What makes you use a product? Is it because you woke up one morning, and decided that “You know what, I’m going to go find a lens I’ve never heard of, and just start using it”. Well, no, that’s not how we work. We like being made to feel comfortable. To feel safe with a product. We want it to be familiar. That makes it easier for us to use their products. That’s why you’ll see the same ad, product, commercial, message, etc. repeated over, and over, and over. The point isn’t always for you to see the ad and say “I have to have that right now”. The point of the advertising may simply be for you to accept their branding and products to make them part of your ‘comfort zone’.
Once you’ve seen or heard a message enough, it becomes ‘normal’, which makes you more susceptible to their ideas, whether you realize it or not. It’s a very subtle, long-term way of advertising. The idea here is that once the message (whether it’s a brand, company, product, etc) is in your brain, it’s not leaving. That way, at some point in the future, you may be faced with a choice between their product and one you’ve never heard of. Given you have little knowledge about either product, you’ll go with the brand you’ve heard of. Why? Well, because you “saw it on television”, or “remember hearing about it”. Another word for this type of advertising is “propaganda”.
Ministry of Truth
The main thing to keep in mind is that Big Optical is in the business of making sure you keep using Big Optical. No matter what they do, it’s always going to be “great for the independent” or “better for the industry”. Do you really expect them to say, “We plan to take your business”, or “This new product is the same as the last one, just in a different box and costs $30 more”. Of course not. They are masters of spin, and could probably convince you of whatever they want. And that’s not your fault – they’ve been doing this for years, and their message is everywhere.
You have to be alert where you get your information from, as a lot of the outlets can have a certain slant to them – this magazine included. We’re focused on independents, and independent products, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that by now. Big Optical, of course, is focused on Big Optical. They are going to say whatever it takes to keep you pushing the brand and products, because it helps them. It’s not about what’s good for you, it’s about what helps promote their message.
Part of this message isn’t just what you hear, but also what you DON’T hear. Killing negative messages is part of controlling the narrative, and there’s a reason that a lot of those stories don’t end up online or in trade journals. Big Optical doesn’t want them there, so they aren’t there. You just have to follow the money, and you usually find your answer.
Part of the reason that a lot of people don’t compare the Big Optical products against other products is because they can’t. That’s not to say that “there’s no comparison”, but because they are literally contractually obligated to not draw unfavorable comparisons against Big Optical lenses. This also includes independent labs that distribute Big Optical name brands. This is all part of controlling the narrative in the market – your product isn’t going to “look bad” if you make it a breach of contract for someone to speak poorly about your product. They make sure that the thought police are out in force, which helps to give their product a seeming “air of perfection”. It’s easy to say “Everyone likes it” when all the dissenters are hauled off to the Gulag, never to be seen again.
You can also see their attempts to ‘control the narrative’ through much of the coverage of their business activities. They will push things like interviews and podcasts to try and make a more personal connection with you, the listener. That gives them the opportunity to try and calm any kind of opposition by skillfully manipulating the narrative. Especially in the kind of medium where it’s a one-way communication, there’s no opportunity to clarify or get more information.
That means that when they dodge or only half-answer a question, it sounds like they gave a good answer, but really they just artfully sidestepped the issue. For example, in a broadcast just after the merger of two Big Opticals, we were told a lot of nice, calming things. Things that were designed to make sure that independents don’t resist, and just wait and see. Things like “give us a chance”, or that they are a “friend of the independent”. Those are certainly pretty words, but saying something doesn’t make it true.
The idea that independents need to give Big Optical “a chance” is, quite honestly, completely ridiculous. Giving someone “a chance” is what you do to the small business that doesn’t have an established track record. That’s where you’re ‘giving him a chance’ to prove that he can do what he says. When you’re a billion-dollar company, I’m pretty sure that people “giving you a chance” is what got you there in the first place. Also, when your Big Optical track record includes direct competition with your customers (through online sales and other channels), I’m not really sure what kind of “chance” you want. When Big Optical says “give us a chance”, what they really mean is “we need more time before we crush you”.
When we build up these ‘relationships’ with goods and brand names in our brains, it makes it more difficult to stop using them. It’s a lot like an old friend – it’s been there forever, and you never really considered what life would be like if it wasn’t there. If you want to grow, however, sometimes you need to take a good, hard look at what might be holding you back, and decide where you plan to go in the future. One of the things that can be a real problem is “firing” a rep for a Big Optical. Sometimes, you have to do what’s right for you.
This is the part where you need to have your ‘personal brain’ and your ‘business brain’. Having a friendship with a sales rep isn’t a problem – until it starts negatively impacting your business. You need to be able to look at the situation objectively, and weigh the benefits without letting your personal feelings get in the way too much. Obviously, it’s going to be part of your decision, and I’m not saying that a good relationship with a sales rep isn’t a benefit – what I’m saying is that it’s not the only thing that you have to consider.
No matter how great your relationship with your rep may be, at the end of the day it comes down to dollars and cents. Sure, if someone offers you a product that’s only a little bit cheaper, it’s not worth throwing away a relationship that you’ve had for years. However, when you can save yourself ten percent, twenty percent, or more….then it’s time to start seriously evaluating your business arrangement. This part is where some reps can get ‘nasty’. They’ll try to exploit your personal relationship when, in reality, that has nothing to do with your business decision.
They may be your best friend, but that doesn’t mean you want to pay them 30% more than the other guy. Often times, you’ll be told that the decisions of Big Optical “aren’t their fault” and that they are only doing their job. Which is, coincidentally, what you are doing when you switch from a Big Optical company to an independent. Your job is to do what’s best for the future of your business, and financially supporting Big Optical isn’t in your best interest.
Ignorance is Bliss
It’s always possible that maybe – just maybe – this is a complete overreaction. Maybe Big Optical really is out there to help your business, and just because they have their own retail outlets, maybe they’d rather people buy from you instead of them. Right. If that’s what you think, then sure, go right on thinking that. You’ve obviously made up your own mind, and there’s really no problem with that. Your business will probably be just fine. In the short term. Long term? Well, you probably aren’t too worried about that. It’s probably better to just let Big Optical carry on with their plans, and we’ll see where you end up.
While that might sound negative (because it is), it’s important to understand that there are plenty of people that run their business in a very reactionary manner, and don’t try and change anything until it’s too late. To be able to avoid the iceberg, you need to change course when you see it coming on the horizon. If you wait until it’s on top of you, then you aren’t going to have the time to be able to turn before it hits you head-on. You need to make sure you’re looking out with a discerning eye at what’s going on for real, and not what a Big Optical puppet master tells you is going on. Free thinking is a critical aspect of keeping your business successful, and you want to be the one pulling your own strings.