David Bain 00:00
How to get started with LinkedIn Ads, with Anthony Blatner.
David Bain 00:09
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Hey, it’s David. Are you still holding off from giving LinkedIn Ads a go? If so, hopefully, today's conversation will help you get started, with a man who's worked with over 350 companies and managed over $100 million in LinkedIn Ads. He's the Managing Director at Speedwork, a B2B marketing agency focusing on LinkedIn. A warm welcome to the Strategic Marketing Show, Anthony Blatner.
Anthony Blatner 00:52
Hey, thanks for having me.
David Bain 00:54
Hey Anthony, thanks for coming on. Well, you can find Anthony over at speedworksocial.com. So Anthony, why LinkedIn Ads?
Anthony Blatner 01:02
Why LinkedIn ads? I never expected to be focused on LinkedIn, but my background is in enterprise tech - I started my career doing software development at IBM years and years ago - so I think that background lent itself most to the B2B world and LinkedIn, therefore.
So as I got into marketing, after software development, I tried all the different platforms and found LinkedIn was the best platform for my background. I have decided to since focus on LinkedIn, and I think LinkedIn’s a great platform, especially for the B2B world - and it stands out in a lot of ways. Yeah, it's a great tool, and it continues to grow and more people use it.
David Bain 01:41
So you mentioned enterprise, you mentioned SaaS, and you mentioned B2B there. Are those the main types of businesses that LinkedIn Ads is best for? Or can any type of business actually take advantage of LinkedIn Ads?
Anthony Blatner 01:55
I would say it is best for a B2B type of business - typically bigger businesses, or at least ones that have a high enough LTV for that ROI to make sense. LinkedIn Ads is definitely a more expensive platform to use versus a Facebook, just by CPC and costs on those platforms.
Generally, you want to have at least a high enough LTV so that your ROI in the end is going to make sense. Usually, you want your LTV to be above 15k so that your metrics are going to work out.
David Bain 02:26
Brilliant, okay, it's great having exact figures like that there.
Where, in general, does LinkedIn Ads fit into the bigger marketing picture? Are we looking at fairly close to actually making that transaction? Or can we go quite far back in the buyer journey?
Anthony Blatner 02:43
I'd say LinkedIn fits best in the top-of-funnel and middle-funnel parts of your funnel, where LinkedIn has the professional audience - the people that you want to reach - so it's a good way to go out there and get your message in front of those people.
LinkedIn is best when you have a niche professional that you want to target. For example, if you want to target HR directors at midsize finance companies, LinkedIn is probably the only place where you can find those people specifically. There's no way to target those people on Facebook or on Google because those are more interest-based platforms. Whereas, on LinkedIn, you can type in direct titles, and select specific industries and company sizes, to find that type of target audience. LinkedIn is great for being able to go out there and get known good traffic, get those people to your site, and then also nurture them through your funnel.
When you're asking, “Where does it fit in the funnel?” search ads are always gonna be the highest intent - when someone's out there searching for you. So, maximize your search channel. But then, when you're looking to grow and go find new people, then social channels are great for that. For top-of-funnel and middle-funnel is usually where we see LinkedIn do best.
David Bain 03:52
When you're talking about being hyper-focussed with job title, perhaps working in a specific firm, is it important to match that focus to who you're targeting also with the creative of what you're publishing? I.e., should you mention things like, “Are you an HR Manager?” within the ad creative and perhaps on the landing page as well?
Anthony Blatner 04:14
Absolutely. Matching that up is what's going to make your ads perform best. Campaigns are gonna have a quality score that gets assigned to them. The closer that you match up who you're targeting with the creative that you're serving, LinkedIn usually grades you based on things like engagement rates: are people engaging with your ads? That's a sign that they want what it is that you're talking about. Also that your ads aren't getting reported for bad things but, mostly, it's based off engagement metrics. So if your ads are getting high engagement metrics, that's a very positive sign for LinkedIn.
If you're targeting HR Directors at finance companies, use imagery that supports that. Have backgrounds with people that maybe look like they work in a finance company. If you're targeting HR, you probably want people working with people in your imagery, and then your messaging to call them out in that ad, so it's very clear that this is who you're talking to. That's a great way to grab someone's attention. So yeah, match up your imagery and your ad copy as close as possible with your audience.
And then, as you build out your personas, you might have a couple of different customer segments that you want to target. So maybe finance companies is one, maybe tech companies is another. And maybe, if you're doing startups at tech companies, they kind of have their own image of what a startup looks like. It might be some younger people, and an open office workspace, maybe a WeWork type of environment; you might use that type of imagery when you're targeting those people. Lots of research out there shows people are going to engage most with imagery that reflects them. So yeah, match up your ad creative to your audience, and that's gonna get you the best performance.
David Bain 05:41
So, a few follow-up questions. Obviously, you mentioned the fact that you can target middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel as well. You talked about imagery there as well. What's the difference between creative that works middle-of-funnel versus bottom-of-funnel?
Anthony Blatner 05:57
Breaking up the different stages of the funnel, part of it is the awareness level of somebody in that audience, and then half of it is, what is your creative talking about? In the top-of-funnel, you have people who aren't really aware of you, maybe they've never seen your ad before, they're not familiar with your name, and they don't know what you do. And then, once you get through the funnel and you're a very aware person, you know what the brand is, maybe you know the product or service, maybe you know the price and you're considering it.
So in top-of-funnel ads, you talk about the person and their problems, and maybe things that they're working on (maybe current events in their industry and stuff like that), because they're not aware - they don't know your name yet. Your name - your product or service - probably doesn't mean anything to them yet. So, talk about their pain points and stuff that they're dealing with.
As you get into the middle-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel, you can talk more. You can introduce more of your product or service, whether you put a name to it or it's just the general product or service that you perform. And then, in the bottom-of-funnel, people have been to your site, they know what you're offering - maybe they've had a conversation with your sales team. And then you want to talk about you, your benefits, and how you're different from other people. Maybe you start to have testimonials that support the social proof, and then testimonials, reviews, and other things to support your brand. They're bottom-of-funnel.
David Bain 07:09
What if you have a conversation with a brand who are already advertising on LinkedIn, but they're just focusing on bottom-of-funnel. They’ve done okay, they're interested in perhaps exploring a little bit more about getting more creative, getting more targeted, and also experimenting with middle-of-funnel and top-of-funnel. They're concerned about actually how you track that user and measure the success of top-of-funnel and middle-of-funnel.
How do you respond to that? How can you actually track someone who perhaps takes months before making that final purchase decision?
Anthony Blatner 07:40
Definitely, it gets a lot more complicated the more top-of-funnel that you go with it because there's a lot that happens up there in the average user journey. People are doing their own research; maybe other people are talking about it on other social channels or on not-easily-trackable channels. It gets a little more hairy, but there are a few things that do help with that.
Number one is the basic conversion tracking that you can do automatically. Platforms like HubSpot will automatically add UTMs to all your ads, and then HubSpot can help you track “this person came from this ad, maybe they came back again later from this other ad”. And there's some automatic tracking that you can do there. In LinkedIn, the platform, you can set up conversions. So maybe if somebody booked a call, or maybe they downloaded this resource, you can track that conversion so that you know the different conversions that are happening on your campaigns, and what's the status of someone who’s going through.
But then there is so much that can happen out there. People could be talking about you on Slack or on a private Facebook group or a LinkedIn group, and that's not as easily trackable. Something that's useful there is doing self-reported attribution where, on that demo form or that request-a-call form, you simply say, “How did you hear about us?” Then it's always interesting to see the responses people put there. Some people don't even remember how they initially heard about you, but then some people are like, “Oh, yeah, that podcast you did. I saw that episode and after I heard that episode, I wanted to go book a call.” It's interesting to see that service, whereas that is not easily trackable by a CRM. So, a combination of automatic attribution, and then self-reported attribution.
David Bain 09:10
Yeah, I think it's really important for you to highlight the self-reported attribution because I think there are many contact forms on websites and on services that actually don't have the facility - or don't ask anyone “Where did you actually hear about us from?” And you're missing out on the opportunity to take a lot of great data in there as well, and perhaps justify the expenditure of different ads that you're publishing out there.
What about calls to action on your ads? Are you seeing any trends in terms of what CTAs are performing best at the moment?
Anthony Blatner 09:44
Yeah, what we always see is that it goes back to the funnel stages as well. In a top-of-funnel ad, where somebody doesn't know much about you, then the softer CTAs are what work better there. Because you can't ask somebody to book a call or schedule a demo if they don't know who you are yet. There are some stages people need to go through to get there.
Whereas, if you run your demo ads to a cold audience, you're gonna see a very low conversion rate, and a very low click-through rate, because no one's ready to click on an ad or book a call with a company they've never heard of before. It depends on your market and your industry. If you have something that's very appealing that you're offering, then there are certain things you can do differently. But, in general, somebody needs to know who you are and what you offer before they're ready for that bottom-of-funnel CTA.
I wouldn't say that things have changed a lot recently with that but be aware of the different stages of your funnel. If it's a cold audience, be a little bit softer on those CTAs, it's more of a “learn more about us” or “learn more about this problem we've been discussing in the ad”. For those, we see that downloading a case study often does well, where you can talk about the case study and then offer that to people, because they're going to be interested in that case study and the result that the person got in that case study.
And then, getting into the bottom-of-funnel, that's where you can start to introduce the “book a call now” or “schedule a demo” type of CTAs. And then, once someone's been to your site, then that ad works a lot better for bringing them back to schedule that call.
David Bain 11:04
If a marketer works for a big enterprise company, and that company is reasonably well known, and they haven't gotten started with LinkedIn Ads, first, what type of LinkedIn ad would be best to get started with?
Would it be middle-of-funnel, still pushing that brand awareness and content a little bit more? Or, for that kind of firm, is it reasonable just to go straight to bottom-of-funnel with the first ad that they try?
Anthony Blatner 11:31
Yeah, that's a good question. There are a lot of ways you can go with that. I'd say, for most people to show success early - show some proof of success in their campaign if they're just testing out LinkedIn - I think the easiest way is to run a very simple lead gen campaign to do that.
Choose your best case study, or your best guide or resource, and put that into a lead gen campaign using a lead capture form, so that you can capture leads using LinkedIn. From there, you'll see the type of people that are submitting that form to download that. At that point it’s captured it to be a lead. If it's a lead magnet, it’s a very low-intent lead, but it's something that you can at least show proof of. And then you can see, “What are the different job titles and companies that these people are coming from?” That can show you proof of the initial success of that campaign, just to start testing LinkedIn.
If I was to start building a funnel fresh, I'd probably start with my retargeting campaigns first - and those do tend to be more bottom-of-funnel type of campaigns. But if you're a marketer out there just looking to test LinkedIn as a channel, and you want to show stakeholders just some initial success, I would start with a very simple lead gen campaign. Show them a few leads that you've captured and then, from there, build out the rest of your funnel around that.
David Bain 12:40
What kind of minimum initial budget would you recommend?
Anthony Blatner 12:44
Usually, the minimum that we see success with is about 3000 per month. You don't need that full 3000 for your initial test. You can get by with about 1000 to 2000, for that initial test - maybe even lower than that. But on a monthly basis, usually, around 3000 is where you're gonna see the algorithm start working for you, and start getting enough data that you can make decisions based off of.
Your minimum viable lead gen funnel is two audiences so you can split test them, two offers - so maybe choosing two different lead magnets, maybe a case study and a guide - and then underneath there, maybe two to three ads for each of those. And that'll set up a couple of different split tests for you to run for a couple of weeks, see performance data there, and then capture a few leads based off of. That initial test, about 1000 to 2000 will get you some data there.
David Bain 13:30
You also mentioned to me that you've been working with a new SaaS platform in the recruiting space and that you've been increasing their ad spend from about $10,000 a month to about 35k a month. And from that, you've added about $1.5 million to their pipeline in the first year.
So it certainly sounds like a very successful campaign opportunity that you've got going there. Could you maybe share a few things in terms of how you went about it, how you've improved things, how you measure success, and things like that?
Anthony Blatner 14:00
Sure. I remember first taking over this account, and they had some okay running campaigns, but they were pretty basic. Their initial cost per lead was very high and their engagement rates are pretty low. What we did was we broke down the different parts of the funnel, and we split out, first, the initial lead capture stages. They had some really good case studies and some really good guides that seemed very appealing, and the conversion rates were just too low on that.
So I was like, “Alright, how can we get this more honed in?” It starts with being more specific on who you want to target. Being more specific on your targeting helps the rest of your funnel because you know you're getting the best people through the funnel - starting with a good audience. What we did was we started by layering on different skills that these recruiters might have. Initially, the targeting was just very broadly HR. There are a lot of people in HR, and some do recruiting some don't. When you have that big audience and you're targeting them broadly, there are a lot of people that aren't clicking on your ads because they're just not interested, so your CTRs are lower.
David Bain 14:59
Sorry, just to jump in there for a second there. When you're talking about layering on some skills obviously, within a LinkedIn profile, you can highlight skills or people can upvote skills, I believe, that you have as an individual. Are those the kind of options that are available within LinkedIn Ads, the platform, that you can select from?
Anthony Blatner 15:17
Yeah, exactly. Different skills that either someone's gonna list themselves on their profile, or other people are going to endorse them for. It's a good way to get more niche into different areas.
What you can do is use a different job title and company targeting to get to that role that you're targeting. For this case, we were doing HR function, of manager-and-above seniority and, like I said, there's a lot of people in that. What we did was we added skills on top of that. So skills is one, and then groups are another good one. If people are joining certain groups on LinkedIn, that indicates they're joining that group for a reason, maybe there's a topic that they're interested in. So we chose different recruiting groups to add into that targeting as well.
What we did was we took the big HR audience, we cut it a lot more targeted onto specific recruiter types of people and people with those skills. Then we also split tested that, taking the HR function, we chose specific talent acquisition and other recruiting job titles, so that we were specifically targeting those job titles that were more specifically into the recruiting function.
Taking those two campaigns, it starts with honing your targeting. From there, we saw, engagement rates increase a lot, and LinkedIn then gives you higher quality scores, and lets you bid a lot lower. We were able to decrease our cost per click a lot and then, from there, conversion rates went up, and the cost per lead went way down. For that stage of the funnel, we were able to capture leads - I think it was about two to three times cheaper than it was previously. That got them that many more leads in the start of the funnel there. And then, once you have that many more people coming into the funnel, that's going to improve the rest of your metrics.
But adding in the retargeting campaigns, what we did was, we started to build out all those different ads. If you think about: what’s all the different content you have? What are the different angles that you can talk about, the different benefits and features that your software offers? Think about: what are the different questions people ask, typically in your sales process? What testimonials do you have that you can share? All this stuff is probably on your website, but people scroll around, and they skim.
So, how do I keep these ads in front of people so that I can educate them? What are the different features we have? What are the benefits of using the software? What are the results other people have gotten? That builds a lot of awareness and social proof so then, when we use our retargeting ad for a demo, that's going to convert a lot better. And then those people that do get on the demo, they've seen a lot more ad. They know a lot more about the platform, and it's a lot faster of a sale. In B2B SaaS, this sales cycle is still quite long, but it helps shorten that down - and people who get on those calls are a lot more excited, they have a lot better questions to ask. Then it helps the overall process from there.
David Bain 17:49
There's a pixel as well, that you can track users getting to your website. Does that mean that you actually try and advise clients to run campaigns on other platforms - maybe Facebook - and generate awareness elsewhere based upon who've been pixeled on your LinkedIn tracking codes? Or is it just as effective just to focus on LinkedIn ads, and is it not necessary to use other platforms at the same time?
Anthony Blatner 18:20
Yeah, it's a big ecosystem out there with different ad platforms and different websites people are going to visit, so there’s no reason to limit yourself to LinkedIn. The way I like to structure it is to use LinkedIn to acquire high-quality traffic of the people that you know you want to target. Get them to your website that way and then, once they're on your site, you can track them with a Facebook pixel, Google retargeting pixel, etc. That opens you up to then being able to use those retargeting platforms, to retarget those people.
LinkedIn, sure, people check it only so often. People scroll Facebook more, and then people are googling things more, so why not retarget them on those other platforms? Google Display and Facebook do tend to be cheaper. So, use LinkedIn to acquire your high-quality traffic, and then continue that user journey over cheaper means. As you capture leads, sending emails is essentially free. Acquire high-quality traffic on LinkedIn, and retarget them on other platforms.
You had mentioned the pixel. It would actually be different pixels that you're using there, where your website should have the Facebook pixel, the Google pixel, etc. LinkedIn does have their own, but make sure you have all the pixels in your site so that when somebody gets there, you can then retarget them over other platforms.
I have also had lots of people talk about brand considerations, where maybe you just don't want your brand to show up on Facebook. Maybe you can choose your platform based on where you want your brand to be showing up. But, if someone gets to your site, then use other platforms where you're targeting, because it's probably gonna be cheaper on those other platforms.
David Bain 19:44
Great advice. And as a marketer, make sure you've got those tracking pixels on your website. The longer you have them on your website, the more people you're able to retarget, and the bigger an audience that you have to market to certainly.
Let's move on from that. Let's move on from what works now to planning for the future. So, in your opinion, what's the biggest marketing trend or challenge for marketers over the coming year?
Anthony Blatner 20:09
I'd say the biggest trend is the conversation around demand gen marketing. It's kind of become a buzzword at this point but, essentially, what “demand gen marketing” means is the transition from lots of gated content and “download this guide and resource”. While I did talk about that as being an effective tool, you don't want it to be your only tool in your toolbox. That transition to demand gen marketing is about using more in-feed content to educate people so that they can learn more about you that way.
Given a lot of the privacy changes that have happened to Apple devices, etc., there's a lot less tracking you can do off-platform. We're losing a lot of signals there. Demand gen is putting that content that might have been on your website into a LinkedIn post or put it into a video on LinkedIn. There's also a lot of drop-off that happens from clicking off a site to go to another site. It's actually a lot more effective to educate somebody on the platform, whether it is LinkedIn or Facebook, or whatever. Put that content on platform so that somebody consumes it there, and then they learn that about you.
Demand gen is that shift from doing too much gated content to educating the buyer more. I think it's a good approach overall, and that all companies should be doing that. But don't totally get rid of lead gen and your gated content, but make sure it's only your really high-quality resources that someone has a reason to sign up for. Use those to gate, but then use more of the in-feed content to educate people.
David Bain 21:32
Great advice, and a conversation in itself. Perhaps we could have that as a topic in a future episode of the Strategic Marketing Show. I've been your host, David Bain. You can find Anthony over at speedworksocial.com. Anthony, thanks so much for being on the Strategic Marketing Show.
Anthony Blatner 21:48
Thanks for having me.
David Bain 21:50
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