The Rise of the B2B Ad Network? – LinkedIn Unveils New Targeting Opportunities

B2B network LinkedIn has announced the latest step in its longer term move towards an ad tech-led strategy, with the unveiling of its prospecting tool LinkedIn Lead Accelerator, which also helps marketers retarget users.

The service lets marketers retarget visitors to their company's website using a series of 'sequential messages' on both the LinkedIn display ad network, as well as third-party sites (such as third-party websites, and paid-for social opportunities), over a six-week period.

LinkedIn also lets trade marketers target users using a number of criteria, such as seniority level, and geography, by placing a pixel on an advertisers' page, then layering on LinkedIn data on top of that.

This 'sequential messaging' can be executed on desktop sites as well as on LinkedIn's mobile properties, and is available to marketers on a subscription basis, according to Joshua Graff, LinkedIn, senior director, EMEA.

He said: "At its core, it will allow advertisers to acquire and nurture new sales leads. For instance, normally on a good day, you are looking at a 1% conversion rate [as a B2B marketer].

"Brands including eCornell, Lenovo, Salesforce.com, Samsung, VMware and Groupon have participated in early tests of the service and have reported an overall fall in their cost-per-lead so far [up to 60% in the case of Lenovo]", added Graff.

LinkedIn has been in the process of rolling its Lead Accelerator tool following the B2B network's purchase of $175m purchase of Bizo, and intends to make the latest offering available on a self-service basis.

However, there is a 'degree of a managed service' element to the LinkedIn offering. This takes shape in the form of LinkedIn's 'marketing automation consultants' that helps them manage their nurture stream, both in terms of setting up and managing the process of their automated media buys.

This amounts to the second phase of its ad tech strategy, which has previously been made possible via its tie-up with AppNexus. The latest service adds to its existing suite of products including: LinkedIn Onsite Display, LinkedIn Network Display, Sponsored Updates and Sponsored InMail.

An analytics tool built into the new range of products combines LinkedIn’s global audience data with brand website visits for cross-platform measurement.

Can LinkedIn be the Facebook of B2B?

Asked if there are additional plans to man-up in the ad tech space, Graff said there was "no additional plans to announce". However, ExchangeWire understands the business network is on the hunt for some of the ad tech industry's hottest talent. The question now remains: How will LinkedIn attempt to leverage this talent, and high-value user base and dominate the reputed $50bn B2B advertising sector?

A document leaked last year indicated how LinkedIn intended to monetise its assets post the purchase of Bizo, and claims that in addition to offering prospecting services (i.e. the latest product launch), it will "absolutely sell media going forward".

This can be read as the B2B network looking to set up its own ad network, and with the right infrastructure in place it could become one of the key ecosystems on the internet.

Although, in order to achieve this, it will need the correct infrastructure player in place, in order for it to best monetise its first-party data.

If LinkedIn can facilitate third-party media buys, using its own data, and then bring them together in one exchange, it could achieve its lofty ambitions to build out a scaled advertising business.

We need only look at the valuable lessons of Google, as to the power of owning the media execution layer (the ad tech infrastructure) for display advertising.

Its acquisition of DoubleClick allowed it to entrench its tech at the crucially important media buying execution layer, which ultimately enabled it to sell more of its margin-heavy media to buyers. Tech and data clearly continues to grease the wheels of media buying in this industry.

This could all change, however, as this is a model Facebook is looking to emulate, especially with the recent launch of FB ad tech offerings: first, its own ad exchange (FBX); and then with the revamped version of Atlas by Facebook.

Linkedin should take note, particularly with the B2B advertising market pegged at $50bn a year up for grabs.