Argos is on a mission to make people reassess the brand and the man leading the charge is marketing director Stephen Vowles.
The genial Vowles has a wealth of experience within the retail sector in a distinguished career that involved him pioneering the Nectar card at Sainsbury’s alongside Sir Keith Mills, the man knighted for helping bring the Olympic Games to London.
Vowles has been entrusted with Argos’ largest ever marketing campaign as the company spends over £10m attempting to convince the public it is at the forefront of the digital revolution.
Activity will involve the company’s first ever national outdoor and cinema ad campaigns as it seeks to reach new audiences.
Around 30% of households do not shop at Argos and Vowles is drawing on all his marketing nous to make the brand more universally appealing.
The 47-year-old joined Argos a year ago from Ladbrokes where he held the position of customer experience director and led a staff of 120 and managed budgets in excess of £80m. The cerebral Vowles, who studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, has landed himself a place on the executive committee at Argos and reports directly into American John Walden, the chief executive of parent Home Retail.
“I have worked for Argos for a year and I joined because I thought it was unique in a way that could be really important rather than just different but not all that relevant,” says Vowles. “The challenge is how do you take that uniqueness and package it up in a way that is going to be relevant to as many people as possible and be exciting for them.”
Vowles is building the new Argos brand identity around the company’s products and services. He says he chose the role because it “is a good marketing job on top of good substance”.
The “substance” Vowles refers to includes an Argos proposition built around its fast track pick-up service, ‘hub and spoke’ supply chain system and click-and-collect partnership with eBay.
Vowles believes that through this proposition Argos is now in a “category of one” that is distinct from its high street and pure play rivals.
It is a model that some are suggesting is being copied by etail giant Amazon, which is opening its first bricks and mortar store to capitalize on the Christmas rush in New York. It is thought Amazon has been inspired by Argos’ partnership with Ebay, which has seen the latter open pick up points in Argos’ stores.
With competition increasing, Argos is concentrating on consolidating the loyalty of its existing customers.
Although do not expect this to come from a traditional loyalty card, despite Vowles’ hugely successful launch of the Nectar card.
“The basic proposition and services and brands are key to building that loyalty,” explains Vowles. “We have also said we need to do more to exploit the data we have, and we will be doing that, but I don’t see that playing into a traditional points-based card scheme.”
Instead the company’s loyalty offering will be based around personalised services and marketing, according to Vowles.
Wimbledon-born Vowles grew up in London but has spent six years of his career in Boston, USA, working as the chief marketer for the Stop & Shop and Giant supermarket brands, which dominate the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US and are part of the Dutch Royal Ahold group.
Now back in the UK, Vowles lives not too far from his birthplace in Ealing with his husband and two children. And he will need to draw on the breadth of his experience to establish Argos in a “category of one” in the minds of consumers as the boundaries between high street and pure play become increasingly blurred.
Stephen Vowles CV
2010-2013 Ladbrokes director of customer experience
2004-2010 Ahold USA senior vice president of marketing
2000-2004 Sainsbury’s customer marketing director
1998-2000 Thomas Cook Retail marketing director
1989–1997 Procter & Gamble brand manager
Argos launches biggest ever marketing campaign to signal digital transformation
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In the news: Argos marketing director Stephen Vowles