I have been asked: How did Warby Parker receive Fast Company’s #1 “most innovative company” award, beating out organizations such as Apple, Google, Instagram and HBO?
Did they invent a new style of eyeglasses? Do they have eyeglasses that make you see better than any other eyeglasses out there? Did they come up with a magic formula to measure a PD? Are they cheaper? The answers are no, no, no and no.
If you think that the eye wear retailer received the innovation award by creating a magical formula that is secret and uncopiable and makes people buy eyeglasses three at a time, you are absolutely wrong. You are also missing the boat if you think they are rehashing an old story and just selling eyeglasses and received an award only because selling eye wear online is a trend.
The reality is that there are much bigger and more powerful companies that sell eyeglasses online, including vision care plans and national lens manufacturers, but they have not achieved growth or shown innovation to the extent that Warby Parker has. If you ask Warby Parker, they will confess that they did not bring an innovative new product to market, but they might just mention that they did innovate the manner in which they brought an age-old product to the forefront of their target consumer’s mind.
Agustin L. Gonzalez
While we were thinking of how the office smells or how to showcase the frames on a board, Warby Parker was thinking of attacking the consumer by targeting the right demographics, using new, more effective advertising venues and leveraging social media marketing concepts such as “virality,” all while tracking data analytics and not being passive about it. This is a company that was pushed to open brick and mortar stores to support their online business, not the other way around as optometrists were told to do by practice advisors.
Warby Parker grew not by delivering a new product, but by using innovative new ways to track, market and advertise. Instead of the Yellow Pages, direct mail postcards and newspaper advertising, the company took advantage of digital media and social network marketing.
In short, Warby Parker is just a classic business model delivered in the digital age, and that is the innovation.
While Internet sales are a small percentage of prescription eye wear sales, Warby Parker continues to grow at a rate that retail opticals have not seen. They are delivering a traditional product in new ways with an innovative marketing strategy and consumer messaging.
What we can immediately learn from Warby Parker is that innovation is not selling the product, but rather thinking outside of the box is. If anything, Warby Parker can show us that adding new pieces to an old puzzle works.
What worked for them is simple: they leveraged technology to take their message to their targeted audience, used available new metrics to test what works, all while keeping an ear to the ground in generational trends.
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Agustin L. Gonzalez, OD, FAAO, is in private practice in Dallas, serves as adjunct faculty at InterAmerican University and is a member of the Primary Care Optometry News Editorial Board. He can be reached at AG@TXEyeDr.com.
Disclosure: Gonzalez reports no relevant financial disclosures.