Tesa Aragones
Chief Marketing Officer

VSCO CMO Shares the Keys to Building Iconic Brands

Tesa Aragones believes in the value of connections over conversions when it comes to building iconic brands. It's something she's learned from more than 25 years of stewarding global brands including Nike, Volkswagen, Apple and Bacardi. And now, as chief marketer for mobile photo app VSCO, Tesa is putting new visual storytelling tools in the hands of consumers to fuel a new generation of creators. Here, Tesa shares what she believes will help brands win in a post-Covid world and what she learned from a chance meeting with one of her long-time heroes.

How did you get to where you are today?

Right?! I sometimes ask myself that question too. I feel so grateful to have had these experiences, yet as a first-generation Asian growing up in Detroit, I think my dad would have preferred that I studied medicine. My mom, on the other hand, always encouraged me to pursue anything that I found inspiring: music, photography, travel, sports, languages and film. When I reflect on this, I am where I am today because my mom always fueled my curiosity.

Tesa with her mother, Lourdes J. Aragones, originally from the Philippines.

Early on, I learned that I like to build things, solve problems…and tell stories. I loved trying to find innovative solutions that helped consumers but also evolved the business. This way of thinking became a theme throughout my career.

After honing my brand and innovation skills at Volkswagen, I was recruited by Nike to join their Global Marketing team. I continued to follow my passion for creating consumer-centric innovations, which motivated me to create Nike’s first iPhone app, Nike Training Club, and then launch Nike’s first video game title. ... I now have 12 patents for innovations filed by Nike. I am enjoying bringing this discipline to VSCO in my current role.

Any noteworthy aha-moments along the way?

There have been moments along my journey where I have learned so much about myself and about what gives me purpose. Those aha-moments almost always occur when I am helping others. In those moments, I am reminded that helping people is one thing that always makes me happy. I try to honor all of the people who have helped me along the way by creating meaningful work for consumers, by mentoring and developing the next generation and by seeking out ways to help others rise.

What’s new for VSCO?

This year has been a year of shipping new products and features at VSCO. Last year we allowed ourselves to reimagine what video storytelling might be for us. This year, we launched VSCO Montage. This storytelling feature allows consumers to bring their stories to life by combining videos, images, and shapes. And there’s more to come in this space.

What’s currently happening in marketing that you’re most excited about?

"Companies without a clearly defined mission and brand identity will be obsolete in the post-Covid world."

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. People are suffering not only from the virus but from stress, anxiety and isolation. During this time, I have been inspired by companies that are showing more compassion for humanity, doing the right thing, and in doing so, defining what they stand for as a brand. Marketers that are using their voice and their budgets to encourage people to be safe and reinforce the importance of unity to stop the spread of the virus are heroes. This gives me great hope that we will get through these tough times in a more unified manner. As a result, I believe we will see new marketing innovations coming out of this difficult period. Those brands that make it through this crisis will do so because they have a purpose that's bigger than driving growth. Companies without a clearly defined mission and brand identity will be obsolete in the post-Covid world.

What's one thing you learned from your time at Nike and VW?

The importance of brand values and a full-funnel marketing approach. My move to the Bay Area has shown me the marketing limitations that tech companies can sometimes put on themselves by only focusing on performance marketing. When that happens, and companies do not invest in brand strength and brand marketing, they limit their ability to connect with their most important stakeholder: the consumer. ... If being an iconic brand is important to your company, value your brand strength as a company asset. Invest in growing your audience and building connections with your consumers as much as you invest in increasing conversion rates. It will strengthen your overall brand position as well as performance efficiency.

Tell us one skill that you think is currently underdeveloped in marketing.

The craft of knowing how to stay in brand character. It is more than using the right tone of voice. It is the skill of having the right conversation in moments that matter. During the pandemic, some brands come across as tone-deaf while others are showing compassion for what their audience may be experiencing. It is more than cutting through the clutter. It is a way to strengthen your connection with your consumers.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?

"...the key to being a great marketer is listening."

I believe that the key to being a great marketer is listening. I look for people who are passionate about listening to the voice of the consumer. I pick candidates that demonstrate conscientiousness in how they serve the consumer, create value in the consumer experience and practice radical collaboration to deliver this value.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I once took a flight from Boston to Detroit and had the great fortune to be on the same flight with one of my heroes, civil rights activist Rosa Parks. I had a chance to ask her about her experiences during the civil rights movement. She gave me some advice that I think about often, and it fuels my desire to always lead with courage. She said, “Never be afraid to do what is right.”

Photo taken by fashion photographer Jenny Risher in the former Michigan Theatre in Detroit, which was built in 1925.

What’s something that most people don't know about you? 

Last year, I challenged our VSCO leadership team to take a photo (above) that answered this question. Many people know that I am from Detroit and that I am a huge fan of creativity and the arts, but most people are not aware that I don’t always like being in the spotlight. It was an exercise of visual storytelling.