B2B Advertising: Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is one of the most potent tools available to any B2B marketer. It offers the freedom to engage with other businesses on a personal level using those who are making real waves in your chosen industry.
In today’s fast-paced digital world people are no longer susceptible to plastic digital advertising and the one size fits all marketing strategies of yesteryear. In fact, 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands or businesses.
What is B2B influencer marketing, exactly?
Before we delve any deeper, let’s consider what influencer marketing is and what it means in the realms of B2B. Essentially, influencer marketing is a field of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive or showcase a brand message to the larger market. Rather than selling directly to a big group, instead, you can inspire, hire or even pay market influencers to promote what you have to offer.
As we said, people are far more likely to take action based on the recommendations of their peers – and in the B2B world, this notion is no exception. Most influencer marketing campaigns employ active elements of social media as well as content marketing. Why? This is because, in today’s world, content is everything and to enjoy success, you’ll need to create content to engage with the influencers you’re targeting.
In the B2C world, influencer marketing yields great results. MediaPost recently reported a healthy ROI of $6.50 returns for every dollar invested. In the B2C world, consumers tend to rely on two main factors: empathy and detail. Now, in the B2B world, buyers often shape their decisions based on experiences with industry influencers in their personal lives – and they’re looking for the same level of convenience and connection in their professional lives.
For a B2B influencer marketing campaign to be successful, those in the driver seat must adopt a similar approach to B2C marketers, but it’s essential to find innovative ways to target those with deep industry knowledge; the kind of individuals that can influence corporate buyers and seamlessly tap into key business-to-business conversations.
The Benefits of using Influencers in your B2B Marketing Strategy
There are many benefits of using influencers as a core part of your B2B marketing strategy. Influencers offer:
- A unique point of view that has the power to resonate with your target B2B audience.
- Original thought leadership. The kind that can shine a light on your existing content and in turn, help make your brand more visible as well as more desirable by proxy.
- Give you access to invaluable networks and professional contacts you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.
- Authentic professional credibility that can help provide answers to the pain points of your target audience.
Influencer Marketing is just for B2C?
The majority of influencer marketing software and industry chatter focuses on the use of influencers to pitch consumer-focused products. Instagram is rotten with influencer appeals (many of them ham-fisted) for all manner of B2C doo-dads and gadgetry. Apparently Influencer Marketing looks a B2C tool, but in reality influencer marketing is more important for B2B than for B2C. After all, the average purchase size in B2B typically dwarfs that in B2C, and the impact of referrals and word of mouth are more critical to the success of the organisation. B2B transactions are more influenced by word of mouth than B2C.
In short, without word of mouth and influencer marketing, B2B purchases would grind to a halt, because nobody takes a flyer on B2B products and services the way they gamble on consumer-focused items. Many of the tenets of influencer marketing work the same for B2C and for B2B. But there are several important differences that I’ll focus on in this piece.
Finding Influencers for your Campaign
Regardless of the approach you plan to take when setting up your B2B influencer marketing campaign, if you don’t find the right influencers, you won’t be able to reach the right business audience. By understanding the B2B buyers you’re looking to target, you’ll stand the greatest chance of success. To do so, you should create a B2B buyer persona – an in-depth profile of your target buyer.
Once you’ve created a comprehensive profile, research the businesses you feel best fits the mould regarding the services you offer and look at which websites they visit, which trade organisations they’re a member of, who they interact with on Linkedin and who they follow on social media.
By collecting this data and using your newfound knowledge to paint a detailed picture, you’ll be able to understand the kind of content you’ll need to create to engage with them, as well as which industry influencers to use to your advantage. At this point, you’ll have a decent idea of the influencers that are worth branching out to, but if you need a helping hand sourcing the best people for the job, these tools will help:
Create yourself a comprehensive buyer persona, conduct your market research, use the above tools to find the most valuable influencers for your marketing efforts and you’ll be able to forge new business relationships in no time. Once you’ve sourced your influencers, you’ll want to execute your strategy. There are three additional components to an effective B2B influencer marketing strategy.
- Create a content campaign directed at the influencers you’re targeting.
- Put together a secondary marketing campaign for the influencers to drive greater awareness to a larger set of target buyers.
- Track key metrics relating to reach, sales and brand awareness to measure the ongoing success of your campaign.
10 Recommendations for B2B Influencer Marketing
Lengthen your Time Horizon
Because the factors that go into a B2B purchase decision are often more nuanced and comprehensive than consumer purchases, the impact of B2B influencer marketing will naturally take longer to take root. Consumers goods companies can—in theory—pay some models to hawk bikinis on Instagram, and purchases will roll in almost immediately. It doesn’t work like that for B2B. Further, because most B2B purchases involve multiple decision makers, it is likely to take longer for the impact of B2B influencer marketing to touch a plurality of those people. This is why, incidentally, we all should be using more influencers in cooperation with account-based marketing. In the estimation of me and our strategist here at Convince & Convert, you shouldn’t expect results from a B2B influencer marketing program for at least six months, and you should seek to work with B2B influencers one year at a time. This differs a lot from B2C influencer programs, which can be as short as 30 days.
Look First for Existing Advocates
Categorically, I’ll say that companies are too eager to look outside their existing ecosystems to find “fresh” influencers. In many cases, outstanding advocates with pre-baked topical knowledge are already associated in some way with the brand. The first step—once you know why you want to engage in B2B influencer marketing at all—should be to carefully analyze and evaluate your existing customers, fans, business partners, and employees for evidence of advocacy and influence.
Look Second for who Influencers your Customers
Advertising is about influencing potential customers. Influencer marketing is about influencing the people that influence your potential customers. It’s one step removed.If you want to figure out who is really going to resonate as a B2B influencer—and you do—it really helps to know who your customers are already listening to, reading, and watching. I like the Affinio software for this purpose. But, if you don’t want to purchase a software license to do that kind of analysis, launch a quick survey of your customers using SurveyMonkey or something similar. Ask them specifically who they listen to, read, and watch. We’ve done this kind of research too, and I suggest you add a question about trust—something like, “Among this list of B2B influencers you’ve acknowledged you listen to/read/watch, please rank them by how much you trust them.” This is incredibly helpful information, as influencer marketing is all about trust for B2B.
Don’t Focus Only on Social Strength
Of course, social media reach is often used as a key measure of influence, but it’s by no means the only way to gauge B2B influencer marketing viability. In fact, some of the most powerful influencers in the world are not active at all in social media. On the marketing front, for example, Seth Godin is, by any measure, a massive influencer. Yet his use of social media is modest to non-existent. When we create B2B influencer marketing programs for clients, we also look at potential participants who may not be social mavens but are respected authors, speakers, thinkers, podcasters, and researchers. Yes, using social footprint as the sole criteria makes it easier and faster to run a report to “find” influencers, but I can absolutely guarantee that doing that alone will miss a lot of truly influential people that your customers respect.
Create B2B Influencer Dossiers
Once you have a list of potential influencers, it’s incredibly useful to be able to compare them using consistent data and a common format. This is why I always strongly suggest preparing influencer dossiers. This is a document—usually in Keynote for us, but it doesn’t really matter—that discusses the strengths, weaknesses, history, and passions of all candidate influencers. For each person, chart:
- social channels
- engagement ratios
- topics covered
- hashtags used
- best-performing relevant posts/content
- history of influencer work/relationships in the industry
- any red flags or warning signs
- non-social influence platforms like books, speaking, podcasts
- media coverage
- results of your research into how relevant this person is for your customers
Be Hyper-Aware of B2B Influencer Conflicts
Many B2C influencers make all or part of their living doing just that: recommending products. That is not the case with B2B influencer marketing. Most B2B influencers have a “day job” and are influential in part because of that position. In some cases, the influencer may be a sole proprietor or may run a company, but she is still tied to that organization. Consequently, B2B influencer marketing programs are much more likely to have circumstances whereby a proposed influencer cannot participate, or at least can’t participate in a way your brand would find ideal, due to existing relationships, company partnerships, or job restrictions.
Build Relationships with Trends and Predictions
When working with a B2B influencer for the first time, it’s wise to build those bonds incrementally. Unless they are already huge advocates, they’re unlikely to jump immediately at the chance to work on something together. A better approach is to tap into the influencer’s wisdom and connections by putting together a curated collection of influencer thoughts. You’ve almost certainly seen these kinds of pieces, like “20 content strategists predict 2020 trends” or similar. This is a great first step when building relationships because it doesn’t require a ton of the influencers’ time, and it’s a nice entrée into the brand, its products, and its messaging. After finding success with an initial trends/predictions report, expand and enhance the relationship to include more detailed and comprehensive content co-creation and promotion. Also, if you have a brand-led podcast, that’s another good way to break the ice with potential influencers.
Spend the Time to Educate on Products
When you’re ready to expand the relationship beyond a trend piece, it is imperative that you spend time truly educating the people in your B2B influencer marketing program about your company, products, customers, competitors, and culture. This step, unfortunately, gets overlooked quite a lot. I think it’s because brands think they may be imposing on their influencers if they require so much education time. But in my experience, if the influencer is truly engaged with the company, they want to know as much as possible, for two reasons. First, the best influencers have genuine passion for the industry and for the company, so spending time learning more about the ins and outs is a joy rather than a burden. Second, B2B influencers—especially those who have some experience with these kinds of programs—know that the more they learn, the more effective they can be because they’ll be able to better tell company stories in their own words.
Focus on Co-Creation
B2B influencers aren’t just supposed to parrot your party line and retweet your brand account word for word. If that’s the game plan, just buy some ads. The more influencers put their own spin on the benefits of the products and services, the more impactful and persuasive they are on your behalf. The best way to move the needle with B2B influencer marketing is to find the right people and educate them. Next, explain clearly what you are looking to accomplish with influencers, and why. Then, just listen. Let the influencers come up with ideas on how to create interesting content, how to promote your events, how to engage with key customers, how to enable your sales team, and more. Let them pitch you ideas. This works so much better than you and your marketing team concocting a content initiative and just recruiting influencers to amplify it. Influencer led co-creation breeds better outcomes and is much more interesting for the influencers, as well.
Attract Influencers to your Brand
In most cases, you’ll go out and “recruit” people for your B2B influencer marketing program. But it doesn’t have to be that way every time. In fact, some of the most successful influencer programs in history turn this relationship on its head. In these cases, the company creates enough great content and community that influencers show up and participate without having to be asked to do so. It’s by no means a certainty that you’ll be able to pull off the reverse attraction. It requires a huge commitment to killer content and a truly thriving community. But it can work, and when it does, it creates self-perpetuating momentum that you rarely see in B2C.
Influencer marketing is one of the most potent tools available to any B2B marketer. It offers the freedom to engage with other businesses on a personal level using those who are making real waves in your chosen industry. Working with influencers in a business to business context represents a significant opportunity to create more credible content that can be promoted to interested buyers by people they trust.
In today’s world, people don’t want to be sold plastic promises, they want real insights from real people – those who understand the market and know their stuff – and that is what B2B influencer marketing is all about. Focus on influencer marketing, forge relationships with the right people can be a key element in B2B marketing.