MarTech Interview with Ben Billups, Founder at Billups
Tell us about your role at Billups. What inspired you to found the agency?
I founded Billups in 2003 and together with our team, have since grown the company to become the largest, independent out-of-home (OOH) technology and managed services company in the US. Our mission is to transform the out-of-home experience through data science and technology — empowering brands to develop smarter OOH campaigns that fully complement the broader marketing mix.
From the beginning, the driving force for me was about bringing people together and empowering them to deliver amazing work. Earlier in my career, I worked at an integrated media agency working with clients in the travel and aviation space. I was traveling globally on a regular basis and I think this is one of the factors that really sparked my curiosity as an entrepreneur. I wanted to stretch further to build a non-traditional OOH media company at the nexus of creativity and data science – bringing left and right brain thinking together to transform the space.
Can you talk a bit about Billups’ momentum and recent growth?
We recently celebrated our 15-year anniversary and continue to build momentum with strong revenue and a growing roster of clients — from large agencies to brands across categories including CPG, entertainment, QSR, retail, spirits, tourism and technology. We’re also rapidly expanding our team with new talent and office locations.
Earlier this year, David Krupp joined Billups as President and COO. Other recent hires include veteran Nicholas Wootten as SVP of Marketing, as well as Managing or Regional Directors in Austin, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. Today, our team comprises more than 95 people, spanning 16 offices nationwide.
One of the keys to Billups’ success is our investment and focus on data science. We empower brands to build smarter OOH campaigns, reaching consumers where they work, live and shop. In the past, OOH lacked the measurement of digital channels, but that’s no longer the case. By leveraging geo-location data, we’re now able to provide brands with the same level of audience targeting data they apply to digital campaigns to the media in the physical world.
What are the biggest challenges facing marketers today in your opinion?
Today, 70% of a consumer’s day is spent outside the home — with 60% of all search taking place on a mobile device. Location and proximity play a more important role than ever for brands. At the same time, capturing the attention of consumers has never been harder — with media saturation at an all-time high.
While there are more platforms and places to advertise than ever before, we continue to see a decline in the effectiveness of mobile and digital marketing. A recent survey by HubSpot found that more than half of millennials actively use ad-blocking software to avoid spam and unsolicited marketing content, making more difficult for brands to drive conversions through digital channels.
To be successful in this environment, CMOs and marketers need to constantly challenge their assumptions and seek out new data to understand the customer journey. Brands not only need to deliver the perfect storm of content, messages and experiences based on what the consumer is doing at the moment, but also where and when.
In line with this, brands across categories are shifting their marketing dollars to invest in OOH and digital OOH (DOOH) advertising, which provides the highest rate of online activation per dollar of any offline media.
How is the market for OOH and DOOH evolving? And what are the biggest opportunities for brands?
Take a walk in any neighborhood and you’ll see people going about their day with a smartphone in their hand. And yet, breaking through the digital cacophony to capture customers’ attention when they’re out of their homes easier said than done.
As brands look to build stronger integrated campaigns, pairing mobile with OOH and DOOH is a powerful way to increase reach, engagement, store visits and sales with customers. In contrast to other channels, OOH doesn’t require a specific device, website or application to reach consumers. All people need to do is step outside.
When brands combine OOH with mobile and digital marketing, they can better reach consumers at optimal times and locations with specific messages, which leads to immediate consumer action. In fact, the effectiveness of digital search increases by up to 40 percent when OOH is included.
Billups work with Sierra Nevada is a great example. The popular beer brand wanted to reach consumers where they were in the moment more effectively. As a result of an integrated campaign that included OOH and DOOH advertising, Sierra Nevada was able to increase both brand sales and engagement across local markets.
Digital OOH also provides a dynamic way for brands to drive sales at specific locations or stores — with the flexibility to change creative based on triggers such as time of day, traffic patterns, weather or product availability.
How is technology changing the OOH industry?
Today, a quarter of the top OOH advertisers are major tech brands (as our President David Krupp recently wrote about). Why? The availability of geo-location and mobile data combined with AI and Machine Learning now empowers brands to better understand audience patterns and build smarter integrated campaigns. By leveraging the ubiquity and hyper-local nature of OOH, brands are now able to directly map the impact of their campaign and see what’s driving results. In short, marketers can now understand when, where and how to reach their target audience at the optimal moments and specific locations.
At Billups, we continue to invest with our data science team in providing brands with location-based audience intelligence to understand consumer behaviors and the impact of their OOH media. This not only helps to determine which customer segments to target, but also insights into the specific behaviors and locations potential customers frequent.
What should marketers consider when planning an OOH strategy that can integrate with the rest of their digital marketing strategy?
To improve efficiency of media spend, brands have an opportunity to leverage mobile and mobile data in their planning of OOH to better understand their customers’ journey to enable connection with consumers at the right time, right place with the right message — while boosting their other marketing channels.
For example, if you show a mobile ad to a person who was recently in front of an OOH or DOOH display, your ad is going to see a higher response rate, as Omnicom Group’s Benchmarketing study recently found. At a broader campaign level, this is incredibly valuable for brands. While in the past, OOH was very difficult to measure, it has now become highly measurable with accurate geo-location and mobile data available to understand when, where, what and how many customers are exposed to outdoor ads.
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
LinkedIn, Twitter, Lyft, Tripit, Google Apps, and, of course, Slack. Billups’ proprietary data platform also provides brands with a one-stop shop for OOH media planning and buying, which is core to our everyday work with clients.
What are you currently reading?
I read a variety of blogs (Adweek, AdAge, Digiday, TechCrunch, WIRED, Fast Company, MarTech Series) as well as listening to podcasts. I recently read The Captain Class by Sam Walker. I often struggle to get through books — starting another book or reading online once I’ve absorbed the most interesting points I’m looking for.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Thank you, Ben! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Benjamin Billups is the founder and CEO of Billups, an out-of-home technology company empowering the industry by translating digital experiences into the physical world. At the intersection of art and science, Billups inspires brands to build and measure intelligent OOH campaigns, connecting advertisers to their audiences in the real world. Under Ben’s leadership, Billups has grown to become the largest OOH technology platform and managed services company in the US.