Neil Billock: The Future Growth Of Marketing Lies In Emerging Markets

Recent years have seen advertising platforms become some of the largest publicly traded companies on earth. If you consider the likes of Facebook and Google, you may assume they are primarily technology companies, and while this may be partially true, their revenue streams come largely from one source: advertising. These technology companies collect data, develop trends, pinpoint market segments, and harvest other information to help producers target prospective customers. But there are only so many consumers in the United States. Marketing pioneer Neil Billock thinks the next room for growth will come directly from emerging markets.

Billock is a veteran in the advertising industry, his work has resulted in him being hired by companies across the globe. He was one of the original members of Vertical Direct Marketing Group (VDMG), which was founded in San Diego in 2007. The firm rose to prominence quickly, by 2011 it had over $4m in annual revenue. Billock spearheaded the direct sales division in the company, which was responsible for helping improve businesses’ ability to convert leads quickly. He took advantage of the internet, becoming one of the original pioneers of the digital marketing industry.

His efforts resulted in him being given San Diego Magazine’s Top Tech Exec Award in 2013 – he was the first advertising executive to receive the honor. Now Billock is speaking out about what he believes the new frontier in online marketing will be – the emerging markets. The United States advertising industry has become a crowded market. Digital ad agencies are able to set up with relatively little costs; they’re then able to leverage social media networks to help them pinpoint market segments. Billock believes that those who want to expand their operations should be looking outside of the United States for business.

“The future for forward thinking advertising agencies doesn’t lie inside the United States,” says Billock, “There are too many competitors in the industry trying to fight for a limited number of consumers. Many of these consumers are tired of being advertised to, and already go out of their way to avoid any form of marketing material because of ad fatigue.”

The concept of ad fatigue that Billock mentions is a relatively new phenomena that has been sweeping the developing world. Many consumers are simply sick of the amount of advertising they are exposed to on a daily basis. In addition, they’re accustomed to the advertising techniques that have been used against them – they’ve become experienced in detecting when they are being marketed to. This results in the majority of advertising techniques becoming ineffective. Agencies have had to become increasingly creative at helping their clients achieve brand recognition and convert sales.

“Advertising agencies have a real challenge ahead of them if they want to continue to focus solely on the U.S. market,” explains Billock, “What we’ve started to do at VDMG is look outward and tap into emerging markets that have yet to develop a true digital advertising industry. People don’t seem to recognize that developing countries have more purchasing power than ever before, and their preferences towards consumerism offer a great opportunity for those who want to market their products to a wider market.”

Billock also believes that developing countries are perfect for introducing some of the techniques that modern companies in the United States are already using. He is surprised about how few entrepreneurs are looking into some of the emerging markets – where there are plenty of consumers who are beginning to modernize the way they see advertising.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico, and I’ve come to realize they still consume media and advertising in a fairly traditional way,” Billock says, “But as the years go on the area has become more and more modern – people are using smart phones and surfing the internet for information. But there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of digital marketing input in the country, meaning there is still an entry way for a lot of businesses to improve their sales in the region.”

His assessment is correct, many developing countries have invested heavily in bringing their nation’s up to speed with the technological advances of the world that surrounds them. For example, many South East Asian countries now have faster internet speeds than major cities in Australia. This internal investment has resulted in true growth for other technology companies, who are quick to try and market their smartphones and computers to people who can now get full use out of them.

But what hasn’t developed at the same rate is the marketing techniques within these countries. According to Billock, this is down to a range of factors that are sometimes out of the control of advertising agencies.

“The lag that we have seen in terms of marketing to developing nations is the fault of advertisers and programmers alike,” explains Billock who also works closely with his entrepreneurial wife Nicole Billock in Puerto Rico, “Most programming languages are set in English, which makes it hard for internal developers in other nations to develop websites and software of similar strength to that in Western countries. This also means that it is harder for advertisers to harness this software when it comes to advertising locally in emerging markets.”

Perhaps the significant investment it would take to have a team of individuals who can program and design advertisements has made agencies shy away from such projects. But this seems like a relatively small endeavor when compared to the potential payoff that could result from tapping such a large and underexposed market. Billock believes that the next move VDMG has up its sleeve is moving into South American, Spanish speaking markets.

“I’ve spent the past year developing a strategy that would see VDMG become one of the pioneers of advertising in the South American market,” Billock exclaims, “For too long we’ve seen this area completely underexposed to world class advertising techniques, and the language barrier shouldn’t be a problem. Many South American companies still rely on traditional print, radio, and television advertisements to sell their products. But as websites and various social media companies become more prevalent, these forms of communication will become increasingly outdated.”

Neil believes one of the only things holding him back from being successful in the field is convincing companies that they have the ability to sell their products overseas. Many of VDMG’s clients are local producers that focus largely on the U.S. market – their inexperience in other areas has made them nervous about investing heavily in emerging markets.

“People don’t want to step out of their comfort zones,” Billock explains, “I have plenty of clients who run awesome businesses and produce goods that create real value in the lives of their customers – yet they worry that if they change their formula, or overextend themselves, they might be making a mistake. While this is a natural fear, it prevents businesses from achieving the growth that they’re capable of.”

For those who doubt Billock’s ability to tap into the South American market, they are probably blissfully unaware of the achievements he has already managed to make. VDMG may not be the largest advertising agency in California, but it has a reputation for excellence. Many industry competitors understand the ferocity at which VDMG will fight for its clients, and it has made them a favorite amongst businesses throughout the country. Billock plans to approach this project with the same determination that he has with all his previous work.

“We’ve put together a team and we’re looking at this intently,” Billock says, “People may wonder why I’m talking about this publicly but it’s largely to do with the fact that there is so much room for growth that the market won’t be able to be crammed for years down the track. In addition, the more people that help bring individuals on board that want to work towards this goal, the more tech companies will invest in improving our ability to connect with consumers in these countries.”

Only time will tell if his prediction is a true success. Many people have had forays into emerging markets before and come up empty. But if anyone is able to take an opportunity and truly take advantage of it, it’s Billock. He believes that VDMG is ideally located to take advantage of this current situation – both geographically and within their own market.

“Our offices are headquartered in San Diego,” explains Billock, “We have access to world class advertisers and programmers that are often bilingual given our proximity to Mexico. This is one of the primary reasons we have prioritized South America over any of the other prospective locations on our list. Our employees come from a diverse background, and we believe this gives us a competitive edge when it comes to entering these types of markets. Now we are just focusing on getting some of the clients on board that we believe have the potential to take advantage of this unique and exciting opportunity abroad.”

If you or anyone you know would benefit from the advice or services of Neil Billock or his agency, head to his personal URL at for more information.

Chris Lewis

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