According to the World Federation of Advertisers, 65% of multinational brands will increase their influencer marketing spending in the next 12 months. Mediakix reports that influencer ad spending alone will increase from $5 billion to $10 billion in the next 5 years.
More companies are moving into the world of influencer marketing. Recent research from Traackr and Brian Solis from Altimeter group offers evidence of this momentum with the number of companies moving from experimenting to implementing tactical influencer marketing programs increasing from 28% to 47%.
While there’s momentum and confidence building towards influencer marketing, it’s still early days for many companies, especially in B2B industries. Fortunately, B2B influencer content is a speciality area for us. If you’re thinking about starting or evolving your business influencer engagement and content program, here are a few things you need to know:
Marketing agencies come in many flavors from those who are specialized to full service to advertising focused or content focused. A thread of challenge that runs through all of them is finding the right talent to meet the needs of modern marketing – especially B2B influencer marketing.
With potential B2B influencer marketing agency partners, you really have to consider:
Brands have challenges in compliance enforcement, especially as FTC guidelines get more specific and the influence of GDPR reaches across the pond to affect data privacy regulations in the US, brands have to figure out their processes, disclosure policies and governance. Additionally, the new CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) that takes effect January 1, 2020 needs to be considered as inspiration for laws to be passed in other states of the U.S..
B2B brands are running a little behind B2C in terms of influencer marketing sophistication and have not been investing as much in technology, staff or the influencers themselves.
However, that is starting to change!
B2B brands are making great progress on engaging influencers for content across the entire customer journey to collaborating with more micro-influencers.
Over the past 12 months we have seen many more B2B brands:
Top challenges for influencers include ensuring their own disclosure and “clean” networks to earn and keep brand trust. Big name influencers are now competing against many niche influencers as brands seek to lower their costs and boost engagement levels. Those big names will need to work harder on being effective vs. just being famous.
Look no further than Instagram removing likes as a preview to the move away from superficial vanity metrics to those KPIs that actually matter for creating marketing, brand and business impact.
Marketers that rely on popularity to validate influencers are in for disappointment if they expect engagement or anything meaningful in terms of marketing impact. Popularity is a blunt instrument for an operation that often requires a scalpel or laser like specificity in order to be relevant to an audience in a meaningful way.
Marketers that do not validate influencers with data both initially and on a periodic basis will feel the sting of egocentric validation. Ask business executives and marketers who is influential to their industry and they may reply with a few names. But are those people influential to customers? Do you have evidence or proof? If not, you're just guessing and that's no way to run B2B marketing in 2020.
Marketers who view influencers purely as an advertising distribution channel really miss the mark on the opportunity that influencer relationships can bring. Of course pay to play has its place in B2B influencer engagements, but when brands limit their view to a transactional engagement model only, they’re often disappointed with the results.
There’s an expression I like to use:
It’s important to pay for the right kind of engagement, but also focus on developing relationships with both up and coming as well as established influencers.
Short term thinking gets short term results. Tactically, brands that use a shotgun approach to invite influencers only when they need them won’t see very high recruitment rates. The same goes for non-personalized, ego-centric messages from brands that are only concerned with what the brand wants to get out of the collaboration.
Our focus at TopRank Marketing is B2B content and influencer marketing, so the approach and best practices are different than working with consumer focused influencers. Longer sales journeys, larger purchase decisions that are often made by committees vs. individuals make B2B a very different animal in the influencer marketing world. Also, in B2B there is less “pay to play” so the importance of values alignment with the brand and true relationships is very high.
B2B influencers tend to have more subject matter expertise than the media creation skills often found in B2C, so the approach to recruit them often has to be based on how their collaboration with the brand will create value for their mutual audiences.
Relationships are an investment. We’ve found that B2B influencers will be more invested in the brand when the brand invests more in an ongoing relationship with the influencer.
Different types of influencers have different motivations so it is important to approach them accordingly. Brandviduals play the exposure and fame game, so engaging them would be very different than engaging a cybersecurity engineer with a niche, but highly active audience.
Always-on social monitoring and engagement are essential for quality interactions with influencers on an ongoing basis and especially when you are not working with them on a campaign. Software is essential for this kind of social CRM, listening and engagement.
More effort to validate the social networks of influencers is important and I think social media platforms are moving in the right direction in this regard.
Influencers actually being influential and honest about their brand relationships.
A more holistic view of who is influential to include employees, customers, partners and community – not just famous industry celebrities.
Focus on relationships over a transactional approach to engaging influencers. If they don’t care, they won’t share and relationships are key for driving brand/influencer connection strength.
Improvements in Influencer marketing software including better integration between influencer marketing platforms and content marketing platforms, analytics, CRM and marketing automation platforms.
Everybody wins is a winning strategy. When brands “get it right” with recruiting influencers who are authentically interested in both the product/service and are genuinely active in the communities of interest, the resulting collaborations are a win for everyone involved.
Content collaboration is an incredible relationship builder with B2B influencers. Rather than focusing entirely on engagement to build a relationship so the influencer will accept an offer to collaborate, brands that provide relevant, easy to do collaboration opportunities can see more rapid and qualitative influencer engagement. The act of creating something together that is relevant, easy to do and high exposure sets the stage for future partnerships.
Relationships lead to ROI. While many influencer collaborations focus around campaigns, it is the strength of brand and influencer relationship that inspires higher quality contributions, more effective promotion, loyalty and advocacy for the brand.
It's tempting for B2B companies to make a number of assumptions about what working with influencers is like and what those collaborations can achieve. But as you can see from this article, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you should know to be successful, there is more to influencer marketing than simply picking a few popular Twitter accounts in your industry and inviting them to share your latest ebook.
The good news is that there are well established strategies, frameworks, program models, speciality software and established networks already built that B2B brands can tap into. Doing so can create a more valuable long term strategic approach that builds the brand and stronger relationships for advocacy while simultaneously creating opportunities for short term wins that can build confidence amongst leadership that influence is a important part of the marketing mix.
If you'd like to know more about how B2B brands are seeing success working with influencers, be sure to check out some of our case studies or reach out to me directly.
A version of this article originally published at TopRank's Online Marketing Blog.