Category Creation: What I’ve Learned From Some of the Biggest Names in SaaS

I’ve had the opportunity to interview forward-thinking founders and business leaders on category creation. 

As an entrepreneur and founder of Metadata, I’m gaining invaluable insight with every recording. 

The first six months of our Category Creators podcast have helped to demystify what it means to actually be called a category creator, how to build a category, and all the missteps along the way.

With new founder friends, Friday afternoon drinks and many laughs, I’m learning as I go. 

Anytime you’re creating something that the market has never seen before, you need to define it and evangelize the category. That process will come with certain signals and triggers that you’re on the right path.

Here’s the top four lessons they all shared: 

Customers will often lead the way 

My guests have all had a resounding common theme—Great category creator companies always have their customers top of mind.

Mark Organ, creator of two new categories of marketing software as founder and CEO of Eloqua and Influitive, said it all revolves around getting close to your customer any way you can. 

The first job of the category creator is to market the category more than their own company. Often that starts with their customers being their crusaders.

Many of my guests didn’t even like the name of their category at first. They weren’t interested in acronyms. But their customers were first to call it that.

Biggest takeaway? Be more customer driven.

Don’t get too attached to a word you happen to like. It’s often your customers who determine who you are and what the category is better than you can. 

“It’s all ego issues,” said David Cancel, founder of Drift. “It’s actually very simple. Find exactly how your customers express it, find some phrases, test those phrases, and those will probably be way better than your product marketing or your CEO’s way of describing it.”

Beyond validation, our guests work with their customers to standardize metrics and define processes.

Whether organically through ongoing customer engagement, or more formally through advisory committees, categories are not created in silos. They were listening 24/7. 

Don’t focus on the analyst hurdle—be innovative!

It’s vital to take something disruptive and get the Gartner and Forresters of the world to repeat that same narrative. With disruption comes negative attention, but it’s still beneficial for an analyst firm to help the broader market digest the idea.

Dee Anna McPherson, CMO of Invoca and influencer of the Enterprise Social Networking category, recalls one analyst calling them, “the smoke that creeps under the door and chokes you–the drug dealers of the software industry”. 

How did she respond? By getting a critical mass of customers calling Gartner analysts and lobbying as their voice.

If you want an analyst to create a wave in your space, one of the biggest factors is the inbound call volume they get from their paying customers.

Knowing that, she brought attention and attracted people to test out the software first.

This started a lot of buzz around them. Analysts can’t ignore their customers.

And because they were being inundated with calls from IT people asking about this new software, it got their attention and they finally came around to embracing the new category.  

Convincing analysts why the old way of doing things is not effective anymore can be a hard task, but building a customer community who champions what you offer is an innovative strategy.

You need competition

When you’re in the throes of creating a new category, competition helps legitimize the market you’re after.

My guests knew that in order for it to be a new category, their competitors needed to embrace it. They knew that the competition validates the presence of a category. 

Your marketplace will continue to evolve as competition forces differentiation. Instead of negatively treating it as direct competition, frame it as validation of the space. But be sure to highlight the key differences in your approach.

And don’t sweat the smaller competitors. Every market is sure to have a lion, a bunch of tigers, and a few house cats. Focus on the kings of the jungle you’re trying to disrupt. 

You will have a fail moments

The wisdom from failure is irreplaceable.

We learn so much about how to replicate success but it’s equally important to learn from failures when building a business let alone creating a new category.

My guests collectively seem to feel that failure was their biggest teacher. Sure, it’s soul-crushing at first, but they learned to forgive themselves, share their story, and be vulnerable.

Listeners benefit from these stories. They can connect at a human level because failure resonates with everyone.

The wiser you become from these missteps, you see it as a strength instead of shame.

Removing limiting beliefs is something most category creators are good at. They see what’s possible with experimentation and have the right conversations with the right people.

David Cancel addressed finding the things that no one else is willing to do through a culture of experimentation. “We just had this discipline over and over again of just experimenting, experimenting, experimenting,” he said. “Don’t ever do something that someone else is doing.”

These leaders have defied the status quo in creating something that didn’t exist. Their path of most resistance paid off and there’s much to be learned from their formative experiences.

Even when they don’t realize what they’re doing, we learn how these founders go out in the wild and figure it out. Uncovering these hidden absolute truths with tools and processes is the best kind of schooling. 

Grab a drink of choice, (as will we!) and join us for our latest episode!

Power Your Campaigns With Positioning and Messaging

This is the third post in our new content series, No Fluffs Given. We’re tired of the fluffy content in our LinkedIn feeds, with no real substance or actionable takeaways. So we’re teaming up with some of the best B2B marketers we know. People who have ACTUALLY done this stuff before. And giving you new, actionable tactics to implement today.

Every millisecond, a digital marketing campaign dies a lonely, insignificant death.

If you close your eyes and listen closely, you can hear the sound of ads, landing pages and call-to-actions fading into obscurity.

Why does poor campaign performance happen to good people, godammit!?

Is it the noise in the market? Using the wrong button color? Is it the product’s fault?!

All of these things can play a role in poor performance. But they’re not the main culprit.

There’s a more powerful, omnipresent force quietly at play.

The reason most campaigns fail is because of a weak (or non-existent 😱) positioning and messaging strategy behind it. 

It’s the silent killer of marketing success.

But here’s the good news: if you get your positioning and messaging down, you have a lot less to fear with campaign flops.

Because it’s the surefire way to make your marketing resonate with buyers.

No positioning and messaging? That’s a problem

Positioning and messaging is the strategic foundation of all marketing and sales. It connects the dots between your product and your prospect.

Done right, it’s like shining a spotlight on your product that says to your buyers: “TA-DAH! It’s the perfect solution to your problem!”

Done wrong (or not at all), is like throwing Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility over your product. Your ideal buyer won’t even notice it — let alone see any value in it — in the crowd of other marketing messages.

Weak positioning and messaging is a serious problem. And unlike other marketing problems, you can’t just throw dollars at it to make it go away. 

In fact, the more money you pour into campaigns without clear positioning and messaging behind it, the more money (and time and effort and morale) you’re likely to flush down the toilet.

On the flipside, the better your positioning and messaging, the better your marketing. 

It makes ads jump out at your prospects with juicy relevance. It helps your product stand out from similar solutions. And it builds a consistent, credible image for your brand over time.

So why doesn’t every company do it? 

Maybe it’s because people think tackling positioning and messaging is a massive undertaking that takes a ton of time and effort. And while that can be the case (and you should take all the time you need), it doesn’t have to be. 

This article will take you through a punchy little process to nail your strategy before you launch that next campaign.

Put a stake in the ground with your positioning

Ever read a SaaS landing page that left you wondering what the heck the product was…or did? (Me too.)

Positioning makes sure this doesn’t happen. It gives people the right context to get what your product is and why it matters. And it’s incredibly important in over-saturated, competitive markets awash with similar products.

The resident expert on the subject, April Dunford, describes positioning as: “the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about.” 

The goal is to put a stake in the ground for what makes your product different — and resolving NOT to try and be everything to everyone. It helps you carve out a unique place in people’s minds for your product.

Your positioning is a statement that clarifies: 

  • What your product is: eg your category (CRM) or a clear description (automation tool)
  • Who it’s for: eg for small businesses, engineers or busy moms
  • The value it offers that other solutions don’t: eg simplicity, fun, productivity

Here are some examples of different positioning statements:

  • A simple CRM for small businesses that’s actually fun to use.
  • An easy workflow automation tool that helps freelancers scale their business.
  • A tech learning platform that enables engineering teams to keep pace with changing technologies.

To capture yours, fill in the blanks of this simple statement: 

[Our product] is a [category or descriptor] that helps [target audience] [unique value].

Bring your positioning to life with a messaging strategy

Once you’ve decided on a clear positioning statement, it’s time to bring it to life with a messaging strategy. 

A messaging strategy articulates the value of your product in a way that hits

home with your ideal customers. It boils down the awesomeness of your product into a simple, focused story that you retell across marketing and sales activities.

Messaging isn’t copywriting. 

Messaging clarifies WHAT you’re going to say about your product. And copywriting is HOW you communicate that message across different mediums and channels. 

Here’s all you need for a simple messaging strategy to guide your campaigns:

  • Positioning statement 
  • Value proposition
  • Key benefits x 3
  • Company description

How to write a killer value proposition

Your value proposition is hands-down the most important thing to nail in your messaging strategy. It’s a snappy sentence that sums up the unique value you offer customers. 

Think of it as your pinky swear to prospects. Your unbreakable promise.

Your value proposition isn’t a tagline or slogan, like Nike’s “Just Do It” or Zoom’s “Meet Happy.” Taglines are meant to give people a general impression of your brand. A value proposition’s job is to communicate tangible value that your ideal customers really, really care about – which gives them a clear signal to choose you over your competitors.

Your value proposition should be three things:

  • Clear so a 4th grader could understand it
  • Unique so you stand out from similar solutions
  • Specific so the value is concrete and compelling

Value propositions come in all shapes and sizes — there’s no rule about how to write one, as long as it achieves the above.

Here are some different examples of effective value propositions:

  • Make a free website on your phone in minutes (Milkshake)
  • Work on big ideas, without the busywork (Asana)
  • Understand how users are really experiencing your site without drowning in numbers (Hotjar)

Your value proposition is closely related to your positioning statement — it should highlight that unique value your product offers that customers well and truly care about.

Crafting clear and compelling benefits

Value prop done, let’s break out some benefits.

Key benefits are the top reasons to choose your product. Together, they expand on the pinky promise you’re making to customers with your value proposition.

Benefits are about outcomes, not features, and do one of two things:

  • Solve or neutralize a pain your customer is experiencing, or
  • Highlight or reflect a desire your customer has

You might be tempted to write benefits that map neatly to your product’s best features. Try to resist this very natural impulse. Your key benefits should map to what your customer cares about the most. 

Start by brainstorming your customer’s most pressing challenges. Choose the 3 most common ones that your product solves, and turn them into benefit statements.

Here are examples of pains turned into benefits:

  • Automate soul-sucking tasks
  • Know what clients do with your proposals 
  • Have confidence in your spending decisions
  • Book 4x more meetings

For each benefit, craft a short headline and a supporting message to bring the concept to life. 

Tying it all together in a company description

Your company description gives a simple overview on what your company does – anyone should be able to read it and grasp what you do.

It should answer the basics – who you are, what you offer and the people you serve – in a clear and concise paragraph. It should include your product category, value proposition, a few key benefits and your target customers.

The secret to kicking the awesomeness up a notch: customers

To create solid positioning and messaging, you have to be crystal clear on what matters to your customers. Otherwise, you’re just guessing. 

Interview a few. Listen to sales calls. Mine review sites. Read RFPs you’ve received.

Already have some recent customer research to hand? Go through it again. 

All it takes is a willingness to step into the shoes of your customers, and to see things from their

point of view.

What is the ultimate goal they’re trying to achieve? What are their most pressing challenges? How do these challenges make them feel? How did their situation improve after using your product?

Their answers are a goldmine for your strategy. Heck, you can even swipe their exact phrases for your messaging, because customers have a knack for describing complicated stuff in a simple way. And reflecting your customer’s language in messaging also proves that you understand their situation, which naturally builds trust.

Customer insights will give your messaging an edge, so make ‘em part of your process if you can.

Putting everything into a messaging framework

Once you’ve worked through your positioning and messaging, bring it together into a simple framework to guide future marketing activities.

Here is an example of a messaging framework for an imaginary SaaS company, Pingo.

Just a simple framework like this offers a springboard for campaign copywriting. 

It clarifies the key messages you need to deliver through your campaign concepts, ensuring the creative is grounded in strategy.  

Your value proposition can drive awareness in display ads. You can expand on individual key benefits in social media. Or test different benefit headlines in search. 

Positioning and messaging gives you the roadmap to tell a compelling and consistent story across different channels and touchpoints. 

And over time, that drives demand. 

Supercharge your campaigns

Ultimately, a campaign will only be as successful as the message it delivers. 

So why risk failure? 

Get clear on the unique value your product offers. Make your ads jump out at prospects with juicy relevance. And build brand equity while picking up leads, too.

That’s the real power of positioning and messaging.

Meet Emma Stratton

Founder & Chief Strategist, Punchy

Emma is an expert in messaging and positioning for B2B tech companies. Her customer-first approach helps marketers, founders, and leadership teams translate their company’s visionary technology into simple, compelling storytelling that resonates with audiences. Emma is passionate about new ideas that move the world in the right direction (which is why she founded Punchy). She’s also an award-winning copywriter, runs 7-miles a day, has 3 little kids and loves any kind of cake you’ve got 🙂

Connect with Emma on LinkedIn here.  

Everyone’s Asking Us About 3rd Party Cookies. Here’s My Take.

It’s not exactly breaking news: Google will put a stop to 3rd party cookies in Chrome starting (supposedly) in 2022. 

The news was out just before most headlines turned to COVID-19. 

Google first made the announcement in January 2020, and had been working toward a more private web well before that. 

(In an ironic twist, the search giant wrote that blocking 3rd party cookies “jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web” nearly two years ago, now.) 

Now that the deadline is getting closer, I’m here to answer the question concerned marketers have been asking since January 2020: what does this mean for me?

Before going any further, I want to make one thing clear: the end of 3rd party cookies in Chrome isn’t the end of targeted advertising — not by a long shot. 

Sara Morrison at Vox puts it in consumer terms: “It doesn’t mean that Google will stop collecting your data, and it doesn’t mean the company will stop using your data to target ads.”

But what does this mean for the marketer? Is this truly a privacy move from the goodness of Google’s heart, or is it a consolidation play? 

For the second question: I’ll leave that one up to you (sorry.) 

Re: the first question: this spells change for B2C and B2B marketers everywhere. 

Yes, marketers will still retain the ability to target ads and serve relevant content. 

Instead of spelling out doom and gloom, I want to walk you through your best options for targeted marketing in 2021 and into the future. 

The Internet runs on advertising. We’re going to figure this out.

All this might not be as new as you think — and it’s definitely not as scary.

A few things to consider:

  • Chrome isn’t the only browser, and Mozilla and Safari are both there already. Safari started blocking 3rd party cookies as a default in early 2020; Mozilla set up the default a year earlier. (Sure, they have less than a third the market share that Chrome has, but it’s still something). 
  • Rapid responses don’t always pan all the way out. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it looked like Facebook would block account data access for 3rd party apps in response. While they landed on some limitations, did it really impact a developer’s ability to benefit from the ecosystem? 
  • It’s not like we’re backsliding from rocket science to the wheel. 3rd party cookies are going away; the ability to serve a targeted, relevant web experience to users is not going away.

In a phrase: cookies aren’t going away with nothing to replace them. Alternatives are already in place. Actually, there might be too many options in place. Just consider:

  • LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution, a two-way approach that gives visitors the ability to authenticate themselves. 
  • Lotame’s Panorama ID, an enriched ID solution designed for the open web. 
  • ID5, a new universal ID solution for publishers and ad tech companies (unlike most other options, this one was created specifically to fill the gap). 
  • Zeotap’s ID+, a proprietary universal ID project from an existing customer intelligence platform. 
  • Consortiums between multiple SSPs and DSPs (one of the earliest is the Advertising ID Consortium). 
  • Guidelines from major professional associations, such as IAB’s ReArc project. Keep an eye on these, as they provide guidelines for getting past 3rd party data altogether. One standout phrase from the recent ReArc report: “First-Party Audiences, now disconnected from other audiences, are one safe bet. With no 1:1 link to advertiser audiences through cookies, IDFAs and the like, this is where seller-defined audiences, contextual signaling, and private marketplaces play their roles.”
  • SWAN.community, from platform supporters like PubMatic and OpenX (it stands for the Secure Web Addressability Network).

All of this is on top of The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0 and Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (don’t worry, that’s the main focus below). 

All in all, I see this as more of a ‘speed bump’ along the road to a better, more private and still customized Internet experience. There are already companies (including Metadata, cough) with solutions that don’t rely on 3rd party cookies, as well as many groups working toward a viable replacement. 

Let’s dig into what that looks like.

What are my options?

This isn’t an “ultimate guide” to every single option out there (though, again, I do recommend taking a close look at IAB’s recommendations — they have guidelines that go way beyond the technical aspects). 

But there are two prominent approaches that I think will have the biggest impact on marketing in the next couple of years:

  • Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Don’t let the terrible name fool you — Google is reporting 95% of the conversions per dollar spent compared to cookie-based advertising. Based on Google’s wider Privacy Sandbox initiative, which they’ve been developing since at least 2019, FLoC is sure to see the widest adoption due simply to Chrome’s market share and Google’s outsized presence in ad tech. 
  • Unified ID 2.0. Trade out a funky name for a boring one (along with entirely different tech) and you’ll have Unified ID 2.0. It’s The Trade Desk’s take on how to move forward with effective, addressable programmatic advertising online.

WTF is FLoC?

In a phrase, the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is an anonymized, interest-based version of cookies for Google to share with advertising partners. 

Here’s how Google defines it: 

“FLoC provides a privacy-preserving mechanism for interest-based ad selection. As a user moves around the web, their browser uses the FLoC algorithm to work out its ‘interest cohort’, which will be the same for thousands of browsers with a similar recent browsing history.” 

How does this approach serve targeted marketing in any meaningful way? Google’s summary is that Chrome recalculates the appropriate cohort periodically, directly on a user’s device. FLoC doesn’t share browsing data with Google’s other ad platforms or with any partners. 

While there was some skepticism toward Google’s claim that cohorts are 95% effective compared to individualized data, others see the move as a kind of influencer. In a write up from Ad Exchanger, Myles Younger (Sr Director at MightyHave) says the efficacy isn’t a surprise. “The idea that 1:1 was the holy grail of digital advertising was always a fallacy,” Younger says. “Cohorts are an obvious and practicable ‘middle ground.’” Zach Edwards, founder at Victory Medium, put it a bit more pragmatically: “Does FLoC somehow reduce competition or suddenly change the shift of ad money going digital?” 

That said, there are a couple of potential drawbacks to wide adoption of FLoC:

1. New security issues could crop up. While the Privacy Sandbox is built to prevent digital fingerprinting, less honest developers could still infer identity through context clues in the cohort approach.

2. The approach runs through an unsupervised algorithm, making it harder to police for bad actors as advertisers start to figure the approach out. 

3. The approach essentially creates a black box for account-based advertising and attribution. While FLoC may work well for consumer advertisers, the anonymized approach may prove difficult for B2B, where you’re more concerned with things like title and company than interests.

And, unsurprisingly, more than a few commentators have noted that FLoC could open the door to more anticompetitive behavior (What’s New in Publishing called it Google’s “black-box intellectual property”). One of the most vocal objections comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy nonprofit — the organization also launched a tool to unveil whether your Chrome browser is in the FLoC trial.

How promising is Unified ID 2.0?

For a company that wants to help brands deliver a more insightful and relevant ad experience, it’s no surprise that The Trade Desk (TDD) put up its own alternative to 3rd party cookies: Unified ID (2.0). 

It’s not exactly all new — as the largest independent DSP with plenty of longstanding programmatic partners, Unified ID simply gives TDD the ability to work with a new universal identifier within an existing ecosystem. 

(Side note: The Trade Desk has handed over the project to Prebid.org, an open source partner, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking about Unified ID as the TDD alternative.) 

None of this would be complete without a little spin: TDD is calling Unified ID an “upgrade” to cookies, and that the tech “preserves the essential value exchange of relevant advertising, while improving consumer controls.”

Here’s the full description of how Unified ID works: 

“When a consumer logs into a website with their email address, an identifier is created based on…an anonymized version of that email. The identifier regularly regenerates itself, ensuring security. At the point of login, the consumer gets to see why the industry wants to create this identifier and understand the value exchange of relevant advertising, in simple terms.”

One of the big long term benefits to Unified ID is that it’s interoperable — it can work with other identifiers, making the scale that much more appealing to advertisers around the world. Of course, this comes with a drawback: making the Unified ID less secure and less anonymized. 

Two potential drawbacks seem to have been addressed proactively: the potential to create just another “walled garden” and handing over the project to Prebid.org, or the lack of scale and ensuring interoperability, for example. But there’s a third: the long term viability of this approach is less than clear. With rapidly evolving regulations and consumer expectations, the vague approach to anonymization may not work in the future. 

Okay, but not all marketers are losing all their data

I’ll tell it to you straight: this change affects B2C marketing organizations a heck of a lot more than B2B marketing orgs.

Or, at least, it’s a problem that’s easier to solve for B2B marketers. 

Why? 

Because in B2B use cases, advertisers may be better served by using data sources that don’t rely on cookies at all — and that doesn’t mean just building out your own treasure trove of first-party data, either. 

The biggest impact of 3rd party cookies going away is the loss of intent data in your marketing strategy. The ability to track individual behaviors and use that for a marketing play will likely no longer be an option.*

*promising cohorts and anonymized identifiers aside

For programmatic ad networks, B2B advertisers will be able to target with similar efficiency. For example, you’ll still be able to serve a relevant white paper (based on industry or business interests) whether you’re using FLoC or a Unified ID. Even though the cohorts and IDs are anonymized, they still give advertisers the ability to target a group with similar interests and experiences. 

For social ads, you’re able to target potential buyers by email address or device ID. 

Platforms like Metadata have mature corporate-to-personal identity solutions that provide even better targeting than 3rd party cookies. 

I say better on purpose: with Metadata, you’re not just blasting your ads and messaging to everyone at a specific account. Instead, you’re laser-targeting only the people at those companies where your ad has relevance. You can’t do this without using cookies on Google.

Using a combination of first- and third-party data, Metadata allows you to more effectively target specific people within your target accounts.

So how does it work with Metadata?

Based on your criteria (i.e. industries, # of employees, annual $, job titles, location, intent, account lists and technographics), we build audiences in Metadata using our corporate-to-personal data graph that resolves your business targeting criteria to a prospect’s personal profile, and then pushes those to the platform. 

For social ads, that’s typically personal email address and mobile device IDs. The social platforms (typically LinkedIn and Facebook) look for an exact 1:1 match against what we uploaded to identify which accounts to serve ads to. With that info, you’re able to serve targeted ads based on first- and third-party data, not 3rd-party cookies. 

How to prepare for the cookieless world

Instead of simply leaning into the alarmist language (primarily coming from ad tech companies serving B2C folks) around cookies, learn the options that will allow you to reach your audience directly.

Again: this isn’t new, and the world isn’t ending tomorrow. 

Google announced it would phase out cookies in January 2020, with a two year timeline. That means we’re looking at the beginning of 2022 for all this to shake out.

FLoC still in the origin trial stage — which has been rolled out to about .5% of Chrome users. 

From there, the feature will slowly be “turned on inside Chrome via the usual process of introducing it into developer builds, then beta, then finally in the shipping version most people use.” 

Unified ID, for its part, is still in the splash-new-partners-around-to-generate-buzz stage. 

I would be 100% unsurprised if there were a 6+ month delay in getting 3rd party cookies alternatives fully rolled out. 

If you like planning ahead, these are our five tips as I get back to doing what I do best (that’s generating revenue, not just leads, btw): 

1. Retargeting on social media is safe, but you might need to update some settings. Facebook will be unaffected, as 1st party data is the default. For LinkedIn advertising, you’ll need to enable a new pixel by heading to Manage Insight Tag under Campaign Manager. Get the full breakdown of LinkedIn’s 2021 pixel update for conversion tracking here

2. Stay focused on your customers’ privacy. Ad tech isn’t exactly a Situation Room type situation, but the way advertisers will be able to connect with their audience is shifting relatively quickly. Make sure you keep up with the conversation — and that you communicate that commitment to your customers. 

3. Consider ads that don’t rely on intent data. Not every version of targeted marketing relies on cookies, as you saw above with Metadata. Take the time to learn how the tools that don’t rely on 3rd party cookies can play into your marketing approach.

4. Land on the alternative that makes the most sense for your brand. One, some or all of these alternatives to 3rd party cookies are going to stick. While I focused on FLoC and Unified ID 2.0, do your homework for each of the alternatives I mentioned above to find the right fit for your marketing efforts. 

5. Focus on establishing as many first-party relationships with your market as possible. Google recommends it, and we recommend it as consumers become hyper-aware of how their information is being used. In a phrase: first-party data will future-proof your advertising efforts. 

Long story, short: if your current marketing approach relies significantly on 3rd party cookies, it’s time to start expanding your horizon.

How I Generated 5X Return From One LinkedIn Conversation Ads Campaign

Like the rest of the marketing world, we had to make significant budget cuts when the pandemic hit last year. 

Except these budget cuts actually led to a game-changing discovery for us.

We discovered LinkedIn Conversation Ads, a new ad type that’s generated more revenue for us than we could have ever imagined. And it didn’t take very long to see initial results.

Our monthly advertising budget was cut by 60% so we only had $17,000 to play with each month.

We weren’t seeing a whole lot of results from our email campaigns and our website wasn’t converting. We needed to find new (and cheaper) channels to generate qualified demos for our Sales team. 

I came across LinkedIn Conversation Ads within my own network and decided to try them out.

If you don’t know much about conversation ads – think Drift chatbot meets LinkedIn InMail. They’re short, sponsored messages that can be sent to a targeted inbox on LinkedIn.

After a quick introduction, each message usually offers a demo, webinar or case study with call-to-action buttons (“Yes I’m interested”, “Tell me more”) that link to your landing pages. As well as pre-populated responses that you create.

In April 2020, we delivered our highest number of demo requests ever (by 230%), and spent 60% less than the prior month. 

This was NOT beginner’s luck. Here we are a year later and I can tell you our success with conversation ads has only grown. 

Conversation ads are a viable long-term strategy for B2B marketers. And you’re missing out by not including them in your demand gen strategy.

LinkedIn Conversation Ads ROI: By the numbers

The dangling carrot of our initial conversation ad campaign was a $100 DoorDash gift card to get people to take a demo with us.

We’ve kept the $100 gift consistent over the past year and tried out several different offers.

Given we’ve needed to account for the advertising spend and the gift card for each demo request, we made sure our audiences were laser focused.

We target primary buyers in very tight industries and company sizes, ending up with an audience size of about 50,000.

With that in mind, here are performance metrics for our conversation ads, from April 2020 through April 2021:

  • Total spend: $266,000
  • Average cost for each message sent: $0.30 to $0.70
  • Total demo requests: 2,089
  • Total pipeline generated: $5.3M
  • Total closed won revenue: $1.3M
  • 5X ROI to cash … That’s true ROI, not just ROI to pipeline
  • 85% of marketing’s total ad spend has gone to LinkedIn Conversation Ads

That 5X ROI on our campaign has been so strong that our sales team asked us to slow down inbound marketing because they were inundated with demo requests. 

How often does that happen???

Six tips for delivering quality LinkedIn Conversation Ads

The message should come from the right person

Conversation ad messages are “sponsored.” 

Because there’s a stigma with the word “sponsored”, make sure the message has a conversational tone and comes from someone the target relates to and would take advice from. 

If the target is the VP of marketing the message should come from your VP of marketing. 

Note: A conversation ad should NOT come from a salesperson.

Make your offer visible in the pre-header

You only have one message to get the target’s attention, so the first sentence is crucial. 

The key detail — in our case the $100 — must be clearly seen. 

The pre-header shows most of your first sentence so get the $100, or whatever your hook is, in the pre-header. As in: “Hi Jason, I’d like to send you a $100 gift card.”

Show social proof in your intro

Prove your worth in your introduction by listing well-known companies using your product. 

Winning over the recipient’s trust is half the battle, especially if you are a startup. 

They may say to themselves, ‘I’ve never heard of this company. But these two other companies I like are working with them, so I’ll give it a chance.’

Establish you understand their problem and how to solve it

LinkedIn Conversation Ads only allow 500 characters per message. 

So indicate as soon as possible that you empathize with the recipient. This part is the heart of your message. 

Let them know you’ve been in their shoes. Something like: “I’m a marketer like you, with the same pressures and goals.” Then quickly describe how you’ll help them increase ROI.

The gift card should be $100, or more

I believe $100 — not $50 or $75 — is the right offer amount for a low-funnel offer like a demo.

A hundred dollars is affordable for you but still enough to convince the recipient you’re serious about targeting them. After all, you wouldn’t just offer $100 to anyone.

Have a plan for people agreeing to the demo just to get the $100

To combat money grabbers, I stress in the ad message to only book the demo if:

  1. You work for a B2B company
  2. You spend at least $10K/month in paid social ads and have a genuine interest in learning about Metadata
  3. You are involved in martech purchasing decisions

You can now run LinkedIn Conversation Ads with Metadata 

LinkedIn Conversation Ads have been so successful for us that we’re adding them as a new feature in our own platform. 

That’s right, Metadata is one of the first LinkedIn partners to offer conversation ads in its own product! 

To learn more about how you can use Metadata to run LinkedIn Conversation Ads, click here.

Why We Decided To Go All-in on LinkedIn’s Conversation Ads

On March 17, 2020, LinkedIn introduced Conversation Ads as part of the growth of Message Ads (previously Sponsored InMail).

LinkedIn Conversation Ads create a conversational experience for B2B marketers to “choose your own path.” Think Drift chatbot meets LinkedIn InMail.

Essentially, it allows for a more authentic, interactive engagement that results in higher ROI.

And since experimentation of paid campaigns is part of Metadata’s core values, we put Conversation Ads to the test ourselves.

In March 2020, our advertising budget got cut from $40,000 a month to $17,000 a month. And our other channels stopped converting. We needed to pivot.

Our VP of Marketing, Jason Widup, started to experiment with LinkedIn Conversation Ads. Our campaign delivered 230% more demos in a month with 60% less budget using $100 DoorDash gift cards to spark engagement.

Now, I’m not a marketer.

But anyone can tell by looking at the chart above that LinkedIn Conversation Ads combined with a bit of free food really works.

LinkedIn Conversation Ads gave us leads that went on to become revenue-producing customers.

And they did it at higher rates than our other marketing channels, for a lot less spend.

It’s not just Metadata reaping the benefits of LinkedIn Conversation Ads either.

PPC Hero generated case study downloads at a CPA of $15.92 with Conversation Ads.

Samsung saw a 23% uplift in CTR using Conversation Ads.

As we started to learn more about the benefits of LinkedIn Conversation Ads, we had to ask ourselves: How can we serve our customers better with LinkedIn Conversation Ads?

Part of this is on the product side. That’s where I come in.

At Metadata, we’ve been focusing hard on LinkedIn Conversation Ads for our customers. We’ve started manually managing their accounts for a year now. And, it’s working.

Now, after a year of testing and experimenting with our customers, Metadata has a solid advantage to help our customers convert leads into revenue – we’re officially rolling out the new LinkedIn Conversation Ads feature on May 17th.

Let me walk you through how we got here.

Ready to get started with LinkedIn Conversation Ads? Book a demo with Metadata.

How Metadata bridges the gap between experimentation & results for LinkedIn Conversation Ads

At Metadata, I get over 600 requests for new features.

Anyone in product knows how this goes. Everyone wants everything, and fast.

We don’t have a gigantic product team at Metadata. Everything has to be about prioritization.

You’re probably asking yourself: Why would the product team at Metadata prioritize LinkedIn’s Conversation Ads over other new features?

Answer: There is proof in the data.

During the experiment I mentioned above using LinkedIn Conversation Ads, it was a big win for us as B2B marketers to capture new product demos.

We couldn’t ignore the data.

It didn’t stop there. Metadata started receiving product requests from our customers we gained from our own experiment with LinkedIn Conversation Ads.

Surprising, right?

Our customers knew LinkedIn Conversation Ads worked because it already worked on them.

Conversation Ads work because:

  • You can automate the user journey and save time. By the time people want to talk to us, we already had them sold.
  • You can compress the user journey and increase revenue. By creating a shorter sales cycle and faster lead volume, you can start to see the dollar signs roll in.

With Conversation Ads, you can get great results.

We struggled because Conversation Ads are difficult to use. You have a lot of options, leading to analysis paralysis with no clear path to value. The UX isn’t great.

We knew if our product team could bring value to our customers and limit their options to what we know works, so the path to value was clear, there was a big opportunity here.

Next, we had to figure out how to approach it.

Building Metadata’s new LinkedIn Conversation Ads feature in just two months.

That is literally all the time it took: two months.

This was a big project management challenge. How were we going to replicate this significant, complex feature that LinkedIn had built?

We started with minimum scope.

We use the data from our experiment campaign on LinkedIn.

We found that above 90% of users would get the best results with a sharply-attenuated feature set — just three ad flows and three offers would cover nearly all the ground you needed and be a lot simpler to use than the LinkedIn interface.

We built three ad flows and three offer types:

  • Demo
  • Registration
  • Download

That’s it!

These three ad flows are text templates that allow users to overwrite them with any other text (offer). We wanted to save users time and enabled shortcuts with these templates that our B2B marketers use most frequently.

We knew with a tiny, simple product, we could provide our customers with these user flows proven to work in the past.

We wanted to be the first demand generation platform to make this move to LinkedIn Conversation Ads. That meant we had to build a small, lean feature that we could build upon in the future.

Our product team ran into a few hiccups along the way. LinkedIn has a massive API. Even though we built a small and lean feature, we still had to go through LinkedIn’s API to hook it up to their database.

By building the feature this way, our product team reduced development time by at least 10x.

This is just more proof that the MVP/MVF approach works and one more argument against building a giant product before you even test it.

Here’s what’s next for our LinkedIn Conversations Ads feature

After the official rollout of our new LinkedIn Conversation Ads features at Metadata on May 17th, we will begin building out support for our customers.

We want to help our customers use it in their campaigns by providing a dedicated support team that offers a webinar, training videos, knowledge base entries, and how-to’s.

You can expect to see more features added to LinkedIn Conversation Ads that include:

  • Usage data
  • Customization options
  • Reporting

As always, a special thanks to everyone that has participated in our experiments on LinkedIn Conversation Ads.

We appreciate all your thoughts and feedback. It has helped us define our roadmap to better support you. After all, we are in this together!

If you’re an existing customer and interested in using this new LinkedIn Conversation Ads feature, reach out to your Customer Success Manager.

If you’re not a Metadata customer, click here to book a demo with one of our amazing non-salesy team members.

Cheers to another nifty new feature at Metadata 🥂

4 Ways to Reduce Your CPL on Facebook by 50%

This is the second post in our new content series, No Fluffs Given. We’re tired of the fluffy content in our LinkedIn feeds, with no real substance or actionable takeaways. So we’re teaming up with some of the best B2B marketers we know. People who have ACTUALLY done this stuff before. And giving you new, actionable tactics to implement today.

Why aren’t more B2B marketers advertising on Facebook?

  • It has 2.41 billion monthly active users
  • It’s the world’s third-most visited website
  • 71% of American adults use it

Yet, according to Social Media Examiner, only 65% of B2B marketers use Facebook ads. Why so few?

Well, the reason for many just comes down to data. But there is a way. 

This past year, we made Facebook a priority, and it’s been one of our best-performing channels. 

We’ve been able to cut our costs by 50% and drove inbound requests from companies like IBM, Workday, Cvent, Infor, Salesforce, and more.

So what did we do differently to achieve these results?

Here are the four steps we took to get there.

Step #1: Reach the right people on Facebook

Very few people have accurate career data, and they most likely signed up with a personal email. 

Meaning Facebook’s native advertising match rates are horrible, and targeting with career data is usually way off, leading to tons of wasted spend and bad leads.

You can target Facebook users with three categories native to the ad platform: 

  1. Demographics – like age, gender, and work information like job title and industry
  2. Behaviors -like prior purchases and device usage
  3. Interests – like entertainment, family & relationships, and hobbies & activities

These categories pose several problems. They’re incredibly high level. 

Using Facebook’s demographics, the closest I can get to targeting people in B2B SaaS is “Business & Financial Operations.”

So we set out to find a tool that would help us work around this and increase our match rates. So we turned to Metadata.

Now we can target the right audience on just about every channel (including Facebook). 

Our previous match rates hovered around 5% on Facebook. We saw an average match rate of 40-50% with Metadata.

The more data attributes you can add, the better your match rates will be for custom audiences. 

Here are three other tools to look into for increasing your match rates through better data:

  • Lusha
  • Versium
  • Clearbit

Step 2: Only target high-value leads

We took it to the next level here.

Now that we can target the right people on Facebook – how do we try and predict who the highest value leads are for us? 

Facebook automatically optimizes ads for “website conversions,” but I would much rather have it optimized for the highest quality, which means the likelihood to convert into a sale. 

How would it possibly know this? 

We were already using a lead scoring model that could predict the likelihood to purchase in Madkudu. 

Here’s how it worked:

  • We fed their algorithm with all of our data from Salesforce for 12 months: lead demographics, opportunity information, customer information, average ARR, time-to-close, etc.
  • The model looked at thousands of data points and figured out the most common traits in those that converted into a paying customer 
  • It also looked at common traits from leads that went nowhere
  • It built out a model that scored every leads likelihood to buy off of that

As a skeptical marketer, the first thing we did was turn on the model and tell no one to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

We wanted to see if the model in the real world could accurately predict the likelihood of a lead closing. 

To my pleasant surprise, we found it highly accurate and began using the score in a ton of different ways.

There are many lead scoring providers out there and even many native to marketing automation platforms you can use. 

With Madkudu’s lead scoring platform, we can send predicted values of each lead, based on our model, back to Facebook so it can bid only on the highest-value leads. 

It essentially trains Facebook’s AI on what to look for in potential leads. You can learn about “Madspend” in more detail here.


Step 3: Only target people who are actively in-market

The other way we saw significant gains in our ad campaigns was by actually targeting folks who are actively in-market.

One of the primary audience types we used with Metadata was G2 Buyer Intent Data. I think pretty highly of G2 – having led the global growth team there for over two years.

G2 has over 7 million folks a month on its site actively researching tools in the market. G2 Buyer Intent allows you to see the companies researching your product, category, and competitors on G2.

In SaaS, most people are locked into a one or two-year contract with their current provider. So unless you are chasing someone in a new market, even the most dialed-in demographic targeting will still result in a ton of wasted ad spend.

Using intent data allowed our ad spend to drive a much higher likelihood of conversion.

Step 4: Use real people in your ad creative

I met another CMO, and he mentioned that while he worked at Hubspot, they tested thousands of images in ads and found that one worked much better than any others. 

The image? A picture of a real person at their desk looking at the camera. 

We decided to test this theory and replaced our fancy designed banners with simple shots of people at their desks. 

Our original ads looked like this:

So we tested these ads instead:

It might seem like a funny tip, but the impact it had was real – use real people. It catches people’s attention. 

They can spot the pretty ads a mile away. Plus, most people don’t like seeing ads in the first place.

We saw almost a 20% decrease in our cost just from it alone. 

It also created a fun dynamic in the office to see which marketer’s ad was performing the best. We kept about five versions of them running at all times.

The final results:

  • Our CPL on Facebook decreased by 50%
  • Conversions of these leads into sales opportunities doubled – rivaling our organic demo requests
  • We opened up a new channel that allows us to scale efficiently

Facebook can work for B2B. It just takes a little work.

While it may seem like we threw a lot of “tech” at the problem, the reality is most companies in B2B already have a lot of this tech in place. 

From lead scoring to intent data to a tool like Metadata. 

And if you don’t have any of that… well, that’s an entirely different problem to solve.

Meet Adam Goyette

VP of Marketing @ Help Scout

Adam is currently leading Marketing at Help Scout. He previously led all Growth Marketing globally at G2 – named one of the Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America by Inc 500 and Deloitte. He’s extremely passionate about building amazing, results-oriented teams focused on developing digital, social, and content marketing strategies that drive customer engagement, lead generation, and revenue growth. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn here.