Focus on Branding: Insider Interview

Dib Bartlett, Vice President of the OAA, sat with branding and marketing expert Erik Tyler for some open discussion about how branding effects not only the OAA but the field of opticianry as a whole.


Dibby Bartlett: What are your thoughts on the importance of branding and marketing?

Erik Tyler: I think many people interchange the words 'branding' and 'marketing,' even confusing the two with 'advertising.' They're really very different things. Your brand is bigger than what you do or sell. It's who you are, who people believe you to be. It's what people expect when engaging with you. To attempt marketing of any type without first developing a strong brand identity is like taking a chainsaw to stone and hoping to come out of it with The David. It's wasted resources and effort. If you don't first know exactly who you are and what you're about, no one else will either. Of course, having a strong brand without effective marketing in place would be like actually having The David finished and then keeping it locked away in some dusty old storage room—or, worse yet, putting it in a mall covered in glitter and pink balloons. Effective marketing means thoughtfully putting yourself on display in such a way that what others see when they look at you matches the intention of your vision.

DB: What is the most common mistake people make in those endeavors?

ET: The biggest mistake I see people making is trying to engage in marketing before developing a strong brand identity. Right behind that is attempting to use marketing from a self-focused lens rather than an outward-focused lens. What I mean is that, yes, you have to firmly know who you are, what makes you different, in order to establish a strong brand identity. But the truth is that today's consumer is bombarded with information and advertising, and they really don't care who you are. The job of marketing is to make people care in a way that matters to them, not just to you.

DB: Do you feel that today, with social media, it is more or less difficult to brand and market?

ET: It's both more difficult and less difficult. On one hand, social media offers more options for connecting with a wider target audience than ever before. It's low cost, or even free. However, you have to understand the social media audience and what they expect. It's always been true that no marketing is better than bad marketing, and that principle is only compounded with social media. Back in the day where television, magazine and newspaper advertising ruled, people were going to see you if they watched that show or read that publication. Today, there are millions of companies, organizations and personalities using social media daily to fight for attention; and each marketing piece, no matter how polished, is being scrolled or swiped through in seconds. That means that social media marketing takes more thought, more engagement—more work—than some are willing to put in. If you're expecting to put a few haphazard ads on your Facebook page and hope they "go viral," you'll be sadly disappointed.

DB: What is your process like when you are creating a marketing piece?

ET: I know I keep coming back to this, but I really have to understand the brand identity of the person, company or organization that I'm working with before I can create effective marketing. At first, this can feel uncomfortable for people who have this idea that you can just have a good-looking ad and people will flock to their doors. So I spend some time getting everyone on board with the importance of brand. Then I spend a good deal of time understanding the target audience. Again, marketing isn't about telling people how great you are. It's about understanding and meeting the felt or perceived needs of the people you're trying to reach. Of course, there's more to marketing than that, from solid visual and design principles to creativity. But a firm grasp of brand and audience are always the driving force.

DB: You have authored many marketing pieces for both the OAA and some state associations. Do you have a background in opticianry? Does that help or hurt?

ET: I myself am not an optician. But I know more about opticianry than the average person. For starters, my best friend is an optician and, well...I'm a curious guy and a good listener. But because I insist on understanding brand, I've learned a lot about opticianry with each marketing piece I've done within the field. I don't think it's essential to be an optician in order to understand the brand, goals and audience of opticianry, any more than I think a surgeon has to have had a brain tumor in order to operate on one. In fact, there's actually benefit to my being outside a particular company or field. Yes, I have expertise and a certain insider mindset going in, but I also represent, in some ways, any other consumer in your target audience. If you haven't yet helped me understand and buy into who you are, it's unlikely that you'll be successful in winning over consumers in the wider audience.

DB: As you continue to help this industry in marketing itself, what would you like to see happen in the next couple of years?

ET: That's tricky, mostly because I don't want to offend anyone. But it does seem to me that the field of opticianry has made some key mistakes where it comes to branding and marketing. Coming in, I didn't see a clear sense of—forgive the pun—vision in the field. What I mean is that while individual practitioners may have been doing some sort of advertising, there hasn't been a clear brand image among the public as far as what an optician is exactly or why anyone would need one. I think the public sort of knows that an optician has "something to do with eyes," but I don't think there's been an awareness that would help anyone distinguish between an eyewear salesperson or counter worker and an optician. So I'd love to see the field of opticianry gain some clarity and, I'd even say, status in the eyes of consumers.

DB: Is it necessary for organizations to have a specialist in this area, or do you think they can handle their branding and marketing themselves?

ET: There's an awful lot that goes into brand development and marketing. It isn't just putting ads together and putting them out there, which is, unfortunately, what most people end up doing. While it's theoretically possible that an organization may happen to wind up with someone on staff who innately gets brand, audience and marketing cohesion—and who happens to have creativity, design skills and technical aptitude—it's highly unlikely. "Free" is the perennial siren song. But for anyone who is serious about competing in today's multifaceted marketing landscape, you really need to work together with a qualified branding and marketing consultant.


Erik Tyler is a creative consultant and graphic designer with over two decades of experience in full-scale branding, marketing and advertising. He has worked with a range of companies from one-person startups to national organizations and multi-million dollar agencies in developing brand identity, increasing marketplace presence and, ultimately, forging stronger brand images.