In the B2C world, influencer marketing is a big deal, but B2B companies have not embraced it to the same extent. A study from Altimeter earlier this year tells us that while 55% of B2C companies are running ongoing influencers programs, only 15% of B2B companies are doing the same. Does that mean influencer marketing is not relevant to the B2B market, or just that B2B marketers are missing out?
We all know that one of the most powerful forms of marketing is word of mouth – according to a study by McKinsey & Co., word of mouth generates up to twice the sales of paid advertising. For both B2C and B2B, a personal recommendation is a key influence on buying decisions. In fact, in the 2017 IDG Enterprise Customer Engagement Research, a recommendation from peers is the number one purchasing influence. So, influencer marketing is a tactic that is just as effective in the B2B world and marketers should be putting it to good use.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing and content marketing are symbiotic – they need each other. Without influence, the content you produce stays unknown, unrecognised and unloved and it won’t generate any traffic and leads. But then without content to share and talk about, there is no way for influencers to help spread your message.
We’ve mentioned influencers several times, but who, exactly are they? The obvious answer is that they are industry experts, respected commentators, gurus, authors and business leaders – the kind of person who writes a leading blog or talks at conferences. However, many buyers will be influenced by their colleagues and peers too, so you need to consider these lesser-known individuals as influencers as well. Also, in some industries, there are organisations and review sites that are also influential. Reaching out to all these people and groups and getting them to talk about, endorse and promote your company’s products and services is the essence of influencer marketing.
Planning your campaign
To succeed with influencer marketing, you have to follow a plan. The first step is to know what you want to achieve. You can use influencers to help in a number of areas that include:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Adding authority and credibility
- Driving more traffic to your content
- Creating or co-creating better, more shareable content
Along with one of these as a broad aim, you should set specific goals for your influencer campaign, as you would with any other marketing project and set targets to meet and monitor the results.
Finding the influencers
Which influencer, or group of influencers you reach out to, and where you will find them, depends on two factors; what you want to achieve, and the people you are trying to influence – your prospects and customers. One of the basic elements of an inbound marketing approach is the buyer persona – an in-depth profile of your target buyer. So you need to use that as a lens to focus on who your buyer personas are influenced by. Look at which web sites they go to, who they follow on social media, whose blogs they read, what trade organisations they are members of, what LinkedIn groups they participate in, what conferences they attend and so on.
If you know your industry pretty well, you may already have an idea of who the influential movers and shakers are. If you are fortunate, then one of your own people, or one of your customers may even be a respected voice in your business community.
However, if you need help, or just want a second opinion, then there are over 100 influencer marketing platforms and tools out there that can help you identify and target influencers, with these being some of the most well-known/popular:
Be wary of systems that claim to measure influence and give it a score. Remember that it is all about context. Generally, influencers are influential in distinct areas – often quite narrow in scope. So, someone may be very influential, but if they don’t hold sway over your specific buyer personas, then you need to find someone who does.
You should spend some time identifying the right influencer to approach as it can make a significant difference. It is better to get one key influencer on board than a number of lesser influencers. (It’s less work too).
Contacting and engaging influencers
The key to reaching out and engaging with influencer is understanding what motivates them, where they are going and what they are actually influential about. You may like to consider developing “Influencer personas” in the same way you create buyer personas. Because feeding influencers relevant timely content is as much a key to influencer marketing as it is to inbound marketing.
Working with influencers is a two-way street – they will help you if you help them. Start by finding some way to help them first. Think about what they can get out of your relationship with them. One way to start is to reach out to them on social media – comment, mention, tag or re-post. If you have done your planning, you will have something specific in mind, so pitch it to them in an email or message.
Always be clear about what you want from them and make it easy for them to help. Try co-creating content by interviewing them or asking them to write guest posts. Include them in industry round-ups or get their comments to include in blog posts. Ask them to write an introduction to an e-book, or speak at a seminar, conference or event you are sponsoring or organising.
It’s important to make content sharable and create content specifically targeted at influencers. Most influencers are looking for good quality content to share – make it easy for them and you increase your chances they’ll spread the word.
You will need to recognise that building a good relationship with an influencer or influencers will take some time. So be prepared for that investment.
Many companies miss a trick by forgetting about their own home-grown influencers. Their staff and their customers. Train your staff in social media and encourage them to share your content – they have influence too. And if you take on board our previous advice to extend the sales funnel to turn customers into advocates and ambassadors for your products or services, they can become great and very effective influencers on your behalf.
Even if a customer is unwilling or unable to directly endorse you, they might be happy to be featured in a case study – which is a very effective and influential type of content.
Finally, you might want to consider becoming an influencer yourself. Raising your individual profile by speaking at seminars and conferences, publishing books, blogging and more, can enable you to become a ‘visible expert’ and an industry influencer.
Ultimately, it’s also about the quality of content you produce. Even without an influencer programme, you may find that producing good quality, relevant, timely content will result in major influencers sharing and talking about your content. And for a successful influencer marketing programme with all the return that it brings; good quality, relevant, timely content is absolutely essential.