It’s been coming. Asos finally overtook Marks & Spencer’s market valuation this month in what some described as the UK’s high-street Tesla moment, as the online fashion website usurped M&S, a 133-year old retailing giant.
It’s Asos’s innovative use of marketing with its customers and employees that has captured our attention and helped fuel its trajectory.
Customer focus: Advocate relationships
Compare M&S and Asos in terms of customer promise.
M&S’s incoming chairman, Archie Norman, accused the struggling store chain of “drifting” for more than 15 years: “This business has been drifting, underfulfilling its customer promise not for five years, not 10 years but 15 years and maybe beyond.”
It seems to have suffered the same plight as Walmart in the US, where Amazon is now worth twice as much as the American grocery chain.
Asos on the other hand has doubled down on its customers. As one of the giants of fast fashion, Asos adds 5,000 new items to its site each week, improving user experience by adding a helpful and practical visual search function that allows customers to upload photos from social media to find similar outfits. Asos’s CEO Nick Beighton has said customer experience will increasingly mean tech meeting customer expectations, that “visual search, voice search and AI will help customers navigate the offer in a better and more convenient way”.
Crucially, Asos listens to and interacts with customers, who in turn become brand advocates.
One of the best examples of this is Asos’s #asseenonme campaign. Anyone posting an image on Twitter or Instagram wearing an Asos product with the #asseenonme hashtag can be picked to appear on Asos’ product page. It places Asos at the heart of their community and helps forge closer and more meaningful relationships with their customers through a value exchange.
You’d expect a retailer with more than 80% of traffic and 70% of orders coming through mobile devices (and an average shopper spending 80 minutes per-month on the Asos app) to be innovative on social media. But underlying this campaign is a real desire to develop a community of brand advocates, empowering their fans to be creative. This helps develop customer loyalty and build sustainable relationships, but Asos’ advocates also become the online retailer’s frontline style marketers.
As Asos’s Head of Marketing Analytics, Celina Burnett, said, the specific person who posts the photo feels special “but equally it creates value for the rest of the community too as it means they can see a recommendation from a fellow advocate. For us, it is all about creating peer-to-peer stylists”.
Marketing without marketing: peer-to-peer recommendation
In 2015, Asos announced it had cut its marketing budget by 16% to help lower its prices, which was a priority. While this makes sense, its effective marketing approach led by its social outreach and customer advocates will also have helped it achieve this goal as brand ambassadorship became a key hallmark of the retailer and its identity.
For a brand that started with celebrity exposure (Asos: As Seen On Screen) it has actually made its biggest triumph the next door neighbour as it has scaled word-of-mouth marketing through its brand advocates. This demonstrates a keen understanding of the digital landscape: trust has been eroded in official brand spokespeople; celebrities and influencers get reach but struggle with engagement; and customers now look to their peers for trusted recommendations.
According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer: “A person like yourself (60 percent) is now just as credible a source of information about a company as is a technical (60 percent) or academic (60 percent) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37 percent) and government official (29 percent).” While a poll by Nielsen Harris reports: "67% of people say they're at least a little more likely to purchase a product after a friend or family member shared it via social media or email."
On top of initiatives such as its YouTube channel with expert advice on styling - cleverly segmented by product and location – Asos also created a membership programme #AccessAllASOS offering exclusive membership perks that turned social media fans into brand advocates. In the first three months after its roll out, #AccessAllASOS recorded more than 75,000 individual positive brand mentions.
Asos still use bigger influencers, ASOS Insiders, a mix of fashion, beauty and lifestyle bloggers who wear Asos clothing (with prompts to buy the look) on sponsored accounts (as opposed to sponsored posts), but their bedrock is their brand advocates because of the level of trust inherent in peer-to-peer relationships. These brand advocates also includes their own employees who know their products inside out.
Employee advocates: Talent acquisition
Asos was recognised in 2017 on the Top Companies list for the UK, compiled by LinkedIn. According to LinkedIn, the companies who make this list are “those that have figured out how to attract top talent and then keep them”.
The criteria LinkedIn use to choose top companies include: How many non-employees are viewing and asking to connect with a company’s employees; what's the reach and engagement of a company's content; engagement between employees and with the organisation directly, and staff retention.
Asos recently introduced flexible working, has garnered praise for its intern scheme and in its yearly update, it reported its net Net Promoter Score (NPS) had risen from 63 to 66. One example of employee engagement and advocacy is the Asos Academy, which this year held its first ASOS Festival of Learning. Around 1,200 Asos attendees experienced 5 days of masterclasses, workshops and creative taster sessions at Asos HQ with 55 events. “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before in a workplace,” said one attendee. Another pointed to their hive mind: “ASOSers have so much expertise to share.”
For employees who want to get involved in charity initiatives there is the ASOS Foundation. Recently around 180 employees took part in the ‘Walk for water Challenge’ to raise money for Project Pipeline, a water infrastructure in Kenya. Staff from the ASOS offices in Barnsley, Birmingham, Hemel Hempstead and London have been walking one of four 24-mile routes to raise money for the charity.
Asos’s People Experience Director, Peter Collyer, whose previous HR roles have included retail roles at Oasis, Disney Store and Claire’s Accessories told the CIPD: “We want you to be free-spirited; we want to put in processes and procedures that are going to release you and allow you to be the best you can.
“Our focus is always on the customer experience – everything we do is about that. And my agenda is to do the same for our people, which is why I rebranded HR as the ‘people experience’ (or ‘PX’) team last year. We all know that happy people mean happy customers; it’s not rocket science, but I think we’re doing a lot more work on this than a lot of companies.”
Insight into young employees shows that they are ambitious and are interested in developing their own careers according to Collyer, which means Asos’s internal academy will focus on specialist employee training for divisions such as retail, technology and finance.
Training and opportunity at Asos is matched in the workplace with the transformation of its HQ in North London to include health and workout facilities, a quiet zone library and cafes as well as a concierge service and technology bar, to help employees with their non-work related needs.
In turn, Asos benefits from happy employees advocating the retailer as an employer brand making talent acquisition more effective.
Blank Canvas: The brand advocacy journey
Asos’s insight into brand advocacy and the changing needs and motivations of younger consumers has also meant it has been able to work successfully in the millennial or youth market.
Its ‘Blank Canvas’ competition across global markets was targeted at students going ‘back to uni’ and asked them to create their own version of an Asos tote bag when they registered as a student on Asos. The winning design would bag a bursary, a dedicated mentor as well as be able to sell their creation on Asos. Participation in the competition was driven by voters receiving a 15% discount to get involved.
Asos was again asking its community to get creative, to channel their individuality and designed a simple app for the campaign to increase sign-up. The competition meant that, once more, Asos’s advocates marketed Asos on behalf of the retailer as students looked to promote their designs. And their were a lot of designs - 22,000 custom-bags and more than 80,000 votes from territories like the US and the UK.
Outside of a 178% success rate for targeted sign-ups, and a high conversion from sign-ups to shoppers, the big win for Asos was the amount of positive brand sentiment around the brand as its advocacy approach made waves through its community.
Its focus on the youth market is highly targeted because of an understanding of the lifetime value of an Asos customer. In a recent video on Customer Life Time Value (CLTV) that unlocks some the smart data behind the Asos brand, the retailer is clear they “do more than just sell clothes”.
It says: “How do we know what these intangible products (e.g. fashion advice, video content and a magazine) are worth? By predicting the lifetime value of our customers. This allows us to measure the impact of watching a catwalk video or reading a blog post.
“We have billions of customer product interactions. They form an extremely large and sparse matric that is difficult to use in its raw format. We overcome this problem by learning neural embedding where each product is defined by the sequence of customers who interacted with it. Using these sequences we learn an embedded representation of our customers. Customer embedding lasts longer than product embeddings and can be used for forecasting.”
Asos is very aware of the lifetime value and diversity of its audience, and how it can be serve them and convert them to lifetime customers and advocates.
Brand loyalty and trust
Asos’s success with its brand advocates also allows it to carry a high degree of trust and loyalty through to other areas of its business.
Its loyalty programme, Asos A-List, is a points-based tier scheme where its hopes it can convert the goodwill of its community. And loyalty matters - a study by Bond this year revealed loyal customers spend 67% more than new ones.
Trust will also invariably help other new initiatives such as its new ‘try-before-you-buy’ service in the UK, which allows shoppers to order and try on products at home before paying for what they would like to keep. Trust is a two-way street. But the new move is also smart – Asos knows it is tapping into the existing behaviour of its customers who were ordering a number of different outfits in different sizes to try on at home and return the ones they don’t want.
When Asos launched As Seen On Screen in 2000 it offered a new, cleaner and simpler shopping experience that helped everyday shoppers transform celeb trends into their own look.
Now, it is Asos’ everyday brand advocates who are driving online word-of-mouth marketing for the online retailer and influencing high street trends.
The Qubist employee advocacy platform and proprietary Advocate Experience Management methodology allows global brands and businesses to quickly scale measurable word-of-mouth and achieve sustainable results.
Learn more about Qubist: Request a demo today
Interested in learning what the Qubist platform and our Advocate Experience Management methodology can do for your brand? Get in contact and request a demo today
Employee Advocacy | 3 min read | Read now
Employee Advocacy | 3 min read | Read now
Employee Advocacy | 6 min read | Read now
Employee Advocacy | 5 min read | Read now