LinkedIn advertising is amongst the most popular forms of B2B marketing and, if it’s run in tandem with a strong shared media campaign and backed up with a coherent owned media strategy, it can be amongst the most effective.

By Richard Stone

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What kind of LinkedIn ads can I run?

In his classic book, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, Al Ries, the father of positioning and Laura Ries, the actual daughter of Al Ries, describes PR as a sword and advertising as a shield. The former for building brands, the latter for defending them.

That’s an interesting way of thinking about LinkedIn advertising in the context of the PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) media mix. Naturally, its home is in the paid group, but it’s too simplistic to say it’s a shield in the modern mix. It’s probably better to argue that it’s a way of funnelling stakeholders towards the truly brand building content that sits in the earned, shared and owned areas.

What formats do LinkedIn ads use?

LinkedIn ads use three core formats: sponsored content, sponsored messaging and text ads. Each of these has subcategories allowing you to experiment with different styles and methodologies.

Sponsored content offers four of these subcategories, which are single image ads, video ads, carousel ads and event ads. I think it’s fair to say that the first three of these represent different ways of telling a story. Image ads deliver the narrative all at once, carousal ads reveal it over multiple images and video allows the story to be expressed with sound and motion.

Event ads though are, for me, the LinkedIn killer app. Most of us recognise that B2B sales are much easier to deliver on a human-to-human basis, either face to face or via video call. As a result, using LinkedIn as a stage in a funnel culminating in an event can have real bottom line impact.

Sponsored messaging is another brilliant way of funnelling a stakeholder through a process and, again, this can be split into two further subcategories, sponsored messaging, and sponsored conversations.  

For me, the latter is something of a misnomer. Truly speaking, the difference is about the call to action, with a sponsored conversation providing the option to deliver multiple offers and types of content in a single communication. For instance, you might invite someone to download a brochure, and sign up for an event or book all from one message.

LinkedIn text ads are the simplest form of advert the platform offers, with easy-to-use PPC (Pay Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Impression) options. Think of them as the LinkedIn equivalent of the classic Google text ad and you are on the right lines. They are quick to set up, execute and cancel. As such, they are a great way of testing an idea to see the impact it could have on your audience.

Easy to understand, tough to back up

Overall, the LinkedIn advertising mix is simple to understand but difficult to support without a cohesive overall marketing strategy. When the paid element of a marketing campaign was limited to magazine ads and advertorials, it was easy to understand why the owned and earned elements were so important.

Now that paid media has multiple, complex, elements, it can be easy to mistake it for a platform that stands alone. It generates leads, right? So, that’s all we need to do?

The truth is, it depends more than ever on the other elements of the mix for real impact, because all of these advertising methodologies will feel spammy without strong content, earned endorsements from third parties and shared profile building on social.  

Going back to Al and Laura Ries and their sword and shield metaphor, I don’t think there is a weapon we could metaphorically match LinkedIn adverts to directly. Maybe instead, they are a technique, like a classic fencer’s feint — intended to draw the opponent onto the protagonist’s sword.  

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