Vision Direct CMO prioritises people, culture and data as brand goes omni-channel

Newly installed global chief marketing officer tasked with overseeing the eyewear company's physical retail rollout and building brand strategy globally

People, culture and data are top priorities for Vision Direct’s newly installed chief marketing officer as she sets out to aggressively dial up brand awareness globally and support the ecommerce eyewear company’s omni-channel retail ambitions.  

Ruth Cuadrado joins Motion Global, the operator of Vision Global, from Hilton Hotels Group, where she started as a general manager trainer before rising to marketing director of Latin America and the Caribbean. A native of Buenos Aires, she’s lived in Mexico, Brazil, the US and China.

Now based out of China, Cuadrado has a global remit encompassing 35 countries including Australia, Vision Direct’s largest market.  Her responsibilities include managing overall marketing strategy, as well as agencies and creative, and increasing awareness of the group’s omni-channel offering.  

Other key areas of focus this year are marking the group’s 10-year anniversary as a brand, and developing strategies for its growing proprietary brands portfolio, including Aris, LMNT and OhMyWoodness.

Cuadrado told CMO it’s her experience in general management at a hotel group that leads her to always put the emphasis on people. At Vision Direct, this is arguably even more important give her team of 42 staff reflects 20 different nationalities.

“When you have such a multicultural team, culture has a big impact on how people execute the function,” she said. “Even though we might share an understanding of what marketing is, the way we go about priorities, and the numbers, is very different.

“The first thing to focus on has been getting the team level set, and making sure we all work with all the same set of values, priorities and philosophies. We also have to become data obsessed. I’m working to make sure the whole team understands the importance of data, knows what tools to use, and knows how to use data.”

Ruth Cuadrao
Ruth Cuadrao

To do this, Cuadrado has established a fresh training curriculum covering data, how to do research and understand the customer, and the role of finances in the company to help shift thinking of marketing as a cost centre, to a contributor to the bottom line.

“We have all the tools, but we can always get better. Most of the team have had SQL training, but were not using it on a regular basis, so I’ve prioritised that, so people can pull their own numbers from the database as opposed to relying on our BI [business intelligence] team,” she said. “Our BI is very active and part of the marketing team, but no one should rely on them, they’re additional support. Everyone has to know how to get data themselves.”  

In addition, the CMO position had been vacant for about a year, which left marketing staff in silos and Vision Direct without a centralised marketing approach or set of objectives. As a result, Cuadrado has restructured the team, elevating a number of employees into more management positions.

“There wasn’t necessarily a gap in skills, but we needed to elevate some areas. The team overall is very junior, and didn’t have an idea of how individual roles and work linked back to company strategy. I gave them more responsibility,” she said. “Everyone has to be a leader in my mind, even if you’re managing a small discipline in marketing. At the same time, being junior means they’re very energetic and fearless in pursuing marketing objectives.”  

Alongside this, Cuadrado has initiated a brand refresh. “We are a very strong brand in terms of experience, and we’ve undertaken global expansion, however, the brand hadn’t kept up with that growth,” she explained.

“It felt outdated and similar to what we launched 10 years ago. But now we’re a business in over 35 countries and the brand didn’t keep up. It’s a soft rebranding - we’ve updated the logo, and about to launch new brand and tone of voice guidelines to ensure the brand reflect who we are, and our position as a leader in the market.” 

Like many parts of the retail market, the optical and eyewear space has been disrupted thanks to digital’s rise, and low-cost players coming into the market.

“We have to remember we are not alone. A lot of brands commit the mistakes of thinking they’re in a self-conditioned universe when they’re not competing against anyone,” Cuadrado commented. “Keeping that in mind is very important.”  

Several key projects the marketing team is now working now are about giving additional strength to the brand, Cuadrado continued. The big one is taking Vision Direct out of the online-only world, and building a network of physical stores.

The first two stores are expected to open in Australia within weeks. Once these are established and provided they go well, the company has aggressive plans to grow a global network of shopfronts.

“To online and digital natives, we are well known. But many customers are not online, and probably don’t know we exist. Having retail stores position Vision Direct in these new customers that haven’t traditionally dealt with us,” Cuadrado said.  

To support this strategy, Vision Direct has kicked off market research for the first time in many years.

“When you’re online there are so many tools available for you to use,” Cuadrado said. “But in the offline world, there isn’t so much. We’re engaging with a market research agency to help us understand the more traditional customer. That is key to ensure we don’t go in with assumptions, but real data.”

Cuadrado said the retail focus will be on delivering an offline experience with online tools and technology, with access to its complete range thanks to its well-established supply chain.

“The optical business is very traditional and difficult to disrupt digitally. But we’ve got this far, the next step is to build a physical footprint,” she said.  

Cuadrado’s other priority is building out the brand strategy behind Vision Direct’s proprietary eyewear brands. The aim is to diversify the portfolio and open new business streams, she said including distribution to other retail players.

Just a few months old, these proprietary brands represent about 5 per cent of total online sales but are expected to grow share substantially this year.

Meanwhile, Cuadrado’s first new-look brand campaign, ‘Shade yourself’, debuted in market in January and is based on encouraging customers to protect their eyes during summer months.

A marketing blunder when designing the group’s new packaging, however, saw placeholder text, ‘change this’, left on the packaging where a 10 per cent discount code was supposed to go. The brand’s marketing team opted to embrace the phase as a hashtag to encourage consumers to pledge to change their summer habits and encourage their peers to do so too.

Cuadrado said what could have been a marketing disaster has now helped cement the strong message Vision Direct was endeavouring to put forward through its ‘Shade yourself’ campaign.

As part of the campaign, the brand partnered with Australian sunscreen provider, Wotnot, to further raise awareness and promote sun protection as a whole. Wotnot is also offering consumers a 30 per cent discount on Vision Direct products.

Vision Direct launched in 2008 in Australia, followed by New Zealand. For every pair of glasses purchased, the company gives a pair to someone in need.

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