- America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses is one of the leading value players in the optical category
- 260+ stores throughout North America Achieving aggressive sales & expansion goals while other discount players are not.
- Imitate Target and you'll miss the bullseye
- Authenticity matters
- Discount shoppers spot a fake a mile away
- Features > Benefits (for now)
- TV is better with friends
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Macs are better than PCs.
Target is hipper than Walmart.
Imported beer is cooler than domestic.
What does that have to do with marketing a discount eyeglass chain?
Nothing, and that's just one of the reasons why we've managed to help America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses achieve aggressive sales goals and expand its customer base during one of the most unpredictable economic chapters in history.
Let's back up a second, and you'll see what we mean (as well as something Winn-Dixie, Sears and Walmart there for a minute all had to learn the hard way).
America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses is one of the fastest growing optical chains in the country. They're a value player that appeals to discount shoppers. As one of the largest buyers of designer overstock frames, and a company that hires their own eye doctors, they're able to offer one of the strongest price points in the optical business (two pairs of glasses for $69.95 with a free eye exam - every day).
When we approached the business, what we saw was a chain that we really liked. And we, as a general collective, really like those other hip and trendy things, too. So, our initial thought was - Hey, let's TARGET this badboy up and call it a day.
Fortunately, we realized we were wrong before we got ourselves in trouble.
Now, this is an easy trap to fall into, as many other agencies and retailers have painfully discovered. You've got a client that you like and respect, with stores that you like and prices you love and you start thinking about how that store could be more appealing to YOU.
The only problem is - Marketing 101 - that store isn't going to make more money by targeting you (or - rim shot - Target-ing itself for that matter).
After listening to the America's Best management team's insights and vision for the brand and really taking a look at the research, we wanted to know more about the two primary categories of shoppers frequenting the store. The Prisoners of Price couldn't afford to shop with private eye docs, boutiques or the more fashion forward mall-based chains. They needed us, and we needed them. The Savvy Shoppers could afford more expensive places, but preferred the value of brands like America's Best and their retail counterparts like Rack Room Shoes, Ross Dress for Less, etc.
Attracting more Savvy Shoppers, which the spiraling economy was seemingly making even more achievable, was an obvious goal because it would increase the average ticket and help drive new, added traffic into the stores.
The key, of course, was figuring out how to make the store appear more desirable to shoppers with more income without alienating the less affluent that had faithfully fueled the store's success for years and years.
We started by going into the store and interviewing real customers. It's always surprising to us how quickly sacrificed this is when brands and agencies get busy and preoccupied with other things. (Focus Groups, an overhyped substitute, are OK for giving you direction and possible insights, but the artificial setting changes the context of the experience and is no match for actual conversations.)
Once we emerged from the stores, we had a much better grasp on who was shopping there and why - both from what the store was offering perspective, as well as from what their home life routine and realities dictated.
Put those stories on TV. Granted, not the most groundbreaking creative idea or innovative marketing exercise, but you know what? It was the right thing to do.
The brand, for years, had run a wildly irreverent, borderline insane slew of animated "bobblehead" commercials. They enjoyed a fair level of awareness among the demos we wanted, but one group, and the client, absolutely despised them. Part of the reason was the Savvy Shopper expects to make some tradeoffs in exchange for price savings. They might be willing to drive further, wait longer or settle for B/B+ level brands. But they aren't going to subject themselves to a circus-like shopping experience.
On the flipside, a large portion of the brand's most loyal customers felt threatened by any change or aesthetic improvement the brand had historically made. The Prisoners of Price are a sensitive bunch, always expecting you to pull up stakes or trade up for something, someone better. They can also smell a fake a mile away. Put an actor in there, and they'll probably know. Put someone too pretty in there, and they'll probably resent it. So, the key to reaching this audience, and keeping this audience meant staying authentic.
We stayed authentic. We found people who played to all audiences with stories that everyone could relate to, and let them drive the chain's amazing price points.
We embraced a price-centric position. To drive it all home, we anchored the campaign with a line that the brand could truly claim (and had abandoned years ago) - America's Best, The Best Prices in Sight. Deciding to let the brand's features outweigh its benefits was a fairly easy decision here. Why? Because most people in this category, or subcategory, are buying, not shopping for glasses. And if you're buying something, that's more of a needs-based decision.
We elevated the in-store aesthetic. Our designers excel at marrying cutting edge design trends with old school classical restraint and class. For this, we elevated the design, without trying to make it as ubiquitous or polarizing as an Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie look. We needed something that would play to the masses without driving away style-conscious shoppers.
We attracted a broader base with a broader media mix. From a marketing nuts-and-bolts perspective, we also encouraged the AB team to expand their media horizons. The brand had always been a TV-only advertiser, buying the least expensive time slots available - as they put it, "if it's got Judge or Court in the title, we're there."
Besides some endorsement radio action, that was pretty much it. And while that worked fairly well, we knew the improvements they made to the store and the shellacking the economy was taking had the chain properly positioned to catch - and hold on to - a new stream of customers.
While the latest research suggests that clubs, warehouses and Walmart appear to have been The Big Slowdown's big winners, as opposed to specialty discount retailers, America's Best has a different tale to tell. They've consistently topped overall and year-to-date monthly same store sales (without raising their core offer price), expanded their footprint, elevated the perception of the brand internally and appear to have done so externally (research pending).
The marketing we have on the air isn't going to win us a Gold Lion from the judges at Cannes - but we bet if those judges need glasses and they see the work, America's Best just might win a shot at their business.