As Its Display Business Dwindles, LinkedIn Opens Its Programmatic Pipes

RussLinkedIn is launching more programmatic buying access to its historically walled arsenal of B2B inventory, just two weeks after Microsoft acquired it.

Tuesday’s launch of programmatic display opens RTB access to all major demand side platforms and agency trading desks. Advertisers can either buy LinkedIn display ad inventory via the open exchange or through LinkedIn Private Auctions.

The move indicates LinkedIn has finally turned on the programmatic pipes it inherited from its 2014 Bizo acquisition.

But will this perceived onslaught of new demand be enough to offset LinkedIn’s quarterly pattern of double-digit drops in display ad revenue?

Linked’s display revenue performance has consistently declined – last quarter it decreased 30% and made up only 10% of Marketing Solutions’ revenue.

Despite LinkedIn’s new investment in display, the reality is sponsored content drives close to 60% of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions revenue now.

Although LinkedIn cites “tremendous demand” for high-quality display in B2B media, Russ Glass, head of products for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, said he doesn’t envision LinkedIn ending its core focus on sponsored content in native and mobile experiences. “We’re obviously not immune to market forces, which are moving increasingly mobile and native,” he said.

So does this move represent a reversal back to display? 

Glass said it was more about simplicity and lowering the barrier to LinkedIn inventory by letting marketers plug in more easily into the LinkedIn platform programmatically: “It allows us to lower our cost to support display advertising, since the marketer can plug and play our inventory within their broader buys.”

“LinkedIn had historically been a really difficult platform to work with, and we get that,” Glass added. “We spent most of the last two years really simplifying our products and reducing the sorts of complexities that advertisers have to deal with.”

GroupM agency Essence is among a handful of beta testers participating in LinkedIn’s programmatic pilot.

Since the agency intends to reach small and midsize businesses, it finds one of the perks of LinkedIn is its verified base of professional business users.

“Their ability to scale against these niche audiences in multiple formats – now including programmatic display – has been strong consistently,” said Agatha Isabel, a programmatic media planner at Essence.

She noted that Essence has been coupling programmatic with LinkedIn’s CRM matching program Audience Match, which offers more scale than traditional account targeting.

LinkedIn offers two ways to target through Private Auctions: A marketer can either upload their own first- or third-party data and buy as a homepage placement, or use LinkedIn’s member personas (e.g., “IT decision makers”) for targeting. It’s either/or at this point, but LinkedIn said it’s adding flexibility.

“We’ve continually been partnering with LinkedIn to craft more custom audiences that have also performed well,” Isabel added.

LinkedIn wasn’t part of the earliest wave of platform retargeting or CRM matching like Facebook’s FBX and Custom Audiences. But Glass claims it’s being deliberate.

“Google and Facebook have done an incredible job creating the functionality that the world considers table stakes,” he said. “We want to take the best of that and make it special for the LinkedIn environment.”

And what of its newly minted relationship with Microsoft?

For now, Glass claims it’s “business as usual” at LinkedIn.

“It’s hard for me to speculate on future products, but Microsoft is the world’s largest professional cloud and they have productivity software that powers a lot of how business is run,” he added. “LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network and we’re powering business connections. It’s [natural to assume] those [interests] line up.”


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