Selling Self-Expression: EyeBuyDirect Sees Beyond Discount Identity

Me-too brands have cluttered  and confused the DTC eyewear marketplace in recent years.  But EyeBuyDirect was one of the original entrants, founded in 2006. To meet these market challenges, the company recently went through a major rebranding effort around the themes of self-expression and individuality. Brand Director Jim Merk joins us this week to explain how this repositioning and image makeover evolved out of a classic conundrum for DTC brands: Sales success and growth outstripping brand recognition. Jim himself has been in the DTC for a number of years. He joined EyeBuyDirect two years ago, after a long tour of duty of driving branding at the tech retailer Newegg. You can listed to the entire podcast at this link.



MediaPost: What compelled the rebrand in the first place? What are you solving for here? 

Jim Murk: We noticed that despite tremendous growth that we were having, our brand awareness was not growing at the same rate. That's not an uncommon thing for DTC markets or in online-only retailers. So, you can do a lot of middle and low funnel activities that result in sales but don't result in brand awareness. There is data that shows once you get brand awareness up around 40% your mid and lower funnel activities begin to become more efficient. So, there was a drive to match what we were doing with our growth and sales, with our brand awareness, and that really necessitated a study of where we were and where we wanted to go, and how best to manage that.

MP: In that research did you find out pre-existing ideas that were associated with the brand that you wanted to reorient? 

Merk: Most people thought of us as a discount brand, and that was something that we really wanted to move away from. We do save people money. We did want to [make the] change into being an affordable brand. We really also wanted to emphasize the quality aspect of our eyewear. That is really important to us. The first stage of what we do is to correct eyesight. It feels great. And then on top of that, if you've got the right style, you feel good and you feel confident. And that was the thing that we found was resonating with our customers. So, we kind of put all of that together to help us redefine our brand and reposition ourselves. We weren't a discount brand. But we were something that you could do to express your individuality, have more than one pair of glasses, and have a pair of glasses for different activities. Our average price for a pair of prescription glasses is about a $100 out the door. So now you can really think about getting two pairs, three pairs, four pairs or getting to per year. And now you've suddenly have a lot of ways to express your individuality throughout the day. And it's an awful lot of fun.

MP: I noticed in your influencers’ creative you were able to tie these themes of self-expression with value, that it's affordable enough to have a collection of styles. 

Merk: No one looks at me and says, oh, my gosh! I’m going to get fashion advice from that guy. But since I've been with EyeBuyDirect, and I've got a collection of glasses, people are like Oh, Elton John, are we? And It's fun. And it is amazing how much transformation takes place with just a different pair of glasses.

MP: So, when you pick a theme like this - self-expression and individuality especially in American context is about as common as you can get - I’m curious about what sort of creative execution really makes that point. What are some of the choices that you’ve made in terms of both your advertising creative but also the online and the full digital experience of buying the glasses?

Merk: So, when you start with that value proposition of here, we are, we're going to help you express yourself. So, then we kind of rewrote our purpose. Now our stated purpose is to empower people everywhere to express their individuality. And then you get your purpose and your mission in there, then the brand values that we chose were okay let's make sure that we deliver on integrity. We want to show a diverse crowd of people. We really want those people to be we [what] call lovers of life. They live outside the box, they're innovative, they act with confidence, they harness unconventionality to inspire change. And just being authentic. You can be whomever you want to be as long as you're not hurting anybody, of course, and be true to yourself. We really feel like that will lead us into what we want to look like. And so, what we want to look like, of course, is authentic, joyful, unconventional, and confident.

And so, you'll see that while we keep the diverse models, our models are smiling. We have a wide range of models covering all walks of life, and we kind of make sure that we are focusing on those people who might be style lovers, active lifestyles, and conscious contributors. And then we get into our color palettes so that every time you see a picture from us you recognize oh that's EyeBuyDirect picture. And then, we redid the logo and the logo form. So EyeBuyDirect went from looking like it was a bank logo into looking something more friendly and approachable, and a little bit more vibrant, and of today. And then we added this icon that looks like somebody is wearing a pair of glasses, or they've got a lot of personality. So now we've got something else with which we can build brand equity.

MP: What did you learn along the way about executing a rebrand internally - making sure everybody is on board?

Merk: We didn't have a purpose before. We had a mission and a vision, but we didn't have a purpose. Without the purpose we found that different parts of our company were, interpreting the mission and the vision somewhat differently. So, for example when we would see some of our performance marketing going out there, or some of the stories that our affiliate team was developing, they were using imagery that was probably a little outdated. And [they were] using some of the phrasing that would suggest discount rather than affordability or styles. And so, when we started getting into our purpose that helped tie every action in every channel together, and that was really big. So now we see that we're building synergy between our different channels rather than every channel, building its own brand, if you will, even though it's under the same brand. 

And that's a risk that many companies face. It happens as your company starts to grow, and as each channel sees success in what they're doing, they're not going to want to change. And so, you really have to have these conversations about we're not going to break it, but we're going to turn the ship three degrees, and if everybody does those three degrees, we will all help each other, and we will all benefit.

MP: What's the media plan in a rebrand plan like this? What channels have you chosen to heavy up on and why?

Merk: We are very data-driven. When we look back at what we were spending money on its kind of the typical things. Let's spend some money on events. Let's throw some six figures on an activation with a celebrity. And let's kind of do these things that people would think of as typical branding exercises.

But we found it had little to no impact on our brand recognition, and we saw the same things for our competitors. Even when celebrities were chosen it would help within a certain segment. So, if you were to pick a favorite comedian, that comedian’s following might be interested but when you're talking about brand awareness, you're talking about the entire spectrum of the market. And so, we stopped doing celebrity co-branded activations. The one thing that we found made a difference was connected TV. It’s something that we could measure, and then taking connected TV and then the next step is terrestrial TV. And we find that TV spending is where you want to be, and that is the one thing that can measurably change brand awareness in the shortest amount of time. And of course, it's expensive. So, you have to cut someplace, focus your efforts to get there. But before you do that, you want to make sure that you've got your visuals correct, and your site together.

MP: How do you deal with the clutter? What are the key differentiators among this wave of DTC eyeglass competitors? 

Merk:  First, having a website that is easy to navigate is really important. So, we are constantly looking at our UX. We're seeing growth in our 50+ crowd. I really believe that's an indicator that our site is easy to use. Virtual try on is super important. Ours is really different. I want to know if these glasses are actually going to fit my face out of the box. If the digital version of them is stretching a little bit to accommodate my face visually, they're not going to stretch out of the box. This is a great insight. If people put on glasses, and they're the wrong size, they should look like the wrong size. That really makes our returns go down quite a bit. So, ease of site, great virtual try on, and then being able to use the filters to find what you're after.

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