Next Steps: marketing – telling the story

Small gold round-eye frames, a shaggy haircut, a scar on his forehead – you know I’m writing about Harry Potter from the first few words of this sentence. That’s because JK Rowling created a character that has become part of reality for children who have grown up over the last 20 years (yes, the first book came out in 1997!) Through the books and the films, the Harry Potter story has become embedded in the nation’s consciousness, and it has influenced the spectacle frames that are popular with adults and children today.

Ben Kogan is International Sales Manager for Savile Row Eyewear, who supplied frames not only for Happy Potter himself, but also for Albus Dumbledore, first played by Richard Harris and then by Michael Gambon in the eight-film series. He explains the Savile Row story: “The Savile Row frame collection has been the same since it started in 1932. In the 1980s and early 90s, our clients were people who had been fitted with our frames in the days of NHS subsidised eyewear, liked them and stayed with them. Vintage wasn’t in style, the people keeping the business alive were generally ‘anti fashion’, the company was struggling.”

With the immense popularity of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, though, things started to change for Savile Row. Ben continues, “The Harry Potter movies gave us a boost, but however popular the books and the films, it was still not enough to turn us unto a sustainable business. What it did contribute to was a trend for vintage becoming cool again. And now Savile Row is doing better than ever.”

The ‘Harry Potter effect’ for Savile Row was augmented by the appearance of the iconic frames in movies like the Roman Polanski film, the Ninth Gate. In fact, if you search Google today, type in ‘Johnny Depp Ninth Gate’ and Google will suggest that you complete your search term with the word ‘glasses’ – a lot of people are still looking to recreate Depp’s look as book dealer Dean Corso. And we can’t ignore Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, wearing the same style, Beaufort, giving him vintage good looks. This is where the character crosses with commerce: search for ‘Harrison Ford Indiana Jones glasses’, and your first result links to somewhere you can buy the frames.

Movies, stories, characters all have a powerful effect on the public consciousness, and on what people buy. Ben Kogan says, “The age profile of people who wear our frames has changed. We used to have a clientele mainly made up of men in their 50s to 70s, but our demographic is getting younger and younger – we are getting enquiries from people in their 20s, which bodes well for the future of Savile Row.

Although you may not be able to control whether the frames that you select for your practice appear in blockbuster movies, you can make the most of the effect. And stories are invaluable to you as a practice owner, as a manager and as a dispensing optician, because stories stick in the mind when bare facts don’t. If you attend a conference, which lecture do you remember best: the one with a list of data on every slide, or the one where the presenter uses anecdotes to illustrate his points?

Thinking about day-to-day practice, if you are talking to a child about how to take care of their glasses, you could make up a fictional version of what happens if you don’t to tell them at collection. Words and images reinforce each other, so have a picture of a bent and scratched frame to show them, or even a real one. Cautionary tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Struwwelpeter, Hilaire Belloc’s tales right the way through to the film Gremlins have all fictionalised the importance of sticking to the rules, and the consequences that might follow if you don’t. Perhaps you could write the first optical cautionary tale for children who don’t take care of their specs? Stories can also become part of your window display: you don’t need to just focus on seasonal events like Christmas and Easter, but you could take inspiration from a classic take like Little Red Riding Hood, or opt for a range of Clarke Kent style frames to tie in with a new superhero movie release.

On a broader scale, more and more agencies use stories as part of developing a brand for a client. Jo Sacker is Client Service Director at Speed Agency. To help us understand more about how stories can tie in with your branding, she says, “Brands are successful when they create brand stories around their services or their products because it helps people understand them, helps people engage with them. We all love stories, enjoy stories and it is about telling your marketing or promotion as part of a story, bringing your brand, your product, your services to life. It’s much warmer.

Thinking of Speed, our brand is all about being human, the relationships we have with our clients, they go back years. We have great relationships, and they recommend us.”

Jo continues, “[Brand story] is also about insight into how audiences relate to brands, and customer journeys on and offline. We need to deliver the right messages at the right channel at the right time. In the customer journey, you need to understand how your customer will come to your brand in the first place – will they be on their iPad late at night when searching for a local optician – they will be relaxing, and you need to understand how they will interact with their brand at that moment. We stay one step ahead on this, we do a lot of research and user journey testing so we understand the customer experience. From that research we know that your brand story will only work if you have your brand proposition and your positioning right. That’s what you need to have a coherent story. You need to be clear about what is the purpose of your brand, to get that flowing and right.”

Focusing on the optical sector, Jo says, “People seek out a practice when they have a need – so make sure your brand is top of mind when they do. Ongoing awareness is very key. As a lay person it is easy to perceive opticians as all the same, so you need to build relationships and loyalty, and that’s where your brand story comes in.”

Stories go beyond the words you say: they’re about every contact people have with your business. If you were reading the latest novel from your favourite author, you’d notice something out of place wouldn’t you? A cute talking bunny wouldn’t suddenly appear in the middle of Lee Child’s latest thriller, nor would a hard-boiled New York detective stumble into a scene in one of Sophie Kinsella’s books. In the same way, look at your signage, your website, even the way your staff dress. Is it all telling the same story? If your business brand aims to be approachable and no-frills, make sure the staff are wearing branded polo shirts, and your practice window displays budget options. You might select bright colours like orange and lime green.

The story you want to tell is about being accessible and affordable. If your business is upmarket and bespoke, then perhaps your staff can choose their own workwear, but will need to wear smart suits or dresses. You might use burgundy, cream and navy in both your practice and the website, and your marketing materials might be printed on thick glossy paper. Everything about your practice, right down to the pen you use to make a note, is telling the patient part of your business story. A Mont Blanc fountain pen says something very different to a branded ballpoint. As Jo Sacker says, though, you need to be clear about what your business story is before planning your marketing and outreach.

Alongside branding, your business story can become part of what your patients tell when they spread the word about your practice: “Did you know that the practice has been in the family for three generations? I always used to see the old gentleman, but he’s retired now and his daughter has taken over.” And on a deeper level, your practice story can help you drive your business and your career forward. Think about where you have come from, where you would like to end up. What’s your story?