LinkedIn set to move marketing services beyond its walls with Drawbridge

by Scott Denne

LinkedIn looks to be setting itself up for a second attempt to influence marketing spending beyond its own platform with its latest acquisition. The immensity of its audience profiles should have helped the company build a B2B advertising powerhouse, yet its influence has been barely felt beyond its own website and app. Five years ago, it tried to build out an ad network business but came up short. With the purchase of identity-resolution specialist Drawbridge, it appears set to try again, but differently.

The professional social network already has a substantial marketing business – it was selling roughly $700m annually in ads on its site when it was acquired by Microsoft in 2016. Reaching for Drawbridge should enable the company to find ways to leverage its data beyond its own site. The target developed technology that matches anonymous consumer profiles with devices, helping advertisers target the same audience across multiple devices – desktop, mobile and smart TVs. Such a technology would have little value in selling ads on LinkedIn itself as people must log in to the site to reach the content.

Still, LinkedIn is not likely to use Drawbridge to sell ads beyond its own properties. It tried that with the 2014 purchaseof B2B ad network Bizo, which it shut down less than two years later. Also, Drawbridge had started life as a programmatic ad network before selling its media sales business to Gimbal last year. More likely, LinkedIn will look to use the new assets to develop reporting and analytics capabilities for B2B marketers, as well as augment its ad-targeting data. Such a service would leverage both companies’ strengths in audience identity without saddling them with a low-margin ad business that both buyer and seller have already shunned.

According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, Drawbridge’s exit follows many of its peers in cross-device identity matching. The space has seen a wide disparity of prices. At the high end, ad network Tapad sold to Telenor for $360m. Most recently, Adbrain sold for scraps to The Trade Desk and Oracle picked up Crosswise in a seven-figure deal before that company hit $2m in annual revenue. While terms of Drawbridge’s sale weren’t disclosed, it likely falls between those extremes. Drawbridge had built a larger data business than any of its competitors, generating about $15-20m annually, and had raised roughly $60m from its venture investors.