One Eyed Wonder

4 Sep

Companies typically spend a lot of money developing their products. First there’s research and development, where they try to pinpoint consumer needs and category trends. Then there’s the financial analysis, with fancy Excel models that spit out predictions for sales revenue and profits. Once the product is ready to go, more money is pumped into advertising campaigns and in-store promotions. And then the company’s employees cross their fingers and hope their baby takes off.

…and if it doesn’t take off? Time and time again, we see new products disappear within a year, cut down by lower-than-expected sales or unsustainable profits. When the numbers aren’t talking, the product goes a-walking. But what if sales weren’t the only way to evaluate a product’s success and impact? Obviously companies can’t entirely ignore their sales figures, or every company around us would be in the red. But, there’s something to be said for products that mean something (i.e. brand equity), compared to products that make something (i.e. money). And it’s probably in their best interests for companies to have a healthy mix of both.

the monocle itself (image from WarbyParker.com)

I recently read an Inc.com article by the co-CEO of Warby Parker about his company’s rationale for selling a rather unusual product. Warby Parker is a prescription eyeglasses store that mostly sells online, but also has some showrooms around the U.S. In his article, Neil Blumenthal discusses one of the company’s odder offerings: a monocle. Yes, you read that correctly, Warby Parker sells a monocle. And a dashing one at that. As Blumenthal explains, stocking the monocle has nothing to do with sales or profits- it has to do with fostering a differentiated brand image. Stumbling upon a monocle is an interesting and unusual experience that drives consumer engagement. A monocle may not be as practical as the store’s other selections, and it’s certainly never going to be their top seller. But it doesn’t need to be. The monocle is a tribute to the Warby Parker POV. I love Blumenthal’s point that the monocle works because it’s unexpected without being random. Monocles may not be a typical product to find at eyeglasses stores these days, but they’re certainly category appropriate. It just wouldn’t work in the same way if Warby Parker sold pink plastic flamingos or inflatable sofas.

In an age where products live and die by numbers and websites live and die by clicks, it’s compelling to think about throwing some of that out the window in favor of building a brand. Check out the full article here. And if you’re interested in learning more about Warby Parker’s unique business model, read up on their website.

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