Recently we published the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report after surveying hundreds of B2B marketers about their experiences, best practices, tools, budgets and plans for the future. In an environment where B2B marketing is decidedly digital and marketers are hard pressed to squeeze more productivity out of fewer resources, credible information about marketing…
In an environment where B2B marketing is decidedly digital and marketers are hard pressed to squeeze more productivity out of fewer resources, credible information about marketing best practices, operations and trends for the future are in high demand. Judging by the response we’ve had to The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report so far, we’re definitely meeting a need.
There is both optimism and an unrealized opportunity with influencer marketing for B2B companies. For evidence, check out these stats from the report:
78% of B2B marketers believe prospects rely on advice from influencers
74% believe that Influencer Marketing improves customer and prospect experiences
63% agree that marketing would have better results if it included an Influencer Marketing program
60% of marketers who use always on Influencer Marketing programs are very successful vs. 5% who do periodic campaigns
Only 19% of B2B marketers are running ongoing influencer marketing programs
Only half include a plan for influencer activation in their influencer marketing strategy
Only 35% of marketers use software to identify potential influencers
60% say they don’t have the knowledge to execute or have the right skills in house to implement ongoing Influencer Marketing programs
Influencer Marketing is a significant opportunity for B2B Marketers to connect with trusted and credible experts that have the attention of audiences that are probably overwhelmed with information and ignoring most of the ads that do get to them. At the same time B2B brands that build relationships to co-create content with these industry voices can integrate influence with thought leadership to build the authority and influence of brand employees.
It is very satisfying to have spent the past 8 years focusing on such a niche aspect of B2B marketing to see it now start to grow in acceptance, adoption and maturity amongst some of the top B2B brands in the world. Where there were previously no positions outside of PR with “influencer” in the title, now it is much more common to find marketers with titles like, Head of Global Influencer Marketing, VP Influencer Marketing and Communications, or B2B Influencer Engagement Strategist.
Many B2B marketing professionals with these titles have earned hard won insights into what makes influencer marketing truly work for B2B, especially during a time when brand marketers are highly motivated to focus on strategies and tactics that will help them survive and thrive during the pandemic.
To help you connect with the collective wisdom of the B2B influencer marketing crowd, here are 20 B2B Influencer Marketing Professionals to follow (in no particular order):
Social and Influencer Communications Lead Global Markets at IBM
Of course there are many B2B influencer marketing practitioners from the consulting and agency world that could be on a list like this, including some of my team at TopRank Marketing. Maybe we’ll publish such a list in the future, but for now this resource is focused on people working at B2B brands.
If you know of other B2B brand influencer marketing practitioners, who would you add to this list?
Top marketers understand the value of integrating influencer marketing into their marketing strategy. In fact, 55% of marketers believe they get better customers from influencer marketing according to an Influencer Marketing Hub survey. For B2B brands, influencer marketing is a way to partner with industry experts who can add value to the brand’s content. As…
Top marketers understand the value of integrating influencer marketing into their marketing strategy. In fact, 55% of marketers believe they get better customers from influencer marketing according to an Influencer Marketing Hub survey. For B2B brands, influencer marketing is a way to partner with industry experts who can add value to the brand’s content.
As a brand, how can you provide mutual value and a great experience for the thought leaders you engage?
I went straight to some of my top sources to ask their thoughts on the best way for B2B brands to collaborate with them. What stood out to me, was the way their key points aligned with how a brand might develop a marketing strategy.
Let’s start with understanding who your audience is and who they follow. Most B2B brands have personas created for their customers. Now think about how you can mirror those customer personas to align with those authentic thought leaders who you’re looking to engage with.
1 — Tim Crawford: Authenticity is Key
When I want to understand CIOs, I call Tim Crawford, CIO Strategic Advisor at AVOA, who has worked with nearly all of the top B2B tech brands. Tim asserts that by knowing the persona you are going after, you can ensure your messaging, and that the approach has authenticity. He also reminded me that opinion doesn’t replace experience, and Tim has plenty of valuable experience.
The value of authentic experience stands out to your audience. It is not merely opinion, but proven knowledge. “Consider the personas to target and leverage voices that bring authenticity to the messaging which will, in turn, build trust with customers,” Tim says.
Entrepreneur, keynote speaker, bestselling author and editor and founder of Smart Hustle MagazineRamon Ray encourages brands to, “Look to work for influencers that are excited to work with you and your product or service.”
What does your brand stand for? What value do you bring to your customers? “It is important for B2B brands to crystallize what their brands stand for, whom their target audiences are and how they would measure the success prior to engaging B2B influencers,” says Helen Yu of Tigon Advisory Corp. She advises finding influencers who represent the organization’s values and who can contribute to sustainable business growth.
Helen also encourages brands to share their value proposition with thought leaders to help them focus their efforts in the right direction for amplifying the brand’s vision.
You have a strategic marketing plan. Does that plan have influencer marketing as a tactic? If so, then be sure to include an engagement plan for any work with influencers. More than one influencer has told me stories of being asked to participate in an event — online or in person — only to find that there was not an actionable plan to bring the partnership to life, or if there was, it was delivered to the influencer at the last minute.
4 — Tamara McCleary: Focus & Specificity
Keynote speaker and Thulium CEO Tamara McCleary recommends that you “Have a plan for your influencers. Do you know what you want your influencers to do? Do you have a clear strategy for utilizing them? One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when bringing in influencers is a lack of focus and specificity.”
Ian Moyse, cloud social influencer for a range of global brands commented, “Come to an influencer with a clear brief and clear budget offering. Brief them and provide good supporting info and links to empower them to do a good job for you. Provide them imagery, #hashtags, and @handles upfront to use. Where possible create images for the influencer such as quote cards with their photo, and share and engage with the influencers content from your corporate brand account, and encourage your staff to do the same.”
6 — Michael Fisher, Jr.: Better Communication Avoids Confusion
Michael Fisher, Jr., senior systems analyst at Whitcraft Group, cyber security consultant and technology evangelist, confirms good communication is key.
“My one top tip would be overall good communication around the program, which may include meetings, PowerPoint slides and a schedule. Without good communication [the partnership] may lead to confusion and overall less productivity,” says Michael.
7 —Dan Gingiss: Give Audiences the Answers they Crave
Chief Experience Officer at The Experience Maker LLC and CX thought leader Dan Gingiss encourages brands to engage influencers to elevate their customer experience.
“By giving influencers the platform to engage with your audience, you can facilitate great customer experiences by providing the answers your audience craves,” Dan shared.
Influencers allow you to add credibility to your brand’s point of view (POV), move prospects down the purchase funnel, and support customers in successfully deploying your product or service — all in a way that builds community and facilitates open conversations.
It’s important to keep in mind who you’re engaging and consider their primary business goals. “Remember that influencers are often solopreneurs who are trying to build or grow their own business. So while they may be willing to help you grow your business too, ultimately they have to do what’s right for their own business first. Their personal brand is their livelihood, so be careful asking for the moon and offering nothing in return,” said Dan.
He reminds B2B brands that “The best influencer programs highlight an authentic relationship between the influencer and the brand, and the best way to accomplish that is to ensure a mutually beneficial program.”
How you approach an influencer can set the tone for the relationship. As someone who has been on both sides of the table as a consultant looking to engage influencers and as a sought-after thought leader on digital strategy, brand elevation and analytics, Shonali Burke, President and CEO of Shonali Burke Burke Consulting, Inc. shared a great messaging tip. “If, as a brand, you’re looking to work with influencers, you will almost always get a response if, in your very first communication, you lead with a very specific ask, which shows at least equal benefit to them as to you,” she advises.
Shonali expands on such an approach, “This shows that a) you’ve done your research; and b) that you really understand what ‘influencer’ marketing is about. Simply asking for a call or meeting ‘to introduce ourselves to you’ is unlikely to work; (that’s what the internet is for). But if you have a really specific ask, e.g. you think they’d be a great potential speaker, etc., you’re almost guaranteed to get a response — as opposed to… crickets.”
Of course you measure the success of your campaigns. But have you thought of sharing that with your partners? “If you’re not sure what to do, ask. Many influencers have years of experience in serving the needs of B2B brands,” says Ramon.
Ramon invites B2B brands to “Know what your measure of success is and share this with the influencer.”
While it can be easy to do a flashy one-time campaign, B2B brands with the most success build brand awareness with a community of influencers who they trust and build strong relationships with over time. Tamara McCleary advises, “Think long-term. It’s important to look at an influencer program as a long-term relationship-building program. A long-term program will allow your brand to create true brand advocates, powerful brand evangelists, and raving fans.”
I’m not an influencer, but I have learned the best way to work with anyone is to have a conversation with them upfront. Then keep the conversation going to drive the best collaboration and create successful outcomes for your brand.
I appreciate the candor and openness of these amazing leaders, who continue to allow me to have an ongoing conversation with them.
Remember these key tips top B2B thought leaders shared for building successful relationships and campaigns:
Align influencers with your audience personas
Find influencers who are excited to work with your brand
So you’ve identified the true influencers to your target audience, Here is how to unleash your Influencer content you start,
Why do you even need a content person for influencer marketing?
After all, the influencers are providing the content. You just have to collect their pearls of wisdom, make them look pretty in a PDF, and you’re good to go, right?
I’ll confess, on my first influencer marketing project, I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there. Over the last few years, however, I’ve come to understand the role that content marketers can play in shaping influencer content.
It’s the content lead’s job to shape the conversation with the influencer. We have to ask the right questions, and provide a structure and framework to elicit thoughtful, detailed responses.
There are a few extraordinary thought leaders who will dash off a thousand-word, amazingly insightful response to the vaguest prompt. But most folks — even those who write for a living — need more to go on than “What is the biggest problem facing our industry?”
The influencers you’re talking to have spent hours of time and effort learning about their subject matter, building an audience with powerful, useful content that provokes action. When you email that list of questions, or sit down for an interview, make sure you don’t leave any insight untapped.
Here’s how we at TopRank are evolving our influencer approach to get at that next-level content.
How to Unleash Your Influencer Content
So you’ve identified the true influencers to your target audience, you’ve developed relationships, and now you’re ready to co-create content together. Before you start, make sure you lay the groundwork for a productive Q&A.
Ask More Specific Questions
Influencers will take their cue on how to answer based on how you ask the question. If you start with a mile-high question like, “What challenges should leaders be aware of right now?”, you’re likely to get a high-level response, something vague and oracular. That’s not because the interviewee can’t get into specifics — it’s because you didn’t invite them to.
A better approach is to find out the biggest challenges that your industry is facing, pick one, and ask what we should be doing about it: “The latest Gartner report says that 75% of managers don’t have enough donuts in the breakroom. What are the options for HR leaders to fix this problem? What do you recommend?”
Limit the scope of your question, and you invite the influencer to give a more detailed response.
It’s easy to fall into this particular trap. You offer the influencer softball questions that have a broad consensus for the answer, they agree with the consensus, everyone goes home happy.
I’m talking about questions like, “Do you think automation is, on the whole, a good thing or bad thing?” And they answer, “Well, it’s a different thing. It will cost some people their jobs, but for others it will make their jobs less repetitive and more meaningful, and that will open up new opportunities to innovate.”
The above is perfectly acceptable, content-wise, but it’s a waste of your influencer’s time and talent. You don’t hire LeBron James to dunk on a 4-foot rim. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to, questions that your industry is struggling with, questions that cry out for guidance!
And, of course, give your influencer plenty of time to think about these questions and formulate thoughtful responses.
Let Your Audience Ask the Questions
One of the best ways to get at these more detailed, more challenging questions is to see what questions your audience is actually asking. There are two ways to go about soliciting audience questions for an influencer.
The first is the direct one: Ask on your social media channels and your email newsletter. For example, a Twitter post could say, “If you could ask Lee Odden one question about influencer marketing, what would it be? Answer with #AskLeeO.” Collect the most pertinent questions and let them guide the interview.
The second way to let your audience ask the questions is to do some keyword research. The topics your audience is searching for are the ones they need answers on. If they had the answers, they wouldn’t be searching! But don’t stop at the highest-volume keywords; those are likely to be too general. Dig into the long-tails on a tool like SEMrush to get at the burning questions.
Ask for Stories
Many of the influencers we work with are consultants, keynote speakers, or have been executives at multiple companies. These folks have a ton of practical experience — we just have to ask them to draw on it.
Instead of asking, “What do you think are the three biggest challenges,” ask, “What problems are your clients coming to you with?” Or, even better, “Have you had clients with a similar problem? Tell me about how you advised them, what they did to solve it, and what success looks like.”
Asking for stories like this gives your influencer a chance to demonstrate their expertise in action, and offers your audience a more grounded, relatable look at your topic.
Power Up Your B2B Influencer Content
Content planning is a crucial part of influencer marketing. It’s the content team’s job to ask questions that meet audience demand, inspire thoughtful contemplation, and make full use of the influencer’s experience and insight. Asking the right questions is the difference between good and great influencer content.
If you want to level up your B2B influencer marketing content, make your questions specific, skip telling the audience what they already know, and ask for unique stories that only your influencer could tell.
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