That One Weird Trick

Jae Oh, LinkedIn

What do you do, in your own words?

As group product manager, I lead the teams responsible for audiences (ad targeting) and measurement for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. The two product charters are complementary; help brands connect with the right audiences on LinkedIn and then evaluate the success of those marketing efforts against their campaign or business goals.

What might be different about marketing at LinkedIn vs. other types of products/services?

LinkedIn is unique, despite being a social networking platform, compared to the Facebook, Twitter or Snapchats of the world - we focus on professional communities. So when you look at LinkedIn’s vision to “create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” it comes as no surprise that we’ve gotten quite good at fostering the kind of engagement that comes from offering value to members that support skill-building, job-hunting, hiring, mentorship, or productivity to name a few.

With that kind of engagement between members, businesses and LinkedIn, brands that find success marketing on LinkedIn lean into how they best fit into those conversations members are having with both organic and paid efforts on the platform. While an ad for an AWS developer event might be out of place in your Facebook feed full of food photos or updates from your friend’s staycation, seeing that your coworker liked the event in your LinkedIn feed might get you to attend because it’s more relevant to your professional identity.

On your team, are you currently more focused on acquiring new customers or growing engagement of existing customers? What are you specifically focused on?

I hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out answer, but we actually focus on investing in both. It’s two segments we have to talk about at the same time because as the owner of horizontal product platforms, our products end up being used by all customers who run any active campaign on LinkedIn.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of room for innovation at the intersection of these groups’ needs on our platform today. Beyond our own roadmap aspirations, all marketers are now facing problems that require really clever solutions. They include changes happening in the digital privacy space by regulators, device manufacturers and app developers that will fundamentally change the way identity and attribution are approached online. There’s also the growing demand from a more well-informed generation of digital consumers for increased transparency, agency and security from the digital communities they spend their time engaging in.

It’s these kinds of problem spaces that I find myself most interested in these days. Particularly in B2B, we’re so well suited to build solutions to not only help businesses survive, but actually thrive given the unique assets LinkedIn and Microsoft has at its disposal. It’s super exciting to think about what we could offer to help businesses and members navigate the changes coming - it’s time we think of identity beyond cookies or demographic attributes, and also look to evolve outcomes or attribution narratives beyond vanity metrics or last click.

How does your work contribute to building trust with users, in order to persuade them to use LinkedIn’s ads product?

LinkedIn has been named the most trusted digital social platform several years in a row now and the experience members have with our ads is a critical part of that. Whether it’s the global ads privacy settings we’ve continued to improve or the “why am I seeing this ad” feature that gives more contextual controls in feed to our members, it’s been a core part of how we’ve invested on the member or ‘audience’ side of the business to make sure we provide the agency needed to manage how we use our member data.

On the marketer or ‘customer’ side, we honor #membersfirst principles in our design to ship features that 1) aren’t creepy or potentially discriminatory and 2) use data that we understand the lineage for and can clearly articulate to our members. We’re not in the business of selling our member’s data, so starting with that mindset is a must. Beyond that, the teams are committed to building trust with our customers, with a lot of our roadmaps dedicated to improving both the quality of our existing products but also launching new products and partner integrations to support more independent measurement, audience verification, and attribution. Of course, because trust is consistency over time, I don’t think we’ll ever be done investing in this area.

From your perspective, how does personalization give a marketing edge? This can be from a previous employer, but give one concrete example of how this is done via outbound marketing or in-product experience.

Personalization is so important to a great user experience in any product, but perhaps most measurable in digital marketing. We all know this because it’s the reason why that second related search you make in the same session on feels so magical and more likely to result in you clicking on a link on the first page of results.

In marketing, personalization as a tactic helps brands move from being ‘yet another option’ to something that becomes or stays top of mind. Whether that is with dynamic ads that show your name and photo next to copy on a job ad that asks if you could picture yourself in this new role, or marketers retargeting you based on prior ad engagement or a website visit with a subsequent ad that is intended to give you more information to consider before deciding on what product to purchase, personalized marketing can do a lot to increase engagement and conversion rates. Retargeting, or remarketing, capabilities are especially important for purchase that take a long time to make as it does with B2B buyer journeys that we see happen on LinkedIn.

What is your favorite marketing channel or platform, and why? E.g. out-of-home, organic search, email, TV, etc.

Good question. On a personal level, I’m still really impressed with Instagram, but also intrigued by other content consumption platforms like Medium or Quora. There’s something very appealing as a content consumer about experiencing ads that feel both very native to the content on the platform and experiential rather than commercial. Also, social media marketing campaigns that leverage charismatic influencers or just great writers/content creators to provide testimonies are more genuine, and not simply popular, is really compelling. Social proof, of course, has such amazing weight in ‘community driven buying’ that I think there’s still a lot to be explored there and very few channels are as well equipped to do it organically as those channels focused on building communities over maximizing scale.

What’s the largest single product initiative you’ve participated in and what lessons did you learn from it? If discussing your current employer is off-limits, what about in a previous role?

It might not be the single largest initiative, but bringing interest targeting to our marketing platform was one of my earliest product initiatives I pursued upon joining LinkedIn and one of the most educational. As essentially the first non-profile based targeting capability we were adding to Campaign Manager, it meant we had to figure out how to do a lot of things for the first time.

How do we determine what interests to consider and what data should we look at? How do we validate the quality or accuracy of a member’s interest in a certain topic or subject and what kind of controls should we provide to our members? What topics could be considered sensitive or introduce risk for abuse or bias in targeting? How are customers supposed to leverage this to connect with the right audiences? How can we use this data and the investments we make into the platform, ML, AI to understand intent?

Answering these questions meant working with several teams to bring the feature to market. Learning what each team did, how they optimized locally for their part, and the value everyone gained from understanding, more deeply, how each of their parts contributed to the whole, proved an invaluable lesson in how to build complex initiatives across many teams. We also learned how data projects like these had potential for unintended bias to be introduced between regions, languages and populations because user behaviors and content classification inherently require context to fully understand. Navigating these challenges and solving for them in time to ship a beta on time reminded me just how much I loved building products that require a deep understanding of a problem to execute it well. Also, that feeling of introducing something net-new to your customers/users isn’t too shabby either.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far?

To be honest, the kind of answer I would’ve given five years ago looks very different from what it is today. Previously, I would have pointed to a certain product launch, promotion, adoption metric, or award that would have ended with an update to your CV or LinkedIn profile. There’s nothing wrong with that, but reducing whole experiences into a single milestone or byline often feels unsatisfying or insufficient.

In recent years, what I’ve become most proud of is what can happen in the process of building quality products - the development of quality teams. As a product manager, when you finish your project or decide to move on to a new opportunity and your team wants to join you, it’s an amazing feeling. It shows a great deal of trust in you both as a colleague and a leader, tying their livelihood to you and your ability to make an impact together. So, when folks I’ve worked with regularly ask how we can ‘get the gang back together,’ it’s a level of validation even a successful product launch hasn’t been able to provide.

If you’re able to build people up around you in the process of delivering business impact, the returns on investment will be larger and more lasting.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

Surprisingly, it has nothing to do at work. My wife gave birth to our son a few weeks ago and it has been the most humbling experience to date. It’s totally new, offers endless opportunities to learn, and holds amazing potential for ROI, so what’s not to like?

While I’m already seeing so many parallels between parenting and building quality products, I’ll try my best to not to set up a kanban board in his nursery. It’s a long term strategy after all.

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