Why B2B Social Networks MAY Deliver the Most Effective Ad Targeting

I’m fascinated by targeted online banner advertising…mostly because today’s ad networks aren’t anywhere close to delivering excellent targeting for B2B lead generation. So when a great example that really works comes along, as I experienced this morning on LinkedIn with the following ad from Omniture’s CMO.com, it’s worth calling out.

LinkedIn knows me in a way that few other ad networks or sites can know me. LinkedIn:

  • has my online resume, rich with marketing-related keywords and several VP, Marketing roles,
  • knows which LinkedIn groups I belong to, most of which are marketing-related,
  • is aware of my connections to hundreds of other people, many of whom are marketing executives and marketing thought leaders themselves,
  • knows which of these connections I frequently interact with through the LinkedIn platform,
  • and knows all the standard things like what I click on and when across the site.

When I visited my LinkedIn home page this morning and saw the CMO.com ad above, it didn’t feel like an ad to me. And that’s EXACTLY the user experience we want for banner ads that generate high quality B2B sales leads or, in this case, direct conversions.

So, what did I do? Signed up for the e-newsletter, of course! Looked interesting, content seems very relevant to me, simple sign-up so why not? We’ll see if the newsletter delivers the goods but, when I saw the banner, it just seemed like a natural thing to sign up.

The data LinkedIn has about me facilitated that ideal alignment between online context, user need and advertiser message/offer where the whole feeling of “this is advertising” washes away as the user simply perceives ad as a solution to their needs. When ad platforms and publishers can nail this, B2B lead generation will stop being intrusive and will become a natural outgrowth of Internet usage.

Beautiful vision, huh? Too bad it doesn’t work that way in practice. The main reason I’m so fascinated by this area is that the existing technology for ad targeting struggles mightily to deliver relevant ads based on very simple, and often misleading, data points. Many/most of us prefer to keep our work and personal lives reasonably separate, something that ad targeting systems are generally terrible at today. If I use my work laptop at home in the morning to research a family medical issue, do I really want to see banner ads for prescription medications related to that medical issue when I’m at work? No, and certainly not if I end up using my laptop for a presentation later in the day that requires visiting various web sites where these targeted ads will be served. Yes, I know I can visit various sites to turn off this ad targeting but, realistically, who’s going to do this?

In order to accurately target business people with truly relevant banner advertising, the ad platform has to understand when people are in “work mode” as well as details about their professional lives (industry, company size, role, etc.). These are details people naturally provide to a business social network site like LinkedIn, but which are exceedingly difficult to glean from the history of searches, clicks, etc. that most ad networks use.

LinkedIn and other business social networks have to combine this data with excellent ad serving technology, of course. If they do, and consistently deliver that ads-which-feel-like-solutions experience, then I know where I”ll be spending an important chunk of my B2B sales lead generation budget…

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