With all the talk about influencer marketing, it’s no surprise that B2B marketers are (finally!) starting to show some interest in this new marketing approach. As a matter of fact, we’re getting lots of questions about how B2B influencer marketing programs work and the kind of results one can expect. And while we have opinions, it’s always good to get other expert perspectives, too.
With that in mind, we turned to Courtney Smith Kramer to get her take on B2B influencer marketing. Courtney not only is a social media influencer, co-founder and Executive Creative Director for Silicon Valley marketing firm PureMatter, and author of 21 Reasons Creativity is Like Sex”, she also built and managed some of the very first B2B influencer marketing programs.
Here’s what she told us:
Influencer marketing is all the rage with B2C marketers. Should B2B marketers be getting in on the action?
Influencer marketing is all about building long term relationships with outside people who care about what your brand is doing, what it stands for, or what it’s selling.
Our agency actually cut our teeth in influencer marketing for IBM back in 2011, when we ran the first pilot Influencer program for their Social Business Division. There were about six people there for the experience, and it was the beginning of our journey learning how to repeatedly create new experiences that were a “win/win/win” for the client, the Influencers, and us as an agency.
It doesn’t matter what a brand is selling, there are always excited people out there that would be thrilled to help – the trick is finding the right ones, at the right time, and creating the right conditions for the triple win.
What is the biggest mistake(s) that you see B2B marketers make with influencer marketing?
Having worked with both long sales cycle enterprises and consumer goods influencer programs, our mantra is the same for both: “Inspire, not require, unless for hire.” With clear guidelines, expectations and good intentions, influencers tend to share more and with positive sentiment than any directive we could mandate from them.
One mistake we’ve seen is brands trying to tell the influencers what they can and can’t talk about. We’ve heard horror stories from a few of our influencers about showing up to a brand event and being handed a sheet of pre-approved Tweets and posts. UGH! This is not influencer marketing; these people don’t work for you, they are not employees, and should be treated as professionals, no matter what.
Another mistake we’ve seen is over-scheduling their time at an event. Influencers should certainly be expected to attend general sessions and a few key breakout sessions that interest them. Even evening dinners are OK to expect attendance. But not giving them downtime to write blog posts or stories, or just to breathe, is a huge mistake. Often times, the most interesting insights come from a conversation in the bar between new friends, or a social conversation while sitting by the pool.
The last mistake we’ve seen is expecting a successful influencer experience from a one-off experience instead of treating it like a program. Influencer marketing is relationship marketing – it’s like advertising and PR had a baby – and relationships take time to cultivate, grow, and bear fruit. This means stop thinking of immediate Return On Investment (ROI) and instead measure the program on VOI – Value of Investment. This can be measured if the right goals and objectives are set up front, and measured over time as the value is realized.
No matter what, if a brand expects an influencer to stake their reputation on the line without fair exchange of value, it will fail; period.
In all fairness, we’ve also seen influencers who we thought, on paper, would be a great fit for the program, but for whatever reason when we meet in person, they go off the rails. I guess another mistake would be expecting everyone to be a top performer and not have human moments. That’s when politely thanking them for their participation comes in handy. 😊
Does B2B influencer marketing work for companies of all sizes or just enterprises?
Influencer marketing can work for any business, small to large, B2B and consumer. As long as there’s structure, a plan and clear expectations for the program and its desired outcomes for everyone involved, it can be scalable.
How should B2B marketers approach their influencer marketing programs?
What we’ve found that works for us is always keeping an eye on the brand’s internal initiatives without sacrificing the plan for, and the needs of, the influencers.
Taking the time to set up the goals tied to these initiatives is the first step to success, so you can strategically make the right choices for the program experiences later. Then attaching these experiences to a “reward system” – meaning how will the influencers feel a fair exchange of value for participating in your program – to their needs, will help relationships build.
Not everyone wants money in return. Depending on who it is and what you’re doing, maybe it’s insider access, or VIP experiences, or product development input, or even notoriety. Helping people build their own personal brands on the shoulders of your brand can be powerful currency.
Here’s a framework we put together on how to structure your B2B influencer program:
What about organizing influencer marketing program activities?
We developed this model as a way to organize and balance the activities and types of influencers we’re investing in.
Depending on the goals of the brand, we can dial up or down the activities within its quadrant.
For instance, if a brand is being measured solely on share of voice and impressions, we know we need to choose influencers who are “Amplifiers” with large social followings and audiences who care about what the brand is trying to build authority in. Conversely, if a brand is being measured more on content that is co-created and used as a gated asset for their nurture stream, we know to activate influencers with existing authority through a blog or guest poster for the media.
Once we know our strategy, then each of these pillars are added to a master calendar, and broken down into specific activities we’re planning for the program. This informs annual budgets for the brand.
What marketing goals are best suited for B2B influencer marketing?
I think using the model above will help place an influencer in the right place in your sales cycle.
Influencer programs seeking Share of Voice are great for awareness and interest, because they can provide trusted third party insights into what your brand is working on. If demand generation is more your goal for the program, then an influencer program could fit more into the education stage in your buyer’s journey.
Co-creating content together with influencers can be a powerful way to gain authority and trust while collecting email addresses and eyeballs at the same time.
How does your agency work with brands on influencer marketing programs?
We’ve spent a lot of time and energy putting structure around what an Influencer program should look like. Depending on what objectives and goals a brand is trying to reach, we can figure out together the best way to activate the influencers in the program to best support those goals. In many ways, our agency is the “agent” for both parties.
We’ve found that by listening to both the brand and the influencers, we can structure experiences that support the “win/win/win” concept, which strengthen relationships and makes everyone happy with their outcome. Also, knowing the “sweet spot” of type of influencer that fits a program keeps things moving in a timely manner, since identification is an ongoing activity.
We also plan our programs as far out as possible. We don’t like surprises; they can be expensive, and damage relationships. Nobody wants that!
Any other advice for marketers interested in B2B influencer marketing?
The most important decision a brand should make is a willingness to commit to a program – in our experience, it takes about two years to build the foundation and grow it to where it’s returning valuable co-created content for engagement and demand gen, social mentions and share of voice.
Anything less than that is cutting corners, and it’s doubtful you’ll reach the potential the program can deliver.
Besides influencer marketing, what else are you up to these days?
With my life partner, Bryan Kramer, I recently launched the Human Marketing Club (#H2HClub), a new online membership community that teaches marketers at all levels how to humanize their marketing. Definitely check it out.