Vectra Digital CEO Matt Bernhardt says now is the not time to slow down.
When Vectra Digital landed some national pizza chains as clients, it was good news for the Fort Myers-based digital marketing company founded in 2017. But it also meant the small firm would have to be able to keep up with its big clients.
“We very quickly realized when dealing with large companies with hundreds of locations that we needed an army in order to scale the business,” Vectra CEO Matt Bernhardt says.
But instead of hiring foot soldiers, Vectra thought virtually. It developed an artificial intelligence tool called Ada to help them build better and more effective digital marketing campaigns for clients. Ada’s constantly in the trenches testing and analyzing ads, producing a higher volume of results much faster than any human could ever do.
Bernhardt says at some other digital agencies, once they land a client and create a marketing plan for them, there’s not a lot of analysis that takes place. “If they look at things a few times a month, that would be pretty exceptional in the industry,” he says. “With Ada, she’s going in there several times every day, tweaking and making adjustments, creating new ads and really leveraging technology to do jobs that a regular agency can’t do. For the amount of manpower you would need to duplicate what Ada is doing on a daily basis, you wouldn’t be profitable.”
It took thousands of hours to build the system, but Vectra had the benefit of being able to enlist the software team at sister company Stickboy Creative. “We developed it very quickly,” Bernhardt says, “as opposed to larger companies that move slowly and smaller companies that don’t have the budgets to pour into something like this. It was a big advantage for us.”
‘You’ve got to constantly prove your worth and value to the client…You’ve got to keep reinventing and getting better.’ Matt Bernhardt, Vectra Digital
That’s now put them ahead of their competition, Bernhardt says, and is setting them up for some major growth. To this point the 14-employee company has grown pretty much organically, but it’s putting plans into place to expand dramatically in 2020 and 2021. Bernhardt won’t elaborate on most of those plans — “We want to keep it our secret sauce,” he says — but he expects to see revenues grow about 80% in 2020 and more than 100% in 2021. (He also declined to share revenue figures.)
He will say that acquisitions are one way the company will grow, and it’s already announced one in 2020, acquiring Bonita Springs digital marketing and public relations firm iPartnerMedia. That move will help Vectra gain a foothold in the home services industry, a space where the company sees major potential and where iPartnerMedia already had a lot of experience. Bernhardt, a Business Observer 40 Under 40 winner in 2017, expects to make one or two more acquisitions this year.
Vectra Digital currently has about 400 clients, split 50-50 between local and national companies. The kind of results that Vectra is able to get with everything from reputation management to response rates go a long way toward convincing clients to come aboard.
For a small, family-owned business in Southwest Florida, for example, Ada was able to optimize their digital ads to consistently bring in more than 90 leads a month. “This is a massive increase in business compared to the previous year before we worked with them,” Bernhardt says.
Vectra is also partnering with IBM Watson to increase the information its AI data already provides. “What Watson gives us back as far as insight is unbelievable,” Bernhardt says. “It analyzes the writing in [online] reviews and can give a degree of certainty on the type of people buying a product and giving a review.” That knowledge can help a company know if their target audience is on social media or if they would be better reached through, say, political radio or a particular news website, and then spend their ad dollars appropriately. “It’s really fine-tuning your marketing to a level that humans can’t do,” he says.
Even with the power of Ada, Vectra still faces some of the same challenges any marketing agency out there does. “Whether you’re a digital or traditional agency, the challenge is always proving yourself,” Bernhardt says. “You’ve got to constantly prove your worth and value to the client. … You’ve got to keep reinventing and getting better.”