Technology marketing used to be so easy. But there have been seismic shifts in the B2B marketing landscape, causing turmoil in our go-to channels. One bright spot; however, has been the emergence of influencer marketing.
Influencers have undoubtedly become a mainstream channel for consumer-facing brands, but how does it impact those of us in B2B marketing?
To answer this question, we teamed up with Mark Schaefer, a respected thought leader in the B2B space, to interview ten trailblazers who have been building influencer marketing programs in some of the most recognizable technology organizations in the world. Among the conversations, six industry trends emerged that are shaping the practice of B2B influencer marketing:
- Emergence of micro-influencers and their role vis-a-vis macro-influencers
- Necessity to lead with purpose over promotion
- Importance of expert voices and their relationship with brand voice
- Transition from campaign-driven activities to “always on” engagement
- Demolition of silos in favor of cross-functional collaboration
- Evolution of measurement from reach to outcomes
While all six trends will undoubtedly impact the practice in the near future, it’s especially important for B2B marketers to embrace the idea of moving away from campaign-driven activities and towards an “always on” collaboration mindset. Without integrating this mentality into an influencer marketing strategy, the culture transformation required for scalable success would be impossible.
With that in mind, here are three ways to drive that cultural change for B2B influencer marketing:
1. Acknowledge That Influencer Marketing Is About Long-Term Relationships
How do you move a culture from a campaign-led focus to one focused on the long term?
According to IBM’s Andrew Grill, “It’s really easy; you equate influencers to the press. You don’t ignore the press when you’re not running a campaign. We expect that they could be contacting us at any moment. We have to be on our toes. We have to have our representatives and our people who are authorized to speak, available 24/7.”
Andrew also revealed a few helpful tips to treat influencers like the press:
- Invite influencers to the same events as press
- Give influencers the same embargoed materials
- Treat influencers with respect (seems obvious, but it doesn’t always happen)
- Nurture a long-term relationship with influencers
2. Maintain Influencer Relationships Long After Your Campaigns
Besides putting influencers in the same category as press and investor relations, we learned that marketers must abandon one-off influencer campaigns.
“When we started with influencer marketing, we had a lot of one-off campaigns,” said Nicole Smith of Intel. “We made a strategic decision to change that to focus more on long-term relationships. As a result, we have something that we call an Influencer Management Review Committee, which is supported by our CMO. Anybody at Intel who is looking to engage with digital or social influencers has to run their proposal through this committee. And one of the key questions for their proposal is, how will you maintain this relationship after that campaign? And if they don’t’ have an answer for that, we don’t allow it to go through.”
This insight is the key to driving a culture in the company that focuses on relationships, on ensuring that the influencer has a good experience, and that you are meeting all FTC guidelines.
3. Own Influencer Relationships In-House
While small businesses may outsource influencer relationships, it’s important for enterprise B2B brands to own the relationships in-house.
“I think if you try to use an agency too much, you’re going to miss out on the long-term benefits of the relationships. For me, we’re in it for the long haul. It’s like a marriage,” said Pegah Kamal, Aruba, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Amanda Duncan of Microsoft echoed 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 time to really focus attention on the content your influencers are creating and adapt your approach to working with them as opportunities arise. It’s similar to adjusting a pitch to a reporter if their beat changed. If your influencer decides to explore a new content stream, like starting a podcast, or evolves their own thematic interests, you already have an ongoing dialogue to discuss these new opportunities.”
While B2B influencer marketing is a hot topic, it requires a fundamental cultural shift with the marketing department to execute successfully and scale with impact.
- Take the same long-term approach with influencers as you do with journalists and analysts.
- Build organizational processes to bake long-term engagement into each initiative.
- Bring influencer relationship management in-house to create closer bonds between employees and influencers.