Why “Thinking Human” is the foundation for driving sustained brand growth with Doug Zarkin of Pearle Vision

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Welcome to another episode of 3-Minute-Marketing, the world’s #1 podcast for binge-worthy, easy to digest tips and insights from the world’s top growth marketing leaders.

Today’s guest is Doug Zarkin, Vice President and CMO at Pearle Vision, a franchise with over 550 locations. Doug has had a really interesting and storied career, including helping to build out Victoria’s Secret in the early days of the company before they were a huge juggernaut.

Doug has had a string of victories that weren’t just quick pops but sustained growth. So my question for him was, “How do you build a brand in a sustainable and ongoing way?”.

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Show notes:

  1. To be a marketer, you have to have a degree of arrogance. Marketing at its core is about tapping into a consumer, understanding what they want and need, and putting out messaging that motivates them to take the action that you want when you want. It’s a bold challenge.
  2. The humility comes from recognizing that in order to lead you must first listen, especially in a product or service that you can’t relate to.
  3. Think human. Marketing is about identifying a target, but that target isn’t a bunch of data points. It’s about understanding the people behind the target.
  4. Be as consistently consistent as possible. It’s challenging to radically change the direction of a brand in one or two years, especially in the current marketplace where there are so many choices and options.
  5. Best laid plans take time. Identify the musts and the needs, then the coulds and the shoulds, then the wants.
  6. Fear of missing out is not a marketing strategy. There are a lot of things you could do and even more things that you want to do, but if you’re not doing a fantastic job with the things you must do and need to do in order to move your brand forward, then you’re not going to get credit from the consumer.
  7. Listen in order to lead, recognize that consumers make emotional decisions before rational choices, and maintain a degree of humanity in everything that you do.


– You’re listening to Three Minute Marketing where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable, bite size insights. Now here is your host, Chris Mechanic.

– [Chris Mechanic] Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode. Today’s we’ve got a really interesting guest on Doug Zarkin. Doug has a story career staring 2002, he went on board with Avon which he then went transitioned into then building out a Victoria’s Secret in the early days before they were like a massive juggernaut. And is now since 2012 at Luxottica Retail, which owns Pearle Vision. Which is a franchise zone with over 550 locations. So Doug oversees this he’s had a string of victories that weren’t just like quick pops but emerging or sustained growth. Welcome to the show Doug. Nice to have you.

– [Doug Zarkin] How are you doing? Thanks for having me.

– [Chris Mechanic] Doing well. Doing well. I have a question for you which is basically, what’s your secret? How are you growing these brands in a sustainable and an ongoing way?

– [Doug Zarkin] So if there was only a secret I probably could sell it. It really comes down to I think a mixture of both arrogance and humility. To be a marketer by nature have to have a degree of arrogance because marketing at its core is really about tapping into the mindset of a consumer, understanding what they want and what they need, and then putting out messaging that motivates them to take the action that you want when you want them to take it. Unbelievably bold talent. The humility comes from recognizing that in order to lead, you must first listen. Especially in a product or a service that you can’t relate to. Yeah, you referenced some of my early client side roles at Avon and Victoria’s Secret. Anything that we were developing there really was about active listening in order to figure out where we were going to go. The second facet beyond what we just talked about is the notion of thinking human. Marketing is about identifying a target. But that target isn’t a bunch of data points on a Excel chart, it’s really about understanding the people behind the target. And then the third thing is really just an incredible ability to be as consistently consistent as possible. To think in one year or even in two years that you’re going to radically change the trajectory of a brand is pretty challenging especially in this marketplace there are so many spaces that are open. So the best laid plans take time. And so being able to be consistently consistent in identifying the musts and the needs, and then the coulds and the shoulds, and then the wants. And ensuring that you’re doing the best possible job you can on the must and the needs.

– [Chris Mechanic] Interesting. Expand on that concept. We’ve got about one minute left. What do you mean must and needs?

–  [Doug Zarkin] Yeah, it really just comes down to understanding the fear of missing out is not a marketing strategy. There’s a lot of things you could do, there’s even more things that you want to do, but if you’re not doing a fantastic job with the things you must do and need to do in order to move your brand forward, then you’re really not going to get the credit in the mind of the consumer for innovation. So from our perspective, the team at provision has been remarkably good and disciplined in being consistently consistent in identifying the things we must need to do in order to move the brand forward and continue to grow the way we are.

– [Chris Mechanic] Brilliant. So in the last 30 seconds, could you share some of your guys musts that you do very consistently?

– [Doug Zarkin] Listen in order to lead. Recognize that consumers make emotional decisions before rational choices. And maintain a degree of humanity in everything that we do.

– [Chris Mechanic] Got it. Well, there you have it folks. It’s counterintuitive, and the arrogance and humility, and I’ve never heard anybody describe marketers as like having inherent arrogance, but I think that that’s really interesting concept. And it reminds me of basically doing the most important things well and doing them consistently which is something that we encounter a lot in our world because we have a lot of clients, and they have a zillion initiatives going on and it’s so easy to just get caught up with all the wants at the expense sometimes of the needs. So we really focus a lot. We call block and tackle, RGAs or revenue generating activities. Just the day in, day out things that when you do ’em and you do ’em well, you’re going to go up into the right. So that’s really awesome. And I also love the active listening which I’m working on myself just personally and as a podcaster. But also like in sales we’re launching a new offer right now which is a coaching offer. Less of a done for you and more of a coaching offer. And we’re just inventing it. We’re finding the product market fit and it can be easy to go into that selling mode too quickly and actually miss what the person on the other side is tryna say. So that is awesome. I appreciate your time Doug, you are a badass certifiably. Let everybody know where they can learn more about you, or if they’re interested in Luxottica or some of the work you’re doing at Pearle.

– [Doug Zarkin] So, you can always visit pearlevision.com to connect with the brand. I’m on LinkedIn and I think one of the nice things about being a franchise brand is we have to be out in the marketplace. So, a nice rich Google search will give you a lot of juicy bits to learn about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

– [Chris Mechanic] Nice, nice cool. Well, if you like this show guys, drop us a like or a comment, share it with a friend, we really appreciate, and stay on the line ’cause Doug and I are going to continue our conversation in the bonus footage which should be somewhere around this video. I want to get a little bit into the need. So you mentioned some of the needs that you’ve identified.

– [Doug Zarkin] Sure.

– [Chris Mechanic] One of them was consistently being human or like recognizing the human. So when I think of needs and discipline the way that I was describing it in terms of what we describe block and tackle or revenue generating activities they’re usually observable things. It’s usually like post a great piece of content, or build links or come up with a new ad. Usually observable things. But how does your average team member go about on a day to day basis making sure that they’re being human ’cause that seems almost like abstract concept?

– [Doug Zarkin] Well, it really starts with ensuring that every member of the team regardless of what their title is has the opportunity to make a difference. And I’ve struck the organization in a relatively flat manner. So there’s really only one layer between the most junior person and me. Which allows the folks within the brand team to feel that they have an opportunity to surface up insights or opportunities pretty easily. And I think that’s really important because at the end of the day, the key thing you hire for is person. You can teach somebody a job, you can’t teach somebody to be person, they either are or they aren’t.

– [Chris Mechanic] Yeah.

– [Doug Zarkin] The other thing is recognizing that eyecare and eyewear is deeply rooted in a medical setting. It’s wonderful to get a sexy pair of Ray-Bans or a new pair of Versace sunglasses, but finding that perfect pair starts with ensuring your eyes are healthy. And so if you don’t remember that we are a medical healthcare service at our core, then you become very transactional. And that’s really not what we’re all about. We deliver an amazing patient experience. And we’re not the cheapest, we have no desire to be because we deliver a strong value, brand value. And brand value equals experience divided by price. So as long as your numerator far outweighs your denominator, you don’t have to go to heavy level of discounting in order to create value in the mind of the consumer.

– [Chris Mechanic] I like that equation. Brand value equals experience divided by price.

– [Doug Zarkin] Yep.

– [Chris Mechanic] Experience divided by price. Interesting. I’ve never heard of that concept but I like that. Now let’s talk about active listening a little bit. And in our world we work with a lot of data. We have large data sets. And it is very easy to just look at numbers and forget about the people behind it. So like a common occurrence in our world is like, “Hey, this ad worked better than that ad.” It got more conversions. So therefore, let’s kill the one that isn’t doing as well, and go with the one that is working. But there’s no human element in what I just said, that’s just all data. So how can you add humanity to that? And when you do, does the decision potentially change to kill the adverse not kill it?

– [Doug Zarkin] So, the first thing is really about the notion of how you use data. Data does not make decisions, marketers, experts make decisions using data. And the reason is is because data is only as good as the questions that you ask. The questions that you ask come from a knowledge about the business and ecosystem in which you’re looking to understand. So, the human element exists from the get-go which is if you have an incredibly smart research platform and you’re asking the right questions, you’re going to get data that is meaningful that’s going to help the modern day marketer make the right decision. The right decision doesn’t always mean what the data tells. I mean, the famous story about data telling you to do one thing and doing the other is the story of “The Pilot” of Seinfeld and NBC. To this day, Seinfeld was one of the lowest scoring pilots in the history of NBC. Imagine if NBC had decided not to put on Seinfeld because they tested so poorly, there would be no Festivus.

– [Chris Mechanic] Right.

– [Doug Zarkin] So you have to recognize that the consumer is not data, the consumer lives and breathes. When you’re doing a CRM platform, certainly you’re going to look to optimize the communications that drive incrementality. But for your brand to pay off and drive incrementality your brand first has to be sticky and mean something. And meaning something doesn’t necessarily mean that the communications are all about discount or offer. It could be about information.

-[Chris Mechanic] Yeah.

– [Doug Zarkin] How do you know what information to give? Data is not going to tell you, insight’s going to tell you. How do you get insight? Shut up and listen. Ask good questions, and do something we’re all not very good at these days which is shutting up and listening.

– [Chris Mechanic] Absolutely, yep. I think most of our grandmothers probably told us you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

– [Doug Zarkin] Sure.

– [Chris Mechanic] Well, that’s really useful. I definitely dig it. Last question for you and then we can wrap I know you’re busy.

– [Doug Zarkin] Yeah.

– [Chris Mechanic] But I’m just curious, your scale, you’re not a small organization, what are your big challenges that you guys are just scratching your head over right now?

– [Doug Zarkin] So I think how to really use data for good and not for evil. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean that you stood and just because you said doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meaningful. So, continuing to get better about what data we’re looking for and really understanding what that data means. I think we are in a highly commoditized category. At least the retail side is and yet we don’t want to be a commoditized brand that’s focusing on promotion and discounting. So how do we continue to elevate the level of quality of care perception in order to drive meaningful profit that translates into profitable consumer transactions? And then the last thing is determining really what insights can lead to what innovation. Innovation starts with the first two letters I, N which in my mind stand for insight. So again, there’s a lot of things you could do, there’s a lot of things you want to do, but what do you really need and must do and what could you do. Really isolating those things in the world of what is possible in order to really lay the course of a smart, strong and strategic innovation platform.

– [Chris Mechanic] Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Doug Zarkin. Thank you Doug for being with us today.

– [Doug Zarkin] No worries, my friend, thanks a lot.

– [Chris Mechanic] Come back again anytime. All right, we’ll talk soon.

– [Doug Zarkin] You got it. Have a good one.

Doug Zarkin

Doug Zarkin Vice President and CMO

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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