Creating iHeart AdBuilder — The Radio Advertising Solution for Small Businesses

By: Dylan Hecklau, Vice President of Product Management

We’re honored that iHeart AdBuilder was recently recognized by AdExchanger for winning their Innovation in Audio award and we want to share a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to bring this product to life.

Technology has undoubtedly changed people’s listening habits, but radio remains the dominant medium that people use to consume content, reaching 9 out of 10 Americans every month. Roughly half of all audio listening still occurs on broadcast radio, but small business owners didn’t have a technology solution to buy radio… until now. iHeart AdBuilder is a technology platform that allows small businesses to easily and affordably buy and create radio advertising campaigns in the same way they do with digital media like Facebook.

We carefully designed AdBuilder to put the power of radio in the hands of small businesses — from the creation of audio ads to intelligent targeting that allows those ads to reach the right people. But how did we do it? 

Building New Tech and Solving New Problems

Two things stood out to us when we started planning out the AdBuilder product roadmap: product-market fit is crucial, and a better product is greater than a bigger product.

With AdBuilder, we put a lot of focus on making sure we nailed the product-market fit. Our core audience, small businesses, was top-of-mind with every single decision we made. Anytime we were tempted with the idea of a shiny new feature, we made sure to prioritize it based on the direct impact it would have on our users. We learned early on that we had a significant product-market fit and focusing on that ultimately made the product better, allowing for a more seamless go-to-market experience. 

This dovetails into the “a better product is greater than a bigger product” concept. We intentionally limited the number of features in favor of perfecting the essential features first. When a product is in an early stage, saying no is a critical step that allows you to refine and improve the most essential components. AdBuilder Login Screen on Laptop

Transitioning From Enterprise to Small Business Solutions 

Jelli has typically focused on solving enterprise problems, working with the largest radio buyers and advertising agencies in the nation. For years, we have built tools that provide them with more insight, efficiency, and overall buying capabilities. We wanted to provide the same solutions to small businesses and quickly adjusted our processes to better fit this new audience. In our existing B2B (business-to-business) product suite, we have the luxury of working directly with our customers, but with AdBuilder we had to learn about an entirely new sector – small business owners –  without the same level of connection. 

Small business owners are a lot alike, right? Not at all! When we began initial research we always talked about businesses like salons and restaurants when referring to small businesses, but as we continued digging in we discovered how vast the small business world really is. We met people who ran charities, HVAC companies, tutors, boutique owners, real estate agents,  DJs, etc. This meant we needed to build a simple, easy-to-use app that would benefit small business professionals with varying backgrounds across a wide range of industries.

Luckily, Jelli RadioSpot was thoughtfully built for this exact kind of evolution and could handle the heavy lifting as far as radio buying and optimization goes, which allowed us to focus our creative efforts on solving new problems. For example, unlike our existing enterprise solutions, AdBuilder needed to be mobile-first. Small business owners are constantly moving and might not look at a desktop computer at all some days. We were determined to ensure that busy business owners could quickly complete every step of the radio advertising process from their phone or tablet. 

AdBuilder Ad Approval Screen on Mobile Phone

Getting Started 

Small business owners wear a lot of hats and we recognized that we needed to build AdBuilder in a way that allowed them to do what they need quickly and with ease. Not to mention, we needed to ensure that we presented an experience that made radio buying, which is historically very complex, easy to complete, regardless of the level of marketing experience. That made our goal clear: we needed to build an easy-to-use (and mobile-optimized) app with simple prompts that allowed small business owners to buy radio ads, including the creative, in just a few clicks. 

Let’s Talk About the Roadblocks 

When building new products there are always challenges to overcome. We spent a lot of time and energy building this product and preparing for our Alpha launch, but despite our preparation, we noticed a big issue two minutes after our initial launch. We failed to enable a very popular mobile web browser! The issue was resolved within about 10 minutes, but it was an anxiety-filled ten minutes for the AdBuilder team at Jelli. 

I think it’s important to recognize that even the best-laid plans can fall short and the most important thing is how you respond to those issues. After our Alpha launch, I was feeling exhausted and trying to wind down from a busy day when a Slack notification alerted me of our first customer. It was rewarding to see those first few orders come through and see that it was a true product-market fit.

With the support of our iHeartMedia colleagues, help from domain experts on things like billing and user identity management, early feedback from focus groups, and our team at Jelli, we were able to build something great that is transforming traditional advertising for small businesses.