CMO Chats with Doug Zarkin, Former CMO of Pearle Vision, EssilorLuxottica

Ortus Chats


Former CMO | Pearle Vision, EssilorLuxottica

Doug Zarkin, former CMO of Pearle Vision, EssilorLuxottica, talks to The Ortus Club’s Francine Geli about the importance of team building in marketing leadership, building emotional connections in marketing, and managing a brand’s online reputation.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Moving your brand out of the friend zone and strengthening its brand value
  • The crucial role of emotions in consumer decisions
  • Challenges of managing a brand’s narrative in the digital age
  • Balancing automation with genuine engagement for the future of AI in marketing


Can you tell me about your most recent role as CMO of Pearle Vision?

For 11 years in Pearle Vision, I have been responsible for leading the global healthcare and omnichannel premium retail business. Pearle is part of the global organization of EssilorLuxottica. Pearle is unique in that it is a franchise business, meaning that about 80% of our locations are owned by doctors, opticians, and investors. This drives the opportunity to break through the clutter in a very competitive category and accountability. These independent business owners are looking for you to help drive their business and profitability.

As the CMO in your company, what is your main marketing focus currently?

It was really about restoring trust—the trust in the brand by our owners and, most importantly, the trust in the brand by the consumers. This brand revolutionized the optical retail business; it was the first brand that brought together both the doctor and retail sides. But candidly, the brand had lost a little bit of its focus and power. And so, I was brought in 11 years ago to restore the brand’s power and reestablish its dominance as the premier optical brand in a very competitive category.

Can you tell me about a particularly innovative or successful marketing campaign your team has recently executed?

As a leader, I firmly believe in the notion of thinking, given the idea of looking at your audience, not just based on the numbers that appear on a spreadsheet but the emotions and feelings that go into how they live their lives and, most importantly, how they pick their brands. So, one of the pillars of reestablishing the power of Pearle was focusing on developing the Small Moments campaign, which allowed the brand to connect with consumers emotionally—which was so incredibly important. Because, as I firmly believe and believe is true, consumers make emotional decisions before they make rational choices. And so the idea of focusing on the person behind the eyes really allowed us to break through the clutter and reestablish its brand dominance.

What are your biggest marketing challenges at the moment?

I think brands, in general, in today’s landscape, are having to deal with the opportunity and the responsibility that come with managing their online reputation narrative. Today, if a consumer has good things to say about you or, unfortunately, bad things to say about you, there are more than a handful of public forums in which they can share their experiences. Brands are trying, and many of them struggle, to regain a bit of ownership over that online narrative.

The reality is that a brand, despite its best efforts, is not always going to deliver an amazing experience. But brands do have an opportunity to take somebody who is an adversary and turn them into an advocate by really understanding where the miss was and, where possible, course correcting. It’s very difficult in today’s environment to figure out where that feedback is being given beyond just first-party surveys that you’re asking your consumers to fill out. Getting out into the digital ecosystem, in the digital wild, so to speak, and figuring out where those feedback opportunities are gained to leverage the positive experiences and, most importantly, address the negative ones is critical.

What does the future of marketing look like?

If I knew that, I’d be an incredibly wealthy man. What I can say about where the future of marketing is going is that brands are going to have to wrestle with the ability to do things fast versus the ability to do things well. As you know, AI is something that we’re all going to have to deal with. And in many cases, it can be a great asset, like any technology used for good. But there is going to be a reckoning where brands are going to realize that the pathway to simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the right thing done in the right way. AI is a wonderful tool that marketers are going to have to figure out how to optimise and use within their ecosystem. But like any technology, it can’t be left to do things automatically; it has to be used for the notion of creating a much tighter and more personal experience between the brand and its consumers. That’s something I believe we’ll have to deal with in the future of marketing.

As I understand it, you are currently writing a book on brand marketing. Can you tell me a little about it?

It’s about moving your brand out of the friend zone by strengthening your brand’s value equation—it will hopefully hit shelves in October. The book is meant to be a set of tools and constructs to help somebody trying to figure out how to build a brand and, most importantly, connect that brand with consumers. The one thing I love about marketing is that there’s no right or wrong way to do things. There’s just a way. And so, this book is really a guide to help anybody who’s in the business of building brands and building marketing plans think about ways in which to adapt some of the tools and techniques to help them connect a little bit stronger with their brand and, most importantly, develop stronger, more profitable relationships with their consumers.

What is the role of the CMO in one word? Why?

Passion. The CMO has to be the chief brand evangelist. If you, as the marketing leader, cannot embody the beauty and excitement of what your brand represents, you really shouldn’t be sitting in the seat. And again, kind of going back to the book, the book really talks about how to harness that passion for good. Because a brand is really nothing more than a group of emotions, attitudes, feelings, and perceptions that are shared by a group of people. Brand marketers have to recognise what those are and, most importantly, embody them each and every day in the system.

“A brand is really nothing more than a group of emotions, attitudes, feelings, and perceptions that are shared by a group of people. Brand marketers have to recognise what those are and, most importantly, embody them each and every day in the system.”

What career advice would you like to share with other marketing leaders?

Realize that the journey isn’t always a straight line. Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to take a step to the side or even a step back. The idea of moving from the end of the communication training to the front, where you’re now determining not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’, is intoxicating. It’s why I’ve stayed in marketing for as long as I have. But it is one that requires you to listen in order to lead in each role and function. Learn the language, learn what motivates you, and learn what motivates others and the functions you will be taking on. Because when you are sitting in the C-suite, the most critical tool in your toolbox is your ability to really build a high-performing team. You do that by listening in order to lead. You do that by hiring for passion. But most importantly, you do that by understanding all the roles and functions involved in building a brand.

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