602: An Expert’s Guide To Digital Billboards | Gabriel Smith

Podcast Cover Image: An Expert's Guide to Digital Billboards Featuring Gabriel Smith
Podcast Cover Image: An Expert's Guide to Digital Billboards Featuring Gabriel Smith

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Explore the world of targeted TV ads and Digital Billboards with our guest, Gabriel Smith, Founder, and CEO of AdCritter, the small business advertising platform. As a nine-time small business owner himself, he deeply understands the challenges small businesses face, particularly with advertising. 

Gabriel is a leading advocate for the democratization of advertising ecosystems and the removal of ad tech access barriers. He has helped over three thousand small businesses advertise successfully, making it his life mission to see them win.

In our conversation, Gabriel highlights the Performance Marketing and Campaign duration traps and three core principles in how digital agencies should set their expectations to generate an engaging campaign with a favourable reach over the long run.

Conquer Local is presented by Vendasta. We have proudly served 5.5+ million local businesses through 60,000+ channel partners. Learn more about Vendasta and we can help your organization or learn more about Vendasta’s Affiliate Program and how our listeners (like yourself) are making up to $10,000 off referrals.

Are you an entrepreneur, salesperson, or marketer? Keep the learning going in the Conquer Local Academy.

An Expert’s Guide To Digital Billboards


George: This is the Conquer Local Podcast, a show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They want to share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode you can rewire, rework, and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith. On this episode, we welcome Gabriel Smith. Gabriel is the founder and CEO of AdCritter, a small business advertising platform. As a nine times small business owner himself, he deeply understands the challenges small businesses face, particularly with online advertising. He’s a leading advocate for the democratization of advertising ecosystems and the removal of ad tech access barriers. He’s helped over 3000 small businesses advertise successfully. Making it his life’s mission to see them win. Get ready conquerors for Gabriel Smith. Coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local podcast. 

George: Gabriel Smith, CEO of AdCritter. Gabriel, welcome to the podcast. Can you hold up the mug? It’s got the logo on there. I love that.

Gabriel: Yes.

George: There it is.

Gabriel: Coffee Addict. I mean, maybe it’s coffee, right? You don’t know.

AdCritter’s Formation and History

George: We don’t know! Gabriel is joining us from Nashville, Tennessee, where that is the headquarters of AdCritter. We got to meet each other a couple of months back when AdCritter entered into the Vendasta marketplace. And you know, in the intro, Gabriel, I said a lot of nice stuff about you and talked about your background, but I’d like to hear from our guests too. How did you arrive here and how long has AdCritter been in business?

Gabriel: Well, we’ve had an unusual journey. I’m a serial entrepreneur, right? So I was a nine times small business owner before I got into technology at all. So when we started AdCritter we were in a very different space. We initially were doing some ad tech in the defense and healthcare industries, right? Serving very, very large enterprise clients. But what became clear as we went is, you know, small business owners are our heartbeat. And everyone on our team had that kind of in their background. And the more we built these great tools for ad tech the more we were shaking our heads thinking it’s insane that small businesses can’t really advertise this technology. All of our competitors require these very large ad spends. It’s just cumbersome to get into if you’re a small business owner. And so, we rebranded as AdCritter, rebuilt all of our tech and our UI to make it incredibly easy for small business owners, and just kept adding more and more features targeted toward that unique audience. People who need to be able to run very small campaigns, very, very effectively.

Challenges for Local Businesses 

George: It’s really interesting, Gabriel, that you talk about the challenges that a local business has, especially those small local businesses that are the lifeblood of our communities. And you know, we’re hearing across the Conquer Local Podcast universe that I think everybody pays a lot more attention to local businesses after what we’ve been through with Covid. We realize now, I think we kind of took ’em for granted, actually, when it comes down to it. But that’s the first place we turn to get a donation for the sports team. Or, you know, get them to put some money into a charity, or our kids’ first job is with a local business owner. So, specifically when we talk about that challenge is, you know, I’ve sold ads to local businesses my entire career and I’ve been a local business owner for about 10 years of my career. So I know what I hate when I have a salesperson on the other side of the desk. But let’s talk about specifically what did you identify were some of those challenges that led you to that epiphany that this is crazy?

Gabriel: Well, the first, it’s just the minimums that were required, right? If you’re doing something outside of social media marketing, anything in programmatic advertising which is where we started at very high minimums. Connected TV is the same way, digital billboards. But that was kind of the easy part. Really, we found two things. First, it needs to be very, very simple. A marketing professional can spend some time really learning how a software platform works, right? A small business owner, it just needs to make sense right out of the gate. And that’s where we started and we were getting some initial traction, but right before the pandemic hit, we kind of had an epiphany. The behaviour we were seeing from small business owners over and over in the platform. Cause they would go in, they’d set up all their targeting for who they wanted to reach, and then they would get to the last step which was upload your ad and they would go away. Right? Because they don’t have marketing departments. They don’t have ads. And so we’re like, all right, we need to solve that problem. So, and the pandemic was kicking in, so we just like, we’ll pause all of our own sales and marketing efforts, and focus on that problem. And what we did is we built technology that allowed us to make ads extremely efficient, and pre-designed ads in commercials for over a thousand different business types. So we now have over 15 million pre-designed commercials, ads, and billboards, for just about any kind of business you can think of. I’m talking dog walking service, petting zoo, right? Of course, more common things, real estate agents, plumbers, that sort of thing. You can go running the platform, see the ads they need, and just start running it. And so we relaunched then with that feature set and that’s really where our growth story took off. And then George, the thing that was really interesting to us wasn’t part of the plan, but perhaps should have been, is a lot of agencies started using the platform, particularly agencies that serve small businesses because they have some of the same challenges. It needs to be very quick and easy to get a campaign going. And you need small budgets, small budget campaigns that are effective. And that’s been really fun to watch. And part of the reason, you know, we’re excited to partner with Vendasta.

A Library of Digital Billboards

George: Well, we are the connective tissue and we’re very excited to get to that point. It’s so funny when I talk to entrepreneurs like you, and I’m actually, I’m thinking, as we record this episode we’re seeing the former CEO of Slack leave salesforce yesterday. And I remember listening to Jason Lemkin podcast where he talked about what Slack became was not what they started out to be. And Vendasta has that story in our 15-year history as well, when Brendan and the founders had this concept, started out as that didn’t quite end up like that when it moved forward. So, congratulations in following in the footsteps of amazing successful tech companies because, you know, that iterative growth, and really figuring out what the problem is from your first goal that usually is what good looks like. So I just wanted to look at the notes here for a moment. You said something that was really interesting and you know, my background is in radio and publishing, and I’ve sold against a lot of out-of-home organizations, the billboard folks and, you know, billboard companies have actually saw a lot of growth coming out of Covid and even pre-Covid, digital out of home. DOOH is the acronym. I can actually go into AdCritter and pull up creative, and buy a billboard, that’s true, isn’t it?

Gabriel: That’s right, that’s right. Very easily.

George: So that, the big problem that you’ve solved, which is a problem that has existed since the dawn of advertising sales is, you know, we got the inventory, we have where the ad is going to run, that’s one big problem. But also, what message am I going to articulate? And for a local business person that’s the biggest challenge. You know, what is the creative going to look like? And you’ve solved that.

Gabriel: That’s right. And a small business owner really needs it to all be in the same place, right? I can find the creative, one thing small business owners are great at doing is choosing, right? If you give them a blank sheet of paper and say, “Hey, what should your ad look like?” They have no idea. But if you show them a hundred or a thousand different billboards, or commercials in their category and let them pick one, they do that very well. They know their brand messaging and their brand positioning, even if they can’t articulate it well, when they see it, they know it, they grab it, and then they can just run it.

Performance Marketing Trap & Campaign Duration Trap

George: No, and I love the problem that you’ve solved because that is one of the best ways to sell a website. Because when I sit down with a local business owner and say, “Okay, what color would you like? What photos would you like? What do you want the navigation to look like?” And you can see their eyes roll back in their head because they kind of know where they wanna go based upon other sites that they’ve saw. But the minute you start asking those specific questions it’s like paralysis. But if you can show them a template, or to your point show them 50 templates, and walk them through some different scenarios, they’re gonna start to pick the things that match with that vision that they have somewhere in the back of their cortex where they can now start to see what it’s going to look like. And I saw an interesting data point about nine months ago that 70% of humans on this planet are visual learners. And I hear a lot of people trying to articulate with words, you know, even this podcast used to not be video. Now we have the opportunity to show some images. I’m really excited about that. Because I think the message that we’re trying to get across will land a lot more times with that. So it’s great that you’ve solved that problem. Now, there are a couple of other things that I wanted to get your feedback on, because I know that you’ve been in the advertising business for a long time. You’ve worked with local customers, you’re also now finding that there are these trusted local providers, agencies, digital agencies, ad agencies, that sit in the middle there that solve those problems. But we have these two traps. The performance marketing trap, I love the way that you’ve articulated that. And then we also have the campaign duration traps. So Gabriel, please give us, how do we not fall into these two traps? They sound dangerous.

Gabriel: Yes. Well, the first one, the performance marketing trap. Unfortunately as an industry we’ve created that trap for ourselves, right? ‘Cause over the last few decades, we’ve had great performance marketing tools, Google, Facebook, various social media platforms have made it very easy in ways that were never possible before, to do performance marketing, I’m gonna spend a thousand dollars and I need to get $1,200, or $2,000 back within, you know, a few days. That is not going to work for most local businesses, it’s great for e-commerce, but a restaurant, a local restaurant is not going to see those kinds of results. And so what we have to do when we’re selling to small businesses is immediately back them up when they start talking about ROI, and explain how advertising works. But what’s interesting, George, is when we do that, when we explain why performance marketing isn’t the way to go, although we wouldn’t use that language with them, right? They might not be familiar with that language. They already know how advertising works, they just haven’t really thought about it, right? Typically, what we’ll say, if we are talking to a small business owner who’s starting to say something like, “Alright, yeah, so I’ll do this for a month and we’ll see how it goes.” Or they even, you know, hint at the word test, we just stopped them, I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, if you’re looking at running Connected TV, billboards, anything in that category for a month it’s not gonna work for you, right? Because, listen, when was the last time you saw a TV commercial for anything and immediately called up that company and did business with them?” And I’ll often make them answer, right? I’ll wait for ’em to give a hard answer to that, and they never can, right? And so what I always tell some business owners is, “Look, business owners want people to buy from them when they advertise to them.” It seems reasonable. I’m advertising to you, you should buy from me. But people want to buy things when they need them from companies they’ve known about for a while, right? As marketers, we know this. And what’s interesting is when I say that to a small business owner, they also know it, they just haven’t really been thinking about it in the context of their own business. And very quickly they’re like, “Yes, that makes sense. But boy, I don’t know if I can do it that long. How long of a campaign do we need to do?” And that’s kinda where we get into this campaign duration trap, right? Where well, yeah, let’s run a 30 day campaign or a 60 day campaign. And it’s the same thing. We always tell small business owners, “Look, we need to pick a budget that you know you can comfortably stick with for at least a year and do that. And then you will see results, right?” Don’t plan on seeing a lot of results the first quarter you’re running your advertising.

Three Core Principles 

George: So, I like where you’re going with this because it almost takes me back to my early days in sales when we were supposedly trained, where somebody taught me the takeaway close. But I find that local businesses, might actually be a trap, where they say, and the trap is “I need results in 30 days.” And the sales rep goes, “Yeah, I can get that for you.” And they’re like, “Okay, wait a minute. I’ve talked to five other people who said it could take 90, it could take six months, it could take a year. You have to have consistency. We might have to adjust the message. You might have to…” So if you jump too quickly to say, “Yes I can solve the problem,” you might be falling into the advertiser trap where they’re like testing you to see where you’re at. But more likely than not the sales rep just wants to say yes. Rather than challenging the buyer to say, “In my experience this could take six months. We might have to adapt the audience. I want you to think about what the value of that customer is.” So it’s interesting that you articulate it as the performance marketing trap, the campaign duration trap, both things that we can fall into, but also it might be a test I’ve found in my experience from the local business owner. So now let’s get to a couple of items. You have three principles that you believe in. And I love the learnings for our audience around selling to local businesses, advertising, which they all need. They probably need it more now than they ever have. But what are these three principles that you live by?

Gabriel: Yeah. So, I think for most of your audience all of these principles will seem perhaps obvious, but what they are not obvious to the small business owner oftentimes, and what’s important about these principles when you’re selling to a small business owner is the language of the principle, right? These are things that as marketers and advertisers we already know, but we need to learn how to articulate it in ways that small businesses understand. The first one is the repetition principle. And this is the one we’ve already kind of touched on, right? We always tell them, almost no one calls a company the first time they see an ad. They need to see your ad enough times that they remember you when they need you and then they call you, right? The next one is the saturation principle. Because we are an advertising platform, we run into this a lot, where small businesses will set up a campaign and maybe run it nationwide, and within a month, 30,000 people have seen their ad once, right? Which is not the right way to set up their campaigns or spend their marketing dollars. So what we always, we teach them, what we call the saturation principle, that is better for a smaller group of people to see your ad several times over a long period of time, than for a large group of people to see your ad once or twice. And people generally understand that. You just have to tell them. The last one is the budgeting principle. And again, we’ve kind of talked about this already. If we tell them, “Look, for small campaigns, it takes six to 12 months to even begin to start seeing results, and 12 to 18 months to start seeing really significant profitable results. So, whatever you were thinking about spending, let’s maybe spend less, but set a budget that you know you can stick with for a year.”

What To Expect in the Next Two Years 

George: Right. So, the right message, in front of the right audience, the right number of times with that level of consistency, those items, that’s long-lived advertising principles, but you’ve brought them forward in these three components that our audience can really understand. It’s the repetition of the message, it’s the saturation, and then it’s the budget that will let it run for long enough to reach the audience they’re looking for. Now, I would add on to that, that we need advertising, we need to have a website that’s optimized, we need to have some social profiles that are built out. You know, it’s that whole owned, earned and bought media concept. With all of that together, now you’re going to have have some success. So, I love the way you’ve articulated that. We’ve got our traps from Gabriel, we’ve got our three principles. And one thing I always like to ask our guests, Gabriel, especially folks like you, that are on the cutting edge of technology, and you’re always building new tech. What do you think is gonna happen here in the next 24 months? That we’ve got a lot of innovation happening in this space. What, if you were to look in your crystal ball, what do you see happening as we move into the next 24 months in this space?

Gabriel: Well, we’re excited about Connected TV. At AdCritter we call it targeted TV because we think that’s more understandable language for a small business owner. But George, so much is moving to Connected TV, but what we’re excited about is that honestly, most small business owners don’t know that that’s available to them yet.

George: Right.

Gabriel: The early adopters are doing it, large companies are doing it, but your typical local business doesn’t know that Connected TV is available to them. And it is so powerful. We have seen over and over again just incredible results for local businesses that utilize it.

George: You know, I was at a recent convention in Florence, Italy, and you know, there’s a lot of European organizations there and the thing that they were focused on was the concept in North America that we call Connected TV and OTT over the top. And what they’re finding is, yes, local businesses have not figured out how powerful this technology is yet, and there is massive demand from those, you know, and it makes sense, those advertisers always wanted to be on TV, they just couldn’t afford it. And now it’s very affordable. I can target the audience that makes sense for, you know, I don’t have to blast it out there. Like when you talk about the performance marketing trap, I probably am the person that is the one of the offenders of that, in my early days in the radio business we would talk about 60,000 people could hear our signal, and that’s what we sold, was the potential of the 60,000. No, 60,000 people weren’t listening to the signal, but they could, and we kind of conditioned the advertiser that the more vanity numbers, the bigger the number, the better. But with this idea of targeted messaging, it’s about getting to that ideal customer profile that the business is looking for, and then hammering them with a consistent message over, and over, and over again, to your point, because people buy when they’re ready. And you have to have that consistency to reach them. So thank you for those learnings. It’s great having you on the show. We appreciate AdCritter being in the platform. You folks have come up with some great solutions to some long-lived problems and we wish you a lot of success moving forward with our partnership, Gabriel.

Gabriel: Great. Hey, thank you George. It’s been a pleasure being on.


George: Gabriel provided us with valuable insights and there are a few takeaways we learned today. Initially, they were looking to solve marketing and advertising problems with their software platform, but were surprised to learn that agencies started using the platform as well, and that those agencies had the same challenges. They felt supported, as it was quick and easy to get a campaign going with AdCritter. Having that extensive library that they’ve built over the term of the business allows local businesses and ad agencies to pick the right creative. Gabriel mentioned that they could show small businesses 100 or 1000 different billboards, or online advertising programs, that helps that business start to frame what the creative might look like. Gabriel also highlighted key elements in the performance marketing trap, and the campaign duration trap, that we wanna help businesses steer away from those traps. And three core principles that agencies should teach small business owners before taking them as clients, repetition, saturation and the budgeting principle. If you like Gabriel’s episode discussing Digital Billboards and Online Advertising, let’s continue the conversation. Check out episode 338, “Small Businesses, Best Practices for Going Back to Business” with Google’s Todd Rowe. Or episode 217, “The Evolution of Search Marketing” with Sandy Lohr. Please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcast. And thanks for joining us this week on the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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