This Much I Learned: Asos’s top marketer on transforming a brand

Asos’s executive vice-president of customer, Dan Elton, on the challenges he is facing in turning the fashion retailer into a more brand-led organisation – and why marketers shouldn’t take measurement tools as gospel.

While This Much I Learned is a podcast often focused on looking back at the highs and lows of a career in marketing, it is just as much about looking forward and applying those lessons to the latest challenge.

On that theme, we welcome our latest guest, Dan Elton, executive vice-president for customer at Asos, who is tackling one doozy of a transformational project in turning around the fortunes of the online fashion retailer.

Asos, of course, has been around for decades but grew at an incredible rate during the Covid-19 pandemic when stores were closed and customers were forced to buy online. Profits, though, tumbled soon after and, in 2022, its recently appointed CEO José Antonio Ramos Calamonte pointed to an over-reliance on promotional activity as the cause.

Elton was hired in March 2023 to help steer the brand in a new direction and back towards profitability. “The reliance on promotions has been as a result of expectations of growth continuing coming out of the pandemic and having a bit too much stock,” he tells Marketing Week editor-in-chief Russell Parsons. “We needed to clear that stock and we’ve been promoting to do so. But it’s not the direction we want to take the business in the future.”

The new direction is a much healthier split between brand and performance. Elton notes that the marketing team at Asos are huge believers in Binet and Field’s 60:40 split between long-term and short-term activity, and while “they aren’t measuring it every day”, it is something they are striving to get closer to.

Elton recalls that when he joined Asos roughly 85% of all media investment was spent at the bottom of the funnel within Google search and Meta DPA ads, with “very little” being spent outside of that.

“That was appropriate at a time when all we had to do was show up at the last stage of the purchase journey to win the conversion,” he claims. “Because it was a bit less competitive, there was a lot more demand. But that isn’t true anymore.”

There was a problem, too, in getting the brand in front of consumers in a more meaningful way. Elton recalls some early research he commissioned that revealed that consumers loved Asos as a brand but, compared to its competitors, they didn’t “hear from us anymore”. It wasn’t showing up in the cultural conversation, he says, it didn’t even have an influencer programme until he joined.

“One of the first things we had to do was really rebuild that muscle and start putting Asos back at the forefront of customers’ minds,” he says. “We’re not talking about rocket science; we’re talking about finding ways to rebuild metal availability.”

Back yourself, give yourself a chance, you may not quite get it right first time, but, in general, the universe will reward you for taking that step.

Dan Elton, Asos

The brand is now on a path to finding that “better balance” between activity at both ends of the funnel – but there are unique category challenges to Asos. He points to the environment it operates in where it has to hand over “quite a lot of ownership” of brand communications to third parties and, predominantly, influencers.

These are crucial for increasing brand desirability, of course, but what Asos is not certain is what end of the funnel it is driving. “Do those drive long-term effects or do they drive short-term effects? It is not always clear. Sometimes it’s both,” he admits.

There’s also the thorny topic of returns especially when mixed with promotional activity. Asos is not the only retailer struggling to get to grips with this topic and Elton accepts it is the “toughest” question he is facing. “When you have a model that customers love, but which in not every case leads to a profitable outcome for the business, how do you navigate your way through that?” he ponders.

The answer, as he sees it, comes from focusing as much as possible on “full-priced” sales, shortening lead times when it comes to buying products, and buying in smaller quantities so the business doesn’t have to “commit” to stock as much as it has done in the past. “That will enable us to do fewer promotions, and it will enable us to develop more relevant products because we’re developing it closer to the point of purchase,” he explains. “We’re seeing really strong results from some of that.”

Inside Asos’s plan to ‘rebuild’ its brand affinity and marketing team

Retail changes

Elton has had a wide and varied career away from Asos. He gained extensive retail experience from six years at Tesco and three years at Sainsbury’s – and also had a fascinating spell at Google helping fashion and sports brands get the best from Google’s media capabilities.

An unfortunate short spell at, the online furniture retailer that boomed and busted in-and-out of Covid, could have knocked his confidence but he points to his “optimistic” attitude as being key in helping him reframe that experience and take the positives from it.

The industry has changed in the near two decades he has been a part of it. He points to the “democratisation” of the discipline as being one of the most interesting developments. Recalling his time at Tesco, Elton says to be a senior marketing leader you needed brand management or comms experience, but now, there are media experts, analysts, customer experience experts, all of whom can be working in the top jobs in marketing. “That, for me, is really one of the best changes,” he notes.

In retail, he has witnessed the development of marketing from merely shaping the outwards communications a brand has with its customers, to being at the heart of the customer experience and, in turn, gaining a “much more realistic understanding” of what influences perceptions of a brand and brand favourability.

There have been drawbacks though. Elton takes the slightly controversial position that the way marketers measure the effectiveness of what they do has gotten worse. “Some people will say I’m crazy for this, and there’s no doubt huge benefits to the rise and measurability of digital media, but there’s an element of laziness in marketing now,” he claims. “We see something in Google ads or we see something in an attribution model, we’ve come to rely on it as the gospel. And that doesn’t reflect the real world, that doesn’t reflect reality.”

He sometimes wonders if he’s having an “existential crisis” if measurement tools are any better now than what marketers had access to previously. “We used to talk about half of all marketing being wasted. And I do think there’s obviously elements of measurement that are a lot better. But some of our muscles have atrophied because of it,” he adds.

As to what advice he would impart to anyone listening, he would encourage any marketer when presented with an opportunity that excites them to take advantage of it – even if it scares them. “Back yourself, give yourself a chance, you may not quite get it right first time, but, in general, the universe will reward you for taking that step,” he concludes.

Listen to the podcast above for more from Elton about the key learnings from his career so far.

From opening up about mental health issues to closing the career confidence gap, you can listen to previous episodes of Marketing Week’s This Much I Learned podcast on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and Spotify.