The Power of Outdoor Advertising in B2B

CMOs are often inclined—and encouraged—to prioritize online spend, especially in the tech world. Digital advertisings offers unparalleled analytics, immense control, and is in line with modern cultural shifts. For marketers who have been in the game a bit longer, there’s the added pressure to not appear out-of-touch, hence skewing digital. That said, leave it to the under-35 entrepreneurs at Brex—a recent $1B+ company—to drive their marketing efforts with outdoor.

Sam Blond, Chief Sales Officer, and Michael Tannenbaum, CFO, work for a B2B credit card that recognized a need for more flexibility in the startup world—limits that move more easily, large lines of credit, you name it. To market the product, they’ve leaned on a sense of humor, a more human brand personality, and a big bet on outdoor advertising through mediums like billboards and public transit. Check out highlights from their discussion below, and listen to the full interview here.

How’d you land on the problem of credit cards for startups?

Blond: I didn’t understand how credit cards were issued to businesses prior to joining Brex. There was this concept that, specifically within tech companies, founders had to personally guarantee the corporate card and credit was issued based off of the founder’s credit worthiness and their ability to repay. And as I started doing diligence on Brex, I talked to previous tech founders that all had these real issues with having many millions of dollars in the bank and ten to thirty-thousand-dollar credit limits that weren’t nearly adequate to support the spending needs of the business. That was the problem that was identified by Brex founders.

What inspired leaning on outdoor? It seems like an unexpected choice.

Blond: We knew that we had this really big story to tell. We already had several hundred customers at the time that we launched last June, and we wanted to make as large of an impact as we possibly could with the public launch of our product. We knew that we were going to get a lot of press and we wanted to think of other ways that we could invest in the launch to maximize this. We have a very geographically concentrated target market that is the San Francisco Bay Area, because we’re selling into startups. Of course, startups exist all over the place but in San Francisco they’re highly concentrated.

So, we worked through some outdoor partners and purchased as much inventory as we possibly could. Michael can talk about the way that we tracked the impact of the campaign, but we bought hundreds of shelter ads, billboards, premier panels, and just flooded the market alongside this big PR launch, and it really maximized the impact that we could have with this one-time event and the company’s evolution.

What sparked the Brexit-themed campaign?

Blond: The Brexit campaign was probably three or four months after the launch that we just talked about. And we knew that we wanted to continue outdoor, because it was so effective, but we didn’t want to continue with the same message. It was very impactful but was probably realizing diminishing returns. We wanted to take some things that we had heard from customers on Twitter, like “Brex sounds a lot like Brexit,” and we came up with “Don’t charge it, Brexit.” We put that on some billboards. It created a lot of social buzz and continued the momentum that we had already started in outdoor with a provocative new messaging.

Tannenbaum: It was more than a couple tweets. People in the UK were talking about it and they’re funnier—usually. One of them said something like, “For F*** sake, a card that’s themed after Brexit?” We had tons of engagement around that and people thought it was really funny there. Part of it was being comfortable taking risks. When you’re in an environment like today where lots of people are nervous about politics, people are nervous about taking a stand. The easier thing to do is not directly address Brexit, which is a controversial topic. We chose to take it head on and be tongue-in-cheek about it, but we also made it really clear through our campaign that we weren’t coming out in favor or against it. We don’t really have a stand on Brexit as a company.

How’d you approach measuring?

Tannenbaum: We take the data side of marketing very seriously. When we launched, we started just asking people how they heard about Brex in a free text field that was optional on the website. It was completed by about 60% of the “quality starts”— the offline conversion that we track is called quality starts. Let’s just say 60% of the people we care about told us how they heard about Brex, and of those, at one point in time, 20 to 25% of the people were saying they heard about us through outdoor. It was interesting that we were able to turn what’s usually considered brand, or at least the way I was trained, you invest in outdoor to amplify existing direct efforts. But this was actually a form of direct acquisition.

What other metrics did you look at?

Tannenbaum: Multi-touch was also key. Sam and I spent a lot of time on this topic. But the reality of marketing is that you don’t typically hear about a company once and then go sign up for it. You interact with that company in a number of ways. So, we thought moving to multi touch was super important, and in doing so we actually used cell phone data, through a couple of different third-party vendors, to track whether or not someone was in the presence of outdoor. And that if that person was, we give outdoor some credit in the attribution model. In addition to the aforementioned ‘I heard about Brex because of billboards.’

How else would they have found out about your product?

Michael: Sam could have sent them one of his famous e-mails.

Sam: Prior to joining Brex, I had been in Zenefits for a number of years and then I took on a consulting role where I helped consult with startups, and so I had a lot of experience and or practice through trial and error testing different outbound email copy campaigns and finally came up with one that seemed to have the best results, by an order of magnitude. And we did some creative things in conjunction with really creative email copy like sending bottles of champagne, sending Brazilian chocolates, as Michael alluded to our founders are Brazilian and some really creative offers as well that were really well coordinated where we would receive these we’ll call them ‘gifts’ from Brex and they would receive the email shortly thereafter. Our open and reply rates were off the charts, when comparing to traditional outbound email marketing and those converted to super high rate and we were sending them to people there were also concentrated in the Bay Area that likely would have seen these billboards so it was a real coordinated effort between sales and marketing in terms of customer engagement.

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