She may have been the lone B2B brand leader sitting in a panel discussion at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, but the Trade Desk CMO Susan Vobejda offered one of the best examples of how to create a marketing campaign whose human elements influenced not only customers but her fellow employees.
Well known to many ad agencies and other brands, the Trade Desk is a demand-side platform (DSP) that facilitates the buying and placement of digital inventory using programmatic technologies. That means the company has been traditionally positioned based on its technical capabilities. But Vobejda, who joined The Trade Desk about two years ago, said she takes a distinctly consumer-oriented approach to her role.
“We’re trying to market a tech brand in a new way — one that is personal for the users of our platform, and also for the consumers that see more relevant advertising as a result of it,” said Vobejda, who was flanked by her peers from Cadillac and Pandora in a CES 2019 session that was made available via livestream. “We’re seeking to describe and tell stories that connect in that way, and not just the features and functions of the product. It’s about what the brand is doing for people.”
Vobejda’s philosophy was recently put to the test when the Trade Desk had to launch a complex collection of products that included elements involving an artificial intelligence engine called Koa, a revamped user interface dubbed Megagon and a data-driven media tool called The Trade Desk Planner.
Rather than overwhelm its business customers, Vobejda and her team came up with a campaign that harkened back to the company’s founding back in 2009 in Ventura, California and its surfing culture. “The Next Wave” allowed the Trade Desk to reference its origins while tapping into the sense that it was helping define the future of the programmatic ad industry.
“You don’t see something like this often in the DSP world,” she said, adding that it’s more common to make use of a brand legacy in the fashion sector (where she worked as CMO for Tory Burch). It was a theme that didn’t just resonate with ad agencies, however.
“Something happened in our company,” she said. “It became a rallying cry . . . you started seeing surf shacks rented out for customer events. People were decorating their offices (with surfing motifs). For us, our company is about the collective as a core value, of being connected as a group.”
To some extent, Vobejda credits her early days in working at an ad agency herself (Leo Burnett), where the “big idea” drove many of the creative decisions. She has also spent time in finance, retail merchandising in addition to fashion, however, which she said has given her the ability to partner with the CEO of the Trade Desk, Jeff Green, in a unique way.
The challenge now is not simply marketing a particular set of products but ensuring the Trade Desk has the kind of bench strength in marketing it will need, Vobejda added. Already, her team has grown from about 25 people to nearly 50 and will reach 80 by the end of next year, she said. Grappling with “hypergrowth” involves more than hiring, however.
“You have to reevaluate your strategy every three months. It’s not an annual process anymore,” she said. “You’re creating a new vision for what will be a bigger company than you thought.”
CES 2019 continues all week.