From BOGO to Best-in-Class: How CMO Doug Zarkin Transformed the Pearle Vision Brand by Thinking Human

Photo from inside a Pearle Vision Center

By Katie Klumper, CEO and Founder, Black Glass

When Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Doug Zarkin first joined Pearle Vision nearly 11 years ago, the brand had drifted away from the vision of its founder Dr. Stanley Pearle and had become best known for BOGO promotions.

“After five different brand positionings in eight years, we meant everything to everyone and, as a result, nothing readily substantial to anyone,” says Doug.

Fast forward to 2022 and Pearle Vision is a standout in the category as the premier eyecare and eyewear provider. Bucking the emphasis on promotional gimmicks and bait-and-switch models that define many in the category, Doug reoriented the brand around patient connection and care.

Today, Pearle Vision ranks atop the category for quality of care among optical retail brands on Google Reviews, the #1 global optical franchise opportunity and #1 healthcare services business on the 2022 Entrepreneur Franchise 500 list. It has received the Women’s Choice Award for Best Optical Brand for five years running and has an average Google rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars – a testament to the brand’s commitment to building trust and providing brand value in the community.

Here’s the story behind the transformation:

Listening and learning

While most marketers exhaust themselves with a constant pursuit of more data, Doug began his search for human insights on day one at Pearle Vision. “You have to approach your audience as people and not just as data points,” he says. “When you think of winning with consumers through a human filter, you can understand the emotional decision-making and need state of your audience first and how that leads to the rational choices we want them to make.”

Doug dove into the history of the brand’s founder, interviewed the franchisees recruited directly by him and spoke to past franchise owners who had opted out of the brand. He talked to current and former patients. Through this deep dive into the brand, Doug discovered that the essence of “Nobody Cares For Eyes More Than Pearle” was already there; it just needed to be unleashed. “My job was to get rid of the noise and build a platform to elevate that insight,” he says.

Finding the brand’s north star

When it comes to eyecare, people don’t tend to trust brand name chains and instead opt for local doctors. Why? Because the promotions and sales pushed by these market players don’t provide the signals as to the level of care consumers are looking for. What people really want is a doctor and a brand that cares about them not as customers but as people who are looking for a destination to trust with their eyecare and eyewear needs. Doug anchored his brand transformation around that truth.

Pearle Vision needed to prove from the exam room to the retail floor that they were a brand of neighborhood eyecare experts earning trust through small moments of care and connection.

Building a team passionate about the vision

While the importance of fostering strong cross functional relationships is inherent in the success of any brand, a core ingredient of the “secret-sauce” to executing against that north star and continuing to strengthen Pearle Vision’s reputation in neighborhoods across the country is Doug’s approach to building a high-performing team. “It begins and ends with passion,” he says. “I’m not hiring people necessarily just for what they know or what they’ve accomplished; I’m hiring people for the contribution and impact they want to have and their desire to make a difference.”

Doug has assembled a team of like-minded marketers who wake up every morning eager to make that difference. He looks for individuals who approach decision-making with purpose and empowers his team to champion and own the execution. By cultivating an environment that celebrates progress not necessarily perfection, Doug has created a feedback loop of people that evolve with the business and, in turn, pour their experiences and insights back into the brand.

Shedding the big box persona

Before introducing the new brand identity, Doug had to shed the old one. He led the brand’s migration away from BOGO promotions and bowed out of the industry price war.

Doug completely updated the brand’s visual language and digital footprint. “We wanted to ensure that the love language of the business was grounded in the belief that eyecare comes first,” he says. Doug pulled the thread through the brand’s corporate associates franchisees, encouraging doctors and opticians to prioritize small moments of care and get to know the people behind the eyes.

Focusing on care and connection

Doug took his focus on care and connection to every aspect of the business, from marketing and target audiences to pricing, patient experiences and charitable initiatives.

The brand has wrapped its arms around all members of the community and was among the first in their category to show biracial couples in their advertising and has featured same sex couples in its work. Pearle Vision has also embraced diversity in age, leaning heavily into the importance of eyecare for children and seniors.

The brand set out to “win the family” – recognizing that this critical member of the community was going underserved by the market. They created a multi-patient scheduler that allows parents to schedule exams for the whole family. They launched the animated series “Eye Squad,” advancing a platform for eyecare education and produced a series of short films and workbooks that showcase the transformative power of eyecare in unleashing children’s potential. This series is currently in its fifth year.

Recognizing the underserved nature of the U.S. Hispanic market and their 55 million pairs of eyes (of which 60% of eye diseases going undiagnosed), Doug has led the brand’s full funnel embrace of the audience, including the development of a Spanish language digital patient acquisition platform and creative platform.

The intentionality that has been applied across the entire brand has allowed Pearle Vision to build trust and meaningful relationships with the communities it serves.

And living that commitment out

The work didn’t stop with the complete reinvention of the brand. Today, Doug and his team are constantly iterating and fine-tuning their marketing and outreach to ensure that Pearle Vision continues to live out its commitment to caring for people in the neighborhood.

During the pandemic the brand pivoted to prioritize access to care above all else. Pearle Vision covered patients’ insurance copays to ensure they could maintain their eyecare at a time when they were struggling to pay their bills. Many of their EyeCare Centers personally delivered contacts to people’s doorsteps and helped frontline workers get exams and glasses outside of normal business hours.

While category competitors continue to rely on promotions and D2C brands grapple with quality of care, Doug and his team are laser focused on continuing to elevate Pearle Vision to a completely different level – as a brand focused on care and connection…a trusted member of the community. “I count myself very lucky to have contributed to the success of this brand both as a marketer and as a human being,” he says. “It’s been a privilege to help people unlock their potential and appreciate all that life has to offer through seeing clearly.”