Q&A: Mary K. Mercado, digital marketing manager for CooperVision, Inc.

December 21, 2015

I always had in my head that I was going to be a doctor. I was specifically in molecular biology, and chemistry was just side gig. So, I had the dream of being an optometrist, got accepted to optometry school and decided it wasn’t for me at the last minute. So, I turned to chemistry, and chemistry was my backup plan.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Alameda, CA, been a NorCal girl my whole life. Born in Berkeley, went to school 100 percent in Alameda, private school my entire life. That’s where I went to college.

 

What drew you into the sciences?

I always had in my head that I was going to be a doctor. I was specifically in molecular biology, and chemistry was just side gig. So, I had the dream of being an optometrist, got accepted to optometry school and decided it wasn’t for me at the last minute. So, I turned to chemistry, and chemistry was my backup plan. (Laughs) And then that evolved. I had very ambitious goals as young female Asian who wanted to take industry by storm. Though chemistry probably would be the only facet for me to excel, especially because I looked very young. I wanted to go into the business to learn the actual ins and outs of what it is a company would need to succeed. So, I went to do my MBA and stumbled across marketing. I instantly fell in love with marketing and then specifically with digital marketing.

 

As a chemist, what interested you in the contact lens field?

Actually, it wasn’t contact lenses, it was more polymer chemistry. My organic chemistry teacher told me in my first organic chemistry class in Berkeley that there’s a whole science about just making plastics. And I thought, that’s awesome. It could be from making Tupperware to nail polish to contact lenses. And I thought, maybe I want to go work for OPI, that’s a famous nail polish. I was an impressionable young kid who loved fashion and beauty. There’s a lot of polymer chemistry in cosmetics, so I thought that was something I should go into. But CooperVision was in my backdoor. I was initially hired for polymer chemistry. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a contact lens manufacturer polymer-chemist genius. Every girl wants to work for something she uses, like makeup. That was kind of me, and then I grew up really fast working at CooperVision.

 

What do you do for downtime?

A lot of people don’t know this, but I’m a classically trained pianist. I was taking lessons at a famous university in Oakland-I started when I was six years old, and I took my last class when I was 21. I like spending time teaching my kids piano. If you’re from northern California, you have to be kind of a foodie, too. I love going trying new places to eat. Really, it’s just spending time with my family. My husband is an optometrist, so we talk a lot of shop, but we’re in the process of planning a practice. Work-life balance is hard when you’re in digital marketing for almost 24-7. You’re constantly needing to know what your consumers are talking about. Therefore, a lot of it is dedicated to family. I don’t do anything super exciting. I’m just a mom who likes to cook.

 

 

Why didn’t you pursue your musical skills?

(Laughs) That’s a very easy question. Immigrant parents, they always wanted to play an instrument but they couldn’t-they didn’t have money. So that was kind of me. I was really good at it, and I had no choice-I just had to do it. My mom was paying for lessons, but I didn’t pursue it because it wasn’t something I thought I could make a career out of. I wasn’t that good. I was just good, like…you know, people can say that they’re schoolbook good. I think I was piano book good, even though I competed and I did really well. I couldn’t be the next Alicia Keys. I’m very shy, I’m not a performer.

 

What pulled you into marketing instead of optometry?

I got accepted to UC Berkeley School of Optometry. I was super excited. I went to orientation, then I just thought, “I don’t think I’m cut out to do this.” I couldn’t sit in a room for eight hours a day. I couldn’t. It’s a great profession, and I think there’s a lot of responsibility. You are responsible for one’s overall health, not just eyes -there’s an esteemed prestige that I feel for these people and I just didn’t think I was worthy and that I wouldn’t be the right type of doctor for someone’s health. That’s how hard I am on myself. I was devastated. This is what I had worked so hard for. I studied for OATs about a year diligently with two kids and my husband in PhD school. I sacrificed a lot, and here I am saying, “Oh, it’s not for me.” However, the light at the end of the tunnel was when my boss said, “Stop crying about it. What are you going to do? You can’t be this young kid who’s sobbing in my office. You have to take an opportunity.” So, that’s when I reevaluated my life. I took about a month or two to figure out what I wanted to do, and I thought let’s do something general. I thought doing my MBA would be really good. I took my first marketing class, and I thought, “Yes, this is for me. This is what I want to do.”

 

Why digital marketing?

It’s very obvious we live in a very digital world right now. If I was going to go into marketing, it was going to be right at the cutting edge. Print will always be there, print will be a staple, you got foundation. Traditional marketing will always be there. Things that I saw that opened my eyes was the reach frequency that we could have with digital vs. print. You can give me $10,000 for print and $10,000 for digital, and I can measure an ROI more successfully with digital and I can increase my digital footprint by rate-frequency significantly more. Whereas if I give you a print ad, I don’t know what you’re going to do with it. Are you going to throw it away, are you going to put it in your fridge, file it? The behavior is more important in digital. We have Facebook on our phones, Twitter ads, push notifications-it’s around that so we just have to embrace it, and that’s what gravitated me toward that. CooperVision and opticals are all in a non-technical field. We can make it technical, we can make it very dynamic with the help of digital marketing. We can be like Google. We have to have the vision for it, right?

 

 

How has web content and social media changed how products are sold to optometrists and patients?

It’s changed significantly because as we’re seeing millennials becoming doctors-and people like Alan Glazier-there’s a whole community online, and it’s increasing. We can’t ignore that. If it were decreasing, I would have to rethink my career again. We have to take note and learn where the trend is. It enables sales-it almost enables us to be right there in front of them, whether they’re at a conference or in their practice we can serve them content and the consumption is at their leisure. We’re busy people-you’re busy, I’m busy. So, if we’re at a restaurant and we’re waiting for our spouse or date, of course I’m going to be scrolling through my Facebook just seeing what’s on Huffington Post -that trend cannot be denied. So, it’s a very fascinating world that we can create content for people to consume when they want it.

 

Your husband is an optometrist, and you’re opening a new practice. How’s that going?

It’s super exciting. He does clinical trials for UC Berkeley, then he started to work for CooperVision as an optometrist. But he found his calling was really in research. So, he went back to school after getting four degrees at Berkeley (undergrad, master’s, OD-so this will be his fourth degree, his PhD in vision science). It’s kind of hard to find a job unless you’re going to be an OD in a practice. He just said, “Why not? Let’s just open practice.” [Laughs] It just makes perfect sense. A great OD with clinical and research skills, and we also have me who can market to the masses and create web pages and advertising and know how we want to position ourselves. We’re working on it. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s very exciting and hopefully we can blossom with that and be a successful practice and give back to the community.

 

How should major manufacturers change how they interact with optometrists?

There needs to be some reach to those everyday optometrists who may not be making too many dollars but who have a good solid practice, who may not be up to technology to understand what their needs are. I think that if there was a collective way for industry to talk to everyday normal ODs, opticians, front desk people, receptionists, I think that would be really key. I don’t how you would go about doing that because not everyone’s on Facebook, not everyone’s on LinkedIn. If there’s a camaraderie localized in certain regions: Hey, all optometrists, let’s do a small get together besides the big conferences. I think you could learn a lot from that rather than having focus groups with famous doctors who are key communicators who just feed you the same information. Someone like my husband would say, “Hey, look. This electronic medical record does not work. Can you tell me how you can make this better?” That is a very honest feedback.

 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I think for me it’s skydiving. I told my parents, “Do you want to go skydiving?” They’re like, “No, you should never do that. Why would you do that to your family? You could die. Why would you put your family at so much risk that you would die.” OK, well, I’m going to go do it. [Laughs] It was in Lodi, CA, in the middle of nowhere. That was actually better than getting a tattoo. I probably would have gotten caught with a tattoo than skydiving, unless I died. I did it with a group of friends, videotaped it, and bought the DVD. But then I shouldn’t have bought it because that was evidence to my parents. How old was I? About 20, still living at home. [Laughs]