Feature, Report

Making your eyewear known in the digital age

Insight explores how optometrists and eyewear retailers are using cost-effective and creative marketing techniques to attract patients in today’s ultra-competitive market landscape as more consumers venture online.

It is estimated that the average independent optometry practice in Australia generates anywhere up to 75% of total revenue from retail or product sales.

For many practices, finished spectacles and plano and prescription sunglasses account for a large portion of those sales. However, with increasing operational costs and marketing spends varying between 1-6% of turnover, more practices are seeking cost-effective eyewear marketing techniques that also work to align with consumer trends.

When it comes to identifying the most influential factors shaping consumer behaviour, shopping habits and purchasing decisions in 2020, global market research firm Euromonitor International has coined the terms ‘proudly local, going global’ and ‘catch me in seconds’.

The former helps to explain the value that consumers place on home culture and products tailored to local tastes. Meanwhile, ‘catch me in seconds’ refers to the urge to seek quick, concise and multisensory content for instant gratification.

These trends are being increasingly reflected in eyewear retail where independent practices like WINK Optometrists in Melbourne have become savvy adopters of social media to promote their business in a ‘proudly local, going global’ vein.

Meanwhile, the power of social media influencers in eyewear was perhaps most evident when a $20 pair of blue light blocking glasses became a best-seller on Amazon after a New York fashion blogger was spotted wearing them on Instagram. Closer to home, other retailers are leveraging influencers or ordinary customers who can connect on a more personal level.

Proudly local, going global

How much do eyecare practitioners spend on marketing their practice, and how much revenue does their marketing generate?

In Australia, independent practices generally allocate a marketing spend between 1-4% of turnover, compared with corporate practices, which may spend in the region of 6%.

It’s similar in the US, according to an industry marketing and sales expert, who estimated between 5-10% of gross revenue is an average marketing budget for an independently owned optometry practice, depending on location and relative competition.

The same author notes that while marketing budgets tend to be 70% spent on traditional forms of marketing such as print advertising, direct mail, billboards, radio and television versus 30% spend on digital marketing such as website, SEO, Google advertising and social media participation and advertising, that ratio is shifting closer to a 50/50 split.

For large corporations, like Specsavers and EssilorLuxottica, a large public profile and substantial revenue make that 50/50 split attainable.

But for independent practices, including two Insight spoke with, digital marketing is often the only form of marketing they use because it is cost- effective and immediate.

Lucy Rouw (left) and Jo Twaddell, WINK Optometrists.

WINK Optometrists in Melbourne uses social media as a primary vehicle to market its practice and range of frames.

Purveyors of independent eyewear, the boutique practice only stocks brands that are primarily handmade by craftspeople from around the world. A selection of these are currently seen by nearly 4,000 Facebook and Instagram followers.

Owner and optometrist Ms Jo Twaddell opened the practice in 2006. She leads a three-person team including an optometrist, optical dispenser and practice manager and dispenser, Ms Lucy Rouw.

Rouw is largely responsible for curating WINK’s vibrant, active social media presence on Facebook and Instagram, Twaddell explains, adding that they bounce ideas off each other.

Social media and word-of-mouth are WINK’s only form of marketing – the practice isn’t advertised through any other medium.

“Our best marketing tactic is having the right frame on someone’s face. Providing advice to our patients on what frame works best for them is important to us,” Twaddell says.

Mr Rick Taylor, optometrist and owner of independent Gold Coast practice Ashmore Optical, has turned to Facebook and Instagram with increasing regularity to promote his business and showcase its product range.

Rick Taylor.

“For us, I see it as the way of the future. Responses to our posts have been huge. We’re trying to use social media to publicise our range of frames and to let people know when a new range comes in,” he says.

Taylor employs two optometrists and seven support staff in the practice he has owned for 28 years.

“We’re in a small suburban shopping centre in a family-orientated area, and our patients are mainly locals. About 10 years ago, we placed ads in the local newspaper and tried radio advertising too, but we got little to no response out of it,” he says.

It can be said that the opposite is true of Specsavers, which has used traditional forms of marketing including print and television to great effect, with its widely recognised catchphrase “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” now part of the public lexicon.

Specsavers director of communications Mr Charles Hornor says that under its Joint Venture Partnership model, a certain percentage of each practice’s monthly sales revenue goes into a joint marketing fund, which is owned by the franchise partners.

Specsavers central support office administers the fund on behalf of the partners and allocates how it is spent across its financial year, split between marketing directly to consumers, and within the eyecare sector, as part of its goal to transform eye health.

It’s this concept of transforming eye health that drives a significant proportion of its marketing dollars to support annual eye health campaigns raising awareness about conditions including glaucoma and macular disease, and programs such as KeepSight.

Last year Specsavers also reviewed its branding on social media and decided on a new direction.

“We looked at how we interact with people and made a deliberate choice to move away from overly-orchestrated material in favour of real people doing real things,” Hornor says.

“While we still use some ‘style ambassadors’ on our social media platform they are also Specsavers customers living their lives in Specsavers eyewear and they’re capturing that.

“In summary, we are featuring real people posting images online on Instagram and Facebook, which is 10 times our biggest social media platform,” he says.

Cut-through

While ‘word of mouth’ marketing is still considered a top generator of new patients for optometry practices, consumers are continuing to shift their attention to their mobile devices, where conversations about healthcare, referrals and recommendations may be happening more frequently via text and social media.

When a new patient is asked how they heard about the practice it’s increasingly more likely they’ll say they discovered it through their connections on Facebook rather than through a friend or family member.

So, how can optometrists use cost-effective digital marketing techniques to compete in today’s landscape as more people head online to buy eyewear?

Marketing experts recommend practices update their website to ensure it appears high in searches for eyecare, eye disorders, brands of eyewear they stock – and ensure it loads quickly on mobile devices.

Others suggest that practices add an online appointment scheduling tool on their website – as many younger patients do not want to call to make an appointment – and enable practice staff to have conversations via messaging, as this is how many younger patients (under 40) prefer to communicate.

They also recommend featuring a selection of eyewear on the practice website, Facebook and Instagram.

WINK Optometrists combines all these digital marketing techniques, including online appointment booking, powered by MyHealth1st, and its stockist’s frames are a staple on its website and social media.

Twaddell says their inspiration for online content comes from their love of eyewear.

Jo Twaddell says WINK Optometrist doesn’t use models or influences on social media, but instead featured real patients wearing their own frames.

“It’s Lucy and my passion, and it extends into fashion, design and art. We engage with and support our social media family. We have a nice relationship with creative types, people we relate to and that reflects the people we attract,” she says.

WINK is located in Elwood Village alongside a greengrocer and gourmet butcher together with a bespoke range of independent retailers lining the high street.

In addition to a local patient demographic, WINK attracts patients and customers from all over Melbourne, Victoria, interstate and New Zealand, prompting WINK to introduce virtual fittings to keep up with demand during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Twaddell says she set out to differentiate her practice through the range of frames she chooses to stock. She usually goes to Silmo Paris to select frames but that won’t happen this year due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We stock interesting frames and attract interesting clientele as a result,” she says.

“We don’t stock licensed brands – we deliberately choose frames that aren’t heavily branded on the temples, for instance. We always choose the unusual frames you’d think would never sell but they are often the first to go.”

She continues: “We don’t use models or influences on social media – we use real people, real patients, wearing their own frames. We ask their permission to share their photo on social media – most are happy to oblige.”

“Over the last couple of years, we’re seeing younger people who appreciate craftmanship and design.”

She says WINK’s Instagram feed garners more interaction with followers than its Facebook page. Even so, advice WINK shared on how to avoid glasses from fogging while wearing a face mask attracted 31 shares and 29 comments on Facebook.

The practice also has a visually-engaging website, which was designed using copy and photography from current customers.

Ashmore Optical on the Gold Coast doesn’t yet have the social media audience that WINK has built, but it too uses social media to showcase its selection of frames.

Ashmore Optical leverages social media to showcase its selection of frames.

Taylor wants to grow Ashmore Optical’s audience on Facebook and Instagram, which he says started small but is gradually growing.

Optometrist David Angus, who joined the practice in 2000, has curated Ashmore Optical’s social media posts during the past few years but now a marketing manager has taken over the role, pro bono.

“We use frame suppliers’ marketing material when we can but it’s getting harder and harder to get promotional material to use in-store with the disruption from COVID-19,” Taylor says.

“Generally, suppliers come to the party with posters, and their logo to use on digital marketing material,” he says.

Social media is also used to connect with the practice’s client base. 

Ashmore Optical uses competitions, giveaways and sales to grow their customer base on social media. Part of social media’s appeal, Taylor says, is the fact there is no cost involved.

In July, the practice promoted a $200 in-store voucher giveaway in exchange for participants following their Facebook page and tagging four friends or family members. In the same month, they promoted Initium Eyewear, as worn by Robert Downey junior’s character in Marvel movies, Iron Man and The Avengers.

“Initium Eyewear is exclusively available through Ashmore Optical and part of the reason we decided to take this brand on was the fact that Initium is a strong supporter of Autism Awareness, a charity David is involved in,” Taylor says.

Taylor says utilising social media to showcase non-prescription frames and sunglasses is essential to reaching younger age brackets.

“It’s 100% the best platform to promote our range of sunglasses to millennials,” he says.

Catch me in seconds 

In an online article titled: ‘Social Influencers: How optical is leveraging followers, clicks and pics for marketing’, the authors note the incorporation of social media and influencers into marketing strategies is evidence that both techniques are viewed as affecting the path-to-purchase.

“With most people spending so much time on their digital devices, the path-to-purchase is no longer linear, but has evolved into more of a cycle in which an influencer at the evaluation stage can directly affect the decision of his or her follower in the awareness or consideration stages,” they note.

Aaron Telford.

The evolution in the path-to-purchasing is not lost on Australian eyewear brand Baxter Blue, which was this year named emerging online retailer of the year by e-commerce group, Power Retail.

Based in Sydney with a unique selling proposition, ‘eyewear for the digital age’, Baxter Blue sells non-prescription blue-light blocking glasses and readers for the singular price of $89, but is not, and does not claim to be, an optometry practice.

Mr Aaron Telford co-founded Baxter Blue three years ago. Prior to joining the online retail industry, he was a creative services director at Warner Bros. His own experience of eye strain, and a background in manufacturing, led him to establish the direct-to-consumer business.

He says the business has grown since its inception, and now counts professionals in the health and wellbeing industries, including chiropractors and optometrists, among its customer base.

“We’ve had a massive surge in orders in the last three months from optometrists. We’ve had a sharp increase in orders for non-prescription blue-light glasses, and an increase in wholesale from optometrists because of COVID-19, as more people are working online at home, so there’s been a surge in demand,” Telford says.

He says Baxter Blue uses social media organically to promote its products, as well as paid advertising placement on Facebook and Instagram. It also partners with influencers to connect with their predominantly young demographic.

“We did a collaboration with health and wellness entrepreneur Rachael Finch (292,000 Instagram followers) in February, which we launched on social media, and reached a large audience through Rachael’s following,” Telford says.

“It creates exposure. But we only partner with people who have the same values as us.”

It also counts Instagram coach Eloise Smith (11,400 Instagram followers) and content creator Emma Giacca among its social media influencers “doing business in their Baxters”.

Although Baxter Blue boasts more than 10,000 online reviews and has strict quality control, which Telford is particularly proud of, online retail is a crowded space and competition is strong.

Telford says Baxter Blue has “very high standards” when it comes to the quality of their frames and lenses.

“We have rigorous quality control procedure whereby a QC professional is sent to the factory to inspect and approve every pair of frames before they are despatched.”

He believes it’s this quality of product and en-pointe social media marketing that helps them beat their competitors.

“In terms of marketing, it’s business as usual at Baxter Blue. As I said, we’re seeing an increase in demand for wholesale from the optometry sector. There is greater demand for non-prescription glasses, cost- effective, straight from manufacturer to consumer. As non-prescription glasses can’t be claimed back on private health insurance, we think $89 is palatable to our customers.”