Contentlinq Tests New Media Management and Distribution Service for Brands

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA, Calif.—Engaging eyewear consumers at retail is an ongoing challenge for both ECPs and vendors. But a new service that enables retailers to better leverage eyewear suppliers’ marketing assets may help change this.

Bill Gerber, a longtime industry executive and founder of OMG! Optical Marketing Group, has teamed up with two accomplished business partners to develop a marketing platform that the trio believes will go a long way toward solving this retail marketing challenge, and in the process it may elevate the optical shopping experience for customers.

(Clockwise from top) A rendering of shelf, wall and table-top applications of Contentlinq; a Silhouette display topped by Contentlinq monitor; flanking a Contentlinq monitor above a display of Silhouette frames are (l to r) Bill Gerber and Azhar Zuberi of Contentlinq and Mike Maline, Silhouette’s manager of business development and creative services; and a Nike/Marchon app displayed on Contentlinq.
The new business, Contentlinq, is a cloud-based marketing media management and distribution service for brand vendors, optical retailers (ECPs) and service providers. A primary focus of Contentlinq is to bring more efficiency to the dissemination of suppliers’ marketing assets, such as informational videos, point-of-sale images and other materials. The end goal is to raise the bar on the customer experience in retail stores/dispensaries and/or waiting rooms.

Gerber is joined in the new entity by Azhar Zuberi, an experienced tech and software entrepreneur, and Marc Friedmann, a start-up veteran with more than 30 years of entrepreneurial experience in software and telecom.

Gerber, in an interview with Vision Monday, said he expects the Contentlinq platform to enhance the optical retail experience in a collaborative manner, while delivering “solutions to our customers that help increase sales through innovative marketing and merchandising.”

The first phase of the new firm’s offering, which is in pilot testing, is built upon an interactive digital media player that connects to the Contentlinq cloud via a retailer’s internal Wi-Fi. The player is “device-agnostic,” Gerber said, and can be accessed via any Web browser.

Suppliers (including frame companies, spectacle lens and contact lens firms, as well as other vendors) working with Contentlinq select media assets to upload to Contentlinq and, if they choose, organize these assets into separate playlists for specific retailers to use with their customers. Retailers also have an option to publish this content (from the suppliers) via their social media channels, when appropriate.

Gerber said much of the inspiration for Contentlinq came from his recent experience around obtaining marketing assets from vendors for his OMG! retail clients. “The average lead time—and we’re a firm with connections—would [be] on average four weeks to obtain the assets that we needed to produce certain elements for our clients,” he said. “From that I realized there is such a bottleneck in terms of delivering personalized content that the consumer is certainly suffering.”

Among the first suppliers testing the Contentlinq platform are Silhouette and Nike/Marchon. Silhouette, which develops and markets several eyewear collections and an extensive range of premium rimless frames, is testing video content on the Contentlinq platform in roughly 30 of its retail accounts, according to Kristen McLaughlin, marketing director.

McLaughlin said Silhouette relies on a style center at the point-of-sale as a key merchandising tactic for the company’s rimless collections. Rimless requires an ECP to demonstrate the versatility, but with Contentlinq this customization can be demonstrated by video, she said.

“It’s interesting to us to have a video on our display that speaks about the product and speaks to the consumer, or even the staff, about the endless possibilities such as mixing and matching shades and different frames,” she said. McLaughlin also noted that Contentlinq represents a major advance in retail merchandising from the current practice that utilizes a video data stick that has to be updated on a regular basis.

Silhouette’s retail pilot tests got under way in late September/early October and are expected to run for three months.

Following this fall’s pilot tests, Gerber said he envisions “a full market rollout to the independent channel through partnerships with key alliance groups in the second quarter of 2017,” with deployment to chains following shortly thereafter. “We have a very long waiting list of retailers that want to be part of the pilot program, but we are limiting it to a select group in order to garner the correct insights,” he said.

Bill Gerber.

Azhar Zuberi.

Marc Friedmann.
There’s also a data analytics component to Contentlinq that enables a vendor to understand what aspects of the content consumers find most engaging. “If we are putting out all of this content, what is the consumer actually spending the time with,” McLaughlin said. Silhouette plans to survey the pilot retailers to determine whether the content was helpful in training staff on important aspects of Silhouette frames, which could be a key benefit given the turnover rate among retail staff.

Steve Tripi, marketing director at Marchon Eyewear/Nike Vision, said he became more actively involved with Contentlinq after a key account asked him if there might be a better way to communicate with the consumer about the technology in the products.

“I immediately recognized the best way to do this is to have some form of digital screen installed at retail, something that consumers can engage with and self-manage.” He had previously spoken to Gerber about Contentlinq as a means for vendors to get trade marketing assets out to retailers faster, but the conversation with the key account opened up new possibilities.

Nike/Marchon has a “couple of pilots installed” and Tripi said he expects to launch the platform in about 10 to 15 stores “pretty quickly” once the accounts settle on a preferred location for installation of the display monitor (which Contentlinq provides). “My goal, as a marketer, would be to have the ability to update content on the fly, and also to get the analytics and engagement statistics [around] what consumers are doing at retail,” he said.

Steve Ferri, director of business development for national accounts at Carl Zeiss Vision, said he believes that Contentlinq, with its ability to deliver consistent consumer messaging, opens the door to a variety of opportunities for both lens and frame manufacturers. These opportunities are built upon efficient and effective delivery of consumer-relevant content, including brand, fashion and lens-option information.

He said Zeiss is working with Contentlinq on opportunities to provide a systematic selling approach to featured lens designs and lens options to improve upon the patient experience and drive opportunities within the retail space.

In the pilot tests and first phase, the Contentlinq platform will primarily be paid for by vendors on a sliding-scale subscription fee basis that is based on company size, Gerber said. “We see the average vendor saving a tremendous amount of money by going through Contentlinq, compared to the old-school paradigm of blanketing their customers with ‘POP’ materials that go mostly unused,” he added.

Retailers will have an opportunity to participate in a standard or basic version, which gives them access to the interactive Contentlinq player free of charge. They may “upgrade” their subscription to gain access to certain digital asset management capabilities (such as the ability to curate their own content and to access analytics and a print-on-demand service that would enable a custom supply of personalized marketing materials tailored to their spaces), Gerber said.

“The optician in the store definitely wants tools built into this, so we are developing a host of different tools,” Gerber said. Contentlinq also is looking at virtual try-on technology and evaluating potential partners. Among current partners, the initial response is positive. “Contentlinq’ s technology to deliver consistent and relevant consumer information is a game-changer for the optical industry,” said Zeiss’ Ferri. “We are excited about the possibilities.”