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Digicom Interview with Tom Roche, Head of Brand Marketing

Updated: Jun 20




Last week, we chatted with Tom Roche, a branding and startup expert with an impressive background, having worked with big names like Red Bull, Gap, and SoFi. 


In this episode, Tom shared some experiences and stories from his journey. So, stick around cause this something you don’t wanna miss out on!


Diving into the Startup Scene


Tom’s journey into the startup world started over 15 years ago with a consulting gig for Uber. 


Yep, Uber! 


He helped them with their go-to-market strategy in San Francisco. Studying at the University of San Francisco and being in Silicon Valley certainly helped him get his foot in the door. 


Over the years, he’s worn many hats: consulting for major brands, running a pop-up beer garden, and most recently, leading marketing efforts at a Bodoo, a company that creates stunning backyard homes.


Career Highlights and Tough Challenges


Tom has had multiple achievements across various roles:


Consulting: He spent over four years running national activations for Red Bull and was part of the team behind their Lotta Grafica can launch.


Founder: He co-created a pop-up beer and spirit garden in San Francisco with a close friend pre-COVID.


Startup Employee: At Abodu, he was the fifth employee and the brains behind their 

marketing. He played an important role in skyrocketing the company’s valuation.


One of the biggest hurdles he faced at Abodu was educating people about their high-end backyard homes. Now, these aren’t just any backyard sheds – they’re $300,000 homes! 


The trick was to truly understand the customers and create content that resonated with their needs, whether it was needing more space during the pandemic or a place for an aging parent.


Nurturing Leads


As marketers, you probably already know this. Selling something as significant as a $300,000 home isn’t a one-click process. It requires nurturing potential buyers over time. 


Webinars were exactly what they needed, offering a platform to educate and engage with prospects. From running targeted ads to hosting webinars and showroom visits, they ensured every touchpoint was meaningful. They wanted to make sure customers saw the value in what they were buying or investing in.


Partnering with Brands


When it comes to choosing brands to work with, Tom has a simple rule: he has to believe in the product. This approach has seen him working across various industries, from fashion to tech. 


Some of his favorite brands include Apple, Liquid Death, Duolingo, Patagonia, and Flamingo Estate. He’s particularly fond of Patagonia for its commitment to sustainability and product quality. They genuinely care about the environment and their customers, which is refreshing in today’s fast fashion world.


The Future of E-commerce and Digital Marketing


Looking ahead, Tom sees a few trends shaping the future of e-commerce and digital marketing. Authenticity is key – customers are smarter than ever and can see through gimmicks. 


Personalization and video content are going to play huge roles. Plus, there’s a growing trend of brands bridging the gap between online and offline experiences. Airbnb, for instance, is doing some exciting things by offering unique stays and experiences in collaboration with big names like Ferrari and Disney.


Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs


For anyone looking to break into the startup world, Tom has some solid advice: don’t be shy. Reach out to people who have been there, done that. Networking and learning from others can make all the difference. And remember, most people are more willing to help than you might think.


Connect with Tom Roche:


If you want to learn more about Tom and his work, check out his website or connect with him on LinkedIn.


Connect with Digicom:


We at DigiCom are obsessive data-driven marketers pulling from multi-disciplinary strategies to unlock scale. We buy media across all platforms and placements and provide creative solutions alongside content creation, and conversion rate optimizations. We pride ourselves on your successes and will stop at nothing to help you grow.



Transcript:


Hemant Varshney (00:00.569)

Tom, thanks for jumping on with us today. Very, very excited to have you on. For everybody, Tom has a ton of experience in branding and building startups. Tom, would love for you to introduce yourself.


THOMAS ROCHE (00:19.726)

Yeah. Thanks for having me, Haman. Stoked to be here and dive in with you. As far as my career goes and kind of a brief overview, I'd say it's threefold, if you will, over the last decade, consisting of consulting for huge brands like Red Bull, Gap, and SoFi, founding and running small businesses such as a small experiential marketing agency, Pop -Up Spirit Garden.


Also do a little Airbnb on the side. And then as you said, a startup employee where most recently I was the founding marketing hire at a Bodoo that does backyard homes.


Hemant Varshney (01:02.713)

Amazing. We'll got you into the startup world.


THOMAS ROCHE (01:07.214)

yeah. that's a good question. I'm going to age myself here, but I think the first startup that I consulted for was, about 15 years ago for Uber, during their go to market strategy and activations in San Francisco. after that, I, I worked on other brands such as Z Biotics and, and ease. And I think, you know, going to school at the university of San Francisco and.


Just being in Silicon Valley helps, right? Just the proximity to all these amazing companies that have been started out of the Bay Area.


Hemant Varshney (01:46.073)

Amazing. And sorry. You know, in terms of career highlights, like you've done so many different things, you know, across the last decade, right? And there's just, and they're all so different from one another, right? Like Uber, building your own agency, running Airbnb, being essentially head of marketing for a Bodo, right? Like they've all been so different.


THOMAS ROCHE (02:00.334)

Yeah.


THOMAS ROCHE (02:14.126)

Yeah.


Hemant Varshney (02:15.993)

What are a couple of highlights for you?


THOMAS ROCHE (02:19.406)

Yeah, yeah. that's a great question. Well, I think, you know, we can, we can go through the three, right from, you know, consulting to founder to, to startup employee, on the consulting side, I think, you know, a massive highlight was running national activations for Red Bull for over four years, playing a part in a can launch that they did called Lotta Grafica, on the founder side.


yeah, had a pop up beer and spirit garden pre COVID in San Francisco, which was a lot of fun. Did that with one of my best friends. And then, yeah, as a startup employee, as you said, you know, my time at, at a Bodoo and being the founding marketing hire fifth employee, building out that team, building out that brand, what that brand really stood for and meant and showcasing that through creative storytelling and ultimately, you know, 10Xing the valuation.


of the business during my tenure.


Hemant Varshney (03:19.289)

Yeah, that's, you know, those are some pretty incredible highlight points, right? Especially taking a brand from zero to one. Can you talk a little bit about maybe some of the challenges that you faced from going, you know, going zero to one? You know, I know in our work together, a big part was, hey, how do we generate leads and then get folks to showroom and then...


from our conversations back in the day was very much like, okay, now that we have the leads in showroom, our sales team has to sell. But what are other challenges, you know, in terms of getting from zero to one and how did you guys solve them?


THOMAS ROCHE (03:53.518)

Yeah.


THOMAS ROCHE (04:01.262)

Yeah. Yeah. well, I think, you know, to take a step back for listeners, what a Bodo does is sell $300 ,000 prefabricated, beautiful backyard homes, right? And, and it's not only the product, but it's also the service, they're providing, which is turnkey. So a big part of that was just ensuring that people understood the value of what they were buying. Right. And it wasn't just.


you know, a studio shed or something that, you know, it's just these walls that, pop up in your backyard. It was truly an incredible product and experience. And so education was a huge component of that. And we really had to dive deep in to the customer and to the customer journey, very early on to understand, Hey, where are their eyes and ears? Where are they obtaining this information when they're going down the path of.


crap, it's, it's, it's COVID, I'm working from home, I need more space, or more commonly, even, you know, mom is getting old, we need a place for her to stay. And then ensuring that we showed up in those moments, right? And that we were educating through through the content, you know, you guys helped us specifically on the growth and performance side of things. And also understanding and being honest with ourselves and saying, Hey, it takes more than a Facebook ad to sell.


$300 ,000 home.


Hemant Varshney (05:31.369)

Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of nurture, right? Because one of the things that kind of unlocked LeadGen was webinars. I think that made like a monumental impact from running those campaigns. But what was like that nurture series like, right? And the reason why I'm asking is because like, we work with founders who sell more expensive products. And the more expensive the product,


chances are the longer that attribution window needs to be. But if you're running ads on a meta, on a Google, 30 days is essentially the max. So it's like, how are you thinking about that user journey, nurturing them to drive this sale? And at the end of the day, these prefabs were $300 ,000. So I'm sure that that nurture cycle wasn't one day.


one week, it's probably a few months of speaking, talking, getting estimation. So like, yeah, how would you kind of think through, you know, different price points and what user journeys should be?


THOMAS ROCHE (06:44.654)

Yeah, yeah. I think, you know, the most fascinating component of selling those, those homes was really the fact that it felt more like a B2B play, than it did B2C specifically through that customer journey and just the length of that. obviously at, at top of funnel, you know, we had our ads performance, so specifically Google and Metta, but yeah, mid funnel, you know, that's the webinars, right? That's the educational content.


that's them showing up to the showroom and actually kicking the tires or even taking it a step further and showing up to an install to view a house being crane lifted into a backyard. And then the bottom of the funnel stuff, yeah, really relying on the sales team and ensuring that proper sales enablement was in place and there's alignment there. So a lot of work, but really understanding that entire cycle.


was extremely important and that can be tough, especially as we all struggle with the attribution situation and really understanding, hey, how many touches did it take? Where can we find improvements? What can we tweak? And when do we just need to take a step back and let them decide on their own?


Hemant Varshney (08:05.913)

So, switching gears a little bit, you've gotten to work with some seriously cool brands, right? So as you're working with some of these brands and you have a vision, right? How are you coming up with specific, and I know this is gonna be case by case depending on the specific brand you're working with or the ask, whether it's branding or...


you're running performance, but like, you know, how are you kind of thinking through some of the partners that you want to work with? What is exciting you to work with those types of partners?


THOMAS ROCHE (08:48.494)

Yeah, that's it. That's an awesome question. I think first and foremost, it comes down to would I personally buy whatever I'm marketing? And that's like a good test, right? To go, am I excited about this? Would I wear this? Would I want to drink this? Would I want this in my backyard? And I can say yes across a lot of categories, I'm sure as you can. And that's what excites me as well is that,


I've never been just the guy that works in tech or just the guy that works across home goods or candles or bedding or whatnot. I've had the opportunity to work in beverage fashion, tech construction. And so that's at the end of the day, what keeps me really excited about these various clients that I'm working with.


Hemant Varshney (09:40.089)

Cool, and what's one of your favorite brands and why?


THOMAS ROCHE (09:45.582)

Ooh, man, I could go on and on here. I'm going to sound like a parrot here, but I'm definitely a big Apple guy, day in and day out. Love their products, love their brand. As far as who's doing a great job online, I think, you know, Liquid Death, Duolingo, love what Patagonia is doing. I think on a smaller scale, there's a brand out of LA.


Flamingo Estate, Lifestyle Goods brand. They do candles and whatnot. I love what they've got going on. I could go on and on, man. Tell me when to stop here.


Hemant Varshney (10:24.601)

I guess in terms of like these brands, right? You just named a bunch, but like, what do you love about them? Why? Like, what are they doing to move the needle or like, of course, Apple is, you know, tech and everything, but like you brought up Patagonia, right? So like, why Patagonia?


THOMAS ROCHE (10:40.942)

Yeah, yeah. I think the fact that they're so passionate and involved in their product development and they really care. They're the type of brand that doesn't want to push just this consumerism that we're all wrapped in, right? They want that jacket to be something that's passed down for generations. I mean, recently I had a Patagonia and the zipper went out. I sent it in.


and got it back in a matter of weeks fixed, which was just incredible. And, you know, especially in the fashion industry and the amount of waste that has been accumulated, it's just really cool to see a brand actually care about the environment and their customers and their product at that level.


Hemant Varshney (11:33.785)

Amazing. So in terms of digital, right, there's like always these changes that are occurring. Where do you see like e -comm and digital going in the next two to five years?


THOMAS ROCHE (11:48.686)

Hmm. so as far as the future, let's see here, I think.


THOMAS ROCHE (11:58.126)

I think all brands are just really realizing how authentic they have to be, right? Customers are smarter than ever. Brands are realizing that, keeping up on these trends, right? I think brands are realizing that social media isn't just something that an intern handles and that at the end of the day, it really comes down to product reviews.


and the experience like no amount of marketing is going to fix a shitty product or move the needle. So those are some things that I'm seeing.


Hemant Varshney (12:36.985)

and I agree, right? I don't think you can have an intern run your organic social. That's such a big channel. Like for, for, you know, for some of our partners that we're working with, like organic social drives thousands of conversions a month, right? And it's like, or like several hundred conversions a month, right? So it's like, it's no longer, it can no longer be a neglected channel.


I definitely think it needs to be a channel that is, you know, there's strategy behind it. There's thought, there's input and testing that occurs on organic, just like there is any other channels. And I think, you know, like you mentioned, the end consumer is getting smarter and smarter. So it's, we need to provide better, more authentic content across all channels, email, SMS, organic, right?


Like they're just anything that is non -paid as well as the paid side.


THOMAS ROCHE (13:38.83)

Yeah, I think we're going to continue to see it get more personalized. I think video is going to have a huge impact. I mean, just seeing what's going on with Sora's fascinating AI in general. But outside of digital, I think we're going to see more and more brands really try to bridge that gap and bring people together in life like we were doing pre -COVID. So I think we're going to see some


Hemant Varshney (14:01.401)

Yeah.


THOMAS ROCHE (14:08.27)

awesome experiential stuff. I was just listening to what Airbnb is doing yesterday with their icon category, where they're partnering with massive brands such as Ferrari or Disney, the movie Up, to just create these wild experiences where guests can come and interact with a brand that they're a huge fan of or an entertainer such as like Kevin Hart.


Hemant Varshney (14:35.321)

Yeah.


THOMAS ROCHE (14:36.334)

or whatnot. So I think we're going to see more and more of that. And I think people are craving that.


Hemant Varshney (14:41.818)

Yeah, that's cool. That's cool. I'm a big car guy. So, you know, going to an Airbnb experience where it's like, hey, cool. Like, you know, I get picked up by X company, we go go carding and maybe hit the track depending on what the like, what city I'm in or like, what's going on like F1 is going on in Miami this weekend, right? So there's just all like that would be a very, very cool, more interactive personalized experience. That is cool.


THOMAS ROCHE (15:09.582)

Yeah, yeah. There's a number of brands doing that, like in the car space, right? Whether that's, you know, Rivian or Range Rover, really giving you the opportunity to test drive or to get even closer to the brand before and or after your purchase.


Hemant Varshney (15:26.297)

Yeah. Tom, what's one question you wish I asked you and how would you answer it?


THOMAS ROCHE (15:33.282)

Well, earlier you were saying, you know, the audience that's listening to this is a lot of founders or startup folks, maybe folks looking to get into tech or make a career leap. And I would just say, you know, don't be shy, reach out to people, ask for a 30 minute chat, whether that's with someone who is.


been there, done that, or is currently doing it. I think taking that leap can be difficult, but reaching out to folks that have walked the path that you're looking to stroll is super important and is something that I continue to do to this day. People are definitely more willing to help than a lot of people think.


Hemant Varshney (16:21.145)

amazing and where can our listeners find you?


THOMAS ROCHE (16:24.622)

Yeah, as far as my portfolio and website, it's tom -roach .com. So T -O -R -O -C -H -E dot com. And then just type that into LinkedIn. That's where I'm the most active.


Hemant Varshney (16:41.881)

Thanks, thanks for being on the show today.


THOMAS ROCHE (16:44.59)

Yeah, appreciate it, man.


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