The Person Behind The Brand
The CMO Club recently sat down with Doug Zarkin, Vice President and CMO of Luxottica’s Pearle Vision. Doug is the Co-Founder of G-WHIZ!, the youth and entertainment division of what was once Grey Advertising. While there, Doug led integrated marketing programs for such diverse businesses as ABC, Aeropostale, Bravo, Broadway shows The Lion King & Chicago, Cover Girl, M&M Mars, The Food Network, Ralph Lauren, Reebok, Seagram’s, Warner Bros. Theatrical and Home Video as well as W Hotels. His first client-side marketing job was as a member of the team behind creating Avon’s upscale women’s brand Mark, driving over $118 million in non-traditional retail, e-commerce and catalog sales in its first 18 months. He led marketing for Victoria’s Secret PINK, as well as Warnaco’s Core Intimates and at the Kellwood Company, overseeing a portfolio that included Zobha Activewear, Baby Phat, and XOXO.
Doug was named Marketer of The Next Generation by Brandweek in 2015, is a two-time Effie Award winner for Health Care Services Marketing, and is the recipient of the Best Executed Launch Strategy Award by Women’s Wear Daily. He frequently appears on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX is read globally on the pages of Forbes, The Economist, The New York Times, Huffington Post and has guest lectured at Harvard Business School, NYU, Duke, Xavier, Miami of Ohio and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Doug lives in Long Island, New York with his wife, Sloan, and his two children, Chelsea and Ben.
CMO Club—You’ve been in leadership positions for many top-tier companies over the course of your impressive career. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from those first marketing experiences that are still relevant today?
Doug Zarkin—”I think understanding the importance of thinking differently is number one, that the answer doesn’t necessarily lie between points ABC and D. As we were getting G-WHIZ! off the ground back in the late 1990’s we were pioneering what we called Mindset Marketing. It led us to think differently about how consumers process information, allowing us to talk to consumers based on their mindset, not their age set. What appeared on their driver’s licenses was not the point of marketing entry. It was about “What were they thinking? What were they feeling? What was important to them? I learned that consumers make emotional decisions but rational choices. How do you appeal to them on an emotional level to drive them to make a rational decision? It was the most important lesson I could learn.”
CMO Club–What are your current challenges at Pearle Vision?
Doug Zarkin–“Focusing the team to ensure everything we deliver and receive from our partners comes with a clear and strategic narrative, specifically in the area of how data is used. Cross-tabs and charts are not enough. We are counted on (and counting on in-kind) our partners, both internally and externally, to craft and present well thought out narratives that serve as the basis for decisions to be taken.”
CMO Club–Name one lesson you’ve learned in the last 12 months? Something you were surprised didn’t work, or something you were surprised did?
Doug Zarkin— “How well the business reacted going cold turkey in eliminating BOGO (buy one get one) from our promotional mix. Instead of taking a roll-down approach we decided to rip the Band-Aid off and eliminate it from our operational and marketing behavior. Delivering positive comp-growth when removing a promotional tool that accounted for roughly 20% off all transaction could have tanked the business. Instead, it helped us to further build doctor quality and quality of care perception by not being seen as a promotional brand any longer.”
CMO Club— What are you most excited about right now?
Doug Zarkin— “We are launching the next installment of our Small Moments’ Equity Campaign which tells the stories of doctors and patients and the connection they share.”
CMO Club— Name a Head of Marketing who impresses you.
Doug Zarkin— “I’m not sure of who, exactly, it is, but whoever is leading the marketing for the push of “gluten-free” beyond those who are impacted by Celiac Disease to a mainstream product benefit is someone to be reckoned with.”
CMO Club—What advice would you give your 22-year-old self if you could?
Doug Zarkin— “Well, there are some fashion choices for sure that I would probably advise myself to step back from wearing. Besides that, the most significant piece of strategic advice I would give myself is to understand the importance of the 80/20 rule. It’s about understanding the point of diminishing returns, not just with the work that you’re developing but in how you are leading people. If you can get the work to the eighty percent level, it puts you in an interesting position to evaluate whether that additional twenty percent is going to be substantial or marginal gains. It forces you to identify if the benefits of trying to be perfect are worth it. There are some things that you want to focus on being perfect, but often it’s about progress. That’s allowed me to focus my attention on those things that are most critical. That’s something it took me a while to figure out.”
CMO Club—What are your passions outside of work?
Doug Zarkin—As much as I travel for work, when I am home I am a hyper-involved dad. I coach the majority of my son’s teams. I enjoy watching my son and being a part of his growth and development. For my daughter, it’s a little different. She’s not into athletics. She is more into dance and music, but for her, it’s about being a part of her life and being present at those critical moments for her. They are the one thing that I am proudest and the best job I’ll ever have, just being their dad. Outside of my kids, I love playing tennis, and I have the bandages and Icy-Hot to prove it.
CMO Club—Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
Doug Zarkin— “When I was in high school, on Christmas breaks, I worked at a meat-packing plant in Manhattan, delivering meats to all the high-end steakhouses in the area. I’d show up in full Rocky Balboa garb, at 3 AM, and work all day. Many times I’d go to those same steakhouses with my family for dinner, and they wouldn’t even recognize me. It taught me the importance of people, to think about what we do every day from the perspective of those people and what impact you are going to have. It reminded very early in my life that, even though I aspired to bigger things, you cannot overlook the importance of people and how you treat them. Another thing most people don’t know about me is that while working as a lifeguard in college, I pulled a drowning victim out of the water and saved his life.”
CMO Club—Do you think CMO’s like yourself can have a positive impact on society?
Doug Zarkin— “1000 percent. As a marketing executive, your job is to motivate a consumer to take action. That motivation begins with appreciating what their needs are. That allows us to develop programs that reward and payback. At the end of the day, every business is about people. You’re not selling your soul to drive business results. You don’t have to.”
CMO Club— Any words of wisdom to share with your peers in The CMO Club? Any quotes you love?
Doug Zarkin–“O the things you can think if only you try” by Dr. Seuss has always been my favorite. In the case of Avon, I was being asked to re-invent a hundred-year-old model. For me, it was the notion of actually becoming an Avon Lady, going out and learning the business from the ground-up, selling products and attending make-up parties. I can’t imagine that when Avon brought me onboard that they thought I was going to spend the first six months of my career out in the field selling lip gloss, but for me, it was invaluable. I not only began to understand the business from the ground-up truly, but I could see new opportunities first-hand. Most importantly, when it came to putting something forth that was provocative, and in the spirit of the Dr. Seuss quote, I understood the vernacular and respected what was already there, but that experience of going out in the field allowed me to refine, augment, invent new ways to build up what was already there. I’m one of the few men that can actually say that he’s gone out and sold lip gloss at make-up parties. I plead the fifth on whether I tried any on, that’s for sure. I’m thankful that Facebook and Instagram weren’t around back then.” One of my other favorite quotes is “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission” by Douglas A. McArthur. I didn’t necessarily ask the leadership for permission to do what I did. Instead of asking for everyone to buy-into every baby step, I charted new waters and found solutions innovatively. Take your own steps to figure it out. Sometimes it’s just about doing.”