The past year or more has taught B2B marketer many lessons, especially the importance of creating digital first experiences that are credible, authentic and relevant to specific buyers. As part of the digital transformation of marketing, many B2B companies have adjusted their go-to-market approach to satisfy the changing customer expectations that have evolved during the pandemic.
One of those adjustments in B2B marketing has been the increasing role of influence in delivering credible, authentic and relevant digital experiences. Our initial B2B Influencer Marketing research from 2020 showed that going into the pandemic, confidence in working with B2B influencers was very high as were expectations of outcomes.
Despite the growing confidence in working with B2B influencers over the past year, today there are important questions to be answered as more B2B brands enter the realm of influence and grow more sophisticated with the practice.
Much of B2B influencer marketing has emphasized working with industry experts external to the organization, but what about growing influence from within? How does influencer marketing work across departments? How do employee advocacy, growing executive influence and working with industry influencers intersect to deliver better customer experiences and marketing performance?
At TopRank Marketing we are proud to work on influencer content marketing and executive social programs for some of the biggest B2B brands in the world. We also know that our blog community represent a wealth and depth of B2B marketing experience. We invite you to share that expertise in our 2021 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Survey.
Your insights will help elevate the practice of B2B Influencer Marketing and help the industry see what’s working, what’s not and where the future of influence is in 2021 and beyond.
For the 2021 report, we’ll be collecting data on all aspects of influencer marketing for B2B brands as well as insights from practitioners like you.
In the 45 page 2020 report we featured key findings and statistics about strategy, tactics, budgets and measurement as well as B2B influencer marketing case studies from SAP, LinkedIn, Cherwell Software and Monday.com. We also highlighted influencer marketing insights from B2B executives at Adobe, AT&T Business, IBM, MarketingProfs, Salesforce, SAP, Traackr, Treasure Data and more.
For the 2021 report, we’ll be sharing insights on growing marketing momentum with influence, the next level of Always-On influence, new best practices, budgets, technology and measurement plus all new case studies and insights from B2B marketing professionals. We’ve also been working on a fresh list of the most influential voices in the B2B world on the topic of influence in marketing and their predictions for the future.
If you have worked with influencers in the past year, then you’ll have valuable insights to share. You can also enter our giveaway of five $100 Amazon gift cards and early access to the findings of the report.
The survey takes just a few minutes and that investment in time will go a long way towards helping answer some of the key questions about working with internal and external influencers.
Optimizing marketing experiences with influence represents one of the most important digital growth strategies in 2021 and beyond. Take the 2021 survey today and join us in helping B2B marketers at all levels of influencer marketing experience level up their strategy, best practices and operations to build momentum in 2021 and beyond.
What are some uncommon ways B2B marketers can successfully work with influencers?
One of the many advantages of working with subject matter experts (SMEs) who are influential in their industry is the sheer variety of ways that marketers can collaborate to build a mutually beneficial partnership.
Let’s dive right in, with examples from both SMEs and marketers who’ve implemented uncommon takes on the B2B influencer partnership that can help inspire your own influencer programs.
1 — From Influencer to Long-Term Friendship
Christopher Penn, co-founder and chief data scientist at Trust Insights, has found that an influencer partnership can on occasion lead to something bigger than the sum of its parts.
“Uncommon experience? Becoming great friends with one of the folks who was originally just doing outreach,” Christopher shared.
“There’s always a bit of a power imbalance in any kind of influencer situation, especially in cases where someone is asking for help and there isn’t a tangible exchange of value — like payment,” Christopher explained.
“But occasionally you run into someone that’s just a solid, good human being, and the commercial relationship evolves into an actual friendship. Rare, but delightful,” Christopher noted.
Successful B2B influencer marketing programs are often built on long-term professional relationships that find brands and SMEs working together and helping one another over the long haul, giving rise to always-on efforts that gain strength as years of shared experiences and successes accumulate.
Finding friendship is a bonus that can sometimes happen when working with influencer programs, and is certainly one to treasure as Christopher shared.
[bctt tweet=”“Occasionally you run into someone that’s just a solid, good human being, and the commercial relationship evolves into an actual friendship. Rare, but delightful.” — Christopher Penn @cspenn” username=”toprank”]
2 — Building Trust with Pre-Release Influencer Briefings
For Michaela Underdahl, marketing lead at customer relationship management software firm Nimble, there are a variety of uncommon tactics that can be used when working with industry influencers.
“One of our main goals at Nimble is to turn the influencers that we work with into power users and evangelists,” Michaela said.
“So, every time we are launching a new feature, we brief our influencers prior to the release date and request quotes describing the benefits of the feature to them. Depending on the type of the influencer, we use the quotes in various different ways,” Michaela explained.
“Some of the more common ways are press releases and blog posts, but we also create social graphics and use the quotes to reach out to additional influencers and press. This helps us open new doors as people recognize these influencers and are more likely to start working with us since they know we already work with people they know, like and trust,” Michaela shared.
Empowering evangelists as Michaela noted can lead to stronger influencer relationships that benefit both brands and industry experts.
[bctt tweet=”“One of our main goals at Nimble is to turn the influencers that we work with into power users and evangelists.” — Michaela Underdahl @MichaUnderdahl” username=”toprank”]
3 — Discovering New Influencers In Unusual Social Hangouts
B2B influencer marketing continues to evolve, and SMEs in some industries aren’t always going to be found solely on the traditional social media platforms of LinkedIn*, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Many industries have attracted an infusion of newly-minted marketing professionals, and the SMEs they consider influential may frequent an entirely different set of online communication platforms, which could be any of the following or others:
Facebook Live Audio Rooms
Today there are more social channels than ever, and we all have our favorites for work, play, research, or other tasks.
B2B marketers are finding untapped audiences on uncommon social platforms — audiences that often become customers — and that feature potential influencers to consider for certain industries.
We’ve explored how B2B marketers can utilize some of these alternative social platforms in the following articles:
[bctt tweet=”“Participating on the Clubhouse app immediately increased my social and professional networks. Clubhouse is amazing for the give-and-take communication and information exchange.” — Stephanie Thum @stephaniethum” username=”toprank”]
4 — Working Together To Drive Industry Knowledge
Perhaps even more than in B2C marketing, B2B influencers have increasingly formed mostly private groups that serve as communication tools for refining and driving the long-term success of influencer marketing.
Sometimes driving industry knowledge and empowering influencers are also tackled by more public groups, such as the popular Adobe Insiders program.
“Working with a small group of influencers can be a great place to start, but that small group should be backed by a much larger list of researched candidate influencers. As relationships develop through the course of different collaborations, B2B marketers will refine and find the right influencers. A VIP group of influencers might be created as Adobe has with its 60+ Adobe Insiders being activated at individual, small group or large group levels depending on the situation,” our CEO and co-founder Lee Odden noted recently in “B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy: 5 Questions to Ask First.”
The Adobe Insiders program is a diverse group of over 60 influencers that includes leading executives, industry leaders, major media correspondents, contributing journalists, and technology pioneers — including Lee.
[bctt tweet=”“I think we’ll see a lot more influencers standing up for their creative freedom and creative license and I think we’ll see less prescriptive micromanagement from brands.” — Rani Mani @ranimani0707″ username=”toprank”]
5 — Spark Interest by Mentoring New B2B Influencers
By mentoring the next generations of marketing influencers, you’ll not only help new SMEs develop, but also continue your own lifelong learning.
Influencer marketing is a two-way street when it comes to mentoring opportunities.
“I’ve had so many that I still keep in touch with today that have been that champion for my cause. So I think it’s really important to not to do it alone and make sure you put in the time and that your time is noticed. And make sure that you’re marketing yourself to the right champion in the business. Then they’ll stay with you and refer you as other opportunities come up,” Jen explained.
We can do a great service to future generations by sharing our insight with aspiring young B2B influencers.
If we can spark an interest by mentoring a younger colleague, client or associate, we’ll contribute to a future of marketing that is more robust with your own personal knowledge passed along to the next generation.
“As influencers we are here to serve the mission and [know] that our influence on people comes from our ability to be a role model. We need to be very mindful about what we say and how we say it. We are always leaders and mentors and we need to focus on the needs of others first because we have been tasked with leading others. We always need to serve others and by doing that we are doing the best for ourselves,” Peggy shared.
[bctt tweet=”“We are always leaders and mentors and we need to focus on the needs of others first because we have been tasked with leading others.” — Peggy Smedley @ConnectedWMag” username=”toprank”]
By making the leap from influencer to long-term friendship, building trust by sharing pre-campaign briefings, tapping into unusual social hangouts, using influencer groups to drive industry knowledge, and mentoring future influencers, your own B2B influencer marketing program can benefit substantially from these uncommon tactics.
These five are only the tip of the influencer marketing iceberg, however, as the power of influence is expansive and only expected to increase as we make the push to 2022.
Creating award-winning B2B marketing with an artful mixture of influence takes considerable time and effort, which is why many firms choose to work with a top digital marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing. Contact us today and let us know how we can help, as we’ve done for businesses ranging from LinkedIn, Dell and 3M to Adobe, Oracle, monday.com and others.
Inside B2B Influence is a show that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and showcases conversations with insiders from the world of influencer marketing. We connect with influential practitioners at B2B brands of all kinds and sizes to answer the rising number of questions about working with influencers in a business context.
In this first episode of the second season of Inside B2B Influence, I was able to catch up with the incredibly popular, talented and beloved Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, Ann Handley. I’ve known Ann for well over 10 years and she’s been a great friend, client and source of inspiration to me about more meaningful content marketing.
Ann talks with me about a variety of topics ranging from the nature of influence in B2B, demand for B2B influencers during the pandemic and our mutually favorite “dogfluencer”, August – the most dashing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel you may ever meet.
Highlights of this episode of Inside B2B Influence with Ann Handley include:
Does everybody have influence? Yes and no
How the change to digital first B2B marketing has affected demand for influencers
The importance of a relationship driven approach
Trends in B2B influencer content collaboration
Growing emphasis on executive thought leadership and influence
Worst practices influencer engagement
How to integrate influencers with your newsletter
What B2B marketers should do to improve their influencer marketing
Some of Ann’s favorite B2B industry influencers
Listen to episode 14 (Confluence: The B2B Content and Influence Connection) of the Inside B2B Influence podcast here:
You wrote the best selling book, Everybody Writes. Do you think everybody has influence?
Ann: That’s such an interesting question because at first pass it’s like, well of course. But then on the other hand it’s kind of an existential question, isn’t it? I really had to think about that for a second. I mean, yes, I do think that everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility, right? Yes, we all have influence, but not in all topics. Like for example, I really like sushi, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a fish influencer. Is that a thing fishfluencer? I think we all have our spheres of expertise and we are influential within those spheres of expertise. But I don’t think that people are influencers across all things.
Everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility. @annhandley
I also think that, especially in B2B, that the notion of influencers is even more narrowly defined than it is in, in B2C. Because the expertise that I have in marketing is, you know, it’s content, it’s writing. It’s very specific. I don’t think you would come to me if you were looking for somebody to talk about analytics. Like you would go to Chris Penn for that. He’s an influencer in marketing analytics. So I think, especially in B2B, that that it is absolutely true that the credibility I have as an influencer is very specific and narrow. And I think that’s true of any, any B2B influencer.
The pandemic accelerated digital transformation in B2B impacting all aspects of doing business including marketing. What impact has an emphasis on digital first in B2B marketing had on the demand for influencers like yourself?
Ann: I have definitely seen more of those opportunities come my way because I think, just to your point, all of the traditional B2B tactics of field marketing and in person trade shows and other moments to experience the brands face to face, all of that went away in the past 15 months or so since the pandemic. So what takes its place? That’s been what’s fueling a lot of that digital transformation happening at B2B companies.
Influencer marketing is very much part of that because, how do you build that sort of trust with your audience if you don’t have the ability to meet them in person, to sit down, to have a conversation with them? So I think influencers have become a proxy and a conduit for that.
We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus straight up transactional. @annhandley
What’s interesting and what I see straight up from an influencer standpoint, is that more of those companies seek to have those relationships with me. They’re seeking to build those relationships with me in much less of a transactional way. You and I have talked about this Lee, I remember saying to you that this is like the future of B2B influencer marketing. We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus, you know, straight up transactional – make it less of an advertising / transactional play. Like here, I’ll pay you X amount of dollars if you share my thing, you know? That’s more of a B2C model.
I think in B2B what we’re seeing, and this has been fueled by the pandemic, is that we are seeing those relationships start to happen between brands and influencers like me where they’re reaching out to me proactively and saying, “Hey, we don’t have a thing right now, but we want to work with you. Can we sort of get to know each other?”
And so I think we’re seeing an increasing impetus toward an approach that I feel, has more sustainability long-term and it’s the way that I like to work personally. So yeah, I think we’re seeing a whole lot more of that.
What are some of the content collaboration opportunities between B2B brands and influencers that you’re seeing more of in 2021?
Ann: There are yeah. I want to caveat this by saying that I’m speaking from my personal experience versus, you know, I haven’t necessarily polled B2B marketers. So you probably have a better perspective on this too and whether what I’m talking about is actually reflected in the broader B2B community.
What I see is more brands looking to have a longterm relationship. Not just, come speak at our webinar, but, can we actually think about this over like a fiscal year? What can we do together in Q1 and Q2 and Q3, so that it becomes much more of a, not quite ambassador, but at least more of a brand alignment, right? So that I’m saying, “I believe in what you do” and and you’re saying that you trust me as well.
More long-term engagements and less transactional is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program. @annhandley
I think longer-term engagement with a trust foundation to it is definitely something that I’m seeing. I’m also seeing these situations where even if it is about providing a quote for this, or for example, I’ll put something in my newsletter that’s sort of sponsored but for me, it’s not anything that you can buy. It’s something where I read the paper and I believe in it. I have a relationship with the company and so therefore I will share it with my audience. So yes, it’s sponsored, but it’s like, it’s sponsored with my whole self. I guess I’m a little bit goofy, but you know what I mean, with integrity, I should say.
That is a situation where it’ll be over several months, so it’s not just like a one and done. But can you help us promote this and here’s what’s in it for you and here’s what we want to give to you and your audience, that kind of thing. I guess to sum up, much more long-term engagements and less transactional, which I think is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program anyway. But you probably have more perspective on that than I do.
It’s been really interesting what’s happened not just in terms of content creation and the thought leadership through partnerships between executives and external influencers, but also the relationships that are being facilitated.
Ann: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I think it makes total sense, right? Because in the past 15 months of the pandemic, I think that the brands who have really demonstrated that we’re all in this together, have actually had to show up in a real human genuine way and to be there for their audiences. I think that’s in part what’s driving the kind of collaboration that you’re talking about.
Brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? @annhandley
Because I do think brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? I think that cascades throughout B2B marketing as well as influencer marketing. I think that’s clearly one area where we are seeing where that comes to life,
Along with best practices there are also bad practices. I’m curious if there are any bad behaviors in terms of how people reach out or engage with you?
Ann: I think there’s been a few situations where I just, I tend not to engage basically. That’s a situation where a big agency will reach out and it’s clear that I’m one of many. Like I’m like part of a stable of influencers that they’re looking to. And they ask me to respond and fill out this Google form about the size of my audience. I’m not going to do any of that. That’s not what I want and that’s not who I am. It’s not what my brand is all about. That’s just not what I’m going to do.
It doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. @annhandley
So it doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. That’s a situation where I just wouldn’t engage. I can’t even say that it’s a bad practice but it’s de-motivating. When those come in we just sort of delete it immediately.
Or they come at it from a tactic standpoint. I get this a lot. For example, my email newsletter. I’ve talked a lot about it the past couple of years, it’s grown pretty significantly and it has really healthy, open rates. The list is just over 50,000 now. So it’s a good, robust list. I get a lot of people who say, will you share this in your newsletter? And I don’t know them. I don’t have a relationship with you. So if the onus is on me to do the legwork and figure out who you are, what your solution is all about or what your piece of content is all about, then I’m not going to do it.
Also, that’s not the role of the newsletter. If you know me, and if you’re on the list, then you know that, right? So, if you want to get something in my newsletter, then that’s not the first step. The first step is engaging me on social, get to know me. All the things that, you know, you do to start a relationship. All the best practices around that. Not. “Will you share this in your newsletter?” That’s all the stuff that just ends up being deleted immediately.
What are some ways you can imagine someone incorporating influencer content in a newsletter?
Ann: If you’re a marketer and you’re publishing your own newsletter and you want to work with influencers, trying to figure out a way to highlight them in that environment could be something simple, like highlighting some of their content or highlighting them as an individual. Or it could be something more like inviting them to be like a guest editor depending on the relationship.
I think there’s lots of opportunity there to influence the influencer as part of your brand and not just thinking that your relationship with the influencer is only in the social space. Because I think an email newsletter is just such a rich opportunity to communicate directly with your audience. The degree to which you can invite influencers into that relationship is going to solidify your relationship with the influencer as well.
Who are some of your favorite influencers, you know, that would, you know, that operate in the B2B world in some way, whether it’s marketing or tech or somewhere else?
Ann:Avinash Kaushik at Google. I don’t even know if he would consider himself an influencer, but he is. I think mostly because his brain functions so differently. I’m on his newsletter list. I love to read his perspective and his point of view, and follow him on social for the same reasons.
Chris Penn is somebody else who you know, again, has a very different approach. But if you took Chris Penn’s brain and took my brain and sort of put them together, you’d get like this whole body marketer, you know? I think I come at it very much from the art and high touch perspective and he comes at it very much from a science and analytics standpoint. I appreciate his message so much because he helps me elevate in what I do just by paying attention to what he’s doing.
I love what April Dunford talks about around positioning. I think she offers some really valuable advice and I always love seeing what she has to say and hearing her point of view on things.
You certainly. I think you, and I know it’s like your show so I probably shouldn’t, but like the work you’ve done around influencer marketing, I think you absolutely are helping to push the industry forward in terms of like how to do it right. And, and how to create programs that actually do sustain themselves long-term and deliver value for your organization.
Thanks Ann! You are a great source of inspiration to B2B marketers all over the world and a wonderful human being!
You can also watch the full video interview with Ann Handley here:
Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business marketing.
You can also download The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report featuring insights from a survey of hundreds of B2B marketers plus case studies and contributions from marketing executives at brands including Adobe, LinkedIn, IBM, Dell, SAP and many more.
Amazon-owned Ring recruited Los Angeles Police Department officers as brand ambassadors to help promote its security cameras and smart doorbells, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Ring gave free products or discount codes to more than 100 LAPD officers, and encouraged them to share the discount codes with other law enforcement officers and members of the public, according to the Times.
More than 15 of those officers ended up promoting Ring products, and the company ended up giving away tens of thousands of dollars in free product, including at least $12,000 to a single police station, the Times reported.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story and the LAPD could not immediately be reached.
Ring’s version of an influencer marketing program, which it called “Neighborhood Pillar,” enlisted LAPD officers to “educate members of the community on the benefits of Ring” by sharing discount codes and promotional materials to “influential people in the community that care about crime prevention safety,” with every 10 uses of the discount codes earning them a free Ring device, the Times reported.
Ring told the Times that it ended the program in 2019 and now works directly with community groups.
But LAPD ethics policies prohibit officers from receiving “gifts, gratuities or favors of any kind which might reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to influence their actions with respect to City business.”
An LAPD spokesperson told the Times that an initial review of emails between its officers and Ring didn’t find any violations of that policy.
But privacy and law enforcement experts told the Times that officers’ public safety advice to members of their communities might be biased – or give the appearance of bias – because of the promise of receiving free Ring devices.
Vice previously reported on how Ring aggressively pursued partnerships with law enforcement agencies around the country over the years as it has tried to build out its private surveillance camera network, inking deals with hundreds of police and even fire departments.
How does influence help B2B brands achieve success?
Influence may be multifaceted almost to a fault, however a key essence is its role in providing smart answers to the questions your audiences have.
Reaching target audiences through digital channels was recently found to be a top-three critical challenge for B2B marketers.
A new LinkedIn* report of the most in-demand marketing skills has shown that digital marketing represented the biggest mismatch of skills in supply and demand. Influence is a vital element of successful digital marketing, and presents B2B marketers with a powerful tool to overcome this challenge, and the five brands we’ll examine here have each used influence in a variety of ways to achieve digital marketing success.
These five brands are rocking with the power of influence, engaging audiences and telling captivating brand stories.
Let’s jump right in and take a look at their success.
1 — Dotgo
For Dotgo, a provider of rich communication services (RCS) and other business messaging solutions, enlisting subject matter experts from firms including Orange, Vodafone, Synchronoss, and IMI Mobile was an important part of explaining its mission.
Providing whitepaper content to influence potential industry customers involved a close look at the power today’s latest chatbot technology offers, including person-to-application (P2A) messaging, the benefit of chatbot directories for enterprise businesses, and the first customizable object recognition application for the visually impaired.
Another forum for utilizing influence is through industry award events, a route Dotgo has pursued with recognition from the Cannes Lions Awards, being shortlisted for innovation in early state technology. Find @DOTGO on Twitter.
2 — True Name by Mastercard
With its True Name initiative, Mastercard achieved global adoption and more than two billion impressions by tapping into the power of influence to promote its program that lets those in the transgender and non-binary communities display their chosen name on certain credit cards.
The campaign brought success in the form of positive brand sentiment, with a 3,000 percent increase, and achieved additional exposure through winning multiple industry awards, including the Black Pencil award at the 2021 D&AD Awards and shortlisting at Cannes.
Using videos that shared the powerful individual stories of people in the LGBTQIA+ community, Mastercard’s True Name campaign expanded to global availability, and used another form of influence in partnering with organizations including GLAAD and others.
Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar recently expanded on the firm’s embrace of radical changes in marketing and advertising, sharing how the human elements that incorporate influence provide the differentiation that is needed more than ever.
“Since digital marketing began, the dependency on technology and data has become so intense that people started regarding anything creative as unnecessary or fluffy,” Rajamannar shared in a recent interview with The Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
“But the reality is that technology and data will level the playing field, so a company can no longer compete on just its product features or benefits or pricing or distribution network. You are going to have to differentiate yourself through creativity that is relevant to human beings,” Rajamannar explained.
[bctt tweet=”“Since digital marketing began, the dependency on technology and data has become so intense that people started regarding anything creative as unnecessary or fluffy.” — Raja Rajamannar @RajaRajamannar” username=”toprank”]
Mastercard also utilized its LinkedIn and other social media platform accounts to promote the True Name initiative, including a variety of video and static image content. Find @MastercardNews on Twitter.
Offering easy ways to help businesses get support or to give support to Black-owned businesses, Google featured an array of people from small business owners to National Basketball Association superstar Stephen Curry.
“Good things happen when you search Black-owned businesses on Google — take it from Stephen Curry,” the campaign urged.
Google implemented a visual black heart over a three-striped orange background in its badge to denote Black-owned businesses, and worked in conjunction with the #BlackOwnedFriday initiative and the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. to provide business support resources.
Influence also played a role in Google’s Digital Coaches, dedicated to helping business owners thrive online, and Google made it easy for people to write and share reviews of the program — another area where influence thrives.
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) most recently report on diversity in advertising revealed that black-owned suppliers were the minority, with a 10 percent figure that came in slightly less than the 11 percent Hispanic-owned figure, while 62 percent were women-owned, according to the association’s ad budget survey data. Find @GoogleSmallBiz on Twitter.
4 — Oracle People Over Profits
With its innovation showcase highlighting success stories during the pandemic, Oracle* has featured strategy from clients including The Vermont Country Store and its “People over profits” focus, highlighting how the power of influence can run the gamut from small to B2B enterprise firms.
Oracle has successfully shared customer stories in its innovation showcase, putting a human touch on what can often be cold software offerings, such as its Oracle Commerce e-commerce product — and going beyond the realm of traditional B2B product data sheets and often dry whitepapers.
Kelvin Gee, senior director of modern marketing business transformation at Oracle, sees the importance of a more customer-centric approach in personalizing content.
[bctt tweet=”“Companies do need to be more customer-centric, deliver a better customer experience, personalize the content, align with sales, and measure themselves differently.” — Kelvin Gee of @Oracle” username=”toprank”]
5 — Northwestern Mutual Celebrating American Resilience
Northwestern Mutual creatively uses influence in the form of storytelling, and even pushes it into a new form of what CMO Lee Hurley calls “storydoing.”
Telling the stories of business owners hurt by the economic impact of the coronavirus, and how they overcame numerous obstacles, Northwestern Mutual’s American Resilience campaign utilized digital, social media, and traditional advertising.
“Influencers will help break down barriers surrounding financial planning by sharing authentic stories about how, with the help of a Northwestern Mutual advisor, they are financially and emotionally navigating important life stages in a COVID-19 world,” the campaign explained.
A video featuring business owner Melvin Gonzalez told a story of both individual business dreams and overcoming fear and pandemic difficulties utilizing financial advisor services, expanded on in additional campaign content.
“You’re not just competing with brands; you’re competing with everyone who is creating and sharing content — friends, family, influencers, media companies, and so on,” Hurley noted.
“People want to align with brands who stand for the causes they care about, who are making an impact, who are standing up,” Hurley added.
[bctt tweet=”“You’re not just competing with brands; you’re competing with everyone who is creating and sharing content — friends, family, influencers, media companies, and so on.” — Lee Hurley of @NM_Financial” username=”toprank”]
We hope the examples of influence at work we’ve shared here from Dotgo, Mastercard, Google, Oracle, and Northwestern Mutual will help as you drive your brand initiatives ahead into post-pandemic marketing efforts.
Creating award-winning B2B marketing with an artful mixture of influence takes considerable time and effort, which is why many firms choose to work with a top digital marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing. Contact us today and let us know how we can help, as we’ve done for businesses ranging from LinkedIn, Dell and 3M to Adobe, Oracle, monday.com and others.
* LinkedIn and Oracle are TopRank Marketing clients.
Elf Cosmetics is the first major makeup brand to launch a Twitch channel, but the creator-marketing pivot to streaming didn’t go as planned. The popular drugstore line, an acronym for “Eyes, Lips, Face,” issued an apology on Twitter for not including Black creators and other underrepresented demographics among the influencers featured in its launch.
“At e.l.f., we firmly embrace diversity and inclusion and we commit that our talent and partners will reflect our commitment in future streams,” the brand said. It also solicited suggestions and feedback.
The apology, posted more than three weeks after the launch, was met with continued fallout. The first event on the channel on May 9 featured multiple guests and segments to promote the brand’s products, and Elf has since streamed additional conversations between creators, including one with a Black creator.
Elf Cosmetics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Black creator who received community support said she was ‘snubbed’ by the brand
Before the launch of the “twitch.tv/elfyou” channel, the brand asked its Twitter following to volunteer their “favorite beauty influencers who game.” A Black Twitch streamer who goes by Milady Confetti posted four of her looks underneath the tweet and received the most engagement by far, with 1,000 likes.
But when Elf launched its stream, commentators were quick to point out there were no Black creators. Confetti wrote that she was “snubbed” despite getting the most fan support.
“That was so hurtful, then only working with white women in my field, heck in the same gaming category as me. Why be so cruel,” she wrote in response to the brand’s apology tweet. Her response got more likes than the apology tweet.
Confetti did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A creator of color who isn’t known for beauty was invited
A former Twitch streamer posted that Elf reached out to her and invited her onto the stream following the backlash against the launch. But according to Sleepy Mia, she no longer streams and has “never been known” for doing makeup looks, identifying another area where viewers said the brand could have done more research.
“I’m so confused why @elfcosmetics reached out to me to stream with them instead of working with the slew of Black women and POC who called them out,” Mia wrote.
A drag performer criticized Elf’s stream
Elf was also criticized by Twitch streamers like It’s Lucille, a drag performer who posted a Twitter thread outlining what she said were other issues with the launch stream. She pointed out that Elf’s launch stream kept using the word “females” to describe makeup consumers, despite there being men and nonbinary makeup wearers.
“For over three hours, you’ve only used the term ‘females’ when talking about your consumers and audience,” Lucille said. “When you finally mention non-binary people, you don’t even use the right tense. We aren’t ‘a non-binary.’ Non-binary is an adjective, not a noun.”
Lucille also noted that Elf still worked with the makeup influencer Jeffree Star. Insider’s Amanda Krause said in an analysis that makeup customers judged brands based on more than just the product itself.
“Now, beauty fans say they’re heartbroken watching their favorite companies seemingly choose sales and publicity over allyship,” Krause wrote. “And experts argue that brands should cut ties with problematic influencers – regardless of their fame – to back up their words with action.”
I’m going to knock on wood as I type this, but: It looks like we might have a (mostly) normal summer this year in the U.S. After the lockdowns, isolation, anxiety and fear of 2020, it finally feels like things are opening up.
This is all great for everything except getting people to read your marketing content. In 2020 we had a captive audience starved for entertainment. Now we’ll be competing with everything from music festivals to movies to walking in the park.
The way to break through and have a “hot brand summer?” First, don’t use phrases like “hot brand summer,” because you’ll just make people hate you. Second, it’s all about customer engagement. That means connecting with people on a personal level, offering something novel and fascinating, and using that contact to build a meaningful relationship.
No sweat, right? According to a recent survey, though, 54% of brands have trouble connecting with customers on an emotional level. And only 22% say they excel when it comes to customer experience!
How can B2B marketers make their content more engaging? Here are a few tips.
1 — Go Live
Uncensored. Interactive. Up close and personal. There’s nothing quite like a live stream to break free from safe and boring content. There’s a reason every social media site, from Instagram to LinkedIn, is doing live streams.
Granted, going live is not without its risks. If you’re concerned about potential slip-ups or off-message chatter, you can always practice ahead of time. Live doesn’t have to mean “completely improvised and unscripted.”
A few more tips for going live:
Consider hiring a host to help keep the conversation flowing
Have someone behind the scenes to watch the comment thread and engage the audience
Use a tool like restream for multi-platform streaming
Prime the pump for audience questions by having employees in the audience with pre-written questions.
Make sure to record the stream for repurposing later
2 — Take People Behind the Scenes
“Authenticity” is one of those marketing buzzwords that makes an easy thing seem difficult. People like brands that are “authentic?” No, people like to know there are actual people of good will at work behind the brand’s messaging. That’s all authenticity means: Real people saying true things.
Let your employees be brand ambassadors on social media. Go behind the scenes to meet the folks who make your brand’s magic happen. Highlight employee stories, even if they aren’t directly related to the brand. For example, if an employee is an Eagle Scout who now runs their own scouting troop, that’s a heartwarming and engaging story that subtly shows off your brand values.
In short, when you’re going behind the scenes, look to celebrate your people and even your customers.
3 — Try Interactive Content
None of us would use a cellphone from the late 90s today. So why are we still so enamored of a content format that hasn’t changed in the past 30 years? That old standby, the static PDF, has lost a lot of its power to persuade.
Our agency has been seeing better results with interactive, animated assets. For example, this one from client Mitel brings our stats and influencer contributions to life. Tools like Ceros make developing an interactive asset almost as easy as a static one.
You don’t have to create an entire immersive VR experience to snag people’s attention, either — just a few touches of animation, interactivity and sound can go a long way.
4 — Explore Social-First Content
We all know how the blog to social media pipeline works: You publish a blog, link to it on your social media, and hope people click that link. If they don’t click through, it’s a lose-lose situation. Neither your brand nor your audience is getting any utility out of the content.
One way to change the equation is through social-first content: That is, content designed to be consumed right there in the social media feed. For B2B marketers, LinkedIn is the right destination for social-first content.
For example, consider slicing a blog post into 150-200 word segments and posting it on LinkedIn, with a hashtag to make it easy to find all the installments. Ask a question at the end of each segment that’s designed to elicit discussion, then participate in that conversation as long as it goes.
Ultimately, social-first content can help grow your brand’s social media presence and deepen relationships with your audience. And you can still collect the content and publish it as a blog later, too!
5 — Collaborate with Influencers
As you may have noticed, TopRank Marketing is pretty sold on influencer marketing. There’s one simple reason: When you do it right, it gets results. Every time. Everything from a social media post to a blog post to a 5,000 word interactive asset is better with influencer contributions.
We co-create content with influencers for many reasons, including:
Increased organic amplification of the content
More diverse and informative content
Reaching new audiences
Developing relationships with influential experts
Over time, you can build up a community of influencers to co-create content that benefits them, your brand, and your audience.
6 — Measure Engagement Metrics
One key element for increasing engagement is to … well … measure it. If you’re still looking at overall blog traffic or bounce rates to define your content success, you need to recalibrate your metrics to include engagement signifiers like:
Comments on social media posts
Reshares on social posts
New social media followers
Scroll depth on interactive assets
Time on page for long-form blog posts
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Ready to have a hot brand summer (sorry)? It’s as simple and as complex as doing things that you haven’t done before. It’s pushing your brand away from the staid and static old-school B2B mindset and putting out content that people want to interact with, comment on, and share.
Despite that 96% of marketers engaging influencers for marketing deem their programs successful, there are still a very large number of B2B companies evaluating where influencer engagement fits in their marketing mix.
Before I get to the list, I think it’s important to mention that benefits realized are directly connected to goals imagined. That may seem obvious but the application of influence to marketing is viewed in many different ways and therefore, the outcomes can be just as different.
For example, a pilot is often meant to be a proof of concept and sparks connections with influencers.
An integrated influencer content marketing campaign that runs over several months and across channels produces a lot of useful content and helps identify which influencers are effective.
An Always-On approach over time develops a rich source of content and relationships with influencers which can accelerate the quality and promotion of the content by influencers as well as organic advocacy.
So the benefits B2B brands can realize from incorporating influence into their marketing mix really depends on the approach. Here’s a list of 5 of the most common and impactful benefits of working with external and internal influencers at B2B companies:
1. Influencers add credibility and authenticity to brand content
Properly identifying the topics that matter to customers that the brand needs to be more influential about leads to finding people who already have the desired influence. Collaborating with experts that are respected authorities on the topics of influence produces content, communications and often advocacy that is believable, is empathetic to the concerns and goals of real customers and is trusted by the audience the brand is trying to reach.
2. Influencers partnered with executives build brand thought leadership
Connecting external influencers with internal executives to collaborate on content, video conversations, virtual events and similar exchanges of ideas can validate key leadership messages of the brand. Whether it’s running a webinar discussing the findings of the brand’s most recent research or whitepaper to conducting a series of livestream video or podcast interviews between key executives and external influencers, connecting trusted industry voices with brand messaging can drive credibility, differentiation and leadership.
3. Influencers can co-create better content experiences for customers
According to research in the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 74% of B2B marketers believe that collaborating on content with influencers helps improve the experience for prospects and customers.
An increasing number of professional influencers in the B2B world bring both expertise as well as media creation savvy. That means the ability to produce video content, podcast content or graphical and text content that is in tune with customer expectations for more experiential content that the brand might not have the resources to produce.
Alternatively, even if the B2B brand has the resources to create great video, audio, graphical and text content, adding influencer contributions “optimizes” for credibility and authenticity, which is a better experience than brand content simply pontificating its importance.
4. Influencers accelerate content production, promotion and impact
When effectively designed and planned, an influencer engagement effort can create a community of influence that the brand can tap for a variety of content creation efforts. Imagine having a group of 10, 25 or as in the case of LinkedIn or Adobe, 60-75 industry experts on-tap to engage on content projects?
Developing a community of influencers means creating genuine relationships between the brand and influencers based on mutual benefit and shared values. Not only does an engaged community of influencers help create content, but they are invested in the success of content distribution and impact because it benefits their own interests and that of their audience.
The reputation influencers develop on the topics of influence means trust when it matters most – making decisions about which B2B solutions to consider, evaluate and purchase.
5. Influencer collaborations can help optimize brand content for search
There is a compelling connection between the topics and keywords that people search on when looking for solutions and the topics around which industry experts are influential.
Optimizing content with keywords is at the core of improving the findability of brand content on search engines. Including influencers on those same topics in the content is a way of optimizing for credibility. What good is being found in search if people don’t trust what they find?
Going a bit deeper into the influence and SEO connection, marketers could consider whether the influencers they are working with are recognized as entities within Google search results. When those same influencers contribute to content published by the brand, their identity imparts credibility and relevance for search.
Another consideration is to evaluate the SEO effectiveness of where influencers publish – their own blog, contributed articles or columns with industry publications and elsewhere online. What is the Domain Authority of where the influencer publishes and do the links they include in their content carry weight? Does the influencer’s content “rank” on search engines for the topics the brand wants to be more influential about? Is the influencer creating the kind of content that ranks? Video, audio, images, text, scholarly articles, books, etc.
The SEO value of working with an influencer is not universally true across topics, but with some due diligence and research, some very valuable opportunities could be uncovered and relationships built to help brand content become findable and credible at the very moment customers are looking.
Of course this is not a comprehensive list of benefits for B2B brand to work with influencers, but it is a compelling list. While many B2B marketers may skim the surface of what’s possible from working with influencers, those who can look a little deeper can find tremendous upside and value that not only accelerates the impact and effectiveness of marketing for short term campaigns, but for longer term brand and thought leadership perception in the industry.