Pearle Vision: ‘Data Doesn’t Make Decisions, People Make Decisions’

Pearle Vision was having an identity crisis.

Over the years, the eyewear chain cycled through around a dozen different positionings, from wholesome and family-friendly to early 2000s-era ads featuring a naughty librarian.

“What happened was what happens to many brands as the marketplace changes – there is this urge to change with it,” said Pearle Vision CMO Douglas Zarkin at a Modern Marketing Summit event Monday in New York City.

But positioning is about “the art of sacrifice.”

“You can do a lot of things, but you’ve got to pick the right thing to do,” Zarkin said.

The same philosophy holds true for digital marketing. You can have access to all of the data in the world, but if you don’t have a brand vision and a story to tell, your data-driven strategy is going to fall flat.

“No matter how much AR or VR or programmatic we do, at the end of the day, marketing is an art and a science,” Zarkin said. “Here is the nasty little secret about our industry: Data doesn’t make decisions, people make decisions. Data provides digital breadcrumbs to make these decisions easier.”

Pearle Vision’s breadcrumbs led to the realization that to revive and revitalize its brand it had to sidle away from what it had become – a big-box eyewear retailer hawking BOGO specials – and get back to its roots as a company founded by one doctor working out of one store in Savannah, Ga., in the early 1960s.

Zarkin and his team spent around six months out in the field calling on each of Pearle’s 600 locations across the US, most of which are franchises owned and operated by local opticians.

Though that exercise, the answer became clear: grassroots outreach in the neighborhood.

“Being a brand locally doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be digital,” Zarkin said. “Digital is the easy part, geofencing is the easy part, programmatic, mobile are the easy parts. The hard part is being consistently consistent across every channel that you use.”

Pearle ran personalized print and direct marketing campaigns featuring local doctors within a nine-mile radius of each store because, according to its research, that’s about as far as someone will travel for eye care.

The brand also made its presence felt in the community by visiting local events, like high school basketball games and health expos, and turned to social media and TV to amplify its message around genuine eye care.

“No matter what channel you’re using, it has to start with a really good story, and our story is how we’re going to care for our neighbors,” Zarkin said. “Complexity in the marketplace is forcing us into a mindset of simplicity.”

Pearle Vision’s experience exemplifies the soul searching that a lot of advertisers are going through right now.

Brands are starting to ask why they are spending these massive media budgets, said Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at Havas Media Group. To what end?

“The reality is that we’re in a situation where advertisers are questioning the entire premise of what they’re doing,” Kanefsky said. “You’re going to see that play out over the next 12 to 24 months.”

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