Surviving the influencer marketing gold rush: 6 lessons from B2B tech marketers

Influencer marketing has become top of mind for every CMO. But while the road to success seems clearly paved for consumer-facing brands, many B2B organizations are struggling to formulate a framework to adopt influencer marketing in a meaningful way.

Since I wrote Return on Influence in 2012, the practice of influencer marketing has evolved significantly.

Many of the early adopters from five years ago having grown into mature, sophisticated influencer marketing programs.

B2B marketing is at a crossroads

Yet, most of the available best practices revolve around B2C.

B2B marketing is at a crossroads. Trust is low, buying processes are complex and our “go-to” channels are in turmoil -- or in permanent decline. Influencer marketing is one bright spot, rapidly growing in importance.

That’s why I teamed up with Traackr to examine the challenges B2B technology organizations face when implementing, standardizing, and scaling influencer marketing across their organizations.  

The resulting white paper, The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology Organizations, ties together interviews with 10 influencer marketing practitioners leading programs within some of the most recognizable high tech companies on the planet: IBM, Dell, Samsung, Microsoft, SAP, Aruba, HPE, Social Tribe, Forbes and Intel.

Collectively, we dive deep into six industry trends that are shaping the practice of B2B influencer marketing.

Here is a brief rundown of what we discovered:

1.)   Emergence of micro-influencers and their role vis-a-vis macro-influencers

In B2B technology, influencers are not defined by their audience sizes, but rather an influencer’s value is based on the relevance of their audience to your buyers.

Our experts discuss how they focus on small groups of influencers and build deeper relationships with them. Many caution against looking for the easy way out in identifying influencers.

you need to start with relevance to your organization and customers

Amisha Gandhi, Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP, gets to the heart of the micro-macro influencer dynamic:

"Look beyond the numbers. You need to start with relevance to your organization and customers and work backwards to identify your influencers.”

2.)   Necessity to lead with purpose over promotion

Expertise is the foundation of any true influencer’s credibility and nowhere is this more important than in B2B technology.

Konstanze Alex-Brown, Global Digital Communications, Dell, says it all:

look for influencers who are organically telling a story that resonates with your brand

“Our intention is to never have an influencer sell. Never. And that is supported all the way through our culture.”

The experts explain that instead of trying to get an influencer to talk about your topics, look for influencers who are organically telling a story that resonates with your brand.

Some experts explained how they have led internal workshops for marketing and product teams to help set expectations and best practices for influencer relations -- it’s as much about marketing as it is about change management.  

3.)   Importance of expert voices and their relationship with brand voice

For B2B technology organizations, the influential expert voice has the weight to cut through the noise and lack-of-trust that permeates the solution buying experience.

there is great opportunity in harnessing constructive criticism

It requires an organizational mindset shift though to recognize that expert voices may not always be 100% positive, however, there is great opportunity in harnessing constructive criticism to create engaging conversations.

Speaking to the power of transparency, Amanda Duncan, Customer Lifestyle Influencer Relations at Microsoft, explains:

"If an influencer has constructive feedback for your organization or a product team, that can trigger an incredibly fruitful exchange. Bring them in as advisors, pilot solutions with them, give them first access to the results.

“The key is to listen and return with an outcome based on their feedback. You can’t just say, thanks for your feedback. As an organization, you have to be ready to acknowledge, take action and communicate back."

4.)   Transition from campaign-driven activities to “always on” engagement

Many B2B influencer marketing activities revolve around annual events, with very little happening outside of these activations.

influencer marketing requires an ongoing, long-term approach

But the reality, echoed by all experts, is that influencer marketing requires an ongoing, long-term approach. Indeed, it’s when you take this strategic approach that you see the full impact.

IBM’s Andrew Grill explains:

“You simply have to treat these influencers with respect and nurture a long-term relationship. I'm not going to deliver you a crop of influencers by Friday, and maybe not even in the next three months.

“You need to put this on the same footing as the press and investor relations. This is the third external leg.”

5.)   Demolition of silos in favor of cross-functional collaboration

Part of the evolution of influencer marketing as a professional discipline means extending the sphere of involvement beyond a marketing or PR team into a broader internal and external network.

it absolutely needs to be integrated into all of the core parts of your business

“We work with a number of different companies and I often see influencer marketing treated as an independent engagement or a standalone unit,” said Megan Conley, who works with many technology brands through her agency Social Tribe.

“But the reality is, it absolutely needs to be integrated into all of the core parts of your business infrastructure.”

6.)   Evolution of measurement from reach to outcomes

Early influencer measurement efforts were concentrated on “reach” as expressed in likes and mentions, but that is changing fast as technology catches up to the demands of the modern marketing department.

“Where we're going to go and where we need to go is getting influence measurement into a social attribution model,” said Pegah Kamal, Social Media Manager, Aruba.

“There are different methods developing out there, and these are the next steps we need to figure out - tracing content and actions.”

we are seeing an evolution in the way awareness is measured and reported

Nicole Smith, Global Brand & Innovation Communications Manager at Intel said:

“We are also seeing an evolution in the way awareness is measured and reported. Our strongest metric for awareness is engagement. We analyze our success on every piece of content and every influence channel. Measures might include likes, comments, replies, and click-throughs. Did it start a conversation? How did this compare to previous content efforts?”

At the end of the day, we are in the gold rush era of influencer marketing. When the dust settles, the winners will be those who have figured out how to reimagine what it means to market technology in our connected, fragmented and social world. And winners they will be.

"Influencer marketing is becoming a much more sophisticated discipline within the marketing department,” says Amisha Gandhi of SAP. “We know that programs and content typically generate 2 - 4X greater return than if we were to run that same campaign without an influencer partnership.”

To dig deeper into each trend as illustrated by our 10 experts, download Traackr’s white paper co-authored with Mark Schaeffer, “The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology Organizations” for free here

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