Value Referrals & Product/Service Evangelism

I Can See Clearly Now…

A friend of mine is a well-known local optometrist. Upon completing my last eye exam with a diagnosis of “You need new glasses,” he recommended Zenni Optical ( for the purchase of my new pair. He highly recommended the online retail site, which boasts thousands of frames, lens options and accessories. Best of all, he went on, as they’re not designer glasses (assuming that was not a big deal with me. I mean a designer logo is hardly noticeable on a 10mm frame) and made in China, they’re extremely inexpensive! Ding! Ding! Ding! That last line got my attention and he was now talking my lingo. Having worked with several eye care magazines back in the day, I understand the markup on frames and lenses to be approximately 300%, or at least that is what I was told. For this reason alone—that glasses are traditionally exorbitantly expensive and overpriced, in my mind—I’ve held on to the same pair, amortizing my, then, purchase of ~$500, over several years. Embarrassingly, this is my self-justified, and warped, way of eventually ‘getting a good deal.’

I decided to try out Zenni Optical based on my friend’s referral. What did I really have to lose after all? And, coming from a doctor, it sounded even better yet. Like most online retail shops, Zenni serves various styled frames, lens and other options. The site is easy to navigate, search for the right pair, and select. There’s even a real image of a face online to try your specs on in case you’re not sure how they will look once slapped on your head. Once a visitor finds a suitable pair, they simply type in a prescription, pay the fee via credit card, and viola—in a few days, the new glasses appear in the mail. And, did I mention they are inexpensive? I mean, really inexpensive. Like $20 – $60 including the frames, lenses and a plastic case with cleaning clothe! At that price, I have since ordered about 10 pair from the site including prescription sunglasses, spare ones for each car and various color options of the frames that I like and seem to work well. I even have ‘workout glasses’ now and am considering prescription goggles. To frugal glasses wearers like yours truly, Zenni is a lifestyle accessory “game changer.” As Zenni does not advertise or market extensively, the service has remained ‘my little secret’ to some extent, unless of course when given the opportunity for me to share its value.

Paying It (Referrals) Forward

Last week, I grabbed a quick Starbucks coffee on Immokkolee Road. I was waiting for my barista to complete my order when an attractive older lady, complimented me on my glasses. She asked where I purchased them. Having heard this compliment before, I quickly responded with “My friend is an optometrist. I purchased these at Zenni Optical. Write this down so you don’t forget, z-e-n-n-i-o-p-t-i-c-a-l dotcom.” “There are thousands of lenses and frames to choose from and guess how much these cost?” “~$25!” “I have over 10 pairs now. Enjoy!” She thanked me profusely and I went about my way. I was actually proud and happy to fill in another glasses wearer (our little affinity club) on my little secret knowing if she would become even half as happy as I am with my purchase, she’d thank me again, if even, indirectly. (sidenote: I’m a firm believer in what comes around goes around, even when it comes to referrals. It’s true you do get what you give…)

If you can believe it, that same day I had a similar encounter (I don’t actively go out and seek compliments on my glasses, in case you’re wondering. Perhaps it’s the fact that I wear dark rimmed retro-looking glasses makes them more noticeable and interesting) at the local Wal-Mart. It was yet another female stranger who commented on how perfectly suited my “hip glasses,” as she referred to them, were for my face. Without delay, I went into my Zenni Optical commercial. She wrote down the web address and I’m sure Zenni received another customer for life that day.

The Value of Value Referrals—An Analysis     

There was a lot going on in the process of the referrals that occurred above. Let’s take a closer look:

  1. My referral came from a qualified source, an optometrist and friend.
  2. In each referral I made to a stranger, I included my qualifying source, perhaps as a way to subconsciously add credibility and value. Perhaps the reason why many pharmaceutical companies include a doctor in their ads.
  3. My referrals included a value proposition and a call-to-action. Like most successful marketing campaigns, I stated the value which includes a large selection at a low price. I then followed it with a suggestion to visit the website by spelling out the url and having the referee write it down. It’s one thing to say “I got these wonderful glasses at ‘Glasses Are Us.’ Thanks for the compliment. Take it ease…” But, instead I was appreciative of the compliment and proud of the value received. This resulted in me sharing and ‘selling’ the opportunity for my new friend.

I’m not sure if value referrals (my own term), or product/service “evangelism” is part of Zenni Optical’s strategy but I have to admit it’s pretty cool when a great product and value is met with consumer advocates (evangelists) like me who promote their products and services at every compliment and/or opportunity. This is the epitome of referral value, in my opinion.

Assuming each person’s personal network is approximately 250 (average number that attends a funeral or wedding), and I gave two referrals in one day (total 500 potential exposure), each with the potential to purchase 10+ pair like myself, that’s a pretty good return on $0 marketing investment from Zenni Optical.

The disadvantage of referral marketing like this, however, is that the brand does not know exactly who or when the referrals are going to occur and how to plan for that. Perhaps if Zenni Optical looked more closely at my particular case study they’d realize (or perhaps they already know this) that good originating sources are young, influential optometrists—qualified sources. They may also understand the power of product/service consumer evangelists via their website, social media and/or special callouts. The more of both the qualified sources and the consumer evangelists the greater the chance of value referral marketing to occur more frequently and exponentially grow.

Your Own Value Referral Program

Do you have any product/service evangelists? What message are they giving as referrals to other customers? Who is a catalyst for that process (similar to the optometrist in my case study)? How can you control and influence the process better resulting in more qualified referrals?

About the Author

Angelo Biasi is General Manager of SMART Marketing Solutions, LLC, a leading full-service integrated marketing company in Florida and New York since 2001. He has helped create and execute marketing plans and integrated marketing solutions for companies such as Playtex, Bic, Rogaine, Tauck, and over 35 colleges and universities, to name a few. Angelo has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut and teaches Marketing at New York University where he has for over six years. He has been quoted and/or featured in USA Today, Mobile Marketer magazine, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Marketing magazine, BNET TV and Business Currents magazine, to name a few. For more information or to learn more, email him at abiasiatsmartmarketingllcdotcom  (abiasiatsmartmarketingllcdotcom)  , visit, call him at 239.963.9396 and follow him on Twitter @angbiasi.

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