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Putting CooperVision in clear sight

Rochester Business Journal
May 6, 2011

Which local company sells more contact lenses, Bausch & Lomb Inc. or CooperVision Inc.?
 
If your answer is Bausch & Lomb, you are wrong. If you wondered exactly who or what CooperVision might be, you are not alone.
 
CooperVision is the contact lens unit of the Cooper Cos. Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif. Its local workforce of 1,186 people placed CooperVision sixth on the Rochester Business Journal's most recently published list of manufacturers. Bausch & Lomb's 1,500-employee local workforce put it in fourth place.
 
In share of the worldwide and U.S. contact lens market, CooperVision ranks third and Bausch & Lomb ranks fourth, said Lisa Fawcett, CooperVision vice president of global marketing. The market share numbers are based on figures compiled internally by CooperVision as well as by outside market research firms. Bausch & Lomb does not release market share or financial data, a spokeswoman said.
 
Yet CooperVision is far less well-known in Rochester than Bausch & Lomb. And the company's relatively low profile locally is not unique, said Fawcett, a former vice president of U.S. marketing at Bausch & Lomb.
 
To consumers, even contact lens wearers, CooperVision's name often is less recognizable than those of competitors, including Bausch & Lomb.
 
To raise the company's name recognition and help CooperVision develop a greater sense of internal cohesiveness, Fawcett has spent the last year and a half leading a rebranding campaign.
 
"We are a company put together from acquisitions," Fawcett said.
 
Formerly called Gordon Contact Lens Inc. and later known as UCO Optics, CooperVision's Rochester operations were acquired by Cooper Cos. in the late 1980s.
 
The company has worldwide distribution facilities in Henrietta, corporate offices in Perinton and a manufacturing plant in Scottsville. CooperVision also has contact lens plants in the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico.
 
The rebranding campaign is partly launched with the unveiling of a new logo, new product packaging and a redesigned website. The website featuring the new logo and extensive design changes has been up for two weeks. Biofinity multifocal lenses, a new product in the Biofinity line of silicone hydrogel lenses planned to hit the market next month, is slated to be the first product to have the new packaging.

Risks and rewards
Rebranding efforts have potential rewards but also risks, said Laurie Dwyer, marketing lecturer in Rochester Institute of Technology's E. Phillip Saunders College of Business.
 
Two recent examples of rebranding efforts gone terribly wrong are attempts at new logos for Gap Inc. and Tropicana Products Inc.
 
"If you missed them, you probably blinked," Dwyer said.
 
Consumers were so hostile to both companies' redesigned looks that each quickly pulled its new design off the market and returned to its original design. Both were well-established brands with loyal followings, and neither company changed its product. Customers did not like the new look.
 
"If people are used to something and really like it, they don't like to see it messed with. You can't get too far away from where you were. It's a fine line," she said.
 
CooperVision's low name recognition has not been intentional, Fawcett said. But neither has the company aggressively courted consumers. Instead it has concentrated on building relationships with eye doctors and optometrists, a practice it intends to continue.
 
The logo, which comes in six colors, consists of an irregularly bordered and unevenly shaded semitransparent circle, which sits atop the company's name in a simple font. There are six colors of circle to choose from, each of which has a range of shades, from yellow to orange, blue to violet, green to yellow and so on.
 
The new website similarly switches out the old CooperVision site's utilitarian, boxy blue and white design for a greeting page featuring multihued dragonflies gliding above an undulating blue brushstroke that vaguely suggests water.
 
The resemblance of the logo's varicolored circles and the website illustrations to a watercolorist's freely drawn brushstrokes is not accidental.
 
"We were looking for a feeling of water and waviness," said Mary Reed, CooperVision's senior director of global Web strategy and Fawcett's partner in the rebranding effort.
 
Also deliberate are the logo's and website's lack of resemblance to those of any other contact lens maker, Fawcett added.
 
"We are looking to break away from the pack, to differentiate ourselves from everybody else," she said.
 
Another page from her rebranding slide show features contact lens packaging from four companies, including Bausch & Lomb and CooperVision's current packaging. All are variations on a similar theme, with each featuring similar shades of blue and white and lettering in similar fonts.
 
In differentiating itself, CooperVision hopes to gain market share, perhaps pulling itself up from third place to second, Fawcett said.

Strong results
The rebranding effort is slated to kick off on the heels of a generally successful year for Cooper Cos. At the close of its last fiscal year in October, Cooper Cos.' profits had climbed to $112.8 million on revenue of $1.2 billion, up from $100.5 million on revenues of $1.1 billion a year earlier.
 
CooperVision contributed $970 million to sales in fiscal 2010, up from $909.5 million in fiscal 2009. The company's other unit, Cooper Surgical Inc., makes devices for gynecologic surgery.
 
Cooper Cos. stock (NYSE: COO) was trading this week in the $70 to $74 range. A year ago it traded in the $37 to $38 range.
 
Might the company be taking a risk in changing its brand?
 
"It's something we talked about a lot," Fawcett said. "We don't think so."
 
Dwyer, who had not seen CooperVision's new logo, website and packaging designs, was unable to say whether they stray too far.
 
No amount of branding can overcome an inferior product's faults, she cautioned. Any product's ultimate success rides on how good it is. Branding reinforces customer satisfaction; it does not create it.
 
Still, Dwyer added, the risk of alienating customers increases to the extent that a new image diverges from the old. Customers who liked a product tend to identify what they like with its look.
 
The Tropicana and Gap rebranding fiascos should be taken as cautionary tales, Dwyer said. Unlike the Coca Cola Co.'s classic blunder in introducing the much-reviled New Coke, neither Gap nor Tropicana changed its product. Still, they raised consumers' ire.
 
A factor that might tamp down CooperVision's risk potential, Dwyer said, is that CooperVision's only product is lenses. Bausch & Lomb and other lens makers market over-the-counter lens care products directly to consumers.
 
As a seller of a prescription product, CooperVision rightly has marketed mostly to medical professionals, a group likely to give more importance to the product than to the packaging.
 
That medical professionals are its primary market is a fact CooperVision has kept at the fore as it developed the rebranding campaign, Fawcett said.
 
"Our strong suit has always been our relationships with providers, and we intend to maintain those partnerships, not just with big organizations but with individuals," she said. "But we've always been thought of as a niche player. Part of this campaign is to put our face forward globally."

5/6/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.


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