Warby Parker—an Advertising and Marketing Strategy Case Study
When Warby Parker was founded to take on the $140 billion eyewear industry, their approach needed to boldly convince people why they were the brand to choose the next pair of glasses from. Through their unveiling that Luxottica had a monopolized grip on the worldwide eyewear industry, Warby Parker entered the market as the biggest consumer differentiator brand at that time. What their marketing strategy entailed would propel not just the eyewear upstart but the entire direct-to-consumer (DTC) landscape.
Warby Parker’s value proposition was simple: consumers should be able to conveniently get a good quality pair of glasses for a good price. The emphasis on the convenience factor is perhaps why Warby Parker took off the way they had. Through their Home Try-On program, Warby Parker cut the perceived difficulties of an eCommerce-only business at that point in their lifecycle. Pre-2010, the only real way consumers could purchase glasses would be going in-store to try on a pair and complete the transaction in one go. Warby Parker disrupted that market norm by allowing people to select any five pairs of glasses from their line and have them mailed to try on for five days before sending them back, all free of charge. This “highly delineated offering,” as Dave Gilboa—co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker—puts it, is what gave the fledgling company the success to push forward. In this take on Warby Parker’s advertising strategy, we take a closer look at what one of the most celebrated upstarts of the last ten years has done to earn the recognition it deserves.
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Warby Parker’s Marketing Strategy
To owe all the credit to Warby Parker’s success due to its accessible nature and the irresistible proposal would be mistakenly overlooking its other admirable qualities and perceptive marketing strategies. In fact, it was Warby Parker’s early conviction in marketing that gave way to its rising popularity. One of the three things the DTC brand spent money on in the beginning years was its inventory, its eCommerce storefront, and a public relations firm. And while a PR team may sound trivial to some, the positive press Warby Parker generated due to their early investment was what set it on a trailblazing trajectory.
As part of its launching strategy, Warby Parker was featured in style magazines Vogue and GQ, dubbing them “a line of boutique vintage-inspired frames and lenses for savvy urbanites at a revolutionary price point” and “the Netflix of eyewear.” The press features were so successful that the emergent brand’s expectations were surpassed when their top 15 styles sold out in four weeks and met their first year’s sales targets in three weeks. On top of that, Warby Parker amassed 20,000 customers on a waitlist. While such a long waitlist initially seemed like a difficult logistic problem, the brand quickly turned into a positive component of their customer experience when the company wrote personalized emails to upset customers and apologize and explain the Home Try-On program’s temporary suspension. Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal would later explain that the incident “set the tone” for how the company would run customer service.
Alongside the unique value proposition, Warby Parker’s press machine was also aided by the brand’s championing of their social entrepreneurship model in the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. In every pair bought from the brand, another pair is donated to someone in need through Warby Parker’s partnership with VisionSpring. In 2015, the brand started the Pupils Project, where their coordination with local government agencies, including the Department of Education in New York City and the Department of Health in Baltimore, helps provide vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses-free of charge to students.
While not a key focus of Warby Parker’s advertising strategy, the socially-conscious efforts are nonetheless a bedrock of its founding principles. As Blumenthal put it, “it’s the social mission that drives us...for our 1,800 current employees and for people we’re recruiting, we lead with social mission.” Just because Warby Parker is not as vocal about its initiatives as they are about providing people with great-looking glasses with an exceptional customer experience—which are the most important factors among customers—does not mean their efforts are any less noteworthy than their product placement marketing strategy. In 2019, Warby Parker made headlines when it announced it had distributed five million pairs of glasses to people in more than fifty countries, adding to the supercharged media exposure the DTC eyewear brand has amassed over the years.
Of course, the importance of press-generated coverage is not nearly as crucial to Warby Parker’s marketing strategy now as it had been before. For any DTC business, the brand awareness one garners as Warby Parker did in its GQ and Vogue features is essential in the beginning stages. “In any digitally-native brand, name recognition is what determines the viability of a business,” says Juan Manuel Gonzalez, founder of UI/UX and DTC marketing agency G & Co. Over time, Warby Parker has utilized more word-of-mouth marketing than press as the brand has become one of the most recognizable DTC brands today.
At the core of Warby Parker’s marketing strategy is doubling down on the customer experience. It’s a given that DTC brands will have to take up the mantle of acting as their own manufacturers, distribution partners, and promoters. And Warby Parker has impeccably executed as complete a shopping experience as any consumer can hope for. Through their maintenance of consumer-centric dialogue, Warby Parker’s marketing approach is fertile ground for healthy user-generated content.
In every Home Try-On Kit, Warby Parker encourages recipients to ask their friends and family for their opinion on any of the five frames they’re trying on to make a choice. Additionally, the brand uses the hashtag #WarbyHomeTryOn to bring the decision-making process to social media as well, where more than 50,000 posts under the tag populated social networks and where a Warby Parker representative gives their feedback to home try on recipients on what frames to choose. That also doesn’t count the more personal interaction consumers can opt for, if they choose; only a message away, recipients of the Warby Parker Home Try-On Kit can text the brand and ask for a stylists’ judgment before settling on a pair. Such a twist on the customer experience led to a 50% increase in the likelihood of purchasing a pair of glasses. This kind of ingenuity in terms of convenience and assistance sets Warby Parker apart from the traditional eyewear brand and erodes any doubt early skeptics may have had about the success of a strictly eCommerce company.
And to supplement the responsive customer experience, Warby Parker has since introduced its “Wearing Warby” series. Customers share their heartening stories in the form of a video interview accompanied by a blog post. The series highlights Warby Parker customers whose narrative paints a picture of just how much of an impact the DTC eyewear brand has made in their lives and is a different light than that of influencer marketing done by other direct-to-consumer names. The series is only one facet of a wave of user-generated content that further spurred Warby Parker’s marketing efforts.
In matters dealing more so with levity than marketing, Warby Parker has also played around with the digitally savvy consumer. Their launching of the joke site Warby Barker for April Fool’s Day showcased the brand’s social media game and only endeared them to more people. But a facet of Warby Parker’s advertising is not strictly attributed to generating more conversation through user-generated content with posts under the #WarbyHomeTryOn tag or in sharing customer stories about their journey with a new pair of Warby Parker glasses but because of their very infrastructure.
Warby Parker’s eCommerce Strategy
Considering Warby Parker began as a digitally native business, it’s no surprise that the DTC brand has a strengthened online presence. Everything from the eCommerce website to the two mobile app experiences represents a brand on the consumer space’s bleeding edge. Warby Parker has made an app in its own league as a fundamental component to its mobile strategy. Through augmented reality (AR), users can use the official Warby Parker app to virtually try on a pair of their glasses. Additionally, the official app is outfitted with Apple Pay integration and SMS updates for shipping for a seamless purchase process. Warby Parker’s secondary app allows people to renew their prescription using their telehealth service. Users can verify whether their vision has changed by taking an at-home eye exam. Based on unchanged results from the current prescription, Warby Parker will confirm a renewal for $15 and will otherwise recommend a comprehensive eye exam without charging one for using the app.
All this goes to show how digital innovation tied with riding the tide of shifting consumer behaviors towards a more convenient manner positions Warby Parker as a brand primed for continued growth. Their bold embrace of cutting-edge technology as part of its marketing strategy tied Warby Parker as an eyewear name that’s both suited for style and cognizant of how to leverage social media and customer experience together.
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How much does Warby Parker spend on digital marketing and advertising?
While there are no exact estimates on how much Warby Parker spends on digital marketing and advertising, we can point to their television advertising budget. According to Media Post, Warby Parker reins among the DTC world in TV advertising, spending a reported $10 million in the first quarter of 2020. As recently as 2015, Warby Parker spent $492,000 on paid search keyword rankings from January through June.
What is Warby Parker’s digital strategy?
As a digitally native brand that has only flexed its online muscle in the last few years, Warby Parker’s digital strategy is no doubt one of the most robust in the market today. By differentiating themselves from the rest of the eyewear names while doing it all through an online front and innovating new ways for consumers to interact with products, Warby Parker has excelled, if not outright changed, the dynamic by which DTC brands and their digital strategies are based.
Pioneering virtual try-on and encouraging customers to share how their frames look on social media are only a few examples of many that demonstrate just how capable Warby Parker is at energizing customers and carrying through in every customer interaction.
What is Warby Parker’s customer experience (CX) strategy?
Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal explained it best when he said, “We’ve created an example of a business that can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world without charging a premium for it.” Going after Luxottica and revealing to the extent that consumers were charged marked-up prices for glasses was a luxury many simply couldn’t bear to put up with. Fortunately, neither did Warby Parker.
The entire value proposition in Warby Parker is to provide great quality glasses at a great price in a convenient manner. If the brand’s $95 frames, dozens of styles, and ease of purchase is any indication of their commitment to that promise, they’ve certainly kept it.
To add on to it, though, Warby Parker has since introduced an AR feature in their mobile app that allows users to virtually try on a frame. Additionally, the Warby Parker prescription check app has simplified the renewal process, making it easier than ever to support customers with their visual needs. There’s also the social initiative in which for every pair of glasses Warby Parker sells, another goes to one of more than 600 million people around the world in need of them. So far, Warby Parker has provided five million pairs of glasses to people through its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, and counts its Pupils Project as another solutions-based cause.
What is DTC brand digital marketing, how is it different?
DTC marketing is different in that direct-to-consumer brands are in charge of everything from the manufacturing process to the distribution and the promotion. There are no intermediary parties that have to greenlight a brand’s idea or approach. And as such, DTC brands have far more freedom in managing their customer experience from the start of the customer journey with the brand awareness stage to post-purchase and retention.
As a DTC advertising agency and DTC marketing agency, we understand strategies come in a variety of different approaches. But almost all of them start with the ideation of their ideal customer profile and how to best communicate to them and provide a rewarding experience they can appreciate. A few examples include pushing out high-quality and engaging content with the intent that it prompts user-generated posts or having a personalized shopping experience that more closely matches a brand’s mission. There truly is no shortage of ways in how DTC brands approach their marketing and advertising strategy to engage and connect with their consumers.
Why is marketing important for any DTC brand?
Given that most DTC brands start from ground one, it is incredibly important that marketing be a crucial part of its business strategy. DTC brands must work to overcome the absence in name recognition traditional brands enjoy. That work largely stems from DTC brands’ use of marketing to establish themselves as the choice for a specific product line.
And because the internet has opened up the accessibility of convenient shopping and brand-building, there are far more tools easily disposable for connecting with people and establishing the consumer-provider relationship. Any great DTC digital agency will tell you this means more businesses than ever before have the same capacity to target consumers and refine their marketing approach. With the relative ease in marketing tools and strategies, brands from all over constantly vie for consumers’ attention. In short, marketing is essential for DTC brands because it is the one way in which they can assure their visibility and turn attention into sales and because it is how they differentiate themselves from the competition.
Why is eCommerce important for DTC brands?
An upstart DTC brand will probably not have the financial depth enterprise businesses or subsidiaries enjoy, nor will they have the retail relationships to rely on having their products stocked on shelves in stores for consumers to pick and choose. Typically, a nouveau DTC brand originates online and builds its business online before expanding to physical stores. It’s why the single most important aspect of any digital front for a DTC brand is their eCommerce store, presence, and strategy.
DTC brands are synonymous with convenience, ease of use, and high quality. It’s through a DTC brand’s eCommerce strategy that these things shine through, delivering a straightforward and enjoyable shopping experience to any customer. As a DTC advertising agency and DTC eCommerce agency, we understand that because they live and breathe online, a DTC brand’s eCommerce strategy is quintessential to its success. Without the restraint that can come with physical stores, direct-to-consumer players relish the flexibility in making their user experience clear-cut and designed to make the purchasing process as simple as possible (or at least that’s the goal).