This stat is somewhat dated but it still holds true today: by the time a B2B buyer reaches out to a technology vendor, 57% of the decision has already been made. How? Research.
As B2B buyers become increasingly mistrustful of traditional advertising, they are relying on researchers to gather relevant data and dig deep before even considering reaching out to a vendor. At the same time, information overload has buyers relying on peers, experts and industry influencers more than ever. So how can businesses leverage this shift in the B2B landscape to their advantage?
According to some research from Demand Gen Report and Uberflip, 72% of B2B buyers place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of content sources than they did last year. With the rise of fake news on the internet, buyers are even more skeptical about what they read, who to believe and they are consistently looking for validation from other sources.
Consider this–today almost half of B2B researchers are millennials. They Google everything, use mobile and watch videos to compare products, read reviews and everything in between. While the C-suite may have the final sign-off, it’s the researchers that exert the heaviest influence on the purchasing decision. And to make an impact on this ecosystem, businesses must adapt their marketing channels to go beyond legacy perspectives and place greater emphasis on trust and the authenticity of the content they distribute into the marketplace.
This is where influencer marketing programs come into play.
Bloggers. Thought leaders. Subject matter experts. True influencers are not measured by the number of followers, but by the level of engagement with their community. With a profound understanding of their audience, influencers direct all their efforts into creating content, layering on a very specific point of view about a topic, and establishing a solid foundation of relevance and authority. They build communities where their opinions are valued, updates are followed, and content is shared. They connect at a very human level, even when speaking to thousands of followers. Some refer to this as “scalable intimacy”. For marketers, it opens up the potential to touch a great number of people efficiently while treating each as an individual, ultimately providing value in return.
So how can B2B companies and technology brands leverage influencer marketing?
Identifying the right influencers is a good start. And, popularity is not always the greatest indicator of influence. A few questions come to my mind when I think about measuring influence:
- Are their values naturally aligned with company objectives?
- Is their audience relevant and likely to be interested in the product and services of the company?
- Do they create content that is engaging, useful and trustworthy?
Thought leaders, industry analysts, journalists, contributors to relevant publications–identify those that are truly influential with your buyers and go from there. I use a methodology that considers the following collective data points:
- Reach: What is their network size or how large is their online community? You’ll have to consider RSS subscribers, social media followers, connections, etc. Reach is important because it’s one indicator of the potential distribution of content.
- Relevance: How often are they talking about the topics and categories that align with your business? Did they mention it once six months ago or are they consistently talking, writing and sharing content related to the industry.
- Resonance: When they speak, share or write long-form content, how far does it travel and do others interact with it in the form of likes, comments, shares, link backs, etc. The assumption is that higher interactions equal higher resonance.
- Reference: Are they referenced by other, like-minded influencers. This is a good indicator that their opinions are respected by their industry peers.
Then, think about the customer journey. By aligning strategic content with influencer programs, influencers can introduce new products to their audience at the awareness stage, raise visibility and demonstrate the product at the research stage, and direct customers to make purchasing decisions at the sales stage. Ultimately, strategic influencer content can open the door for companies to connect with increasingly elusive and discerning audiences in ways that are more natural, relatable and, most importantly, authentic. In some cases, the influencer activation may not even require “activation.” You can learn a lot and gain actionable intelligence about influencers by just researching their conversations and online habits.
SAP is a great example. In 2016, SAP identified and partnered with technology influencers to promote their SAPPHIRE conference. They invited 11 influencers to attend the conference and live-streamed interviews with them throughout the event. The influencers created content and leveraged their networks to drive awareness and engagement with SAP content. This generated 17% of the total online engagement at the event and gave the virtual audience the influencers’ perspective on SAPPHIRE.
While B2C influencer marketing aims to create emotional relationships to increase content engagement, B2B influencer programs are about creating trust-based relationships to increase content authenticity. According to the Influence 2.0 report, only 5% of enterprise marketers run fully integrated influencer marketing activities today, even though 71% consider it strategic or highly strategic. This presents forward-looking B2B brands with an opportunity to use influencer marketing as a powerful differentiator in this age of information overload.
Here are some additional resources about B2B Influencer Marketing Programs
- Activating B2B influencers across earned, owned, shared & paid media
- How Researching B2B influencers Can Deliver Actionable Intelligence – MarketingLand
- B2B Decision Makers Are Tired of the Same Old Marketing – Adweek
- Planning Your B2B Marketing Strategy – LinkedIn
- The 1:9:90 Model: A New Approach To B2B Influencer Marketing – Forbes
- 2018: The year of influencer marketing for B2B brands – MarketingLand
You may also find this white paper helpful, Scaled Influence: Winning the War of Brand Relevance B2B Influencer Marketing. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.