Jack Kerouac and a Mistake that Made Good

Warby Parker is an online prescription glasses retailer that started with a lost pair of glasses and has ended up as one of the most popular online locations to buy a new pair of eyewear.

Co-founder Dave Gilboa told Dinah Eng of Fortune Magazine that it all began while “backpacking around the world” in 2008 after he lost his glasses. “I went most of the first semester without glasses because I was shocked at the cost.” And he said that he couldn’t understand how a new phone could be cheaper than eyeglasses.  And apparently “started complaining to anyone who’d listen.” (Eng, 2019)

“Every idea starts with a problem. Ours was simple: glasses are too expensive.” Warby Parker says on their website; and it adds that they were “founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.” (Warby Parker, 2019)

Warby Parker, “named for characters in Jack Kerouac writings, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, keeps prices low by designing its own geek-chic frames, cutting out licensing fees, working directly with suppliers and eliminating markups by selling directly to consumers, who submit their prescriptions online.”  Said Vanessa O’Connell in the Wall Street Journal. (O’Connell, 2012)

“It’s easy to see why Warby is so influential. The frames (mostly produced overseas) are durable and spiffy, and the lenses (mostly produced domestically) are as good as more expensive alternatives.” Said David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times.  And due to his interviews with glasses makers and investigations into eyewear, he found that “Warby Parker was the company that other eyewear firms consider the yardstick for anyone seeking to disrupt the near-monopoly of Essilor Luxottica, the industry behemoth behind LensCrafters, EyeMed and nearly every designer frame you can think of.” (Lazarus, 2019)

Flashback to after the eyewear indecent; co-founder Neil Blumenthal remembers fellow co-founder Andy Hunt asking “why aren’t people buying glasses online?” Blumenthal himself added that he knew the “margins were big and knew where [they] could get glasses produced.” (Eng, 2019)

So Blumenthal “emailed three friends (Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt, and Jeff Raider) in the middle of the night proposing that the four… start an online eyewear company. All responded yes immediately.” (Winfrey, 2015)

Their “classmates were skeptical… ‘You’ll never be able to convince people they should be buying this online,’ “Gilboa told Inc. “The feedback inspired the idea of letting customers try on five pairs of frames at home for free before buying any” an idea that was a “hit with virtually everyone.” (Winfrey, 2015)

“We spent all our money on getting the website built and the initial inventory. We hired a fashion publicist because we knew we needed to get into established publications to develop credibility and relationships.” Gilboa told Fortune (Eng, 2019)

And “on February 15, 2010, WarbyParker.com went live. Within 48 hours of GQ’s dubbing the company ‘the Netflix of eyewear,’ the site was so flooded with orders for $95 glasses that Blumenthal temporarily suspended the home try-on program. “ (Winfrey, 2015)

Gilboa identifies that “social media picked us up” after “getting articles in GQ and Vogue.” (Eng, 2019) And social media allows Warby Parker to market their glasses through word of mouth across customers social feeds. “Warby Parker encourages transactional communication by consistently communicating” with  customers “on their social media platforms.” (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)

“We allow customers to post images of themselves wearing our eyewear on our Facebook page so that they can receive feedback on which frames look best on their face,” Blumenthal told Shira Lazar at Entrepreneur magazine regarding their social media success. “We opened up our Facebook wall, allowing anyone to post, and then engaged with everyone that posted.” (Lazar, 2012)

“[Warby Parker] regularly prompt customers to participate with user-generated content… on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.” Allowing for Warby Parker customers to “share their purchases” in their personal feeds. Therefore, the company does not have to pay for ads but instead encourages these “trusted voices” of customers to market their purchase directly to their network of friends. “This communication with individuals that customers already know and trust likely helps to reduce customer dissonance.” (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)

“[Warby Parker] also uses social media to provide information,” such as “expert advice on eyeglasses,” highlighting “challenges consumers have with the traditional eyeglass market,” and their “marketing for [the] social good in their business strategy.” (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)

“Our hope has always been to demonstrate that you can build a high-growth company that’s profitable, that provides exceptional value to customers, and that does good in the world.” Neil Blumenthal disclosed to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin for Inc., “we want to be that example that other folks can follow. We need more business leaders to be considering the impact of their products on all stakeholders, and we need leaders to be thinking about that impact in a much more sophisticated way,” and “Frankly, the social mission is what drives us. It’s what gets us up in the morning.” (Lagorio-Chafkin, 2019)

Warby Parker “recently announced it had distributed its 5-millionth pair of glasses under” their program that “for every pair of glasses sold, Warby distributes a free or discounted pair to someone in need.” Says Lazarus, adding “in that way, if no other, it would be great if all other glasses companies were more like Warby.” (Lazarus, 2019)

In a traditional media market, Warby Parker would face the challenges of figuring out where, when, and how to market to their customers.  And after all of that, break through any trust barriers.

Communication via TV using commercials can be expensive and may not reach the right eyes.  Compounding that Warby Parker might have trouble promoting their product as well as eyewear advice, showcasing customer satisfaction, highlighting their socially conscious efforts, and provide a buying location in a short commercial.

Blumenthal admitted to Lagorio-Chafkin that in the beginning, their brand’s story was a long one, that when they “would start talking about the branding [they had] created, it was very deliberate. But it was still verbal diarrhea.” (Lagorio-Chafkin, 2019)

If Warby Parker wanted to tell that story in traditional advertising, they could have turned to longer formated commercials, or “infomercials.” An infomercial could provide a good deal of information as well as a number or website for consumers to buy Warby Parker glasses immediately.

Infomercials offer their own pratfalls, for instance, “when you say ‘As Seen on TV,’ most people picture themselves on the couch at 2 AM, blankly flipping through channels.” Says Diray Media. “They may also still have a perception of ‘As Seen on TV’ products being gimmicky and cheap.” (Diray Media, 2013)

“Consumers today want a different relationship from what they are getting right now from many brands,” described Sean Foster, CEO of the marketing platform Crowdtap, during his panel discussion, “People-Power Marketing: A Crash Course in Putting Consumers at the Heart of Your Brand.” That to adapt to change, “brands must move from a ‘closed system’ to an ‘open system’ where consumers become architects of a brand.” (Chen, 2015)

“Digital marketing has become more accessible and more affordable, and people are finding better digital substitutes for traditional forms of interaction and entertainment,” says Jayson DeMers for Forbes. “Brand trust is at all-time-low levels, millennials are getting older, and digital marketing just keeps getting more practical.” (DeMers, 2016)

Not to mention that “marketers today face a huge obstacle when trying to reach young consumers: 84 percent of Millennials don’t like traditional advertising nor do they trust it,” according to Yuyu Chen for ClickZ, citing a McCarthy Group survey.  (Chen, 2015)

So, it almost seems likely that if Warby Parker decided to go the traditional route of advertising for marketing, they wouldn’t be reaching the right eyes.  And even if they were, their audience might not trust what they are seeing (see what I did there).

References

Chen, Y. (2015, March 4). 84 Percent of Millennials Don’t Trust Traditional Advertising. Retrieved from ClickZ: https://www.clickz.com/84-percent-of-millennials-dont-trust-traditional-advertising/27030/

DeMers, J. (2016, March 22). Is Traditional Advertising Dead? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2016/03/22/is-traditional-advertising-dead/#4f91eaad2925

Diray Media. (2013, June 25). Decoding the “As Seen on TV” Stigma. Retrieved from Diray Media: https://diraymedia.com/2013/06/decoding-the-as-seen-on-tv-stigma/

Eng, D. (2019, May 30). In Hindsight: How Warby Parker Got Its Start. Retrieved from Fortune Magazine: http://fortune.com/2019/05/30/warby-parker-founders/

Lagorio-Chafkin, C. (2019, April 11). Warby Parker Had a Mission. Its Customers Didn’t Care. Here’s How the Company Changed Its Message. Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/christine-lagorio/warby-parker-neil-blumenthal-founders-project.html

Lazar, S. (2012, April 10). Warby Parker’s Grand Vision: Innovating Eyewear Through Social Media. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223309

Lazarus, D. (2019, May 8). Warby Parker proves you can sell quality glasses at more affordable prices. Retrieved from Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-eyewear-warby-parker-20190508-story.html

Mahoney, L., & Tang, T. (2017). Strategic Social Media. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

O’Connell, V. (2012, July 18). Warby Parker Co-Founder Says Initial Vision Was All About Price. Retrieved from Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444097904577535111565440718

Warby Parker. (2019). History. Retrieved from Warby Parker: https://www.warbyparker.com/history

Winfrey, G. (2015, May). The Mistake That Turned Warby Parker Into an Overnight Legend. Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/magazine/201505/graham-winfrey/neil-blumenthal-icons-of-entrepreneurship.html

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