LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner confirmed the social network wants to enable customers to prospect and nurture leads well beyond its own walled garden during the company’s Q2 call Thursday, though he stopped short of calling it an ad network.
“As big a network as LinkedIn is – and they’re adding exponential numbers of people everyday – it’s still one environment,” said Kevin Flint, associate media director at Just Media, a media and marketing services agency that works with a number of B2B tech clients. “Whereas…there are so many places they can potentially reach their audience or distribute content…beyond LinkedIn. That’s where the growth will be the greatest.”
LinkedIn’s acquisition of B2B marketing services and data company Bizo is intended to ensure long-term monetization via media revenue. As part of this initiative, LinkedIn will end Bizo’s à la carte data business.
The Off-Linked In Opportunity
LinkedIn’s specialty, industry insiders say, is its premium business audience of 300-plus million members. Bizo brings real-time bidding and display chops, as well as a business demographic data on some 120 million professionals.
“I like the analogy of Yahoo and Right Media because LinkedIn was more focused on the supply side and inventory, whereas Bizo was good at the B2B marketing part and programmatic advertising,” said Mattijs Keij, CEO of Dutch data-management platform provider FlxOne. “There is a limit to the reach you can get on their platform and that’s where Bizo comes in. [Bizo] can open up that reach powered by all the data on LinkedIn. I think there is actually a lot of value in the long-tail if they can reach the right audience with it through their B2B network.”
Bizo partnered with a number of players to strengthen its stack. For analytics, it has worked with both FlxOne and Metamarkets, as well as AppNexus on the demand side. Bizo rolled out the Business Audience Exchange (BAX), a network of 4,200 business and technology publishers, in 2012.
The AppNexus console, according to a Bizo blog post, gives marketers and trading desks “access to Bizo’s inventory to develop relevant ads based on price and pre-determined profile criteria of the audience.”
Apart from BAX, Bizo Data Solutions lets publishers and marketers alike buy business data to target their own media. This standalone service will be discontinued upon Bizo’s integration in Q3, although LinkedIn will not say why.
But one can speculate: Why would LinkedIn, with access to valuable data, want to share it with other DSPs and SSPs if it doesn’t need to?
As one source acknowledged, “In the end, the real value is the data and if they can leverage that in their own platform, similar to Rocket Fuel, I think that makes a lot of sense for LinkedIn.”
The Data Question
That same source said bundling data with media makes sense for LinkedIn long-term. While recruitment, subscriptions and Software-as-a-Service continue to dominate revenue streams, B2B media is becoming an investment area since Marketing Solutions now commands 20% of total revenues.
“Right now, marketers and agency trading desks are buying this data alone and then buying cheap inventory separately, which gives them more control and the ability to target their desired audience on the open web,” said Erik Matlick, CEO of Madison Logic, a behavioral intent database and lead-gen marketing company. “With the shuttering of the Bizo data business, they can’t buy the data. Therefore, they are only able to buy their desired audience bundled with LinkedIn media inventory.”
Although Matlick sees this move as a “positive valuation benchmark” for the media industry, it is an added barrier to marketers, networks, agencies and exchanges that buy Bizo data on a standalone basis. (Although LinkedIn says in this blog post that Bizo will honor current data commitments, LinkedIn data will not be granted to "grandfathered" customers).
LinkedIn: Much More Than ‘X’ Dollars In Sponsored Updates
One of the most compelling parts of LinkedIn’s B2B marketing platform future is its ability to marry marketing automation and programmatic media. The Bizo for Marketing Automation Platform combines web, display, social and email marketing automation and integrates with a number of CRM and email database providers like Oracle Eloqua.
LinkedIn, conversely, released Thursday a brand new Sales Navigator product that allows salespeople to track and update leads in a lightweight manner. Think of it as a super-social Salesforce.com. By combining Sales Navigator and Marketing Solutions, LinkedIn could potentially pack a power punch.
“If you’re a VP of sales for a company, you can literally flag every single one of your top prospects and when you do that, that list of top leads or prospects is immediately sent to your marketing, who then upload that list of prospects into a custom audience and immediately hit them with messaging and nurture those leads," said Sahil Jain, CEO of AdStage, a LinkedIn Certified Sponsored Updates partner. “So as salespeople are trying to close the deal, they’re seeing ads through a consolidated ad network. It could be very powerful.”
The basis of LinkedIn as a CRM play with Custom Audiences matching and off-network reach extension makes for a very attractive value proposition. If LinkedIn finds a way to cross-reference email addresses on Bizo with personal addresses on LinkedIn (since many members sign up with their non-business address), LinkedIn could feasibly improve lead-gen.
“It becomes a platform that allows LinkedIn to apply their data in so many different areas,” Flint said. “LinkedIn is now a part of many areas of that marketing organization as opposed to just, ‘Let’s spend $50,000 this month on Sponsored Updates."
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