B2B technology marketing used to be simple. The marketing mix was a continuous circle of trade shows, analyst relations and sales collateral. But there have been seismic shifts in the B2B marketing landscape, rendering these reliable marketing strategies obsolete.
The resulting situation is forcing B2B marketers to develop new approaches to support the complex buying process and stay relevant to their buyers. I could list off a hundred doomsday statistics, but at this point, our eyes would glaze over. The point is: our customers block advertisements, distrust marketing and the definition of “analyst” has been turned upside down.
When we founded Traackr, an influencer marketing platform, in 2009, we saw some of this coming. People were publishing thought leadership content on social networks and blogs across every topic imaginable and building audiences of engaged followers. It’s in the last five years, however, that we’ve seen influencer marketing become a more sophisticated practice retooling the foundation of marketing departments across all industries.
Can influencer marketing work for B2B organisations?
One of the most common misconceptions I hear, typically from B2B marketers, is, “Isn’t influencer marketing for consumer brands?” The truth is that among the most sophisticated influencer marketing programs we support, many are B2B technology organisations.
And as far as B2B maturity adoption goes for influencer marketing, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when--and who will get there first.
It’s also true that the challenges B2B marketers face are unique compared to their counterparts in B2C, which is why we teamed up with Mark Schaefer, a world-renowned business strategist and expert in influencer marketing, to interview 10 marketing leaders from the most recognisable B2B technology brands on the planet from Intel, Microsoft, HPE, Aruba, Samsung, Dell, SAP and IBM.
In our white paper, The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology, these experts collectively illustrate 6 paradigm shifts underpinning the practice of B2B influencer marketing. They share insightful lessons from their own experience implementing impactful and measurable influencer marketing programs.
What struck me most as I read the advice from these 10 senior B2B marketers was that the leaders have three things in common: a better definition of “influencer”, a focus on relationship-building and a rejection of influencer advertising.
A better definition of “influencer”
All of our experts talked about their collaborative approach to working with their teams, other business units and technology to identify the right influencers for their business. There is a tendency to favor subject-matter experts with smaller audiences over business celebrities. Overall the focus on influencer definition has shifted from a measure of their audience size to their ability to engage a specific audience, and those individuals can be found in many places.
One of the experts who was interviewed for the paper, Nicole Smith, Global Brand & Innovation Communications Manager at Intel Corporation, said that they are also looking to develop social influencers within their own company. "We know our employees are our biggest advocates. So, we have developed a training course at Intel to develop Social Media Practitioners. They learn about a process to have a more effective social media presence and how to share our news alerts on their own channels."
A focus on relationship-building
Across the board these influencer marketers are laser-focused on building strong relationships with their influencers. They are taking the time to support influencers outside of their organisation’s own initiatives, such as annual events. Many of the experts we spoke to spend time educating their internal teams and other departments on how to work with influencers and specifically what to expect.
Amanda Duncan, Customer Lifestyle Influencer Relations at Microsoft echoes the importance of investing time in a relationship. “Activities with influencers between campaigns and events are arguably just as important for relationships as those larger participation efforts. It's a time to really focus attention on the content your influencers are creating and adapt your approach to working with them as opportunities arise.
A rejection of influencer advertising
Our 10 experts were very clear on the question of influencer advertising. The resounding response was we do not want to pay influencers to say nice things about our organisation. This is a fundamental paradigm shift for an organisation to accept. It requires a very mature organisation that recognises that the benefit of influencers is to provide a much needed third-party opinion, to provoke meaningful conversations, to push the dialogue forward.
In the paper, Pegah Kamal is the social media manager for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company explains, "Every time we have a round table or a discussion with influencers, I coach every single person—you are here to talk the technology, you are not here to sell them on anything. The moment you do, just expect them to bite back and I'm not going to hold them back, because, in essence, these voices need to stay independent. That is the ‘purpose’ behind what they do and the key to their influence."
Indeed, the reason why influencer marketing, when done correctly, is so powerful is that the messages are real, interesting and thus produce off-the-chart engagement unlike any other marketing content. But you have to preserve their independence, which means you can’t buy an influencer.
We see this trend reflected not only in the minds, but also the wallets of marketers. In its research for Influence 2.0, Traackr asked 102 marketers from global organisations about their spend on influencer marketing and found that brands that have a more mature program spend 7x more than laggers. Where they increase and decrease spend is telling of the evolution of the practice.
The budget increases are disproportionately focused on technology spendings (+18 per cent in budget share for mature programs vs laggers) and services (+23 per cent). Inversely, mature programs seem to focus much less on influencer compensation (-45 per cent proportionally in mature programs vs laggers).
To learn more from these 10 experience influencer marketing practitioners and dive deeper into the six industry trends that are shaping the practice of B2B influencer marketing, download The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology Organizations.
Traackr’s white paper co-authored with Mark Schaeffer, “The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology Organizations”, is available for free download at: http://bit.ly/2rXBbv2
Pierre-Loïc Assayag, CEO, Traackr
Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock