B2B Influencer marketing is a whole different world, so requires a whole new approach
B2B marketing used to be simple. All you needed were some ads in a magazine, a booth at a trade show, a little bit of PR and a few vague figures and graphs. Seismic shifts have divided audiences and outdated these reliable strategies. The buyer’s journey is now long, unpredictable and non-linear, we need new technology to even make sense of it, and the customers make the rules now. They don’t want to read a press release; they want convenience and go read it in their news feed, at a time that suits them, and only if it’s relevant.
We are evolving towards an ad-free world. TV and radio is streamed and commercial-free, internet ads are blocked by one third of customers now, and no one really invests in newspaper ads anymore. Social media, digital and content budgets may be rising, but client trust has hit rock-bottom, and we need a new B2B marketing strategy before it’s too late to win it back. Influencers are now pitching everything from sweets and tech, to cars to countries, but B2B has been slow to adopt. 55% of B2C companies run ongoing or integrated influencer marketing programs, but only 15% of B2B companies consider their programs to be mature. However, 49% are experimenting with it.
We’re living in the gold rush era of influencer marketing. The future leaders will be the pioneers who work out how to evolve their marketing strategies for the new, fragmented-but-connected future
The influencer space is becoming loud and crowded. Many companies try to tackle influencer marketing without having a real strategy, and 79% of marketers cited finding the right influencers as a top challenge for their brand. Brands must look for opportunities to move from a campaign-led focus to the long-term and integrate influencer relations into every area and department of the business, including messaging, activities, strategic planning. They must reach out across every department to source and assess influencers, have different teams manage and collaborate on relationships.
Potential reach and trust are what separates influencer marketing from sales. Customers are more likely to trust an honest, un-biased, passionate expert than a brand advert. The voice of the influencer can help cut through all of the noise and distrust that is so present in the B2B buying experience (particularly true when it comes to technology). Organisations must alter their mind sets so that they can recognise an opportunity in harnessing constructive criticism from expert voices. It will lead to the creation of conversations that really engage, improved customer service and perhaps even an improved product. B2B businesses need to really commit to building and nurturing long-term relationships with influencers. If you’re willing to act on feedback, responding to negative comments can actually be a great starting point. Treat influencers like the press; invite them to all the same events and entrust them with all the same embargoed material.
There must be a fair value exchange between the brand and the influencer
In order to maintain a two-way relationship and a true dialogue, instead of simply pushing brand content, it’s important to find out what the influencer is trying to achieve. Look beyond the numbers and understand their values and how they align with your brand. If they are self-obsessed or will endorse anything for money, then their personal brand isn’t likely to last long. What can your brand do to help them create compelling content? There are thousands of influencers out there but you should aim to build strong relationships with 10-15 people each year. Any more and you may spread your efforts too thinly and won’t be able to provide them with a valuable experience.
The main difference between B2B and B2C influencer strategy is that B2B influencer marketing is more relationship-centric from the start, and then evolves into a relationship around a product or service. Whereas B2C engagement with influencers often begins around a product or a service and then evolves more into a holistic relationship engagement gradually. Match influencers with employees to help form more personal relationships and expedite the sharing of knowledge and ideas. Brands should look to find opportunities for the influencers to engage on their own channels, in their own voice, and build organisational processes to ensure long-term engagement for every initiative.
To find the right influencers, you need insight, technology, and input from senior management
Ad-hoc, manual research is a waste of time – you need a content & data led identification approach. Using technology eliminates brand bias and enables laser-targeting. You can find contextually relevant keywords across influencer content, trending hashtags, handles, and popular search phrases, and get really granular with companies/software like Traackr. You can discover new influencers, influencers already talking about your brand, ones talking about competitors (perhaps ones you weren’t aware of), and most importantly, the ones aligned with your brand’s core values and most relevant to your messaging. These influencers will be easier to transform into advocates and form lasting relationships with, and more likely to share your brand’s story and have ideas for the future.
Assess and understand their content, who they are, what they stand for, who they influence, if and why they’re trending, other brands they partner with, past performance metrics, where interests overlap – it takes time, but technology will streamline it. By making data-driven decisions that scale, focused on the content you know your customers care about, the right influencers for your brand – who align with your brand story and can spread your message – will become clear. An influencer who shares content can generate eight times his or her own consumption through their advocacy, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. This goes to show that it isn’t about the content itself; it’s about how that content is transmitted.
B2B influencer measurement is not impossible, you just have to look harder…
Early influencer measurement efforts were all about ‘reach’ in terms of mentions and likes. It’s moving beyond that, but slowly. It’s still difficult because the buyer journey is long, unpredictable, complex and no longer linear. Plus, meaningful influence may be occurring in hard to find/measure places such as online forums, conversations in person, and industry conferences. A challenge with technology, definitely, is that many influential conversations about, say, hybrid cloud or hyper converged infrastructure, are happening behind the doors of closed forums and groups.
Tracking is much harder than with B2C products, but there are some categories of measurement useful in B2B including measuring engagement in clicks, likes and comments. We don’t really care about potential reach and an influencer’s 5 million followers, if only 5 people engage with the content. Did it start a conversation? Did people take action? How did this compare to previous content? You need these answers to determine if you’re getting it right. Around 80% of the conversations about your brand (including some real loyalty) are happening behind firewalls, in face-to-face discussions and in the comments sections of blogs, and so won’t pop up in a newsfeed or on a Hootsuite graph. Overlooking these qualitative measures, likely means overlooking most of the influencer (and his or her program’s) value. How are you measuring the influencer’s influence? Are you seeing more conversations as a result of the content? Are people converting? Are you getting more warm leads making contact? Are people actually buying something? Measurement is a work in progress but smart organisations can see the benefits in SEO, R&D, sales and awareness.
Influencer marketing and its impact in the B2B sphere is becoming clearer but in the meantime, the answers to those questions will come from taking down silos, getting everyone talking to each other and creating a standardised measurement framework.