The most successful Sponsored Content tactics in EMEA right now

Tips from the most effective Sponsored Content on LinkedIn during Q2

September 11, 2017

Sponsored Content Trends

You’ve got a relevant message for your target audience, a valuable content asset to share, or a point of view that deserves to set the industry agenda. The question is: how can you translate these things into attention, engagement and action in the LinkedIn feed? Which creative tactics deliver the most effective Sponsored Content?

We’ve crunched the numbers on the top performing Sponsored Content appearing in the LinkedIn feed in EMEA in Q2 this year. We focused on the posts delivering the most significant competitive advantage for the businesses behind them: those achieving at least 25,000 impressions and driving engagement rates significantly above their industry benchmarks. Then we explored the common characteristics of the Sponsored Content commanding most attention in the feed. Here’s what we found: the creative tactics proving most effective on LinkedIn right now.

Lead with a remarkable image
The more striking, unusual and unexpected the image, the greater its stopping power. It’s the images we don’t expect to see, the ones that positively demand a second look, that command our attention. They persuade us to spend longer with them, trying to explore what they mean and figure out what’s going on. In other words, they are the perfect prelude to engagement with Sponsored Content.

For Adobe’s widely respected marketing hub,, that image was a vibrant series of colourful shapes morphing onto the streets of a shopping district – a striking illustration for a feature on the future of retail that powered one of Q2’s top performing pieces of Sponsored Content in EMEA. For Red Bull, it was the brand’s familiar, humorous illustration style, used to argue for the value of installing a Red Bull fridge in an office. It grabbed attention through its combination of the familiar and the unexpected, and showed the value that recognisable B2C brands can unlock by extending activity to the LinkedIn feed. For Al Maryah Central, the image that drove benchmark-beating engagement rates wasn’t just an image. The brand used aerial photography and time-lapse video playing automatically in the LinkedIn feed, to show the startling transformation of an Abu Dhabi district.

Tell a story within the feed

According to Seth Godin, the difference between an anecdote and a story is that an anecdote is only interesting because it happened – whereas a story has a resonance that goes far beyond whether it’s true or not. The top performers amongst LinkedIn Sponsored Content in EMEA include a lot of stories in the Seth Godin sense of the word. They happen to all be true – but they would still be compelling reading even if they weren’t.

The great skill involved in the Sponsored Content of Barclays, HSBC and the non-profit organisation management body JINC, is the ability to tell a compelling story in just a few hundred characters. These brands all created highly effective Sponsored Content, not by promising a story in a few clicks time, but by actually delivering the essentials of that story right there within the LinkedIn feed.

For Barclays, it was the story of Clap-banner Ltd and its unlikely partnership with Leicester City FC that helped to fight off the threat of relegation and produce arguably the greatest fairy tale in footballing history. It provided a different perspective on a world-famous story that proved immediately compelling. HSBC, meanwhile, needed only five words to get across the fundamentals of a rags-to-riches story that any human being can identify with. JINC took a few more words to tell the story of its director Daniel Roos – but that’s because it knew that setting the scene and stressing its central character’s relevance to other professional lives, would be the key to success.

Leverage employees as brand assets

Often the most compelling story that a brand can tell is one with its own employees as the heroes or narrators. That’s an approach consistently taken by the pharmaceuticals business, Allergan, which communicates the company’s values, the experience of working there and its positive impact on quality of life, through the words of its employees. Its use of imagery adds to the impact through high-quality portraits that stress a human connection.

Call out an audience – and show you’re on their side

LinkedIn’s robust targeting capabilities don’t just allow you to put content in front of the right professionals – they mean that you can tailor your content to the specific interest of those professionals. One of the most effective ways to do this is to reference your target audience by name, in the headline or copy of your Sponsored Content. That’s what Oracle Marketing Cloud did when empathising with the pain of marketers grappling with technology. ESSEC Executive Education put its audience at the heart of its content in more ways than one. It used a real-life, human story with bespoke photography shot on campus, to drive engagement far beyond that delivered by stock imagery.

Don’t just be timely, create a sense of urgency

It seems obvious, but distributing the right content at the right time can have a huge impact on engagement levels, and this increases when you signal that currency clearly in headlines and Sponsored Content copy. When Thomson Reuters MENA produced a special report on VAT in the Gulf region, it didn’t just announce that it had a report available. Its Sponsored Content copy emphasised the VAT changes taking place in key Gulf states that made this information critical for its audience. Business is GREAT Britain used a clear headline message, incorporated within its image, to stress the action that audiences needed to take as a result of changes to the minimum wage.

Unleash the power of research

The value of being timely is multiplied when you invest in original research assets that provide the insights audiences are looking for. That was the approach taken by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), which published a perfectly timed report on the impact of Brexit on Financial Services. This piece of ‘big rock’ content had particular value because the trends it identified had long-term relevance that ensured on-going engagement. A clear, simple call to action played its part as well.

Use imagery to demonstrate the depth of your content

Communicating the value that a content asset will deliver to your audience is vital for driving people to take the step of engaging, clicking through and in many cases, sharing their details in order to download it. When Strategy&, a part of PwC, created a series of true-life stories demonstrating the principles of business strategy, it used the Sponsored Content image to communicate the depth of the content it was offering. Bespoke illustrations previewed key themes in an engaging and original manner, and name-checking ‘celebrity’ brands like Apple, IKEA and Starbucks provided further reasons to engage.

Deliver clear, relevant value

Being clear about the precise role that your content can play provides your audience with clear and specific reasons for engaging. Great examples of such clarity include describing the moment when professionals must make a choice about whether to work abroad – and ING supporting those weighing up the costs and benefits of buying an electric vehicle. Interestingly, neither of these two Sponsored Content posts focused on the brands’ own products; they drove engagement and built trust by focusing on the information a specific audience most needed at a particular point in time. 

Appeal to professional aspiration

Aspiration is no less powerful a force amongst professionals than it is amongst consumers – and Cartier is a brand with unquestioned expertise when it comes to tapping into it. The Sponsored Content that it leveraged to promote the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards appealed to professionals’ appetite for recognition alongside the promise of a significant cash prize to help move a business forward.

These Sponsored Content tactics aren’t successful by chance. They are consistent characteristics of content that stands out in the LinkedIn feed and provides relevant audiences with clear reasons to engage – on both a conscious and emotive level. They are at their most effective when used in conjunction with a robust content strategy that sets about identifying the types of subjects that are most compelling for a given audience. LinkedIn and Buzzsumo recently conducted an in-depth analysis of the 400,000 most shared posts on social media to help identify the DNA of the world’s most successful content – a great source of insight for constructing your content strategy.

View our full deck of Top Sponsored Content below.