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Kayla Castro uses affiliate to tell the compelling brand story of Zenni Optical

Nov 14, 2023 by Michael McNerney

Zenni Optical has recently worked to shift its affiliate program from a deals-run program to one aimed more at telling the brand’s story and communicating the brand’s value proposition to a broader swath of customers. That’s where Kayla Castro comes in. Castro joined Zenni about a year ago as the company’s senior manager of affiliates and partnerships. 

Previously, Zenni – a San Francisco-based online eyewear retailer – was seen as a discount eyewear brand. Now the focus is more on getting customers to see Zenni as a value-driven brand, Castro said. 

“We’ve done away with a bunch of things like coupon codes,” Castro said. “Our glasses are affordably priced to begin with – people don’t really need a discount on top of that.”

Zenni always aims to have at least 30 frames priced under $7 – a deal that the company actually loses money on, but one that gets to the company's mission: Zenni was founded about 20 years ago by two people who firmly believed that eyewear should be something everyone has access to. 

Castro is charged with telling that brand story and finding the right affiliate partners to do just that. She’s leaning into lessons she gained during her time at Avocado Mattress, she said. What distinguishes one mattress from another often comes down to the story its customers hear. 

“There’s more and more research,” Castro said. “Customers are 70% more likely to buy from a brand if they feel connected to it.”

That’s why Zenni has been coming out with new collections of frames promoted by people who are really relatable to customers. Those partners include brand ambassadors like actress and singer Keke Palmer and San Francisco 49er George Kittle. 

As Castro sees it, changing the company’s strategy is as much about finding great affiliate partners – who align with the brand – as it is about bringing in more relatable products. 

But Zenni is also looking to transition into more of a technology company, Castro said. 

One indicator of that: the performance marketing team for Zenni reports to the CTO, separate from the PR and brand team is separate. 

That transition has also meant that Zenni is leaning into more technology-based offerings, including a search-by-image feature that allows customers to upload an image of glasses they like. Zenni then uses that image to search its database and find a frame that most closely resembles the customer’s request. 

“You wouldn’t find that in an optometrist’s office,” Castro said. “We’re trying to be more at the front of the game.”

That game also includes targeting gamers themselves. Castro is in the process of offboarding eyewear professionals as partners and onboarding popular gamers. 

Zenni has, for a while now, had a collection of glasses aimed at gamers. They feature ultra blue-light-blocking lenses and are advertised for gamers who spend a lot of time looking at screens and want to avoid eye fatigue. 

That led to some gamers who organically wanted to join Zenni’s affiliate program. Now, Zenni is going even deeper by offering prescription inserts for the Meta Quest 3 VR headset. 

Castro herself has partnered with the company’s gaming and events division and she’s working on creating an entirely separate affiliate program just for gamers. Many of those gamers are like influencers in a way and have a distinct, loyal audience who often tune in at a specific time to watch the gamer play. 

“Our goal is to have this as a really good affiliate revenue stream for us,” Castro said about the soon-to-launch gamer affiliate program. 

“It’s so key to brands now to find where their niche audiences live and really go for it to figure out how they can capitalize on that specific audience,” Castro said. 

Zenni is looking to those niches to keep its momentum of growth. The company has consistently been growing year-over-year. The company has “really strong goals” for growth this year, Castro said, adding that she sees the company “surpassing everyone’s expectations” and sitting at a “unique intersection of a necessary product and and affordable product.”