The Multi-Design Concept

When I arrived at the head office  the new Gamma design was set to a large extent. Up to that time the geometric designs of Varilux and  all the competitive progressives had been conceived as the optimum single design for all presbyopes and all activities. So for example when the presbyope became older and needed a stronger reading power (the expert term is addition power) his new progressive had a similar geometry to his previous lens only with a higher near add. After the Varilux invention Essilor made clinical investigations with special groups of presbyopes, for example specific age classes  or particular activities as work in front of a computer screen. These studies showed now that for these specific needs also specific designs were the optimum solution. So the idea behind the new Gamma concept  was, that  for each age class, i.e. for each add should exist a specific design to obtain the maximum visual comfort independent from the presbyope’s age. Besides its evident physiological benefits this concept represented  a wonderful marketing story and was the base for the product’s market positioning. In the product name  Essilor Varilux Multi Design or shorter Essilor VMD  the term Multi Design expressed the innovation that for each add power a specific design had been conceived whereas the progressives up to now  represented only one single design ( Mono Design) which for each add was adapted in a geometrically similar way . The product name was a compromise between subsidiaries and central Marketing. While the subsidiaries wanted to benefit in first place from the prestigious Varilux brand, the goal of the parent company was to implement Essilor as the umbrella brand. After long and tedious discussions the compromise Essilor VMD was retained which put the name Essilor in front , but left the liberty to the markets to highlight the Varilux brand. The multi design concept represented a very powerful and clear Unique Selling Position.

In the middle of 1987 after about 6 months at Paris I had a first big presentation in French at the subsidiaries meeting organized at a place near Paris. Several US and European competitors had recently launched the first competitive progressive lenses which had a more innovative image than Varilux 2, which had been on the market since 1972. There was a need for a new Varilux in order to defend the leading market position of the brand. I did the presentation in French and at that time my French was the result of 6 years French education at school and an intensive course some months before my arrival at Paris. Nevertheless the power of the VMD message made forget the shortcomings of my French with German accent. The ca. 200 people were excited about the new product in development.

 The next months were filled with launch preparation. A new product launch is an immense and highly complex project. A first major task is creating product stocks at the head office and at the subsidiaries .The technical product to be stocked is the semifinished lens. It is named semifinished because the front side of the sf is finished with the progressive geometry and the backside is ground and polished at the prescription laboratory  of the subsidiary  according to the individual ametropia of the patient. The total ametropia range is subdivided in about 7 power ranges, each with a specific semifinished and a specific front curve, called base curve. Combined with 12 add powers from 0.75 diopters to 3.50 diopters taking into account the various degrees of presbyopia results in 84 different articles to put on stock. And as the product is launched in different lens materials (mineral glass, organic, photochromic, high refractive…..) you have to multiply with the number of materials.

 The marketing plan was not to eliminate the current Varilux  product , but to keep it on the market next to the new VMD. For our Logistics department this meant that the number of  stock items would approximately double for the all purpose progressive. Price and promotion were other essential marketing elements  we had to fix and to elaborate. In order to benefit from the two tier strategy the relative pricing between Varilux 2 and VMD was a paramount  issue. It was evident that the price of the new lens should be higher than for the current Varilux, but if VMD would be positioned too high its market penetration would be too low  whereas  a too low positioning would mean an almost 100% substitution. In both cases we would not reach the maximum possible overall gain of the VMD/ Varilux 2 range. As markets and their competitive situation are different  the prices were fixed individually in close collaboration with each subsidiary.

 In the ophthalmic lens business  the manufacturer sells the product to the optician or optometrist who in turn sells the lens to the patient. Our communication had to address both customers, the optician and the wearer. The message to the optican was clear:  thanks to a specific design maximum visual comfort for each add, for every age of the presbyopic wearer. Basically the message to the wearer was the same : ”Maximum visual comfort for every age”. But it was more difficult to explain the progress of the new lens compared to the progressives up to now, as the notion of the geometric design was not known to the wearer.