The term “influencer marketing” often conjures images of a food, fitness or fashion influencer with millions of Instagram followers who does brand shout-outs and contests. This may be accurate, but B2C is not the only space where this increasingly popular strategy works. Adding B2B influencers to the marketing mix has gained importance given the ticket size of deals, the complexity of the buying process, and the current COVID-19 crisis. In fact, influencer marketing is gaining prominence as an important B2B marketing tactic, with upcoming trends including the rise of micro-influencers, an increase in specialization, and even the rise of employee influencers.
Influencer strategies are relevant across industries and company sizes. GE, for example, offered six relevant influencers a tour of an R&D center and the opportunity to share exclusive inside access with their 3.5 million Instagram followers. The #GEInstaWalk was a massive success, generating 200,000 social engagements within the first 48 hours.
Getting B2B influencers to share or advocate a product, service, solution or company can create awareness among customers and prospects, nurture interest, and improve their propensity to buy. So, what are the basics of B2B influencer marketing, and how can companies incorporate it into their own mix?
B2B Influencers: Who Are They?
A B2B influencer is someone customers trust to guide them as part of the B2B buying cycle. These could be industry analysts, experts from industry bodies, opinion leaders, or even other customers who have faced a similar situation and shared their insights. B2B influencers have built their reputation over an extended period based on their experience, expertise, and voice in the industry.
A few significant, accessible, and credible influencers in the IT industry are analysts like Gartner, Forrester, and HfS. Earning a profile in analyst reports helps in two ways. First, customers embracing strategic and transformational programs often refer to analyst research and reports to shortlist their potential vendors. Second, once an IT organization is shortlisted, the analyst report provides it the opportunity to showcase its strategy, capabilities, and client success stories to boost its strategic positioning and competitive differentiation, and to win more business.
Other kinds of industry influencers gaining traction are independent technology futurists or thought leaders like Vala Afshar, R Ray Wang, and Tiffani Bova, all of whom are well-respected for their ability to spot trends in technology and innovation. These influencers could be industry veterans, leaders of technology associations and standards bodies, heads of academic think tanks, senior technology journalists and media professionals, startup investors, or even governmental leads for country-level technology transformation programs.
Why are B2B Influencers Important in 2020 and Beyond?
The global pandemic has brought up new challenges for the B2B marketer. As the business and market landscapes have changed in the post-COVID era, so too have business priorities. Organizations across the world have found that the B2B services a Fortune 500 company will buy today are different from the pre-COVID era. Companies are also encountering reduced marketing budgets, a trend that will likely continue. In addition to these market developments, there are increased expectations for marketing teams to consistently deliver business value and meaningful outcomes. As a result, marketers have to do more with less.
These uncertain times provide a compelling opportunity to re-invent influencers in the B2B marketing mix and think creatively, strategically, and holistically. By doing so, companies can foster high-impact, scalable and sustainable collaborations that benefit the enterprise, the influencer and the customer. Here’s how that balance is possible.
What’s in it for the enterprise?
More than 90% of B2B buyers steer clear of sales messages while preferring credible content from industry influencers. B2B influencer campaigns allow for a wider reach and credibility with potential buyers, who are more open and accepting of messages that come from a neutral and respected source. Creative engagements could include an exclusive customer webinar on a trending topic at which an industry influencer speaks, a university collaboration to design a certification program for skill development with an influencer, or a virtual think-tank group in which influencers work side-by-side with customers to solve an industry problem.
What’s in it for the B2B influencer?
With live events canceled in most parts of the world, B2B influencers are increasingly looking at digital marketing and virtual events to reach their audiences with their latest thinking and perspectives. Partnering with a business can provide them with the desired audience reach and industry visibility.
What’s in it for the customer?
Influencer marketing provides customers with insights and perspectives from a source they already trust. Webinars are one of the top three content types most frequently consumed by B2B audience, and with most live events going online, a lot of exclusive information is now available to a broader audience.
Although marketers don’t need the reminder, Gartner says 76% of marketing leaders expect a decrease in their budgets due to the pandemic. With fewer dollars to spend, developing well-planned and customer-focused initiatives is critical. Programs centered around the right theme and content strategy will gain center stage. That strategy could benefit significantly by including engagements with trusted industry voices like influencers to maximize the reach and return of every marketing dollar.
What role will B2B influencers play in your business and marketing strategy? Let us know!