The Power of Crystal Clear Positioning to Turnaround Your Brand

Guest: Doug Zarkin CMO, Pearle Vision

Retail is not exactly rich with turnaround stories these days but that’s exactly what’s happened at Pearle Vision. CMO Doug Zarkin provides a step-by-step review of how the brand has gone from stagnant to revitalized, indicated by same-store sales growth, new store openings and a jump in ranking from >100 to #24 among best franchises to own.

Through a number of small but ultimately significant changes like renaming customers to patients, employees to eye care professionals and stores to eye care centers, Pearle Vision has been able to shift the conversation from deals on glasses to professional eye care. Most significantly, Zarkin and company figured out that people who come in for eye exams are far more likely to buy glasses and become repeat customers than those that are just shopping for new glasses.


On this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, Zarkin tells Drew Neisser about the methods by which Zarkin and his team embraces customers and keeps them in the fold.

You can listen to the episode here.

These are some of our favorite moments from the episode:

Drew: When you first got to Pearle Vision and recognized the need for a new positioning, how long did you give yourself?

Doug: If you know anything about retail there’s a sense of urgency. I essentially had six months to crack the code. In fact when I joined the company my predecessor actually remained on the team to essentially keep the business going while I was working on crafting the future state. And so within six months we had to find what the brand was going to stand for. We identified that we needed to update the iconography, that we needed to update the store design and we began the journey. But by no means does the journey begin and end in six months — it’s a journey that you have to continually press on every day. 

Drew: So that gives you three months to research and three months to execute. Talk about the positioning that you landed on.

Doug: The positioning became “genuine eye care from your neighborhood doctor” which came about from a philosophy that I learned from my first client-side job at Avon – you have to go out in the field. Any marketer worth his salt knows that a positioning that doesn’t make for great execution is just words on paper. And so looking inward to what we stood for as a brand required me to look outward from the boardroom and get into our locations, talk to our doctors, talk to our franchisees, understand what we really were embodying in a three dimensional way and then bringing that back and looking at what we as a brand could really own. As a brand founded by a doctor, Dr. Stanley Pearle in 1961, we had a heritage that we could stand for – eye care. We needed to do it in a way that was authentic. We wanted to be that brand that owned the neighborhood–that could win the battle for patients at the 5 to 9-mile level. And so every part of ‘genuine eye care from my neighborhood doctor’ means something. It most importantly means the art of sacrifice — there’s a lot of things we couldn’t do.

Drew: Some brands worry about circling back to their founder because it makes them feel old-fashioned. How do you keep your brand from appearing outdated?

Doug: A founder brand has inherently an authenticity to it. Some of the best in class marketers are always looking for that emotional connection point. We’re storytellers. We want to connect with the consumer on an emotional level and present them rational reasons to believe. When you have a founder brand like Pearle, if you actually do what many marketers don’t which is to have the humility to realize that sometimes taking a step forward is taking two steps backward, what you actually have is something that you can build a plan off of. Ralph Lauren is a great example of a founder-led, founder-driven brand. Ralph Lauren has a very distinct look on fashion. When Ralph started to go awry as a brand was when it got away from its DNA. Pearle did the same thing. Dr. Stanley Pearl was not there talking about buy one get one free. Dr. Stanley Pearle’s vision started with that best in class doctor and I see my job really is to a degree getting out of the way and allowing his legacy to continue in a way that’s modern, in a way that’s contemporary, and in a way that resonates. But why fight it? If you have it, embrace it! Leverage it; lead with it. That’s how you win.

Drew: Let’s talk about Pearle’s social media philosophy. What is your execution strategy?

Doug: For us, social media is really an opportunity to continue the conversation. It’s turned actually into one of the most effective platforms for driving exam growth. If you look at the marketing ROI in our category there are few things that are as efficient as search (trademark search as an example). Social media is really up there in terms of efficient ways to drive people to schedule their eye exams. We’re talking about paid. We’ve got a fantastic agency on board, Energy BBDO out of Chicago, who handles our social content for us. The healthy balance between leading the conversation, listening to the conversation, and actually having a conversation. Facebook is not a one-way communication platform. It’s actually an opportunity to do what you and I are doing right now, which is to talk. And so you’ve got to think about that as a dialogue. It’s a tennis match. Not every point in tennis, not every forehand or backhand is a winner. It sets up the next shot. We look at social media as an opportunity to essentially engage our consumer in a tennis match. Sometimes we’re going to win the point; sometimes we’re going to lose the point. Sometimes the points just go on and on and we’re going to wish that it would just end. The respect that we have for social, in particular, Facebook leading that charge, it is one of our strongest marketing platforms.

Meet the Guest

Doug Zarkin is a senior-level, global strategic marketing executive with an impressive array of honors and recognition for his marketing and brand building successes in the retail arena at companies such as Avon, Limited Brands and Kellwood. In 2012, Doug joined Luxottica where he is currently responsible for the global strategic marketing, visual merchandising, product promotion and store design for Luxottica’s global optical franchise business Pearle Vision.

Among other industry accolades, in 2015 and again in 2016 Doug and his team were recognized with a Silver Effie for marketing excellence in HealthCare Services Marketing for leading the brand revitalization work for Pearle Vision. When not at the office, Doug can be found on the tennis court or in the pool with his two kids.

What You'll Learn

  • How a willingness to learn and listen can allow your team to win.
  • Why marketers should practice humility when facing their audience.
  • Insightful perspectives on social media’s role in the brand-customer relationship.
  • How your brand’s language can influence consumer perceptions.
  • How the right positioning can turnaround your organization.

Quotes from Doug Zarkin

  • Any marketer worth his salt knows that a positioning that doesn't make for great execution is just words on paper.
  • To win, you must always be thinking about consumer perception because as smart as you are…you're never going to be as smart as your consumer.
  • There is a positioning idea where you want to be aspirational. I don't think that's it. I think it's about a positioning ideal where you want to be inspirational.
  • Trust is really built in a series of small moments.

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