How To Make Programmatic Media Work Harder: Q&A With The Trade Desk CMO Susan Vobejda
As data, analytics and technology assume larger roles in the marketing agenda, CMOs run on a non-stop treadmill trying to keep up with it all. In particular, programmatic media is a fast-growing sector. And with connected TV accelerating in importance as consumer eyeballs continue to gravitate towards streaming services, there has never been more of a need for brands and content creators to harness the power of programmatic.
To learn more about this growing area, I spoke with Susan Vobejda, CMO of The Trade Desk, a demand-side platform (“DSP”) that works with all the major agency holding companies and many of the top 200 brands in the world. Susan herself represents the model of the modern marketer, with tours of duty at the likes of Bloomberg, Tory Burch, Yahoo!, The Gap, and Walmart.com.
Peter Horst: That’s quite a diverse set of companies you’ve worked in.
Susan Vobejda: Yes it has been a “spider web” career. I don’t like to do the same thing twice in a row—I was always fueled by learning. My background put me in the intersection of media, brand and content. I recently joined The Trade Desk because of a strong desire to be at the center of the future of marketing. Because things are changing so fast, and because data and technology are taking us to new places, because of digital transformation, I think it’s critical to have a career with agility. It’s a fun challenge to enter a new situation and bring what you’ve learned to it.
Horst: What drew you to The Trade Desk among all the new economy players?
Vobejda: The Trade Desk is unique in a couple of ways. First, we are an independent DSP, meaning we only work with advertisers and agencies on the buy side of programmatic. We don’t own media properties and don’t own or operate a sell-side platform. So transparency and objectivity are at the core. Second, our platform was built on bid-factor technology, which allows you to efficiently reach your highest-value audiences wherever and whenever they’re engaging in real time.
I was also really struck by the unique culture at The Trade Desk. Our founder, Jeff Green, wanted to create a place that’s really differentiated by service, and an environment where everyone gets to know everyone as people. This all shows up in our culture of caring which translates into a highly differentiated level of service to our customers.
Horst: For companies that are earlier on in their digital transformation, what are some of the foundational, critical first steps they should take, while avoiding “shiny toy” syndrome?
Vobejda: A digital strategy or “digital transformation” starts with the customer. What is happening in the lives of your customer, how is she interacting with your brand and how is she consuming information? It also then considers how you can engage her in your brand using the power and ubiquity of digital and mobile platforms. Finally, a digital customer strategy considers the use of data and measurement to drive a strategy and a continuous learning agenda.
It’s important that every company spend time on a frequent basis looking at the customer experience and the role of tech in that experience. Without a definition of what you are trying to holistically solve for, it’s easy to be bogged down in smaller initiatives around the organization that aren’t interconnected and don’t create something meaningful for customers.
Horst: What do marketers often overlook when it comes to leveraging programmatic media and DSPs in particular?
Vobejda: Surveys show that brands don’t always know what data is available to leverage on a DSP. But the closer you get to the tech and the DSP layer, the more you can inform strategy. When you understand the data you can use for prospecting, competitive conquesting or other strategies, it’s truly eye opening. So one of our missions is to educate brands on what’s available to them. When I was a fashion CMO, thinking about resort-wear, for example, I wanted to target women in a certain demo in northern states who were a few miles from the store, when it’s snowing out and they’re browsing travel sites looking for vacations. You can now activate this campaign in 15 minutes using a programmatic media DSP—you don’t need a huge investment in databases and other technologies. That’s why we activated our Next Wave campaign this past June. We unveiled a new suite of products that helps advertisers use data to plan, forecast and buy digital media more effectively than ever before.
Horst: There’s a lot of discussion around companies taking various activities in house, from creative shops to programmatic desks. How should CMOs think about when they should look at moving a function inside?
Vobejda: We’re seeing that the in-housing of programmatic is not as prevalent as you might think based on the headlines. With programmatic media buying, our experience is that most brands continue to rely on agencies. This is because the programmatic trading and infrastructure of agencies is an expertise that is costly and difficult to replicate and maintain in house. Instead, we are seeing more of a hybrid model. As brands now are spending 50% or more of their digital budgets programmatically, brand marketers want to be more involved. Many brands are hiring individuals or teams in house to work closely on strategies in close partnership with agencies and DSPs like The Trade Desk.
I have been blown away by what is possible in terms of targeting and customer growth using programmatic. In my experience, a brand marketer can drive much smarter growth strategies upfront if he understands the data sets, media platforms, capabilities like offline attribution, and other aspects of programmatic buying.
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