Warby Parker: The Brand Is The Mojo

Making Warby Parker 'remark'-able.

The Business Model: Be ‘Remark’ – able

Here’s a novel idea: let’s take a puzzlingly over-priced product, vertically integrate our design and production, and sell it over the internet at an affordable price. Sound familiar?

Today, this business model seems both prevalent and obvious, and certainly shouldn’t be credited to any single company. But how has Warby Parker done just that and created an entire ‘category’ around itself?[i] In a little over five years, how has it climbed to a $1.2 billion valuation and been awarded Fast Company’s and the National Retail Federation’s “Most Innovative Company” awards, while other vertically integrated, ecommerce companies have not?[ii]

Warby of WPsA ‘category’ unto itself: simple Google Search for “warby parker of “

Warby Parker has created a simple, intentionally hierarchical promise: (1) create beautiful glasses, (2) offer amazing quality and service at an affordable price, and (3) ‘do good’ in the world.[iii] But what really makes the model click is the deliberate and careful dissemination of a brand that promotes that customer promise. Tactically, the goal is not simply to differentiate, but to make the brand and the three tenets of its business model ‘remark’-able so that it generates conversations amongst consumers and influencers alike.[iv]

The Beauty and the Buzz

From its public debut in February 2010, Warby Parker has sought to align itself with key cultural influencers. The company launched to the world via articles in GQ and Vogue, where it was called ‘the Netflix of eyewear’.[v] For its first New York Fashion Week in 2011, the company staged a ‘renegade’ and ‘gorilla’ presentation in the New York Public Library, where fashion editors were snuck in to witness models, donning Warby Parker glasses, reading books titled with each frame’s style.[vi]

LirbaryVogue was just one of many fashion authorities in attendance for “one of the more novel presentations at New York Fashion Week.” [vii]

Asides from fashionistas, Warby Parker sought the support of other cultural influencers. In 2012 and 2013, the Warby Parker Class Trip, a tricked-out yellow school bus, travelled around the United States, stopping in different cities and partnering with local like-minded organizations and personalities.[viii] The tour served as a grass-roots national advertising campaign and created local advocates for the brand. It also created an early opportunity for the company to begin cataloguing its customers by region and to test retail markets for its eventual brick-and-mortar roll-out. Most importantly though, Warby Parker’s careful assembly of cultural influencers lent credibility to the brand and has continued to serve as an essential driver of the company’s organic growth.

OprahWarby Parker even won over Oprah, and was featured as part of her famed ‘Favorite Things’ list in 2014[ix]

Surprise and Delight: Exceptional Quality, Value, and Service

Warby Parker frames are made from acetate customized in Italy and titanium sourced from Japan, and its lenses include anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating.[x]  Despite the high quality, most glasses cost only $95 with prescription, while other designer eyewear retail around $400.[xi] However, the price-point, made possible through vertical integration and control over distribution, is only part of the consumer value. Warby Parker drives customer adoption through exceptional customer service, which is best exhibited through its free shipping, 30-day return policy, and Home Try-On program.[xii] In particular, the Home-Try On program, which allows customers to try on five frames for free pre-purchase, is a clever marketing tool, as users often solicit feedback from friends or the public for help in their purchasing decision.[xiii]

YouTubeMarina, a Home-Try On customer, turns to YouTube for help with choosing glasses[xiv]

The company also uses interactive and quirky outreach strategies, such as its in-store photo booths and its ‘surprise-and-delight campaign’, to wow the consumer and set the bar for exceptional customer service.[xv] The consistent messaging around quality, value, and service is the primary reason that Warby Parker’s Net Promotor Score, a measurement of customer satisfaction and its most closely tracked metric, is one of the highest reported (91) – well ahead of other great brands, like Apple (72) and Costco (82).[xvi]

CookieA delicious Santa cookie, part of the 2012 surprise-and-delight Christmas campaign.[xvii]

‘Do Good’

While Warby Parker’s social mission is intentionally the last piece of its customer promise, it is still a core component of its business model, and is even a company Core Value.[xviii] Most notably, Warby Parker employs a ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ model, through which the company has already distributed more than one million glasses to those in need.[xix] The company is also a B Corp, a coveted distinction anointed to socially accountable for-profit businesses.[xx] Warby Parker’s ‘Do Good’ mission has helped it to not only engage socially conscious consumers, but also attract talent, generate press, and become a leading example of social-impact businesses.[xxi]

Social2Warby Parker’s ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ program has distributed over one million glasses to those in need.[xxii]

“For being the ‘The Warby Parker of Warby Parkers’.” – Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies 2014

While Warby Parker’s basic business model has been and will continue to be replicable, its distinguishing feature is its authentic and creative brand messaging, which is laced throughout the company’s operations. Fashionable products, affordable quality with amazing service, and a socially responsible business have built a brand that people want to not only buy, but champion.

 

 

End-notes:

[i] http://www.fastcompany.com/most-innovative-companies/2014/warby-parker

[ii] http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/04/30/eyeglass-retailer-warby-parker-valued-at-1-2-billion/ ; https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/home-depot-chairman-receive-nrf-gold-medal-award ; http://www.fastcompany.com/3041334/most-innovative-companies-2015/warby-parker-sees-the-future-of-retail

[iii] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)

[iv] http://99u.com/videos/25315/neil-blumenthal-3-lessons-learned-from-building-warby-parker

[v] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)

[vi] http://99u.com/videos/25315/neil-blumenthal-3-lessons-learned-from-building-warby-parker

[vii] http://www.racked.com/2011/9/7/7752109/warby-parkers-guerilla-eyewear-show-at-the-ny-public-library#4601154 ; http://www.vogue.com/869669/warby-parker-takes-over-the-new-york-public-library/

[viii] https://blog.warbyparker.com/tag/class-trip/

[ix] https://twitter.com/oprah/status/512404977688395776 ; http://www.oprah.com/gift/Oprahs-Favorite-Things-2014-Warby-Parker-Eyeglasses-and-Sunglasses?editors_pick_id=40340

[x] https://www.warbyparker.com/eyeglasses

[xi] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)

[xii] https://www.warbyparker.com/help

[xiii] Personal experience as a Warby Parker employee.

[xiv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZR4elzQoNY

[xv] http://customerthink.com/warby-parker-co-founder-co-ceo-answers-4-questions-for-marketing-innovators/ ; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/fashion/photo-boots-warby-parker-topshop.html?_r=0

[xvi] http://www.businessinsider.com/dave-gilboa-on-warby-parkers-success-2014-2

[xvii] http://www.themanual.com/fashion/warby-parker-gift-cards/ ; Personal experience as a Warby Parker employee.

[xviii] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)

[xix] http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242437

[xx] https://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps

[xxi] http://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/opinion/op-ed-having-a-mission-is-good-for-the-world-and-good-for-business-warby-parker-neil-blumenthal

[xxii] http://theodysseyonline.com/merrimack/brands-for-cause/190340

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9 thoughts on “Warby Parker: The Brand Is The Mojo

  1. Patrick,

    I find Warby Parker to be a fascinating case study and I was particularly struck by the price differential between its glasses and those of other high-end brands. Is there more to the “secret sauce” that drives this price differential? Or are other brands simply capturing egregious margins? The first seems more sustainable to me whereas the second would be concerning as Warby Parker continues to grab a larger share of the market. If other brands see it as a significant threat and begin to lose market share, they may drop their price significantly, eroding a lot of the Warby Parker value proposition.

  2. Patrick–I also wrote about Warby, but you obviously have a great insiders perspective that I could not capture, so this was very interesting to read!

    I would like to know more about how the company’s leadership and team factor in to the operating model and this buzz element you talked about. A lot of the branding and hype has come from very creative marketing and PR that has really driven WP into the spotlight. What elements of the organizational design have allowed WP to source the best talent and the best ideas? Is all of the creative work done in-house or do they partner with others? What does WP look for when hiring people on to the team? These are some of the questions I had when writing my post and would love to learn more about them.

  3. Warby Parker is a fascinating business and I am impressed by its growth. I think the company is thriving because we live in a world where self-expression and customization are king (I am, of-course, referring primarily to the developed world). Warby Parker’s business model enables finer customer segmentation since people are able to design the exact product that they want, which inherently leads to higher customer willingness-to-pay. One thing that bothers me is the social mission of “buy-a-pair, give-a-pair”. I hadn’t thought much about this model until I watched a documentary that highlighted the negative impact of TOMS shoes in poor countries. The idea is summarized by the adage “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Giving away glasses (or shoes) may put local mom&pop shops out of business, because they can never compete with a free product. Further, it reinforces a view that people in poor countries are constantly in need of western aid and subtly promotes a culture of dependency in these places, which can have long-term negative consequences. I am not implying that all humanitarian aid is categorically bad. And there may be an argument that glasses are different than shoes or other products. But I feel this “Do Good” model requires a deeper understanding of the psychosocial and economic impact (both positive and negative) on communities in the developing world, which, by definition, are trying to develop their own sustainable businesses and economies.

    1. @Komal Kothari, thank you for your comment! I’m glad that you brought this point up. You are quite right that the TOMS social model has come under fire because it encourages dependency and can undermine local businesses. However, while Warby uses the same ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ tag-line, its social strategy has an entirely different structure – and for good reason. Broadly, Warby uses your ‘teach a man to fish’ model. Neil Blumenthal (Warby co-founder) was one of the early employees of Vision Spring (http://visionspring.org), and Vision Spring remains Warby Parker’s principle social partner today. For every pair of Warby Parker glasses that are purchased, the company makes a cash donation to Vision Spring, which covers the cost of sourcing a pair of glasses to local producers in one of the non-profit’s distribution countries. Vision Spring then trains local entrepreneurs to give basic eye exams and sell glasses to their communities at affordable prices (https://www.warbyparker.com/buy-a-pair-give-a-pair). This model really is all about creating sustainable, local markets as a force for change, and is very different than the pure donation model that other companies use. To read more about Vision Spring and Warby Parker’s partnership and the philosophy behind their social mission, take a look at these articles: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242437, http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2012/10/05/the-visionspring-model-creating-markets-and-players-instead-of-empty-csr/

      1. Very cool!! Thanks for explaining the uniqueness of this model, Patrick =)

  4. Hey Patrick. As you know, i’m obsessed with Warby Parker. What i love about them is how they’ve carefully and incrementally built out the brand – not rushing at all! So many eCommerce sites and brands, particularly in India, spend so much money on TV ads, newspaper and billboards – and here is a company that didn’t (and still doesn’t?) do that but yet has arguably a more powerful and well known brand. Their marketing and branding choices have lent so well to the brand they’ve created – as you highlighted. One thing i think about is how did they manage to loop in the cultural influencers? it’s so difficult! was it a well connected founding team or was the product/idea just that compelling! You don’t see Oprah talking about BirchBox or BaubleBar the way she does about Warby.

  5. Patrick,
    Really good post. Thanks for the insights. My questions are vey much aligned with Mark’s. We chatted in class about the quasi monopoly that a company has on the business, do you think it will respond by lowering its prices? I am sure we are far from a price war but this may contribute to give a little more of the value to the costumer. One more point for WP.

  6. Patrick,

    Great write-up. One thing about Warby that surprises me is that they’re able to convey quality / style at a low price point, which really bucks the fashion trend that higher priced items are glorified. Did Warby ever face these issues, or did the strong roll-out plan position the brand well enough in consumers’ eyes?

  7. Great comment Patrick.
    I love how Warby Parker has revolutionized the industry, however I can’t help but wonder how this model can work in other countries where shipping is not as cheap and not as easy. I would like to see how they expand to other markets and how they adapt their operating model to still fit their original business model. In the meantime, can’t wait to try their services myself!!

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