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Transforming a Company and An Industry- An Interview with OOH Ad-Tech Company Billups
The Digital Signage Federation (DSF) recently connected with one of its members, Billups, to talk about the company’s projects and the outcomes of research it has done during COVID-19. Billups is an out-of-home (OOH) technology company with the largest OOH technology platform and managed services team in the U.S.
We spoke with Ben Billups, Founder, and Shawn Spooner, Chief Scientist and Partner. What intrigued the DSF about Billups is what the company has been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic and its work in publishing changes in advertising exposure over the last several months.
Most importantly, the Billups staff is healthy and has been working safely from homes around the country. Like many DSF members, they are using technology to work either remotely, and because the company is technology-based, Billups already had capabilities in place to cater to virtual employees.
Billups started in 2003 when Ben Billups, who had a travel industry and media background, decided to start a company with a focus on the automation of workflows for OOH. This led to more technology-enabled services in the areas of automation and measurement. In 2014, the company pivoted towards a focus on data insights, analytics and attribution. They developed patented technologies, allowing them to understand consumer journeys, and how to use this data to help clients make informed media decisions. This is when Shawn Spooner came on board, and he has since used his deep AI & advanced machine learning background to further develop Billups’ capacity to view OOH experiences from a consumer perspective.
“We certainly started as a demand-side company, but the focused development of our data practice now allows us to support the supply-side of our industry,” Billups said. “Shawn (Spooner) and his team made this happen,” he continued. Billups’ traditional customers and practices have always been grounded in smart planning and execution, for both agencies and brands, but the company’s data transformation has naturally expanded to include media owners, who arguably benefit most from its data-driven insights, reporting, and measurement.
“We develop systems that act like people,” said Spooner when describing the company approach to incorporating as much machine learning and data as possible. When it comes to how they continue to try strive for real-world modeling and continue to raise the level of credibility within the OOH industry data, Shawn says that “we look for other sources of truth.” This helps planners and buyers select from as many as 10-15 variables that affect buying decisions. Billups’ patented Opportunity to View technology, for instance, allows clients to understand the visibility of ads and how consumers interact with them.
Two topics Billups has been discussing over the past 4-5 months are the ideas of hyperlocal behavior and insights and analysis from its exposure mapping technology.
Billups has developed a viewing tool to show the changes in OOH advertising exposure during the pandemic. The publicly-available map, seen here, shows behavioral changes over time with data compared biweekly, allowing Billups and its clients to assess the pace at which society is “returning to normal.”
The company is an evolved entity and much of its work, like the exposure map, is meant to support the entire OOH space. “We have had five years of transformation, and are publishing this mapping to provide support to the entire out-of-home industry,” Billups said.
“We want to show where things are indexing at the highest level,” said Spooner. The duo described a vacuum in the industry, around being able to see media at the unit level allowing for more tactical decisions. The map helps communicate to the industry the realm of possibility Billups’ tools provide, and it only scratches the surface of their growing capabilities. Billups explained, “Simply put, thanks to Shawn and our entire data science team, Billups delivers the closest thing to a click in the physical world.”
Spooner has also spent time analyzing behavioral changes in consumers and how this is changing week-to-week. One of the consumer shifts Billups has seen is increased localization of movement compared to a much broader geography in which they operated prior to the pandemic.
In terms of coming out the other side of the pandemic, Spooner said the changes will reflect individual differences in consumers. He described two archetypes – high-caution and low-caution people. High-caution types are more likely to permanently change their behavior compared to low-caution types, meaning some behaviors will remain intact but others will revert to a norm closer to before the pandemic.
Billups has invested energy into elevating the level of discussion in the OOH industry through compelling thought leadership. Publicly available podcasts, hosted by Chief Strategy Officer Rick Robinson, are remarkably insightful. Episode five, for example, is a discussion on how OOH can help build communities post-pandemic. Billups has also published a series of articles and quick-reads that DSF members may find interesting.
DSF thanks Billups and all its members who are investing in growing our industry during these tumultuous times.
Ben Billups, Founder, Billups
Benjamin Billups is the founder of Billups, an out-of-home technology company transforming an industry by translating digital services 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.
Shawn Spooner, Chief Scientist & Partner, Billups
Shawn Spooner is a PhD candidate with 17 years of research and technology experience. He is the inventor of seven US patents in machine learning and mathematical space. He joined Billups in 2014 with a desire to bring scientific rigor to planning and measuring OOH media. Before Billups, he was the co-founder of two artificial intelligence companies in the healthcare space that improved the quality of care at some of the biggest hospitals in the USA.