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Can LinkedIn Link Content With Business Results?


penry pricePenry Price has a long legacy as an advertising exec. He went from Google to Dstillery and, as of eight months ago, assumed the role of VP of marketing solutions at LinkedIn.

Compared to his previous roles, Price has a slightly different imperative at LinkedIn. Because of the social network’s audience of 300 million business-minded registrants, he is building out the company’s native advertising and content marketing products. There’s plenty of work to be done, and a lot of opportunity – from streamlining the buying process for LinkedIn’s native ads to connecting messaging with business impact within content marketing.

Certainly LinkedIn isn’t the only company trying to quantifiably link creative messaging with business results. This is why so many like-minded tech folk have swarmed the Cannes Lion advertising festival, traditionally the sacred ground of the creative class.

“The ad tech companies all have a much bigger presence,” Price told AdExchanger. “Two years ago, none of them were here. They might have had a few people here last year. Now it’s like they’ve jumped the shark in that everybody is here.”

AdExchanger: Jumping the shark is a bad thing, though.

PENRY PRICE: That’s what I’m worried about. I feel it could be overwhelming to certain people who really found value by being here. Now there are so many people who are in the space, but haven’t yet figured out why they’re here.

Does that change the message? Cannes has traditionally been a creative showcase.

(Ad tech companies) are still trying to understand the value of creativity versus their machines. I don’t think they know how to assess the value of creativity with what they do.

Has LinkedIn had to learn this as it’s increased its marketing solutions?

LinkedIn is growing into how to be creative with our own member experience. We’re thinking much more about native than about traditional units. That in itself is a form of creativity we’re trying to understand.


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By being (at Cannes), we’re talking to brands and agencies about what we’re currently doing and how they see our evolution working for their own needs. Are their creative needs being met on this platform or not? Is there a common ground where we can meet?

With native ad platforms, there’s work to be done to understand best practices for a scale perspective, from the assets that need to be created, from the measurement. All these things are very new. That’s why there’s a lot of communication here this week where you basically have everyone to talk to and you can get a good sense of your road maps.

What does LinkedIn need to do to push native advertising forward?

The first one is around an ecosystem. This goes to mobile and other trends around content marketing. Brands and agencies recognize the value of both mobile and content marketing, but there’s still a long way to go to know how to use it in the most productive way.

Two would be measurement. How does content marketing fit into the mix and how do you measure it? How do you know its effectiveness? We’ve done our own efforts there, published a few things to quantify impact in content marketing with our content marketing score, as well as some signals around what type of content is resonating with what type of audience.

But it’s not to the fullest extent measuring business impact. That’s what we’re working toward. Measuring that would be a huge step forward.

What would this ecosystem look like?

There isn’t a new ecosystem model that needs to be developed. It’s more of a continuation of what has been done. You saw it with Google and the search engine marketing agencies, these great companies built to help marketers and agencies be effective with search. I think that model is generally the right one. You see it with Facebook and their developers.

We launched, a few months back, a (Sponsored Updates) API program with five partners. So that’s a beginning of the ecosystem around sponsored content via APIs. That’s a signal we’re going in the right direction, but it needs to be bigger and broader and more global. We haven’t developed that yet in Asia or EMEA to the degree we’d like to.

Are there other things, besides scale, you’d like to optimize? How about the buying process?

A lot needs to be done from a tools perspective. The buying process needs to be simpler, of course. You look at traditional display and there’s so much waste in the process. Clearly there’s a need to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.

It has to hook in via APIs or other partners (which would enable) others to (buy) efficiently and effectively. So huge work needs to be on the buying side.

The measurement side is a big effort. Multitouch, algorithmic – all these things are out there in the market. We’re going to do our own attribution work over the next couple of years to understand the effectiveness our campaigns are delivering.

What’s the current buying process?

Right now, we’re doing auction-based with a bunch of our products. We still have some reserved, but the buying process will evolve. Auctions make a lot of sense to us. When you create market with supply and demand, it actually works for the brands who can be smart. Bidding strategies become very important, and suddenly you have real need to have best practices and the understanding to know how the bidding strategies on LinkedIn work, which will be different from another social platform.

Have you refined how bidding strategies on LinkedIn work?

Still in progress. “Refine” is an aggressive term. We’re building out some strategies and we’re learning, but we haven’t started to refine them in terms of giving out great, thoughtful advice by vertical. We’re getting there.

What percentage of LinkedIn inventory is available in an auction?

I don’t have exact numbers, and I’m not sure if we offer that publicly. I’ll tell you what units are offered: Sponsored content is auction-based. We have LinkedIn ads, which are auction-based as well. Those are the two today that are offered via auction. We then have traditional display, which is not, and we have an ad unit within InMail, which is also not on an auction.

Sponsored Updates show us how important auctions are, where price is really dictated by the market. Without being specific, I would say we’d use more auctions in the future. That model generally, though it doesn’t fit for everything, is generally the right model for us.

Where aren’t auctions a good idea?

InMails are done for specific companies targeting a specific group of users. It could be American Express targeting small business owners and using the InMail product to do that very effectively. I’m not sure yet if that’s right for auction or for a reserved price. We know the number of small businesses and the value they have for American Express. We negotiate the right price from a reserve basis, because they probably want to time the message for those people. It might be a certain time of the month or a certain time of the quarter. So you want some reserve capability there, because you might want to do it in a less dynamic way. In that case, the auction doesn’t work quite as well.

Do you have relationships with any demand-side platforms?

As a publisher, we’ve met with all of those guys. We look at both demand-side and the SSPs. We’ve tested a bunch of things, but the premium market isn’t interesting enough at scale that we want to aggressively more towards that.

We work with BlueKai and partner with them to understand our segments, utilizing some of their data-management platform (DMP). We work with some first-party segments from (BlueKai’s) clients to understand whether that gives us more information, richer information or better targeting.

On the demand side, we’re doing a few tests that are so minor it’s not worth talking to.

I don’t believe yet there’s a real premium space for programmatic. There’s no market for this yet from what I’ve seen from an auction or real-time bidding perspective, given available inventory and the rates we see for our traditional display business.

Why BlueKai?

We’ve had it since before I got there. (LinkedIn) ran through an RFP process, checked through a bunch of DMPs and chose to work with BlueKai. We’re working with them to understand the added value of the first-party data.

What’s the status of that discovery process? Is there anything that’s surprised you since working with BlueKai?

The only thing to report on is that it is interesting for us. We’re learning about the value of connecting our segments to first-party segments like customer lists, customer segments, etc. A very obvious place for us is to think about CRM. Related to our own audiences, our own data and connected in a privacy-friendly way, how do we work directly with marketers to utilize their customer sets and ours for targeting purposes? Hopefully, at some point, we’ll be able to pass that information back to marketers for retargeting. We’re going to continue to explore more use cases, especially around B2B.

Will you model your CRM program off of Facebook’s CRM matching program?

There are certain ways to do these things that are already known. The difference with us is around the professional context and professional identity. Relevance related to these things is our advantage not just over Facebook but to help members and customers. When we approach CRM or CRM matching or cookie IDs, we ask if there’s a pure benefit for the member.

How can this be applied?

Real lead generation. As we evolve our ad products, we want to see where we can do a better job of lead generation than anywhere else online. If you think about B2B, the long sales cycle and the form fill problem that exists, maybe LinkedIn can be a huge help by autofilling with your LinkedIn profile. That could be a unique way to work into the CRM space.

You mentioned in an AdAge interview that 41% of LinkedIn traffic is mobile. I would think form filling is a bigger problem on mobile.

That’s not going to be the issue for us. The issue would be relevance and timing, things like that. Not the user experience of doing the form fill because it can be one-click and very seamless. It’s more about when it’s the right time to offer this form to the right member.

When you talk about growth in mobile, do you refer to tablet or smartphones?

It’s across both of those. 2008 was 2% and now, I think, it’s 44% or 43%. From a development standpoint, everything is centered around those two devices.

How do you target smartphone users or tablet users?

Targeting time of day is clearly a way to do that. From an ad product standpoint, as we start to deliver these over time, you’ll build out best practices and look through the data to understand performance and iterate on those things to make your messaging more impactful. Clearly there’s different behaviors on both mobile and tablet.

We combine unique traffic numbers but from a targeting perspective as well as a behavioral perspective, I’d assume you’ll see different behaviors, and we’ll have different targeting capabilities for both.

How does the recent spate of attribution-related acquisitions affect LinkedIn?

I don’t know if it’s good for the market to have attribution companies owned by single vendors. I like the idea of third parties in this case, and we’re going to need to continue to have them. There are others (attribution vendors) there, so it’ll be fine.

Why is attribution so important for LinkedIn?

For us in particular, it’s really around this content marketing piece. We’ve developed our own content marketing score to understand how a certain brand is engaging with members. We can show them why that’s happening and give them tips on how they can improve their score. That’s the first phase: How are you, as a brand or agency, connecting with your audience on LinkedIn, relative to your peers?

The next wave of this is around whether your content marketing score can be attributed to business impact. We’re working with some companies directly to share backend data with our attribution and modeling teams. Then we can work with those individual companies with clearer attribution on business impact.

I would love to get to a place where that’s a product we can plug-and-play, and people can do that within their own systems. That’s the goal for us. Multitouch attribution across media is beyond our interest. Third parties can do that. For us, it’s about getting companies to understand the impact of content marketing.

Are partners reluctant to share their back-end data?

They’ll cloak it. They’ll give us enough so we can have joint KPIs. They’re just as interested because they want to differentiate themselves from their company peers. They want to know the impact of content, so they’ll share a slice of the back end.

How many partners are doing that?

I can’t tell you exactly. Good try, though.

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