“We’re in an age of doing more with less. But if you have influencers as part of your system, you’re doing more with more. Why is that? Because now you have partners in the game with you, and you have this thing in common that you’re after to try to achieve more together. That’s part of community, that’s part of always-on influence.” – Lee Odden
In finding better ways to reach B2B buyers and earn their trust faster, influencers could be a smart investment for companies looking to get ahead.
In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Lee Odden, co-founder and former CEO of TopRank Marketing, to dig into TopRank’s 2023 B2B Influencer Marketing Report and explore how B2B marketers can use influence to boost their content success (and ultimately drive sales).
Watch the full conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.
Q1: What does a typical buying cycle look like in B2B today?
Lee believes the fundamental mechanics of B2B buying haven’t changed—identify a problem, research solutions, and gain internal alignment—however, the journey is now different.
“The buyer’s journey is longer. It’s constrained by budget. It’s more complex because there are more people involved, and also because there are more channels involved.” – Lee Odden
Buyers increasingly seek rep-free experiences.
“A very large percentage of buyers are through the journey before they ever make contact. Gartner just put out a report that 75% of buyers want a rep-free experience. [They] don’t want to talk to anybody.” – Lee Odden
Trust plays a key role in today’s B2B decision-making.
“A lot of brands are saying they’re sticking with what they know, the vendors that they know, because there’s a trust factor there.” – Lee Odden
“When people are pulling themselves through that information, discovery, evaluation, and consideration, whose content is it? And who is the best answer for the thing that the buyer is trying to solve?” – Lee Odden
Buyers are turning to private channels and communities to seek recommendations, which marketers often aren’t included in.
“Every single day, I’m seeing someone asking for recommendations for who are those trusted vendors. So many of these conversations are now happening in what we call dark social, where it’s a private audience. You as the marketer are never going to see that people are asking these questions, because you’re not invited to the party, because you don’t have the right job title or network to get that invite in the first place. Those are the places where people are asking, and frequently those communities are even being run by some of these influencers. I think Christopher Penn’s community is such a good example of that.” – Erika Heald
All of these factors reinforce the need to deliver personalized and relevant content that earns your prospective buyer’s trust.
“I did a presentation recently where I talked about the evolution of content from B2B. Oversimplified, it used to be all about pushing out what we thought the buyer needed to know (features and benefits). Then we got into this age of utility: Let’s empathize a little bit with these buyers and give them content that they’re actually looking for. And now we’re getting into more personalized and experiential content. Don’t give me the same information you’re giving to the other 10,000 prospects on your list. It needs to be relevant, and it needs to be trusted.” – Lee Odden
And influencers can help you engage buyers and earn their trust in natural ways.
“Empathizing with buyers and the experiences they have has to do with understanding their centers of influence. The notion of influencer marketing isn’t some linear idea—’oh, let’s go find the most famous people and throw them in our content or pay them, and then we go away’—it starts with the buyer and understanding what are the centers of influence for the buyer. How do they discover information? What are their preferences for content consumption? And then what are the triggers that motivate action?” – Lee Odden
“If you can get a quality recommendation, that’s worth so much. It saves the brand money, ultimately, because you get good information that you can act on and you have a high degree of certainty that it’s going to result in what it is that you’re looking for.” – Lee Odden
Q2: How popular is influencer marketing for B2B marketing? What are some of the ways companies are working with influencers?
According to TopRank Marketing’s 2023 B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 85% of B2B marketers surveyed include influence as part of their strategy (up from 34% in 2020—a 51% increase!).
“I think we’re in an age of influence. And I know we’re in an age of AI and lots of other things. But there is an evolution of this idea that everyone is influential about something, it’s not just the famous individuals in your sector. The information transfer and the credibility and their relevance is playing more of an important role because of budget constraints, because of greater scrutiny on ROI.” – Lee Odden
Influence is the No. 2 most impactful channel for marketing success.
“We asked respondents to rank what channels or tactics had the most impact on the success of their marketing. Social media was at the top of that list. In the second position was influencer marketing, and followed by SEO and content marketing.” – Lee Odden
And influence includes both internal and external experts.
“There’s a bit of a gap between high performers in the craft of working with influence as a thing. So it’s not just influencers externally, but growing influence of the brand and internal experts. Leveraging that ability to create trusted, relevant content is having a great impact.” – Lee Odden
“What are these high performers doing? Most of them are working with influencers to promote content or to reach that audience. [And] they’re working with them to actually endorse products, which is such a B2C thing to do.” – Lee Odden
Common influencer collaborations include providing quotes for content, participating in events, serving as brand ambassadors, or serving as brand advisors.
“They can’t just be great at creating Snapchat or YouTube videos, they actually have to know what they’re talking about. Otherwise, no one will listen to them. So if you have someone who’s publishing their academic research, and they’re also CEO of a company or a senior executive at a company, and they’re speaking at conferences, [and] authoring books—that’s the kind of business leader that is influential and would be a great adviser to a brand.” – Lee Odden
Q3: How can influencer marketing help a B2B company achieve its goals?
The traditional influencer model—where an influencer contributes their knowledge or insights for a brand asset—is shifting as influencers seek engagements where they create assets entirely for their own channels. This can make it harder to measure the ROI compared to content on an owned channel.
“Increasingly there are creators in the B2B space that are creating and promoting content on their own channels entirely.” – Lee Odden
“If you’re lucky enough to have the kind of tracking URL situation that you would use with your own programs, you’d also have those with the influencers you’re working with.” – Lee Odden
Depending on your influencer engagement, identify opportunities to insert tracking mechanisms. At a minimum, you can quantify whether the influencer created the quantity or type of deliverable they agreed to.
“The same tracking mechanisms that would be in place for any content marketing program would be the same with an influencer collaboration. But on top of that, you have influencer metrics to answer key questions about outputs and outcomes. How many things did they do? Did they share or not?” – Lee Odden
“The outcomes are any convertible, conversation type of activity that can be associated with those tracking URLs given to the influencers to activate either organically or paid through their own efforts.” – Lee Odden
Ask the influencer to share stories about how the partnership resonated with a member of their community.
“When you’re engaging with people or different types of influencers, a lot of them are practitioners. And they are on the front lines, just like your customers are. They are in those Slack channels and they are in those private groups here and there. They’re witnessing firsthand how people are interacting with the content that they’re sharing. On a qualitative level, your hope as a brand working with them is that they are going to report on that. They are going to qualitatively share those stories.” – Lee Odden
Q4: What are the primary influencer types for B2B audiences?
Influencers can be anyone who is an expert in your space with an engaged audience that they can drive action. You can consider influencers based on who they are, what they create, and who you’re trying to reach.
“There’s a lot of different schema for categorizing influencers. It could be about who they are, the audience you’re trying to reach, or the content you’re trying to create.” – Lee Odden
In the recording, Lee explains a few influencer categories:
- Practitioners, who often have strong opinions and attract people that follow them
- Niche experts, who likely spend time publishing to articulate their point of view because they are passionate about their industry
- Thought leaders (or “brandividuals”), who are possibly making their business about being influential and have established podcasts or email lists
- Creators, who are gifted at making media and telling stories
Creators in particular present an opportunity for B2B marketers.
“[Creators] have gotten really good at telling stories and creating media. And that is increasingly a part of the influencer community that we’ve got to pay attention to in the B2B space, because they can reach the audience that we’re after more effectively than a lot of the ads that the brand’s trying to run on traditional channels.” – Lee Odden
Internal experts and influencers can be equally important as external influencers.
“There are different types of influence. There are different activation opportunities. Take advantage of those opportunities for people to shine. The knowledge and trusted expertise [within a company] is a huge opportunity for brands to scale the role of influence and elevate their overall marketing.” – Lee Odden
Lee recommends finding influencers that exhibit the five P’s:
“We have people who have the five P’s: They’re proficient, they have popularity, they have personality, they publish, and they promote.” – Lee Odden
Per TopRank’s Research, B2B marketers assess influencers based on the degree to which the brand audience sees the influencer as trustworthy, how relevant the influencer’s audience is to the brand, and the influencer’s professional credentials.
“When you’re trying to pick the right people to partner with, it’s not just about them. It’s actually more about who’s listening to them, where your brand is gonna get value from an ROI standpoint.” – Lee Odden
Q5: What best practices should B2B marketers follow when engaging influencers for content creation or collaboration?
Be clear about what topic(s) you’re trying to build authority in, how your brand and solution fit in the space, and why it’s a win-win for you and the prospective influencer.
“The fastest way to fail at influencer marketing and engagement is to fail at relevance. To be relevant, you’ve got to make smart, data-informed decisions around the topics that represent what it is that the buyers associate with the solution they’re trying to find. And correspondingly, that represents the brand and the brand solution that you’re trying to be the best answer for.” – Lee Odden
“It’s super important that when you’re reaching out to an influencer, not only is the influencer relevant to your ask, but that you’re establishing your brand as super relevant to the ask, and that the context—the reason for the ask—is also super relevant.” – Lee Odden
Approach influencers with offers based on their unique skills and distinct brand. You shouldn’t propose a written content engagement to an influencer whose platform is entirely video based.
“Do your homework. Do your due diligence. Make sure that not only is the influencer you’re partnering with relevant, but the ask is also relevant.” – Lee Odden
Brands need to prove to influencers that they are worth their time and partnership.
“If they’re really good at what they do, they’re in high demand. And they’ve got a lot of options on the table. So you’re gonna have to win them over. Build a relationship with them or connect with someone who already has a strong relationship with them.” – Lee Odden
Be incredibly clear with what you’re asking and what is expected of the influencer.
“Set expectations that are super clear. If it’s a paid gig, you have expectations and deliverables, so those need to be articulated in an agreement contract. Never assume anything.” – Lee Odden
Treat influencers like they’re special, even after the engagement.
“So often, brands don’t even say thank you after the engagement, let alone continue to maintain a relationship. If they’re good, you’re going to want to work with them again in the future. If you created a good experience—and that’s an end-to-end experience—they’re gonna say yes, very quickly… [even if they’re] saying no to pretty much everybody else. And there’s a big ROI to that.” – Lee Odden
In the recording, Erika and Lee explain how many companies engage with influencers for content but fail to keep in touch with the influencers—even if the content continues to perform!
“They’re not necessarily looking at their content investments and, from a broader picture standpoint, they’re leaving tons of money on the table [by] not optimizing for performance.” – Lee Odden
Q6: Based on the trends you’re seeing with the research, what do you expect to change with B2B influencer marketing as we enter 2024?
The role of creators will increase.
“The role of creators is going to continue to increase. There are going to be more media-creation savvy people that are going to be great ad buys for B2B brands. And the way you work with them is different than organic influencers.
AI will inspire innovation (if used appropriately).
“AI is going to play an interesting role with influence. We already have to run content that influencers give us through AI detection services, because some of them are doing it. But there are interesting things when you use AI as an engine and your own data to ideate.” – Lee Odden
Authenticity will be a big opportunity, especially given the rise of AI.
“Authenticity is a big opportunity for influencer engagement with B2B brands going into 2024. As operationally efficient as it may seem for a B2B marketer to use AI in whatever ways as it relates to influence, the buyer’s going to be able to tell. You’ve got to think about the importance of authenticity.” – Lee Odden