How LinkedIn’s lead generation content went Supersonic

How did we create LinkedIn Marketing Solutions’ most successful content asset ever? Here’s the story (Morning Glory)…

October 17, 2018

How LinkedIn’s lead generation content went Supersonic

I’d like to tell you a story about two ‘Sliding Doors’ moments. You know the ones that I mean, right? Those moments that could so easily have never happened at all but which changed the course of your life when they did.

The first of these moments happened in 1992, when an undiscovered creative genius from Leeds Polytechnic walked into a lift with a roadie and changed the course of music history.

The second moment happened around 18 months ago when that same creative genius walked into the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, London with a B2B marketer from LinkedIn. It may not have changed the course of musical history – but it sure as hell changed the way that I think about content marketing.

The branding of a band

The creative genius I’m referring to is Brian Cannon. Brian was the man who invented Oasis. Not the band – but the visual brand that the world associates with them. That roadie that he stepped into a lift with was Noel Gallagher, who was working for the indie band Inspiral Carpets while he warmed up for launching one of the biggest music acts of all time. Brian knew enough about music to see what was about to happen – and he knew enough about branding to see that this was a different kind of opportunity for visual artist. “I could see the potential of creating a serious branding exercise for Oasis,” he says. “Even then, I knew they would become absolutely massive.” 

Brian knew the potential for creating a cultural icon when he saw it – and in a stroke of genius, he realised the difference between creating an icon and creating cover art. Looking at an old Rolling Stones record sleeve for inspiration, he realised that for all the moody band photography, it was the Decca record label logo that stood out as the most memorable thing there. He based the Oasis logo on that Decca stamp, and from the cover of debut album Definitely Maybe onwards, it became synonymous with the band. Brian even avoided putting titles on Oasis singles, leaving an intriguing image and his iconic logo to create interest between them.

A Definitely Maybe for B2B marketing

My own Sliding Doors moment with Brian took place at the Star Shaped 90s music festival, where he was showcasing his art and photography. It was very fortunate timing from my point of view, because I was looking for a serious branding approach of my own. I was planning a piece of content that needed a very different approach to pretty much every piece of content that I’d planned in the past. It needed to be designed differently, launched differently and marketed differently. It needed to be B2B marketing’s version of Definitely Maybe.

Our LinkedIn Marketing Solutions sales teams had requested a bottom-of-the-funnel content asset that was simple, direct and scalable, and which would help to self-select qualified, sales-ready leads. They didn’t want a highly creative piece of content that would engage lots of people whether they were ready to use LinkedIn Marketing Solutions or not. They wanted a piece of content that was specifically designed for those who wanted straightforward, practical advice about starting to advertise on LinkedIn right now. They wanted a guide that was no-nonsense, straight-down-the-line, take-it-or-leave-it, with all of the marketing creativity and flair taken out.

This was a challenge: how do you market a piece of content without marketing a piece of content? What happens when you strip away all of the creativity that you’d normally apply to what you do and reduce content to simply doing what it says on the tin?

Brian Cannon

How can you be creative without being creative?

As it happened, I had an idea of the answer – because I’d recently found myself drawn towards very similar types of content in my side-career as a photographer. Now, if you’ve read any of my posts about side-hustles, you’ll know that I pride myself on concert photography: fighting for my place at the front of the stage and capturing the moments of live performances that can tell a compelling story. However, for various personal and professional reasons (young, growing family and lots of great colleagues that I want to promote) I wanted to expand my skills and learn to take better portraits.

I headed for Google to find a guide that could help – and I came across the best-titled book about photography that I’d ever seen. It was simply called: Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs of People. There was a directness, a confidence and a clarity to what this book promised that you naturally respond to when you’re looking for advice that you can trust. I wanted to read the book, and I wanted to get started using the information in it. That gave me the idea for a series of guides to marketing on LinkedIn that had the same confidence and also the same very specific promise of advice. We’d have objective-based guides to advertising, driving more leads and building better brand awareness on our platform: for people who knew they wanted to market on our platform and knew what they wanted to achieve, ours would be the obvious guides to turn to.

After some quick checks with legal, we confirmed that we’d be clear to use a similar name to the photography book that caught my attention – and so the Read Me series of guides was born. Now we just needed a creative approach that could fit the no-frills nature of our content – but still create a recognisable brand that people could respond to. And that’s where my Sliding Doors moment with Brian came in.

I’ve always really enjoyed coming up with the visual concepts for our ‘Big Rock’ content assets in the past – but I’m the first to admit that minimalism hasn’t really been my thing. Our eBooks and guides have always been fun and funny – creative and compelling, and designed to appeal to as many marketers as possible. Our Read Me guides had a very different positioning and a different type of objective. We therefore needed a different type of creative inspiration to create and launch them.

The value of letting content speak for itself

The Oasis strategy fitted perfectly because, believe it or not, there were some important parallels between our guides to B2B marketing and those iconic Oasis albums that Brian created. The core content needed to speak for itself. The attitude and the message needed to be that there was no fluff or spin here – we were giving marketers the information they needed and giving it to them straight. And we needed to brand this approach and attitude without obviously branding this approach and attitude.

The first statement we made was stripping all creativity out of the covers. Focusing on black and white typography sent the signal that we were confident our words could speak for themselves. To balance this, I asked Brian to double-down on our artistic approach to the inside pages – nothing cheesy or distracting, but abstract, intriguing imagery that complimented what our content was all about. We wanted to engage people, but subtly, without hitting them over the head with creative cleverness. It was the first time we’d ever commissioned original photography for one of our content assets and it instantly took the look and feel away from the standard B2B marketing space. For Read Me if You Want to Drive More Leads Using LinkedIn, we couldn’t resist bringing our Oasis theme to life more explicitly. We recreated moments from the band’s classic album covers in the story of a B2B marketer on the hunt for leads. It’s my favourite of the three guides.

You can have it all, but how much do you want it?

But our Oasis-inspired approach to B2B marketing content was only just getting started. Once we’d created the core content assets, we then had license to apply the same straight-down-the-line creative approach to the launch campaign. This was the really fun part. We lifted lyrics from classic Oasis tracks that captured the core message of this content series: that nobody knows more about LinkedIn marketing than LinkedIn – and that we were giving marketers all the information they would ever need to make the most of our platform. We created Sponsored Content with the same high-impact typography as the covers of our guides and ran A/B testing on different messages and background colours to settle on the most effective approach.

I’d spent a month or so watching Disney and Lucasfilm taking a similar approach of minimalist teaser-trailers for the launch of The Last Jedi – and so I knew I was in good company with this approach. But I had no idea how well the whole strategy would work.

The Read Me series quickly became the single most effective content asset that we’ve ever launched as a marketing team. It generated more downloads in its first day than anything we’d ever launched before. More importantly, it then went on to smash our targets and previous records for sales-accepted leads, and for projected future bookings. The simplicity in design theory meant that we could easily scale the guides across markets, in different languages, without having to reinvent imagery to suit different cultures. It’s a format that quickly spread across LinkedIn as well – with our sales solutions marketing team following up with its own Read Me series.

I’m hugely proud of what we achieved with Read Me – proud that my team and I were able to take a concept that originated with sales and bring it to life in a way that delivered for sales. However, that pride isn’t the only reason I’m writing this post. The experience of creating this content asset was unlike most experiences of creating content that I’ve ever had. There were key differences that were directly related to the success that we had. As a result, I’ve taken on board lessons that I’ll be looking to apply, in one way or another, to a lot more of the content that I create going forward.

I wanted to quickly share the most important of those lessons with you:

Listen to the sales team
It was the starting point for the Read Me journey, and it’s left me vowing to myself to keep pushing my sales team for briefs that reflect what they most want from marketing. These can feel challenging – but if you approach that challenge with confidence that you’ll find a creative solution then the outcome can be hugely exciting. The rise of Account Based Marketing provides a growing number of opportunities for sales and marketing to collaborate – but don’t wait for an ABM meeting to ask your sales colleagues what they most need from marketing content.

Let value speak for itself
As marketers we have a healthy instinct for making our content as engaging as possible to the greatest number of people. However, when you’re targeting a specific audience with content that’s highly relevant and specifically useful to them, you don’t necessarily need to work that hard. The more bells and whistles you add to persuade people to pay attention, the greater the risk of that creative flair getting in the way of a simple value message. Sometimes, it’s best to let relevance and authority speak for itself.

Evolve your approach to suit different stages in the journey
Our entire plan for Read Me was based around the needs of marketers at a specific stage of their journey towards advertising on LinkedIn. We were interested in marketers who were interested in using our platform – and knew exactly what they wanted to use it for. We knew that these were the highly qualified leads that our sales team were after and so everything about our guides from the title onwards was designed around them. If that meant we didn’t engage other marketers who hadn’t yet decided where LinkedIn fitted in their strategy, that was fine. In this particular case, those weren’t the marketers we were looking for.

You’d expect a tailored approach like this to deliver less engagement overall – but higher quality and more valuable engagement. The really fascinating thing about Read Me was that this trade-off never materialised. It turned out that there was a far larger audience than we expected waiting for this type of content. The bottom of the funnel is not always as narrow as the diagrams might lead you to think.

Inspiration can come from many different sources simultaneously
Oasis album covers, photography guides and Star Wars movie trailers all played a role in the way that my team and I approached the launch of our most successful content asset to date. I can’t think of any better argument for keeping your eyes and ears open for creative inspiration.

Creativity doesn’t have to look creative
This is perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned from Brian Cannon – and one I’ll definitely take with me going forward. The purpose of creativity in design and content isn’t necessarily to show people how creative you are. It might not even be to entertain or engage in the ways that marketers like me naturally assume. Its role can equally be to carry out a task as beautifully, simply and unobtrusively as possible.