When Programmatic and Thought Leadership meet

We explore how one of Ad Week Europe’s key themes can transform B2B marketing.

March 20, 2015

Nothing ignites marketers’ passions at the moment quite like the subject of Programmatic – and there’s likely to be some strong turnouts for the ADARA stage on this first day of Ad Week Europe, when marketing automation is the lead item on the agenda.

Data-driven buying is such a divisive issue because it seems to invoke existential questions about what type of marketer, media planner or media owner you really want to be. Plenty of marketing folk envisage a future where strategies are split between traditional advertising, which can be bought on an automated basis to use inventory as efficiently as possible; and a more sophisticated creative approach, built around content, where delivering your message in the right context and aligning it with your chosen environment is all important. But is the to-program-or-not-to-program question really so black and white?

How data-driven targeting is saving thought leadership

There’s one area of marketing where automation and content aren’t pulling in opposite directions. For B2B marketers interested in generating and nurturing leads throughout the purchase funnel, automated targeting across platforms isn’t a threat to thought-leadership content; in fact, it could help to save it. And that’s a lesson from which other areas of marketing could potentially learn.

The specific challenge for B2B content marketers has always been how to balance the need for maximising impact, engagement and awareness with the need for all of this to deliver tangible leads to sales teams. The solution landed on by most is ‘gating’ content: hiding your agenda-defining opinion piece or white paper behind a data capture form that your audience has to fill in before they can access it. But gating content too early in the decision-making process is a risky strategy, and can result in marketers sacrificing potential leads. In recent research that LinkedIn conducted for the IT sector, 63% of decision-makers provided fake details on data capture forms, and 37% simply discounted a potential supplier that gated the first piece of content they encountered.

This is why the launch of LinkedIn Lead Accelerator last month is such a big deal for B2B marketing. We’ve taken the market-leading lead nurturing technology of Bizo, which we acquired last year, and combined it with LinkedIn’s content targeting capabilities so that marketers can deliver the right content to the right people, whether those people fill in a lead generation form or not. We use use anonymised data to reach professional audiences wherever they are on the web, so that we can deliver content to them in the early stages of the marketing funnel, long before they are ready to share their contact details.

We couldn't do this without data-driven, automated targeting but crucially this isn’t programmatic with the sole purpose of cutting down costs. Yes, we’re able to cut wastage and spend budgets more efficiently, but as Starcom Mediavest’s Liam Brennan explained in this recent post on The Drum, the most important feature of LinkedIn Lead Accelerator is the contextual relevance and message resonance it provides. We’re using data to better understand people and enable marketers to be more creative in how they use content, not less so.

If this was easy, everyone would be doing it; but we’ve proved that it’s possible – and that it works. This type of intelligent, relevant delivery of content is what sophisticated marketers should be looking to get from data. In the B2B space, we’ve shown how it can free thought-leadership from the role of capturing lead details – and free it to do what it does best: engage audiences at scale. There’s no reason why this same platform can’t work for B2C marketers seeking a similarly sophisticated approach to automation.