What’s behind Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn?

LI MCAt first blush, it appears almost ludicrous that Microsoft Corporation is offering an eye-popping $26 billion+ to acquire LinkedIn Corporation.

The dollar figure far eclipses any previous Microsoft acquisition — including the $9 billion+ it paid for Nokia Corporation in 2014, not to mention what the company paid for Yammer and Skype.

What’s also acknowledged is that none of those earlier acquisitions did all that much to further Microsoft’s digital and social credentials — and in the case of Nokia, the financial write-downs Microsoft has recorded have actually exceeded Nokia’s purchase price.

So what’s different about LinkedIn — and why does Microsoft feel that the synergies will work to its advantage better this time?

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, technology journalist Christopher Mims noted that such synergies do exist — and in a much bigger way.

That includes Microsoft Office, the productivity suite that’s now delivered almost exclusively online. And then there’s LinkedIn’s database of over 400 million subscriber professionals.

Put those two elements together with a strong strategic vision, and you have the potential for some pretty amazing synergies.

When you think about it, LinkedIn’s users are essentially Microsoft’s core demographic. And it isn’t something that’s replicated anywhere else in Cyberspace.  Here’s Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella talking:  “It’s really the coming together of the professional cloud and the professional network.”

Acting on its own, LinkedIn hasn’t been all that successful in leveraging what is arguably the most comprehensive and powerful database of business professionals ever compiled in the history of mankind.

While it consists of self-contributed information that hasn’t been “vetted” by outside parties, it’s still the single most comprehensive and valuable repository of information about business professionals — anywhere in the world.

I view the dynamics of LinkedIn as something like the Wikipedia. Wikipedia has become so pervasive, it has driven traditional encyclopedias from the scene.  And while we all know that there can be misstatements of fact — or omissions of facts — from Wikipedia entries, it’s also become the quickest and easiest place to go for information that’s “accurate enough and complete enough” for most any type of informational query.

In similar fashion, LinkedIn is making personnel databases like Dun & Bradstreet that are less robust and accessible only by subscription increasingly obsolete.

And yet … with all of this powerful data at its fingertips, up to now LinkedIn hasn’t been all that effective in leveraging its vast trove of data in way that goes much beyond using it as a personnel recruitment tool.

Try as LinkedIn might to create “stickiness” by offering communities of users based on job function, shared industry involvement and the like, to this day only about one-fourth of LinkedIn’s ~400 million users come to the site on a monthly basis.

The reality is that the vast majority of people continue to access LinkedIn only when they’re in the job market — either as a seeker of talent or seeking a new position for themselves.

In the wake of the pending Microsoft acquisition, those dynamics could change quickly — and in a big way.

One way is in how LinkedIn could begin to provide a big boost to Microsoft’s CRM services. Many companies use such products to identify and track sales leads; in fact, having such a tool is almost a prerequisite for any successful business of any size at all.

As of today, Microsoft languishes behind three other CRM software providers (Salesforce.com, SAP and Oracle). LinkedIn’s own product (LinkedIn Sales Navigator) is essentially an also-ran in the category.

But bringing together LinkedIn’s extensive personnel database with Microsoft’s CRM capabilities looks to deliver data and reach that would be the envy of anyone in the market.

So … it is certainly possible to understand why Microsoft might see LinkedIn as its strategic “ticket to ride” in the coming decades. But two questions remain:

  • Does the acquisition business potential match with the $26 billion+ Microsoft is paying for the buying LinkedIn?
  •  Will Microsoft do a better job of integrating LinkedIn with its other products and services when compared to the disappointing results resulting from its other acquisitions?

We’ll need to check back over the coming months to see how things are come together.

Advertising and MarComm: So often ineffective … yet so often necessary.

Ineffective MarketingIn a column published in late 2013 titled “Why Does Most Marketing Stink?”, Forbes BrandVoice writer Michael Brenner (who is also a marketing executive at SAP) reminds us how the marketplace is tuning out the advertising and marketing messages being pitched to it.

We’ve heard these stats before, but it’s sobering to think of them in the aggregate.  Here are the figures that Brenner reported:

  • On any given day, consumers encounter more than 5,000 marketing messages (which is up significantly from approximately 2,000 messages only a few years ago).
  • ~85% of consumers skip TV ads that appear on their screen.
  • ~45% of direct mail goes straight to the trash without ever being opened.
  • Two-thirds of American adults have placed themselves on the “Do Not Call” Registry to avoid telemarketing pitches.
  • Nine out of ten e-mails are never opened.
  • 99.5% of e-mails receive no clicks.
  • 0.1% (or fewer) of banner ads receive clicks.
  • Eye-tracking studies show that most people have near-complete “banner blindness” when visiting web pages.

Seeing these stats presented all in one place is almost enough to make one swear off of advertising for good!

Except for one thing:  Some sort of promotion is essential for the success of nearly every enterprise.  It’s hard to think of any company or organization that has been successful without engaging in advertising or promotion of some kind, at some point in its evolution.

Of course, the hottest new approach in a MarComm field hungry for more effective strategies and tactics is “content marketing.”

But how new is that concept, exactly?

After all, let’s remember that advertising guru David Ogilvy preached that very gospel for decades, exhorting companies to concentrate on the content of their advertising, not its form.

Michael Brenner suggests that companies “publish content that informs and entertains customers through a content strategy that holistically considers audience content and channel needs.”

… Which is a fancy way of saying that companies need to think beyond the obvious traditional marketing channels.

Plus, they should focus on creating content that provides insights and answers, not the standard feature/benefit information about their products or services.

Let’s see how successful companies can be in leading with content marketing.  Surely, the results couldn’t be worse than the grim MarComm stats quoted in the Forbes BrandVoice column.