it RX-able. So you now can have the Wayfarer that you love in prescription with this amazing technology, advancement included directly. And we're going to continue to ensure that we're putting this brand on the brain of the consumer in a respectful way. The average consumer gets an eye exam between 12 and 18 months. And so we want to make sure through our online scheduling portal that the minute you have that epiphany moment or that "oh sh*t" moment that you didn't get your annual eye exam, that you can connect with your neighborhood Pearle quickly. [That you can] find the doctor that you want to go to, schedule an appointment, not only for yourself and your family, and ensure that your eyes are healthy.

From a content perspective, it's about being authentic. It's about mining for stories within the brand, within the consumer ecosystem that reinforce why we should be your choice, and keeping an eye on what's happening around us, most importantly. We're not close minded when it comes to innovation, and we will definitely take a little bit more of a test and learn approach as the year goes through when we see how 2022 settles in because let's not forget, retail businesses have to comp against a very inconsistent 2021. So it's going to be a real "fingers crossed" on how the first half of 2022 shapes up. But as we start getting our feet under us and the foundation we can use to solidify, I expect that we're going to be trying some innovative things.

Check Out The Podcast!

Doug has so much great information from his experience in marketing. Check out the podcast below to learn more about building a major brand!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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