Business Monday

Digital marketing firm Nobox flexes its ‘social muscle,’ goes all-in on Latin America

GROWING AND THRIVING: Since its move into a social-media-focused marketing company three years ago, Nobox has grown to about 37 employees and has operations in Midtown Miami, New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo.
GROWING AND THRIVING: Since its move into a social-media-focused marketing company three years ago, Nobox has grown to about 37 employees and has operations in Midtown Miami, New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

In the rapidly changing world of social media marketing, simply collecting “likes” on a company Facebook page is so yesterday.

Today social marketing is about combining social science, technology and media in creative ways to create messaging on multiple platforms that resonates with consumers so deeply they are moved to share.

Nobox, a Miami-based technology company and digital marketing agency, calls it “social muscle,” a strategy the company embraced about three years when Nobox pivoted its entire focus to human-to-human marketing through social media.

“It was a big move because back then social marketing was in its infancy, but we knew the future of marketing was in social,” said Jayson Fittipaldi, president and chief creative officer of Nobox, who co-founded the company with Carlos García. “Social is the center is of everything we do.”

Nobox was founded nearly 14 years ago in Puerto Rico and moved to Miami in 2004. Since its transformation into a social-media-focused marketing company by early 2012, Nobox has grown to 37 employees, has operations in Sao Paulo, San Francisco and New York as well as its Miami Midtown base and has grown its annual revenue fivefold to about $10 million. With a focus on consumer technology, travel and Latin America, Nobox has attracted marquee clients such as Sony PlayStation, Netflix, Samsung and Marriott.

“The way we have been able to fivefold revenue is we have focused on what we know best,” said Carlos García, Nobox’s CEO. “We consider ourselves to be marketing hackers. Our client base is looking to execute their marketing in Latin America. “

To be sure, Nobox’s move into social three years ago was a risk at the time that now looks smart. According to analysts eMarketer and Magna Global, in the United States the average time spent with digital media per day will surpass TV viewing time for the first time this year. Companies spend more on digital media than national TV already, and digital is projected to surpass total TV in ad spending by 2018.

García, 41, and Fittipaldi, 38, saw Latin America, with its booming millennial population, as an underserved market. Yet the region has become one of the hottest markets in the world for technology companies seeking to expand their customer base, with 296 million Internet users, 180 million millennials, and a smartphone adoption rate that will reach 355 million by 2016, according to eMarketer. Indeed, social marketing campaigns in Latin America account for 80 percent of Nobox’s business.

“Latin America has some of the highest social media adoption rates in the world. You have consumers in Latin America spending two times, even three times as much time on social media than worldwide averages,” said Fabiana Farias Jenkins, Marriott’s vice president of marketing and e-commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We feel that travel is a great vertical for social. Our guests travel, take pictures, they want to share, they check in at different locations. We feel it is a strategic imperative for Latin America: If we want to be connected with our guests and really have the pulse of what is important to them, we have to insert ourselves into that conversation and that space,” she said.

In fact, about 94 percent of Internet users in Latin America are on social media, versus about 64 percent in the United States, García said. Facebook’s Instagram has more users in Latin America than in the United States and it is growing faster in Brazil and Mexico than anywhere in the world, according to Facebook analytics. Latin American nations take five of the top 10 spots globally for the most time spent on social networks, according to comScore.

Connecting with those users is not a one-size-fits-all approach, however. That’s because Latin America’s many countries, cultures, dialects and economies require a deep understanding of the individual markets to craft messaging that connects and scales. A Netflix executive puts it this way: “We want to be a cosmopolitan, well-traveled American aware of cultural subtleties,” said Gabriel Rodriguez-Nava, social media marketing manager for Latin American.

To help do that, Nobox’s “Social Brand Lab” approach uses a variety of social media channels to test digital messaging with target audiences until an effective one that resonates is identified and then amplified. This approach effectively uses the power of the crowd to “focus-group” different digital messages to find approaches with the widest appeal.

“The post we create for Mexico is not the same as for Argentina, the Spanish is different, the cultural nuances are different, what is popular in that country, what’s been in the local media. ... You have to immerse yourself in that culture if you want to be a part of that conversation,” Fittipaldi explained. “These are tricky waters to navigate, but we have been in those waters for years.”

“What we are doing is human-to-human marketing,” García added. “It’s not just connecting with the consumer on a human, personal level, it’s creating a chain reaction with consumers sharing with other consumers ... The power of H2H is turning your consumers into your marketers.”

And it all starts with social, said Farias Jenkins of Marriott, who spoke on a panel with García at the Festival of Media LATAM last month in Miami Beach. “All of the other marketing mediums and consumer messaging get built from there.”

In many ways, Nobox’s co-founders learned their craft and focused their strategy while working on a startup of their own, with its own set of twists and turns.

While running Nobox, García, who was born in Puerto Rico, and Fittipaldi, originally from Brazil, founded Scrapblog, an online scrapbooking service, in 2006, and García ran it as CEO. They raised $11.5 million in venture capital, primarily from Steamboat Ventures, the venture arm of Walt Disney Company, and moved the company to California to be closer to investors. There they grew the company to 3.5 million users and then sold it to Mixbook, one of its competitors, in 2011. Scrapblog was one of the first 12 Facebook apps, so Scrapblog was gaining traction just as Facebook, too, was getting started.

“Most of Scrapblog’s 3.5 million users we acquired through viral hoops,” García said. “That was a fascinating journey — and our investors kept asking us ‘what’s next?’”

What came next was another look at the original business that was Nobox. “We had built the business from the ground up client by client with sweat equity,” García said. About three years ago, “we pivoted from full service digital agency to a social marketing accelerator. We think of ourselves as a startup, a tech company, we build technologies, we build platforms, we are Facebook marketing partners.”

Nobox builds custom technology, including mobile-first responsive sites and the SocialTV platform that Samsung leveraged for the World Cup. And being a Facebook partner means it has access to deep analytics that many marketers do not.

“Most of the campaigns we do are very complex on the back end. Say it is a campaign where we are offering a reward as a return for their sharing, We are able to see that in real time, work in [a points system], things that are much more complex,” Fittipaldi said.

These have included a popular series of social media posts for Playstation’s PS4 launch aimed at the core gamer in Latin America, social campaigns for Samsung that worked alongside and played off of TV coverage during the World Cup, and viral Facebook sweepstakes that generated thousands of new fans – and sales – for Copa Airlines, a long time client. Nobox is also experimenting with campaigns using WhatsApp.

While Nobox’s business is far and wide, García and Fittipaldi say they have no intention of moving Nobox out of Miami, unlike their entrepreneurial journey with Scrapblog.

“The reality is Miami is the marketing headquarters for Latin America for a lot of these brands. It makes sense for us to be based here. We are built to be in Miami because of our connections to Latin America,” said García, noting that everyone who works for Nobox is at least bilingual or trilingual. “And for our West Coast clients, it makes perfect sense for them to have an agency based in Miami with the cultural connections to Latin America.”

Because the founders have lived through launching, capital raising, growing and selling a company with Scrapblog as well as developed expertise in branding and marketing, Nobox has set aside a small team dedicated to Nobox Ventures, which helps other startups navigate those waters.

Nobox Ventures has already begun helping a couple of Miami startups with marketing as well as business strategy, said García, who is also an active angel investor and mentors several companies in Miami, including Everypost and GeeVee: “Taking all the past knowledge from what we have done, we are dedicating a slice of our time and expertise to the innovation community.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Nobox at a glance

Business: Technology company specializing in social media marketing.

Headquarters: Miami, with operations in São Paulo, New York and San Francisco.

Founded: 2001 as a general marketing agency but pivoted completely into social marketing in 2012.

Co-founders: Carlos García, CEO; Jayson Fittipaldi, president and chief creative officer.

No. of employees: 37 full-time plus contractors; 31 of them work in Miami.

Clients: Netflix, Sony PlayStation, Samsung, Marriott, Copa Airlines, Firefox, Discovery Channel and others.


Latin America by the numbers

296 million: Number of Internet users

180 million: Approximate number of millennials.

355 million: Number of people projected to have smartphones by 2016

94 percent: Percent of Internet users in Latin America who are on social media platforms.

U.S. at a glance

Average time spent with digital media per day will surpass TV viewing time for the first time this year.

Digital media ad spending is now bigger than national TV ad spending.

Digital will surpass total TV in ad spending by 2018.

Sources: eMarketer, Magna Global, comScore, Forrester.