Photographed by Ned MATURA

There might be some question as to its being a brave new world… but it is certainly a brand new world… every day. We are increasingly surrounded by branded products all day, creating memories and subconscious relationships with them. Even our language has embraced certain brand names as mainstream words for the same item (proprietary eponyms or genericized trademarks). We curl up with boxes of Kleenex when we’re sick, we Xerox documents at work and we have fond memories of Mom giving us glasses of Kool-aid and putting Band-Aids on our skinned knees as kids.

Manufacturers spend billions insuring consumers that their brand is the “only” one worth having. Equal dollars are spent plastering the name of that brand on an assortment of related (and unrelated) products hoping to be enhanced by that brand name. And then those manufacturers go right on out into the consumer wilderness and create “new” brands... sometimes in competition with their main brand. Go figure.

A brand is essentially a collection of cultures, emotions and experiences associated with a particular company, and eyewear brands are no exception to this not-so age-old bold formula. Many eyewear brands are extensions of existing brands, designed to serve the same demographic as their other products.

Creating a brand means creating an accumulation of values a customer can relate to, represented through logos, slogans and design schemes that become associated with the brand’s identity. Seeing these visuals triggers associations in the customer’s head of all the information and expectations of the product. For example, the “swoosh” symbol strives to make people immediately think of Nike, their “Just Do It” slogan and various sports imagery—and it is highly successful. One would guess it helps that the swoosh has a connotation of speed and agility.

Acknowledging that near in-bred perception of speed and agility on the part of the consumer, it’s relatively easy to understand brand power and imagery is based largely on public perception, which is somewhat out of a company’s hands. In 2000, when Nike came under criticism for unfair labor standards in its supply chains, the brand perception dropped, as did Nike’s brand value. Instead of associating the company with athleticism and sportsmanship, people associated it with sweatshops. Equally interesting is that Nike looked for the positive space in that scenario and eventually used a massive rework of their manufacturing processes worldwide to spin a smile on their role as “global” leaders in the world of ALL sport gear.

“The really great brands have been built by bonding with their clients and enhancing the brand experience by paying attention to individuals,” says Alan Siegel, founder and CEO of Siegel & Gale, a brand consultancy company. He cites Apple and BMW as examples of companies earning full consumer brand loyalty. People buy the products out of loyalty to the brand and the ideals and lifestyle it represents.

Customers will also go to great lengths for brands they love. “We have sold Coach glasses to patients that just simply wanted the case to match their purse,” says Mark Brown, an optician and general manager of multiple locations of The Hour Glass in northern Florida. “That’s not the norm but it has happened more than once.”

But brand loyalty is difficult to build these days, according to Patricio Fuentes, founder and agency principal for Gel Communications, a design and branding firm. “Attention to brands is short lived,” he says. “Because of the ability to get information on product on the Internet in a matter of seconds, people are discovering all kinds of influences in music, style, sound, color and art, and the importance of that brand to their culture.” But trends change quickly and what’s hot today might not be “in” next week. In addition, the current recessive economy often draws consumers to deals and bargains over brands.

On the other hand, people will always care about how they look. “People continue to spend a lot of money on cosmetic surgery and diet programs. They still are very style conscious and luxury conscious,” says Siegel. “People are receptive to something you wear on your face to enhance your look and people are willing to spend a little bit extra to find something that reflects what they’re all about.”

This is especially true among luxury brands. People have fantasies about indulging in lifestyle luxuries. “The glasses are the least expensive way into the world of design,” says Edward Beiner, eyewear designer and owner of nine retail stores in Florida. “If you’re wearing brand X on your face, then for $300 to $350, you can enter that world. We know the same brand’s bag is going to be $1,000 or more, shoes are $600 or more, so the eyewear becomes an entry level into that luxury brand.”

The first step companies often use in developing a brand is doing demographic research. “We look at all kinds of data; we do a great deal of trend spotting and trend research,” says Fuentes. “People report back to us on an observational point-of-view and shopping point-of-view about what demographics are doing, what they’re buying, wearing, what they’re listening to. All the senses are important to us. All senses effect behavior within your demographic.” He encourages store owners to understand the demographics of their store. “As a retailer, look at how you’re going to be positioning your product,” says Fuentes. “Just because you love Prada, is the demographic going to be attracted to it? That’s the most important part.”

You don’t need a professional firm to conduct demographics research for you. “You can get a good feel for the area and the kind of people that shop there by looking at the stores around you and paying attention to your customers,” says Siegel. “Unless you have an unusual location, like Rodeo Drive, you have to be able to service a wide range of price points and styles. To some degree, people are attracted to certain brands, but you can’t begin to stock all of them. You have to figure out who has a line that makes sense for you.”

For example, Brown knows one brand he needs to stock by listening to his customers. “We’re one of the top retailers for Costa del Mar sunglasses,” he says. “While they’re not a brand name like BCBG or Coach, when it comes to outdoorsmen and sportsmen, they come in seeking those glasses by name. They come in with knowledge about that product, asking about a  specific lens or frame. Sometimes they know more about the glasses they want than we do.” The best way to find out what customers want is to go straight to the source.

“Some stores make the mistake of trying to carry all the brands—you just can’t do it,” says Beiner. “At the end it’s all a wash-out if you’re not focusing on what you want to do with these brands.”

The collection of brands in your store should reflect what your demographic is interested in. After choosing which brands to stock, it’s important to display the official logos of the companies and keep up the image of the brands in the entire display of the eyewear collection. Some brands encourage a more youthful feeling, while some are geared toward sophisticated tastes. Some are sporty, some are luxury. Some are known for providing good quality at an affordable price point. But each brand’s logo is designed to target a certain group of values and emotions, and that power shouldn’t be confined just to the frame. By showing the brands in your dispensary, you’re associating your practice with those experiences. Incorporate logos, colors and products into your display area to reinforce these ideals to your customer.

Figuring out what values and experiences each brand is trying to sell should be easy… just watch a few commercials or flip through a few magazines. Hit the local mall. Study the models featured in consumer magazine ads. Does the ad and the logo use bright, youthful colors or dark, sophisticated ones? A perfect out-of-the-box study might easily be something as simple as... tattoos. Anyone would need to be blind not to realize that a huge layer of multiple demographics have bought into the skin-art culture. It would seem that the Ed Hardy conclusion in current powerful branding is a no brainer.  So harnessing the power of brands is relatively easy. You won’t even need to reach for some Aspirin.