Boehner, who was speaker between 2011 and 2015, has been promoting his new book “On The House: A Washington Memoir.” After an excerpt was published by Politico, it was met with backlash from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was called a “reckless asshole” in the book, as Insider previously reported.
Boehner, who voted for former President Donald Trump for re-election in 2020, said he was “disappointed” with what followed. Trump repeatedly pushed baseless claims that the presidential election was rigged and that he won over President Joe Biden, ultimately resulting in an angry mob storming the US Capitol building.
“I was disappointed at what happened after the election. I kept looking for evidence of a stolen election like most Americans did. Where’s the evidence? How can he keep saying something without providing any proof? And there wasn’t any,” Boehner said on “Meet the Press,” calling the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection “one of the saddest days in my life.”
When asked by Todd about Trump, Boehner added that he has “no interest” in the former president’s actions.
“I’m trying to make sure that Republicans understand as a Republican party we need to go back to the principles of what it means to be Republican. Things like fiscal responsibility, things like a strong national defense, things that hold Republicans and the Republican party together and have for the 150 years. Let’s go back to being Republicans,” he said.
In between jobs, I’ve chased magic swords. A friend of mine traveled through Vietnam and Thailand. Another spent time taking care of her family and one enjoyed the summer doing nothing at all.
From a human perspective, a gap in your résumé is obviously a good thing – you’ve spent that time having pizza for breakfast, entertaining clever thoughts, learning Spanish vocabulary, or devouring all seven Harry Potter books.
Gaps in your résumé mean freedom and freedom takes courage.
I’m in my mid-30s now, but from 1992 to 2008 when I was preparing for working life, I feared the résumé gap. Career advisors taught us to see them as the death knell to our careers.
“People will ask about it,” we were warned. “And what are you going to say?”
Having come from a non-academic family, I certainly wouldn’t have dared to leave any gaps in my résumé before my first job in a local newsroom.
The fear of plunging myself into “economic ruin” would’ve plagued me and I would’ve been afraid of how I’d justify myself in job interviews – and whether I’d even be able to respond to the dreaded question.
But now, my advice to anyone with a résumé gap would be to answer boldly.
I dropped out of a university degree and spent my days playing computer games until I finally got a place on a different program. Although that might not seem like a good use of my time, it taught me a very important lesson – if something doesn’t work for me, I have to change it.
At that point, it was my degree, and later on, it was a company I was working for. Both times, it’s been worth it because I’ve been able to better evaluate my situation and think about my skills and what I really want. My life has improved as a result and I’ve become a better worker.
“I don’t have any gaps on my résumé,” one of my acquaintances wrote to me once. “And I regret it.”
The people I know who do have those gaps have told me they took the time off to recover from mental health issues. Many of them decided they wanted to work for themselves during their breaks, and a lot of them have made it happen.
What people learn during their time off from their careers gives them the freedom to think differently and maybe even better. Admitting that is tough because it goes against our ideas about the “ideal worker.”
That’s precisely the problem. What society demands of professionals today isn’t sustainable anymore, or even relevant. If you do your job well only when it works for you, then you are one thing above all else: replaceable.
People do lots of things in their jobs. They develop ideas, help people, solve problems, manage the chaos behind the scenes at large institutions, tackle climate change, teach, calculate, heal, and program.
We’re not always equally good at those things and gaps tend to help us improve our performance. We need to remember life isn’t a machine and people aren’t cogs – life is complex.
If we don’t incorporate that into our lifestyles and into our work, then ultimately there won’t be anyone left who can develop the ideas to accommodate our complex lives.
However, gaps are scary. One of my friends is currently looking for a job but she’s scared to spread the word through her networks, whether professional or personal. I think that’s a fatal error.
If we all had the courage to leave gaps in our résumés and if recruiters approached gaps with curiosity rather than apprehension, the world of work would radically change.
Even taking parental leave is considered a “gap” in your résumé – a career inhibitor or something you shouldn’t allow yourself.
The truth is that work experience rarely makes us discover anything about life. We only get that through life experiences.
That’s why I think recruiters should be more concerned when someone comes into an interview without a gap in their résumé.
“I would dream of that, because I think that’s where we live,” Cook said when Swisher asked if the tech would be the answer to some modern voting issues, like fraud. “We do our banking on phones. We have our health data on phones. We have more information on a phone about us than is in our houses. And so why not?”
America’s voting systems are notoriously low-tech, which stands in glaring contrast to modern systems of banking, commerce, and healthcare.
“It’s pretty arcane,” Cook said of America’s voting apparatus. “I think we’re probably all having the wrong conversation on voting rights. We should be talking about using technology.”
“How can we make it so simple that our voting participation gets to 100? Or it gets really close to 100. Maybe we get in the 90s or something,” Cook said.
Though voting through smartphone could expand accessibility for some voters, cybersecurity experts speaking to CBS News last November listed a number of ways it could also disenfranchise other voters: Security issues, the cost of iPhones, internet access, and voter identification were all among the main issues cited.
Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.
Mathias Döpfner: On January 25, 2020, you were both sitting having breakfast, talking about this strange virus from China. You reportedly decided to take it seriously and develop a vaccine. On the same day, the first known infection in Germany happened. Is that story more truth or legend?
Ugur Sahin: That really is the way it was. I had read a publication in The Lancet on that Friday evening. The outbreak in Wuhan had been going on for about three weeks. After reading the article and doing some research, I was very worried that the outbreak was not going to stay within the confines of China. We discussed it at breakfast. After talking about it, we had no doubt whatsoever that the virus would spread worldwide. And we knew we had a technology in our hands that we could use to develop a vaccine very fast. We knew we had to do something.
Döpfner: So that breakfast conversation was the moment you decided you had to do something. Did you start immediately?
Özlem Türeci: We had read reports in medical journals about this new lung disease in the province Hubei. Ugur started planning the first steps to develop our vaccine right away. It was that weekend we already decided we would go for it. And on Monday, we started working on it with our team right away.
Döpfner: You didn’t have to ask some committee for permission, but were able to take that decision on your own?
Sahin: It wasn’t a lone decision, but we were pretty sure we would be able to convince our colleagues and the supervisory board.
Döpfner: And was everyone convinced from the outset, or were there skeptics?
Sahin: We spoke objectively about what was going on. There are, of course, different levels of being convinced. Some people might have given their consent despite not yet being fully convinced. Everyone who works with us knows that if we come to a decision we don’t change our minds two weeks later. Once we have taken something on and actually started working on it, that means it already makes a lot of sense to us. It wasn’t difficult to get consent and get going on it right away.
Döpfner: In some ways it was also the ideal case for applying the knowledge you had already been able to gain in mRNA technology to a specific, large-scale case.
Sahin: Yes, absolutely, although we did actually have a lot already planned for 2020 – our entire cancer research work, which we had presented just a week before in San Francisco. Our plans for 2020 had already been laid out, and then everything changed out of the blue.
Döpfner: Can you explain to me in very simple terms what mRNA is?
Sahin: mRNA is a piece of genetic information that provides cells with a specific blueprint for proteins. It is a natural process in cells, kind of like making a copy from the hard drive, the DNA, which is then the RNA. That is why it is called ‘messenger RNA’. We found this messenger very attractive, because of a really good property it has. It is a carrier of information, like an email that is deleted after it has been opened and read. The cell performs its natural task and works according to our instructions. The art is – to remain with the email metaphor – to make sure the message does not end up in spam, but is actually applied as an instruction. If we achieve this efficiently, then the cell does what it is supposed to do.
Döpfner: So, you trick the immune system into thinking it has a virus without actually needing the real virus?
Sahin: Yes, that’s what it does. It trains the immune system without needing exposure to the real virus.
Döpfner: Is it true that the vaccine was developed within a very short time, about 48 hours, and that the majority of the time was required for carrying our studies and making other preparations?
Sahin: We designed around ten potential vaccines in a very short time, and later on another ten. We didn’t know which one was the right one, because we didn’t know very much about the virus. What we had then was a number of different vaccine variants. Research is ultimately about developing a variant and proving that variant does exactly the job you hope it will.
Döpfner: That means, you began testing 20 variants. Then you found one that probably was the most efficient and went on to carry out clinical tests on it in larger numbers?
Sahin: The vaccine we have today, as it were, already existed in February. But it was unclear how it worked. Knowing that requires data and clinical proof from a large-scale study.
Döpfner: Despite the fact that it was the fastest approval of a vaccine in history, could you have been even faster from a technological point of view?
Sahin: A lot of processes can always be done a little faster, but in terms of the technology, there was not much left to do. We could perhaps have gained a few days’ time. Today we know what we can do better next time. It is a great result, of course. We were able to use the mRNA technology so quickly and successfully when developing the vaccine, because we had already made so much progress during our work on it in the previous 10 years.
Döpfner: What was the eureka moment for you – the moment you realized: “We have it!” Was it when you designed the first 20 vaccine variants, or when you identified the variant that would be clinically tested? When was that exact moment?
Sahin: Later. It was a Sunday in November. We had run through the phase-3 study with more than 40,000 test subjects and were waiting for an independent committee to return its evaluation of the results. We woke up early and realized, this is the moment of truth. We knew we had developed the best possible vaccine, but we didn’t know how the virus would react to it. That was the big unknown factor. There had never been a vaccine against coronaviruses. So, we were also prepared to accept a negative outcome. At 8 o’clock in the evening, we received the call from our colleagues in the US. I held my breath until, five seconds later, the voice on the other end said that the result was positive, and it with an efficacy of more than 90%. That was the eureka moment for us.
Döpfner: What moment was more important? The one when you were sitting having breakfast, or the announcement that the evaluation was positive or the approval?
Sahin: The moment of biological truth, so the moment we got that positive feedback from the committee.
Döpfner: What was it that motivated you?
Türeci: For us it was about protecting people and saving lives. We understood how SARS-CoV-2 spread. There were symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. We had heard that one of the few measures taken during the outbreak in China had been to allow only people without any symptoms to travel out of Wuhan. But we also knew that there are people who have an infection but are not visibly ill, and who spread the virus unknowingly. Ugur simulated it and did some mathematical projections showing that we were already in the middle of a pandemic, or a large-scale epidemic.
Sahin: The virus had basically already spread worldwide. However, the pandemic was not yet visible.
Türeci: It was pure mathematics based on our own assumptions.
Döpfner: You were unbelievably fast in producing the vaccine. The European Union was far slower in ordering it. Does it worry you that during this crisis Europe has not been seen as a fast and good problem solver, but more of a problem zone that is less equipped to get the job done than many non-EU countries?
Sahin: The way I see it is that it doesn’t make sense to point the finger in the middle of a crisis. The best thing is to really focus on first finding a solution. The people we work together with in the EU have a very solutions-oriented approach. The EU is doing its work, and everyone has to contribute towards ending the pandemic. At the outset, nearly all the experts said it would take at least three years after the beginning of the pandemic to have a vaccine. Now, one year after the pandemic got underway, we have already administered seven million vaccines in Germany and supplied the EU with approximately 30 million doses. We’re doing pretty well.
Döpfner: You are so diplomatic that you could almost work for the EU. Some voices in Brussels said you charged too much and that they couldn’t place orders because of that. But it wasn’t quite like that, was it?
Sahin: We have a very constructive relationship with our partners in the EU.
Döpfner: In Israel, 40% of the population has already received their second vaccine dose, 60% has had their first one. The US wants to have all adults eligible to receive the vaccine by May, while in Serbia 20-year-olds are already being vaccinated. England is also much further down that road than Germany or every other EU country. Do you think it’s okay that there are people who are waiting for a vaccination and are angry about that and blame the EU for it? An international pandemic could be a moment of historical importance for an international organization like the EU. Why are so many countries who are not in the European Union doing a better job of it?
Türeci: We are in a crisis, a time of insecurity, of vulnerability. A time in which everyone involved – also politicians – are having to do things they’ve never had to do before. Obviously, everything is not going to go smoothly. We understand both sides – there is a lot of fear and insecurity. It is important to focus on a solution.
Döpfner: If you look back once again at the second half of last year and consider the way orders were placed, did you see any differences? The EU reportedly spent two months just arguing about what jurisdiction should apply for the order contracts, whether it should be England or Belgium. While in other countries, like Israel for example, the Prime Minister himself got on the telephone and asked what you needed to get the contract signed as soon as possible. And the papers got signed the next morning. Did you see any differences between an extremely pragmatic attitude on the one side and perfectionism in getting the process right on the other?
Sahin: We have seen the entire spectrum. Every country has differences in its judicial framework, processes and structures of governance.
Döpfner: What would you constructively recommend to the EU, and in particular to the German government, so that they can become better and faster? What has been lacking in the crisis so far and what can we do to make it better very soon?
Türeci: I don’t have any concrete recommendations, more a general, fundamental aspect. I think that it’s a matter of running the process several times to make the machine, which is being used for the first time now, work in a regulated manner. It is a learning process at all levels, and there are a number of questions that have to be answered. What is the best way to organize the distribution? How can the vaccine be transported? How can it be stored? How can you best contact the people you want to vaccinate? What should be done when some of the vaccine is left over? These are very complex matters, and they require the interplay of many actors.
Döpfner: Have the Germans have perhaps been a little too perfectionist at this point. That they haven’t been pragmatic enough?
Sahin: It has been about fairness, which is important. But we also need pragmatism, that’s clear.
Döpfner: In Israel people can get vaccinated at IKEA or in a bar. Do we also need to be a bit more imaginative in how we organize mass vaccination?
Türeci: Yes, pragmatism. You said it yourself. That was the factor that helped us successfully develop the vaccine so fast and absolutely everyone, even the regulatory authorities, were just as pragmatic when it came to doing their part. That could certainly be transferred to the vaccination campaigns. On the other hand, we have to accept it when things don’t go perfectly right away. It’s all about learning from that and doing things better in future. Perfectionism is worth striving for once the process is established. We aren’t that far yet, but then how could we be?
Döpfner: Is a clear sense of responsibility also important in a crisis situation?
Türeci: In crisis situations it is always important to be prepared. We know about that from working as doctors in emergency care. In the case of COVID-19, there could be no dry run, because it’s something we’ve never faced before. You can only establish processes in a way that achieves certain purposes when they are actually taking place.
Döpfner: What percentage of the population has to be vaccinated in order for us to say we’ve succeeded?
Türeci: We don’t have a precise answer to that. Many experts estimate around 70%.
Sahin: What is really important is that we begin with the older generation. Those who are at risk most. And once we have managed to immunize the elderly, then we’ll very soon see a drop in mortality and hospitalization.
Döpfner: But you still recommend every young person age 16 and up get vaccinated?
Sahin: Yes, even children – at a later stage, after clinical testing. That section of the population is important for the often-mentioned herd immunity.
Döpfner: When will Germany reach 70% vaccination?
Sahin: We think we might achieve that by the end of September.
Döpfner: Is that because you’re coming onto the market with large amounts now and you have greatly increased production by around 25%?
Sahin: Yes, we have increased the production targets even more. We were at 1.3 billion, and now we’re at 2 billion doses. And we’re thinking about how we can even top that.
Döpfner: How did you actually solve that logistically – producing and distributing in such great numbers?
Sahin: Production is a considerable process, but we’re on schedule and we’re very happy with the way things are going. It’s simple to organize distribution once an infrastructure is in place. That’s why we went into partnership with Pfizer, a company that has worldwide logistic capacities and that is experienced in delivering a billion vaccines a year.
Dopfner: Do you believe that we will have the pandemic under control globally by the end of the year?
Sahin: In many countries in Europe and the US, we will probably no longer have to go into or be in lockdown by the end of the summer. We will, of course, continue to see local outbreaks, that will always be there in the background. There will be mutations. But it is very unlikely that they will cause fear. The vaccine will have to be adapted, and we’re working on that already. It will be about another year at least until we have worldwide control over the situation.
Döpfner: Do you think that our goal is to conquer the virus or to learn to live with it?
Sahin: The virus will not disappear. We’ll have to see whether we need a vaccination every year or every five years.
Döpfner: When we speak about pragmatism, can you imagine that there might one day be something like a self-administered vaccination? That people can use in the same way as allergy pens, that the vaccine can be injected by someone without medical training?
Sahin: That’s not really necessary. Once people’s family doctors become involved, it won’t be a problem to vaccinate 80 million people every year. Having the vaccine administered by medically-trained people is important because of possible allergic reactions. They don’t happen often, but they do happen.
Döpfner: How high is the percentage of allergic reactions observed to date? It seems to me the risk is lower than the risk of dying of an allergy after eating a piece of cake with nuts in it.
Sahin: We didn’t see any in our clinical trials. The cases that were seen during the vaccination campaign were compiled and analyzed by public authorities. We cannot yet say anything definitive about our vaccine, and it’s different from vaccine to vaccine. The ratio is somewhere between 1-in-100,000 and 1-in-2 million.
Döpfner: Your initial intention with your technology was not actually to fight a pandemic, but to advance the field of cancer treatment. What is your vision there?
Türeci: We are oncologists, and we see firsthand what cancer patients go through. With many tumor patients, the range of standard treatments often turns out to be insufficient and we have to tell them, sorry, but we’ve run out of treatment options. We already realized very early on that a lot more would be possible if the research results could be brought to the patient in real time. We saw no other way but to become entrepreneurs. So, we set up companies and NGOs to develop cancer medicines. Our vision is to be able to use the immune system to fight cancer. That’s what we are doing with BioNTech. We have developed a series of immune-therapy approaches, and mRNA is one of four. We are using it as part of a range of methods to attack tumors from different angles.
Döpfner: Many people have prophesied that mRNA technology will bring massive progress to cancer research, because it has proven its effectiveness in the pandemic. But does it mean you have lost another year because that project had to be put on ice for a while?
Türeci: Yes, we have lost time. But not an entire year. Our cancer research projects were limited anyway because of the pandemic and lockdown. Cancer patients were not able to easily take part in clinical studies, and material couldn’t just be sent back and forth.
Döpfner: The negative effects are probably more than compensated for due to the higher company valuation, you now have an enormous amount of money at your disposal. How many potential cancer medicines do you currently have in development?
Sahin: We have 30 in development. It’s correct that the vaccine is transforming the company. We’ll be generating real income for the first time, which we can reinvest. And a lot more than we planned or were able to before. We will try to take a broader approach in the company. Try to accelerate our projects and also try to develop further medicines from the progress we have made – medicines that protect lives.
Döpfner: In addition to earning money, you will no doubt gain a great deal of experience. The approval processes will likely become faster because of that. Will that help with the cancer treatments?
Sahin: It has been impressive to see with this vaccine how well public authorities and companies can work together. I’ll give you one example: We sent our study application documents and had the approval to get started three days later because this was an emergency situation. Obviously, we would like to see the same standards applied for cancer patients. Normally when we submit documents, the authorities answer us about three months later. I would like to see debate in society about that – why is it possible to speed things up so much for a COVID vaccine and not for cancer treatments?
Döpfner: You have a cancer vaccine approach in which you can develop an individual therapeutic for each patient. That should make a traditional approval process superfluous, because it is then only a matter of solving that particular case. Is the idea not yet approved?
Sahin: The principle is approved for clinical trials. We have used the candidate on individual patients and have the first indications that immune responses are taking place and that the tumor can regress. But we haven’t done a large, randomized trial yet, as we did with the coronavirus vaccine, to demonstrate that those who are vaccinated systematically have a better course.
Döpfner: When will it be possible to get a vaccination or treatment against specific types of cancer in this individualized form? When will life-extending effects be achieved?
Sahin: We’re currently in phase two. Depending on whether those studies are positive, we imagine that we could have a package for initial submission to the authorities in 2024.
Döpfner: So, one might say that, indirectly, the coronavirus pandemic has had a positive effect on the research and application of your oncology therapy.
Türeci: Yes, one could say so. With the coronavirus vaccine, we have gone through all the stages of development that we have not even reached yet with the cancer vaccines. We can now bring that to bear in the cancer projects. Of course, we need further data for each additional drug, and you can’t just extrapolate things. Even so, regulators around the world have seen very clearly how mRNA works, what the safety and tolerability profile is, and what quality testing of the production can look like. So we have now presented important information, although we are not yet that far along in the actual development of cancer vaccines.
Sahin: By the end of the year, one billion people may have been vaccinated with mRNA vaccines.
Döpfner: What do you say to the objection, spread mainly by vaccine skeptics, that someone is fiddling with their DNA. I know that’s not the case. But isn’t there a risk matrix for you at some point, where you say, we have to pay particular attention to this because something could change in the long run?
Sahin: Of course, we must continue to monitor compatibility and safety. But not in terms of genetic alterations. That can be scientifically ruled. But it’s a basic principle of medicine that you collect extensive data on everything you don’t know about yet. We’ll have more tolerability data from our clinical trial in a month or two. In other words, there is more and more data that we can evaluate. In the vaccination campaigns, around 100 million people have already been vaccinated with our mRNA vaccine. And this data is continuously examined by the authorities. So the more days that pass, and the more subjects that have been vaccinated, the larger our tolerability database becomes.
Döpfner: Indeed, your success has rested largely on data, data analysis, and data transparency. Israel is probably the most interesting coronavirus laboratory in the world right now because it has digital health data on over 90% of the population and the high vaccination rate makes it possible to glean an extraordinary number of insights. What is your general view of this tension between data protection and individual rights on the one hand and the medical context of the need for data transparency and data use on the other?
Sahin: We need concepts that ensure both. One does not exclude the other. What we need is legal certainty. We often struggle to interpret new and national data protection laws because they are ambiguous. One question, for instance, is: Can we merge data and share it with a collaborative partner? Unfortunately, there is not always a clear answer to this question. Instead, there are long discussions. We need binding legal certainty as a better basis for understanding how we can do medical research. It’s not in anyone’s interest for researchers to have to act without clear legal guidelines.
Döpfner: Your company is currently worth some 25 billion euros. It is a biotech platform. We talk about the privacy rules and issues at the big traditional tech platforms, such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. But you need data, indeed highly personal data, to be able to help at all. What is your vision for how a biotech platform can grow and help while still handling data in a way that is compatible with an open, democratic society?
Sahin: The basic idea is: The more we know about the patient and their tumor, the better we can tailor our drugs. And, of course, we generate data for that purpose. For example, we examine the patient’s tumor and identify the mutation so that we can then develop an individualized drug. And to generate this data, there must be a corresponding agreement with the patient. You need an information sheet. You have to be very clear about what you’re using the data for. This is also very important for us. We are very firm about the fact that we are not developing a business model with this data. This data will not be made available to anyone.
Döpfner: One could also do it like the Danes. They have digital patient data on nearly 100% of the population. Any doctor can theoretically view the data at any time. However, they may only do so with the express consent and in the presence of the patient. If a doctor violates the law, they immediately lose their license. Could this philosophy be transferred in part so that we put the principle of credible consent above everything and then really only have fair transparency for therapeutic purposes?
Türeci: Absolutely. But this is not an issue that concerns a single company, but a concept that requires a societal discussion and which would eventually have to be introduced at the national level.
Döpfner: I’ll venture a prediction, today you are worth 25 billion euros. I think you could easily be worth 250 billion euros in the future, or even much more, and then, together with a few other players, have an extremely dominant, almost market-controlling position. One problem that we see with tech platforms is the abuse of power. In the case of biotech platforms, that could take an even more potent form. You have long development times and high development costs for many things, and you need a capitalist incentive to be able to develop at all. Regulators can’t simply say that all the patents you’ve developed will be made available to everyone. You need that competitive advantage for a period of time. The framework conditions thus almost necessarily bring forth monopolistic or duopolistic structures. It’s a dilemma. Do you have any ideas about how to create a fair regulatory framework for such super-companies?
Sahin: That’s a good question. Fundamentally, it’s about not taking advantage of your position, but using it to make medical progress. What that means is that we want to treat diseases that are not treatable today. These are what are referred to as “blue ocean models.” Areas in which there is as yet no competition at all. I don’t have a general answer. But basically, I proceed from the assumption that any new platform or approach has to grapple with the fact that the next solution might be a better one. Patents that we generate today have a limited term anyway. And patents alone do not make a drug.
Döpfner: What has been your experience with founding a company in Germany? What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs? Or would you tell them: Go to America!
Türeci: It is possible to startup in Germany, as you can see. It’s not an easy process. It’s difficult because we have scarcely any venture capital or private investors here in Germany. It’s easier in the US. On the other hand, we have very good research here. Here, investments are made in basic and applied research at an early stage. The building blocks are very good. But you need staying power.
Döpfner: Because there is so much overregulation and it takes a long time?
Sahin: For a long time there was a skepticism that it was possible to really make a difference by starting a business. Three years ago, we were asked: Why should a company from Mainz, of all places, be successful when there are companies in Boston tackling the same issue? There is a lack of belief that something can come out of Germany that is innovative and competitive with international rivals.
Döpfner: Skepticism against genetic research is extremely pronounced in Germany. Did that inhibit you in the beginning?
Sahin: No. By the time we started, biotechnology was already established as a scientific discipline. It’s more the phase after that. Developing a drug to the point of approval is expensive. It can quickly cost a billion euros. And raising that sum in Germany is very, very difficult.
Döpfner: Approximately 375 million euros in subsidies flowed into your company from Germany last year. Shouldn’t Germany therefore get more of the vaccine?
Sahin: According to the agreement with the EU and on the basis of orders from the other EU states, Germany will actually receive a disproportionate share to some extent.
Döpfner: When people look back on you in 100 years, will you be remembered more as the inventors of the first and best coronavirus vaccine or as the most successful fighters against cancer?
Türeci: We hope that the second case also comes to fruition. Cancer is just as bad as a pandemic, but we are not as conscious of it. But here, too, worlds collapse; the worlds of patients and their families. So we will not be resting on our laurels.
Döpfner: Will cancer eventually be defeated completely?
Türeci: There will be cancers that can eventually be cured.
Döpfner: How long will people be able to live?
Sahin: In principle, it is already biologically conceivable to significantly increase the lifespan of humans through treatments.
Türeci: This is a field in which a lot of research is being done, for example in the field of regenerative medicine.
Döpfner: Are there other fields in medicine that you find particularly exciting? Where things are happening that you would call game-changers?
Sahin: The regenerative approaches are highly interesting. This is associated with cell regeneration, but also the regeneration of organs. And also, the fundamental question: What causes us to age? There is no compelling reason why we must age or why we must age so quickly. There is no compelling reason why dogs only live to be 14 years old…
Döpfner: …and turtles 200.
Sahin: Exactly. There is no obvious necessity for that. It’s the programming of our cells. And in principle it is possible to interfere with this programming. This is a very interesting and highly exciting field of research.
Döpfner: As a matter of principle, physicians do not want patients to die. They want to save lives. They want to prolong people’s lives. The ideal would be immortality. Is that something you would see as a goal?
Türeci: I wouldn’t go that far.
Sahin: Immortality is very unlikely. But a very long life? That should be possible.
Döpfner: And you would think that was good, if we all lived to be 200?
Türeci: If we stayed healthy in the process. At the end of the day, it’s all about aging healthily without getting sicker or frailer.
Döpfner: Quantity does not guarantee quality.
Türeci: In the end, everyone has to decide that for themselves. Not everyone wants that.
Döpfner: You were born in Germany as a child of guest workers, Ms. Türeci, and you were born in Anatolia, Mr. Sahin. And you first made a career for yourselves in Germany and now on the global level. It’s an incredible success story. How has your life changed?
Türeci: Not much has changed for us. We live the same way as before. A bit differently due to the lockdown, of course. But as Ugur always says so beautifully: Scientists usually do not act on the stage, but backstage.
Sahin: We are extremely focused. Everything we care about is in our heads. We have a vision. We have just updated our plans.
Döpfner: Do you still have ties to Turkey? Do you ever go there?
Sahin: Our parents are no longer alive. We still have some relatives there.
Türeci: Although many are scattered all over the world.
Döpfner: Do you speak German with each other?
Döpfner: How do you view Turkey’s political development?
Sahin: We can’t judge that well enough.
Döpfner: That’s too bad. Almost frightening. What does the value of freedom mean to you?
Sahin: To me, freedom is deciding for yourself, being able to do what you feel passionate about. If we couldn’t do that, it would make us unhappy. So freedom is very important for that reason.
Türeci: It is the foundation for innovation, change and transformation. That wouldn’t be possible without freedom. In this respect, freedom has to be all the more important to a scientist.
Döpfner: Although you make a living from vaccines, you have explicitly opposed compulsory vaccination. Is that too unfree for you?
Sahin: Yes. Everyone has to decide that for themselves. But we must create transparency so that everyone can decide for themselves.
Döpfner: Now I’d like to know what that amulet is that you appear to wear at all times.
Sahin: In Turkish, it’s called “Nazar Boncuk.” It’s a protective eye and keeps the evil eye away.
Türeci: And if it falls off, you need a new one. Because that means it averted a negative event.
Döpfner: So do researchers need the loving eye?
Türeci: You definitely need a team and people who support you. You can’t do it alone. And then one or the other of them marries you.
Döpfner: If you could each make a medical wish, what would it be?
Türeci: Good early cancer diagnostics that can be used broadly.
Sahin: Health in old age. This is the biggest challenge we need to address. We all get older, but with frailty. It would be the most beautiful thing if we could manage to stay healthy as long as possible.
Türeci: You’re right, Ugur.
Döpfner: You received the Axel Springer Award and one day later the Federal Cross of Merit. Does that mean anything to you or is it just trivia?
Türeci: Both are great honors. Both are awards given by entities that we hold in high regard. But firstly, we accept them on behalf of our team. Secondly to honor science. And thirdly to recognize the collaboration between all actors who worked on it.
Döpfner: Have there been any real crises and really serious setbacks for you in the whole course of the last few months?
Sahin: We’ve had to overcome crises continuously. We initially planned to produce 100 million doses in 2020. Then it turned out that one of the raw materials was not of the quality we needed. So we had the vaccine, but we had to worry about not being able to produce it. Fortunately, we solved that problem collectively. But that phase was a difficult one.
Döpfner: You are famous, recognized everywhere on the street. And you go to work by bike. You don’t want a big car.
Türeci: He doesn’t have a driver’s license.
Döpfner: That helps, of course. But do you ever worry that you could lose this down-to-earth quality of your life and lifestyle?
Sahin: No, I don’t think so. The most important thing is why someone does something. And the why hasn’t changed for us. As long as the why doesn’t change, we will not change either.
Döpfner: It is more a question of inner attitude and not outward circumstances?
Döpfner: And that coordinate system is firmly in place with you. What do you attribute that to? To your parents? Your marriage?
Sahin: It’s everything. It’s important to understand what drives you. It’s a combination. We feel passionate about what we do. We love science, research and development. We are good at what we do. We work with the right people. We have our micro and macro environments. And we have goals that we believe we can achieve and that are worth getting up and working for every day.
Döpfner: They are systemically relevant, so to speak. The world is watching you. What if you get into a marital spat in the middle of the pandemic?
Türeci: We don’t have that. We don’t know what that is.
Sahin: Marital strife only arises out of boredom. (Laughs)
Türeci: … we certainly don’t have that at the moment with all that’s going on.
Döpfner: That explains your answer to Bill Gates recently when asked what you wanted to do when the pandemic was over, and you said: Sleep.
Türeci: Exactly, to prepare myself for the marital strife.
As a therapist and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast, I see first-hand how the questions you ask and the way you ask them determine how open people are when they respond. Interviewers who help people feel comfortable encourage their interviewees to speak more freely.
Oprah’s interviewing skills have stood the test of time because she strikes a great balance between helping guests feel like they’re part of an intimate conversation while also helping her audience feel like they’re part of the interview.
Her recent interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry highlighted her skills as she got the couple to open up about sensitive subjects and their former life in the royal family. Here are seven reasons why Oprah is so good at asking questions that draw out candid, honest answers.
1. She is comfortable with silence
Silence feels uncomfortable for both the interviewer and the interviewee. And while many interviewers race to fill any pause that lasts more than a second or two, Oprah sits back and waits.
She knows her guests feel awkward too. And she lets them fill the gap.
The pause is often a sign that a guest is hesitating to share more information. When there’s an awkward silence, however, most guests will be eager to fill it – even if that means chiming in with the rest of a story that they’re hesitant to tell.
This is crucial as it means her guests often go on to share the harder parts of their stories or the raw emotions they’re experiencing.
2. She’s direct
Some interviewers sugar-coat uncomfortable questions. Others seem apologetic for asking about tough subjects. And a few seem to enjoy being intense in their questions as a way to create extra tension.
Oprah is kind when asking questions but she’s also direct. Her manner of asking tough questions in a matter-of-fact way helps people feel more comfortable answering.
After all, if you’re apologetic or you seem uncomfortable asking a question, people may think they should feel awkward about answering.
3. She uses reflective listening
People open up more when they know someone is really listening to them. But listening isn’t just about passively waiting. It’s about reflecting back what you hear to show you’re trying to truly understand.
When someone shares a story and then ends with a statement like, “That was so tough to deal with as a kid,” Oprah often responds by repeating back the last few words. Saying, “That sounds tough for you to deal with as a kid…” opens the door for them to keep talking.
4. She asks follow up questions
Oprah’s conversations are organic. She doesn’t just pick from a list of pre-written questions to ask her guests.
She asks follow-up questions that show she wants more information about what her guest just said. She shows she’s interested in taking a deeper dive into their wisdom and their experiences.
5. She doesn’t know all the answers
Some interviewers insist they only ask questions they already know the answers to so that they’re never surprised or thrown off guard. That’s definitely not Oprah’s approach.
Clearly, she conducts research on her guests. That information guides the question she asks. But, she also asks questions that people haven’t ever been asked before and she shows a genuine response to their answers.
6. She leans in
Oprah looks relaxed while she waits for her guests to answer her questions. This ensures that people being interviewed don’t feel rushed when answering questions.
She also leans in at just the right moment. Leaning forward in her chair when they’re sharing raw emotion sends a clear signal that she’s with them and wants them to keep going. People feel safe when they know they’re being heard.
7. The conversation is authentic
The conversation between Oprah and her guests appears authentic. The guests feel as though Oprah really wants to learn from them and the audience feels like they’re watching two people having a real conversation – rather than an expert interrogating someone about their story.
That authenticity is why Oprah is such a trusted resource. Her body language and facial expressions match the words coming out of her mouth.
In March 2017, WikiLeaks published a trove of leaked CIA hacking tools. The agency’s internal report, obtained last year by The Washington Post, eventually blamed the CIA’s hackers for spending too much effort “building cyber weapons at the expense of securing their own systems.”
A month after the CIA tools leaked, a group called the Shadow Brokers dumped its fifth batch of hacking tools that it had stolen from the NSA’s elite “Tailored Access Operations” group. Those tools were then used by foreign actors to carry out extensive cyberattacks, including the infamous WannaCry attacks, whose targets included American companies and government agencies.
For decades, the US has had the most sophisticated arsenal of cyberweapons in the world. But America’s focus on building up its cyber offenses – and lack of focus on defensive measures – has increasingly become one of its biggest weaknesses, The New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth argues in a new book.
In “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race,” Perlroth, who has covered cybersecurity for more than a decade, says other countries’ cyber capabilities have caught up to the US in recent years. At the same time, she argues, America’s critical infrastructure – because so much of it is owned by private companies and connected to the internet – has become a huge target for its adversaries.
“More nation-states and cybercriminals target the United States with cyberattacks than almost any other nation, and we’re the most vulnerable because we’re the most wired,” Perlroth said in an interview with Insider.
That wasn’t always the case, Perlroth said, adding that the US is largely to blame for the flood of attacks.
In 2010, the US and Israel used a computer worm known as Stuxnet to sabotage a substantial portion of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, in what is widely considered the first cyber “use of force” that dealt damage in the physical world. Eventually, the code that powered the attack leaked online and hackers around the world – including in Iran – were able to reverse engineer it and re-deploy it for their own purposes.
According to Perlroth, that ignited a cyber arms race that hasn’t stopped.
“Since then, almost every government on earth with maybe the exception of Antarctica has pursued these programs,” Perlroth said. “And any government official will readily admit that the target of that attack – that Iran – caught up in terms of its capabilities for cyberattacks in a much shorter timeframe than we gave it credit for.”
Countries like Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea have poured massive amounts of resources into their cyber capabilities and have successfully hit American targets using tools originally built by the US and its allies as well as tools developed in-house. And because it’s so difficult to definitively attribute a cyberattack to a specific country, Perlroth said, the threat of the US retaliating with a strong offensive attack isn’t as strong of a deterrent as it is with conventional weapons.
“We don’t need to back off on offense,” she said. “But the thing is, if we’re going to pursue an offensive strategy, if we’re going to just keep hacking into our adversaries…then we need to make sure that our own grid and our own critical infrastructure isn’t vulnerable. And right now we’re incredibly vulnerable.”
“These are all things that could happen simultaneously and would be in many ways more deadly than a bomb going off somewhere,” Perlroth said, adding that these threats are amplified by the fact that private companies like Solarwinds, which own and operate the vast majority of US infrastructure, are first and foremost concerned with making money.
“The incentive has been get your product first to market, make your products easily accessible, not just to customers, but employees and contractors and vendors,” she said. Perlroth also said that, following the Solarwinds hack, the US government should “pause here and take inventory” of its own IT systems, including which software touches various networks, who makes it and where, and what security practices those companies have in place.
Ultimately, Perlroth said the US needs to better incentivize companies to prioritize security, both by requiring and rewarding good security practices through stricter legal requirements and tax credits, but also by slapping fines on “companies whose passwords are ‘Solarwinds123.’“
As with most marketing, there is no silver bullet to B2B influencer marketing but there are some essential best practices and strategies that have been proven time and time again. To uncover that secret sauce of working with B2B influencers, Episode 12 of the Inside Influence Show features Paul Dobson, Senior Director, Social and Influencer Marketing at Citrix.
In addition to a few highlights from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report, we discussed Paul’s experience working with influencers at Citrix as well as:
Where influencer marketing fits in the mix at Citrix
Tips on being great at influencer marketing for a B2B technology brand
Influencer Marketing vs. Influencer Relations
The impact of influencer marketing on customer experience
Advice on starting an influencer marketing program at a B2B brand
How to get executive buy-in to an influencer marketing program
How to decide which influencers to work with
Examples of influencer engagement
Opportunities to grow influence with B2B brand executives
How agencies can be most helpful to B2B brands with influencer marketing
Predictions of influencer marketing in 2021
See the full video interview of Inside Influence Episode 12 with Paul Dobson here:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
Tell us about your role at Citrix and where influencer marketing fits?
Paul: I’ve been on quite a journey through Citrix. I started off in the PR side of things. So, to some extent I’ve always been working with with influencers. The media, then went into analyst relations, so the Gartners and Forresters of the world and now social and influencer influencer marketing as well. I really enjoy this aspect of my role and, you know, sitting in corporate communications means getting good exposure to a range of influencers that have gotten me here in my career. Being head of social media means that I also have a lot closer ties to the marketing organization and how we execute that. So it’s really the best of both worlds as far as I’m concerned.
Influencer marketing is an interesting split sometimes between PR and comms or marketing. You seem to be in a sweet spot.
Paul: Absolutely. So it’s kind of interesting the way that we’re approaching marketing, et cetera now is we’re really evolving it somewhat. The barriers between the teams are starting to break down a little bit more effectively. We’re really forming pods and tiger teams around certain campaigns and projects. It helps to be able to understand what’s going on elsewhere and it is a real sweet spot because obviously the influence has come from many pools, not just a traditional B2B influencers.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you were named as one of the top 20 influencer marketing professionals. What does it take to be at the top of your game when it comes to B2B marketing? With influencer marketing?
Paul: It’s an interesting question because I think as far as influencers are concerned, everything has to come back to the corporate strategy and what you’re trying to achieve with what you’re doing with influencers. Everything has to go back to that when you’re designing your program. For us, it was reaching out and attracting new audiences.
I’ll talk about HR as one audience which is not a typical audience for an enterprise B2B technology company. We wanted to showcase our technology in a very different way that correlated with market trends around something called employee experience. And that’s very important when we’re all sitting at home and working and still trying to do our jobs.
Part of the benefit of working with influencers is that they have a different lens on what’s happening in the world and what’s happening with your company.
So, think about what the corporate goals are and then try and work out what you want the influencers to be able to do. For us, it was social amplification to a certain degree, reaching their audiences with content that we’re working on together, presenting at events when events still existed and potentially may exist again in the future, and then content generation as well.
Part of the benefit of working with influencers is that they have a different lens on what’s happening in the world and what’s happening with your company. You’re giving a different perspective to your audience as well as, as their audiences. That’s how we, in a nutshell, started off with the program and then developed and grown from there.
What are you most excited about when it comes to working with influencers?
Paul: It still is super exciting. I mean, I’ve been working with influencers now for over 20 years, so it’s most definitely something that gets me out of bed in the morning.
To the point we were talking about earlier on, your personal career is your own. It shapes how you think and how you react in certain situations. And as a marketer you end up responding, probably subconsciously, to a situation based on those experiences that you’ve had.
The best influencer campaigns come from the sparring that goes on between what they think and what you think.
But collaborating with influencers to me means that you’re able to temper that to a certain degree and the best influencer campaigns, in my view, come from the sparring that goes on between what they think and what you think. And then it kind of comes out to be something in the middle. It helps you grow as a person in your career.
What I love most about working with influencers is the kind of range of “aha” moments that you have as you go along. And you work with them to form and build campaigns. Because the plans that you start off with, they kind of wiggle a bit. But you get there in the end and they change ever so slightly based on the interactions that you have with your influencers.
What’s your preference: influencer marketing or influencer relations?
Paul: Most definitely, I would say influence relations. You have to build the relationship with your team of influencers in order to do effective influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is a subset of influencer relations because without the relationship, it just becomes a series of tactical campaigns.
Influencer marketing is a subset of influencer relations because without the relationship, it just becomes a series of tactical campaigns involving somebody else, other than people in your organization. Being able to build out and bring relationships with influencers means it can go anywhere and you can come up with things that you possibly wouldn’t even thought about before.
You talked about the value of relationships and our research study showed that 12 times more marketers cited themselves as being very successful with their influencer marketing that ran always on programs, relationship-driven programs versus those that were doing intermittent campaigns. So there’s ROI in those relationships.
Paul: I also think that when you build a degree of familiarity for your audience with the influencers that you’re working with, there’s a certain comfort that they get from recognizing the people that you work with and the information and the insights that you bring. We’re starting in 2021 to incorporate our influencers, not only in the awareness elements, but also further down the funnel as well to make sure that people see them as their journey goes on.
Our research discovered that 77% of B2B marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts and 74% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand. Do you find this kind of optimism with Citrix?
Paul: I would definitely agree with that. There have been a couple of instances where our influencer program has helped us resonate more with certain audiences that we’re trying to connect with. It’s reduced the amount of time that would take to strike a chord with a certain audience and build appeal with those audiences that we don’t necessarily have a natural affinity with.
It [Influencer Marketing] has reduced the amount of time that would take to strike a chord with a certain audience and build appeal with those audiences that we don’t necessarily have a natural affinity with.
I don’t have the statistics in hand, but our brand tracker shows that with a specific audience, we had a much higher unaided recognition in 2020 than we did in 2019. So, it’s a great way of building our brand with new and existing audiences. As we become more of a use case focused organization versus pushing product, getting out those use cases and having them explained with a slightly different lens with that third party voice is very valuable to give that viewpoint to our customers.
It’s proving to be very important. I think the customer events that we had in the Fall, were an example of where we were able to leverage influencers to really give that additional lens to our consumers.
Based on your experience with influencer marketing at Citrix what advice can you share for other B2B marketers who are thinking of starting their own program?
Paul: So, interesting question. When we started off our formal influencer program above and beyond what we were doing with the press and with the analysts, what we were thinking about is what we were trying to achieve and what our corporate and marketing goals were going to be. For us it was about reaching out to new audiences, showcasing our technology in a way that really correlated with the trends in the market, and educating senior level executives. Traditionally, our technology was seen as a very enterprise and kind of in the guts of the organization. We wanted to make sure that they were aware of the benefits of the technology that they, in some cases, had already bought.
That’s one thing that really shaped the content aspects of what we were trying to do. Then we wanted to think about when it came to the engagement with the influencer team. We had three things in mind, which was presenting at events virtual or otherwise, creating content and social amplification.
When it comes to the execution, think about what it is that you want your influencers to do, Maybe something experiential as where you’re going from your organization. Those were the three pillars that we started off with.
Don’t build a team of like 20 influencers because if you’re trying to build a relationship with 20 people all in one go it’s, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to do.
I think also it’s important to not go out too hard with influencers. Don’t build a team of like 20 influencers because if you’re trying to build a relationship with 20 people all in one go it’s, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to do.
We started off with a program of five to get them off the ground and get really strong results and demonstrate the results that we could build the program on and ask for more funding. Then we wanted to hone in on the areas that we felt were most appropriate for us.
The strongest relationships come from the interplay between your in-house team of influencer relations managers and the team of influencers that you build for the benefit of your organization.
The final piece of advice I would give as you get up and running is not to be too prescriptive. I think we talked about some of this before our discussion, the strongest relationships come from the interplay between your in-house team of influencer relations managers and the team of influencers that you build for the benefit of your organization.
So, there’s gotta be something in it for the the influencers as well. They need to build their business and their brand as much as you need to build your business and your brand. Otherwise, I think you end up with cookie cutter, corporate marketing campaigns and activities that are presented through the lens of the influencer. I don’t see the value in necessarily using them as a direct corporate mouthpiece. The value comes from the breadth and variety of opinions and views.
Without question the digital age we live in is marked by remarkable advancements as well as ease of information creation, distribution and proliferation. As they say, we live in an age of information overload. What can B2B marketers do to stand out? Simply create more “useful content”?
For 2021 and beyond, the bar for stand out B2B marketing is much higher than utility. Our guest, Marshall Kirkpatrick on episode 11 of the Inside Influence Show featuring B2B Marketing Insiders, has some smart insights on how influence can play a role in creating (Dan Pink quote) and connecting the dots between the kinds of insights buyers are attracted to, that drive engagement and action.
Marshall is the founder of Twitter influencer platform Little Bird which was acquired by Sprinklr where he is now Vice President of Influencer Relations, Analyst Relations, and Competitive Intelligence.
Marshall’s evolution from the first blogger at TechCrunch to founder of Little Bird to VP at Sprinklr
How Dan Pink’s Symphonic Thinking translates to being a B2B influencer marketing thought leader
Insights into working with B2B influencers
B2B influencer activations that actually work
Opportunities for B2B brand executives to build influence
How to unlock influencer potential from executives who are not natural to social engagement
Advice on outsourcing an influencer marketing effort with consultants or agencies
What’s most exciting about B2B and influencer marketing in 2021
See the full interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick, check out the Inside Influence Episode 11 video below:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
You are an OG when it comes to influencer marketing. Can you share with us a little about your experience starting Little Bird and how you got to Sprinklr?
Marshall: My background is actually in blogging first and foremost. I was a tech blogger covering startups and ended up using tools to break news stories and was the first blogger ever hired over at TechCrunch.
I saw in that experience that when you’re in an influential position online, people bring you a lot of information. Lots of startups were always coming to us and saying, “Oh, look at this cool new thing. Here’s my perspective on the market.” And that was really an educational experience for me. And so, as I developed in my blogging career, I wanted to start looking around to find other influential people who were also receiving a lot of inbound information so that I could know who to watch and listen to in order to break news stories quickly and learn through watching them.
I wanted to start looking around to find other influential people who were also receiving a lot of inbound information so that I could know who to watch and listen to in order to break news stories quickly and learn through watching them.
So I built some research tools for discovering the most credible experts, the most influential people in any industry that I was covering as a journalist and in time ended up productizing some of those lessons learned in the form of a startup that we named LittleBird. LittleBird ran for five years and it did exactly what I was looking for as a journalist for marketers.
It said, let’s find the people in your target market that are being followed by the largest number of other experts and specialists in a particular field. So, especially good for B2B.
It focused on discovery, so five years after we founded it, LittleBird was acquired by Sprinkler, which is now the world’s leading customer experience management platform. Born of social listening, the technology listened to the keywords and people’s content in order for brands to manage relationships with customers and crises and opportunities. It was a really good marriage of our small startup that specialized in discovering experts and influencers and now this whole big suite of tools for actionability that Sprinkler has built in social listening and beyond social now as well.
It’s just a perfect fit for it. I’m not working on the product anymore. LittleBird has been turned off now for some time, but I get to see emails come through about big new deals with global brands that have purchased a wide swath of different sprinkler capabilities and products. Quite often I get to see in that announcement and included in the deal was Sprinkler influencer marketing and I got to feel some pride as a result of that.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you were named as one of the top 20 influencer marketing professionals. What does it take to be at the top of your game when it comes to B2B influencer marketing?
Marshall: I think that part of the challenge is that sharing valuable, interesting information in a time of information overload is tough because there’s no shortage of information out there. And the bar is quite high to rise above the noise. The way that I go about that is by engaging in a lot of what Dan Pink calls, symphonic thinking, where he says that in the emerging economy that we live in, one of the most valuable ways for knowledge workers to generate value is through symphonic thinking or the creation of connections between seemingly disparate people and ideas and initiatives.
One of the most valuable ways for knowledge workers to generate value is through symphonic thinking or the creation of connections between seemingly disparate people and ideas and initiatives.
When you create a connection between things, it’s like you light up a circuit and it’s a really generative kind of process. So I make a conscious effort to form connections between people and concepts and topics.
Furthermore, in order to do that one layer lower, I build systems to deliver a stream of interesting things to connect to one another. So, in addition to using Sprinkler to listen to thought leaders and conversations and all kinds of different industries, one of my favorite new tools is I’ve got a Twitter list that I maintain of just amazing, fascinating people. And I don’t just watch all of their tweets. Instead, I have bookmarked the search results page for a search inside of that list of people for any time they use the words, amazing, new, innovation or learning. It’s just a steady stream of amazing new, innovative things being learned by amazing, innovative people.
It’s a really high signal to noise ratio of a stream of information because of the care put into the source selection and then the creation of the interface. It’s like a little conveyor belt of amazing things to pick up and connect to other things on to try to generate value.
What are you most excited about when it comes to working with influencers?
Marshall: Well, for me, it still comes back to the same themes around discovery. I’m a very awe driven person and I find that really influential people, especially in B2B, are a constant source of awe for me.
One of my favorite examples is some work that I’ve done recently with John Hagel who was, by our metric when he worked at Deloitte, the most connected guy in all of Deloitte, the giant consulting firm, an incredible organization. In a social graph analysis of Deloitte people on Twitter in particular, he was the Deloitte person most followed by other Deloitte people. So you want to follow that guy, right? So I sure did.
I spent hours and hours reading John Hagel content: reading his blog posts, reading his books. And then I produced a podcast with him. The podcast was really fun and it was really nice to get to connect with him face-to-face. Then I created some derivative content based on that podcast. Then he went and he shared it out with his whole network of people.
The part of that process that has driven the most business value for us as well as been most exciting for me, was the very first step in the process when I was spending hours and hours reading John Hagel content.
But the part of that process that has driven the most business value for us as well as been most exciting for me, was the very first step in the process when I was spending hours and hours reading John Hagel content. That put all of his experience and knowledge and insights into my head s0 that I could deploy entirely behind the scenes at work and connect it to other projects and other initiatives that we have going on publicly and privately. That’s really where the lion’s share of value was available from. The advocacy that occurred in the end was overshadowed by all the business value available just from reading his work.
What are the characteristics that make a great B2B influencer?
Marshall: That’s a question that I have explored in a lot of different ways over my career. Currently, my standard or my criteria are three:
First, I look for people that have influence. Not just generally, not even just inside of my industry or our target market, but specifically for people who have influence with our existing customers and people like our customers. We’ve got a quantitative way that we can make that assessment. I pull out that yardstick whenever I consider engaging with an influencer. At Sprinkler it works really well.
It really requires a good amount of emotional energy invested to cultivate these relationships over time and keep them moving forward, if you want to make them authentic and sincere.
The second thing that I look for are people who are smart, that I feel like I can learn from. Because otherwise it’s easy to kind of peter out. It really requires a good amount of emotional energy invested to cultivate these relationships over time and keep them moving forward, if you want to make them authentic and sincere. And especially if you’re perhaps working with a more modest budget and it’s not just a big transactional kind of thing.
And the last thing that I look for are people that I like, because if I don’t like someone, then it’s not going to be much fun to work with them. And I want it to be fun. That ends up being the most effective work.
So once you find an influencer and you’ve defined what it is you’re looking for, what is it that you do with them? What do your activations with influencers look like?
Marshall: I’ve taken a lot of different forms. I’d say that one of the most heavyweight plays that are in our playbook has been a combination of a webinar, blog post and then private advisory phone call where we have anyone on our staff that wants to come and participate in a private phone call with one of these influencers, come and ask questions off the record and learn from their experience. You get the demand gen from the webinar and the blog post and then the more foundational value from the private advisory phone call.
One of the most heavyweight plays that are in our [influencer activation] playbook has been a combination of a webinar, blog post and then private advisory phone call.
I am very sympathetic to Forester’s perspective when they say that the most savvy brands in influencer marketing are not looking to influencers for reach because often that ends up in disappointment. But where influencers really shine is their ability to create high quality, high relevance content that breaks through the noise of this era of information overload. When coupled with paid media, then you’ve got a really awesome combination. It really works well when the brand brings the budget for the reach and the influencer is the source of the high quality, authentic, high relevance content.
That’s probably the most heavyweight of capabilities or plays in the playbook. But I do a lot of small stuff as well.
Yesterday I was watching some teammates prepare a presentation for the analyst firm, Gartner. I was providing some feedback on their presentation and watching which parts of the platform they were emphasizing, more or less. During a break I went and I opened up my list of amazing things mentioned by amazing people and Dion Hinchcliffe had posted a link to a survey that he had just published the results of, that said the number one thing that CIO’s are looking for today, especially in the pandemic around digital transformation, is a combination of automation and workflow management.
I thought that was really interesting because there was a big component of that in the Sprinkler story that we were preparing to tell Gartner. So I took that and went immediately inside the company and said, Hey folks, let’s elevate that part of the story. It’s really on trend right now and we’ve got a strong story to tell.
My favorite kind of influencer engagement: a kind of earned media and learning focused engagement that can be pretty lightweight [effort].
So thank you Dion, an influencer for that information. Then I re-shared that post of his publicly and some other folks then came in and engaged and affirmed that they had similar perspectives and I continued to learn and get more data points. And Dion came back and said, thank you so much for sharing it. And our relationship took another step forward.
Over the years, I’ve just learned so much from Dion. That’s my favorite kind of influencer engagement: a kind of earned media and learning focused engagement that can be pretty lightweight.
While much of influencer marketing has been focused on external experts, there are many opportunities for B2B brands to grow influence from within. What’s your take on opportunities to build brand executive influence?
Marshall: I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it. And yet, it’s a challenge for the ages. It is something that I think many of us have aspired to unlock for a long time for the executives that work at the companies. It is a great opportunity because so many of those executive leaders have tons of contact with customers and many times they’re great storytellers. They spent a lot of time with customers, they interface with other executive leaders and so are really efficient, high impact communicators.
[Executive influence] is a great opportunity because so many of those executive leaders have tons of contact with customers and many times they’re great storytellers.
The challenge I think, is finding ways to tap into that executive insight and flow of knowledge and access to information, much of which can’t be shared publicly. Some of it can and it requires a different sort of muscle memory, a different kind of workflow and often multiple sets of hands to help say, “Hey, let’s remember, let’s go unlock some of those stories that we get to hear, you know, in company meetings. Uh, let’s, let’s find some that are appropriate to share publicly because they’re such incredible stories.”
I know that’s the case for our executives at Sprinklr. The stories that we get to here inside the company walls are just amazing. The giant brands that we get to help solve really interesting problems for. When we’re able to reference those, either named or blinded, and do so publicly, they’re just great stories. They’re the kind of content that rises above so much in a world of information overload.
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, we found that the things B2B marketers outsource most often to agencies include: identifying influencers, managing relationships, developing strategy and measuring effectiveness. What have you found to be most useful when it comes to using outside help?
Marshall: We have been the outside resource a fair amount ourselves as a search technology on, uh, uh, management technology. And then we do a lot of our own internal influencer relations. I am real happy to do that for ourselves, but many times when working with brands that don’t have that experience or talent in-house, especially for the relationship cultivation and the practical management, well, frankly I refer them to you and your organization appreciate this.
You’ve done an incredible job of building brand equity and a demonstrated track record of success around that. I don’t know anyone who has come close to the kind of thought leadership and track record of success that you and the folks that TopRank Marketing have. So congratulations on that.
I appreciate that. It’s a great team and that’s where the magic happens.
I guess I would just suggest that people find good partners to work with and do it in a way that helps build your own capacity and learning instead of just outsourcing it.
Find good partners to work with and do it in a way that helps build your own capacity and learning instead of just outsourcing it.
It makes me think about something that Jean bliss says when she advises executives that are thinking about taking jobs in customer experience, but I think it’s good advice for almost any field. She says, when you go and you talk to a company about leading their customer experience, you should speak to the other leaders at the company and see how they talk about customer experience. Is it something that’s everyone’s job and that they are going to partner with you on? Or is it something that they’re going to outsource to you and then wash their hands of?
Because you really want to avoid being in that latter situation. You want to look for those partnership types of organizations where everyone is going to be participating and up-leveling their skills as they do, even though it’s one person’s bottom line responsibility. I just love that model.
What has you excited most when it comes to opportunities with influencer marketing in 2021 and beyond?
Marshall: I’ll tell you one thing inside of our company on one thing outside of our company.
I’m really excited about some of the new research and analytics capabilities that are being built inside of Sprinklr on top of influencer discovery in order to get early high quality insights into topics of interest to influencers and their communities.
Everybody says that they do artificial intelligence and machine learning, but Sprinklr has been doing a gargantuan amount of artificial intelligence for almost 10 years now.
Everybody says that they do artificial intelligence and machine learning, but Sprinklr has been doing a gargantuan amount of artificial intelligence for almost 10 years now and so has a really deep corpus of knowledge about a bunch of different, specific industry verticals. That means that we can discern what’s going on in conversations, especially in B2B, faster and better than any other source when monitoring influencers or discussions at large. So I’m excited about that.
For me personally and outside of the company context, I think this is a pretty nerdy answer, but I’m really excited about taking my notes from reading and learning from influencers and putting them into a startup called Rome research.
Rome is a note-taking app for networked thoughts. It’s a place where every note that you take is linked out to every page across the corpus of your notes, where the same words appear. It makes it really easy to jump from reference to reference of interrelated thoughts. And it’s just wonderful.
So, the incorporation of enterprise class influencer discovery and listening and understanding with last mile, human in the loop discernment of key lessons learned and insights and perspectives and filing that away in a note-taking system that gets automatically linked up to all the related notes from other influencers and other readings on that given topic, creates what some people call a second brain. It’s the ability to, upon reflecting on any topic, snap your fingers and say, Show me all of the things that I have read and take a note of on this topic, and put them all in one place, allow me to filter them, et cetera. I’m excited about unlocking more value from that this year.
I have always believed that everyone is influential about something and that sentiment is certainly true within B2B companies. In the B2B marketing world, we’ve all come to understand that buyers trust individual voices more than formal marketing and advertising messages, so finding ways to optimize influence internally is becoming a key area of focus.
To drill down into the intersection of employee advocacy and influence, this 1oth episode of Inside Influence features my discussion with Ryan Bares, Global Social Programs Lead: Social Influencers & Employee Advocacy at IBM Systems.
Importance of senior B2B execs to grow their influence
Optimism about influencer marketing at IBM
The difference between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
How IBM Systems engages with B2B influencers
Advice on starting an influencer program at a B2B brand
Integrating influencer content with other marketing tactics
Opportunities for the future of influencer marketing
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
Tell us about your role at IBM Systems and how you’ve been “blazing a trail” in the world of influencer marketing.
Ryan: Great question. I’ve been in the IBM Systems business group for the last five years and sort of started this influencer and employee advocacy program there. This was one of the first at IBM in general. We used to bring influential people who had great Twitter reach to our events, but we wouldn’t really talk to them for the next year. Then we realized that we needed something more consistent and about building relationships. So we changed the focus a little bit on building relationships and on employees: how do we get them involved and how do we get them to become influential themselves?
In the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you shared a prediction about an increased focus on employees as influencers. Can you share more about that?
Ryan: Yeah, I’m kind of in this interesting position of having a focus on both of these things which is great. I think when we started, roughly five years ago, the focus was really on the external influence or those people that are thought leaders with great reach on social that can connect with our target audience.
We still love those relationships and we still develop them, but I think over the last maybe year and a half, two years, we realized that at IBM our employees are also great advocates for our brand. They understand the products and the offerings at a really great level. So we’ve spent some time building training and enablement for those IBMers because it’s not natural for a lot of people to go and be active on social right away.
We’ve realized that with the coaching, enabling the ROI is there, especially when getting our IBMers to advocate for our brand to engage on social in the right ways. We know that branded content on social media in general, is reduced. I think there’s a stat out there that content coming from an employee gets eight times more engagement than content coming from a branded channel.
So, we just naturally shifted our focus little bit more from the branded content and the @IBM channels and more on the SMEs, those subject matter experts and some of our other developers at IBM that really have deep knowledge about our products and offerings. I think that they can really connect great on social and through content with our target market, our customers or buyers or business partners.
How important is it for senior execs at B2B brands to develop their own influencer footprint?
Ryan: Yeah, I go to that, that stat of eight times, right? Eight times more engagement. I think senior level execs are great because they speak on behalf of the brand. We’ve actually leveraged them for some of our events to get out and drive awareness. We see the results when it comes to getting our senior level executives on board and the team around them to help amplify and drive some of the messaging we want in the marketplace, at least on social media.
I also advocate for anyone that is a subject matter expert to be active on social in the right way. They, as you mentioned, could be influential in one way or another. You don’t have to have the largest reach on social media. You don’t need to have the biggest connection number on LinkedIn. It’s really just about, what can you talk about? How can you create interesting content?
Then we’ll use other people, maybe an external influencer, to help amplify that and get them to the right markets or other pieces of media, email or digital that we can leverage to make sure that our customers or prospects are connecting with the stuff we’re talking about and doing at IBM.
Connecting in a meaningful way.
Ryan: Yeah, meaningful is definitely important. You want to be authentic. You want to be genuine. And I think having an, an IBM-er or an employee or whatever company you’re at, that naturally brings authenticity to what they’re talking about.
Think about yourself and scrolling through social media. You might not be buying some high-tech piece of hardware from IBM through your Instagram, but from my experience, scroll past the brands at times. But I tend to stop when I see somebody I trust or when I seen other human. And so, as a human element, I might stop and listen to what they’re saying about what kind of product that may be exploring or describing. And I tend to want to engage more that way.
What advice might you give to help other people at brands that want to help their employees or senior execs get over the reluctance to be active on social and become more influential?
Ryan: That’s a great question, because I do hear that a lot from whoever’s on the other side of the zoom call. Hey, we think it’d be great if you’re active on social in these ways. Then they’re like, yes, that makes sense. I want to go after more customers or white space or develop deeper relationships with our customers we currently have, but how do I do that?
We realized with senior executive leadership, it’s a team around them that is really helpful. For example, maybe they have a communications person or an executive assistant that really helps keep them focused. I’ve also realized that they tend to want to have content that’s unique to them. So, figuring out a way when curating content for them to share or for them to create while also making it unique to them as an executive or senior level executive versus maybe something that all the rest of your staff is sharing is important.
They want to feel special, so finding outlets that are particular to them and through their training and through their knowledge is key. “Hey, I can share this, I can amplify this, or I can build off of this piece of content that I saw from a third party outlet and give my own spin.” It doesn’t always have to be about IBM. I think it’s also key to talk about what you’re interested in. That could be your kids’ sports and how does AI relate to that. It doesn’t have to be hitting on IBM content all the time.
Our research discovered that 77% of B2B marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts and 74% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand. How does this optimism about influencer marketing line up with your own experience?
Ryan: I love those numbers. It helps me kind of showcase the importance of what I do and where this B2B influencer marketing trend is going.
I haven’t ran data myself at IBM on customers and how are they engaging with some of the stuff we’re doing with influencer marketing, but I know through people in the industry and through what I’m seeing from IBM Systems that IBM as an enterprise has a renewed focus on influencer marketing and a cohesive direction that we want to go. We’ve set up influencer councils recently and explored whether that’s internal or external and explored ways that we can sort of build playbooks for the entire enterprise.
I know that we find value and reach new audiences outside of our branded channels and we can leverage our employees to do that. We can also leverage external influencers to do that. So I definitely agree that those high numbers in the 77% and 74% are hitting our customers and they are finding value in that.
I go back to my story about the scrolling and these ads, right? I personally, and I think a lot of people feel the same, that will stop on a person, like someone they trust or someone who is notable in that industry, whether an analyst influencer versus something the brand is saying through paid advertising or branded posts on organic social.
People join people. They like to follow people. Then the organization, the company, the brand follows. But I think again, we’ve been kind of talking a lot about the human to human, the personalized and the authenticity that really translates, from my experience as a consumer, scrolling through my feeds to the B2B space. There is a lot of intersection.
Can you share some of the ways you’re engaging with influencers at IBM Systems?
We really are focusing on relationships. That’s always been my go-to. That’s the platform, that’s the base, that’s the foundation of my program from the beginning – relationships over time.
I’ve really tried to avoid the one-off sort of campaign style activations or campaigns with influencers. What we’re doing is a lot of the content creation. So that could be blogging, that could be inviting individuals to events in the future. Some of our marquee events like IBM Think, video interviews, podcasting, you know, that sort of realm. That stuff lives in a variety of places. It can be on our IBM owned property like an IBM blog. It could definitely live on the influencer’s blog or their LinkedIn page, wherever the traffic is.
And we take a lot of direction from the influencers. We believe that they are the experts with their audience and the way they create content. It’s definitely a collaboration of how can we get the most bang for your buck to drive responses, drive interests, drive website visits, whatever the KPI is for that activity. Content is King for us right now even though we try to do less with more. So content is what we’re doing, blogging, videos.
Drawing on your experience with influencer marketing, what advice can you share for other B2B marketers who are thinking of starting their own program?
I reflect back on my time at the beginning, which has not been that long because this B2B influencer marketing is not old. I think for me, it is focusing and starting small with your program.
Where I started, it was like, I want to have X amount of people in our influencer program that have 2 million on reach on Twitter. Like, just made up numbers. And I went and did that and realized quickly that having that many people in a program, you’re kind of constantly trying to juggle and building relationships. It just becomes really hard for one person to do.
So I would recommend identifying four, five, or six individuals that really have a strong affinity for your brand, for the technology or the industry you’re in and build relationships with them. Set goals with them and kind of build this sort of advocacy program and grow it from there. That might take a year. That might take a longer time, but you have to be okay with that. And don’t rely on their reach. Don’t rely on how many connections they might have on LinkedIn. It’s more about the person and can they be a great advocate for you and your brand?
What has you excited most when it comes to opportunities with influencer marketing in 2021?
When we talk about relationships, and those are great over Zoom and email and email, but getting face to face – I am definitely excited about that for hopefully later next year. For me, it’s really just to improve in the same vein, improving on the digital events for next year.
You know, this year was the year of pivoting and trying things out, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. What works with your network, your brands? Influencers like doing what they’re good at so I’m really excited about how can we adapt those learnings and hopefully perfect them next year in 2021.
Also personally, I’m just really excited about what IBM is doing in this space and focusing on influencer marketing. Up to this point it’s been kind of up to the brand channels and the different teams. If you have the resources, if you have the interest and time, go figure it out. But now there’s really some direction from across the enterprise on the best practices. These are the best individuals, this is how you can build a program. So I’m really excited about that personally.
To see the full interview with IBM Systems’ Ryan Bares, check out the Inside Influence Episode 10 video below:
According to our research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 74% of marketers surveyed believe that influencer marketing improves prospect and customer experience for B2B brands. If there’s one industry expert to tap on the topic of customer experience, I can think of few more qualified than the author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis.
As an 8 time best selling author, keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, digital anthropologist and Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, Brian is a longtime friend that I’ve been able to collaborate with numerous times on marketing topics.
In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light. @briansolis
Brian has a lot of inspiring insights when it comes to the intersection of experience and influence. Not only did he author the Influence 2.0 report that we partnered with Traackr on to research, but he contributed to the introduction of the first research report dedicated to B2B influencer marketing: The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing. Here’s an excerpt:
“In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers and customer’s customers. Meaningful customer engagement starts with discovery. When someone begins their discovery process, what do they find? How do they react? Does your content resonate in a relevant and empathetic way or does it push customers elsewhere?
B2B marketers now have an opportunity to reimagine engagement to ignite a new type of connection with customers. Beyond designing for and measuring the potent for engagement, design for humans and their intentions, needs, and desired outcomes. Engagement becomes a function of intent and purpose.
This is where influence and thought leadership transcend marketing to become partners to drive business growth.”
I recently had the opportunity to connect with Brian to record this latest episode of Inside Influence to talk about a range of topics based on Brian’s experience as an analyst and as one of the most sought after and respected influencers in the business world.
In our discussion, we covered:
Brian’s role at Salesforce as a Global Innovation Evangelist
The importance of Always-On Influence and creating value for customers
What B2B brands should expect from influencer marketing
The closing gap between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
What B2B executives should consider when incorporating influence into the marketing mix
What B2B marketers should expect from influencer marketing agencies
Most rewarding experience with a B2B brand as an influencer
The role influencer can play for B2B brands during times of uncertainty
Tips for B2B executives on becoming more influential (and why)
Below are some of the highlights of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
You’ll be coming up on a year into your role as Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce in a few months. Tell us about the work you’ve been doing and what you’re looking forward to in 2021.
Brian: A lot of what my role is what we’re going to be talking about. The word evangelist at Salesforce means something deeper than simple evangelism. It really gets to the core of what you and I have been talking about over the years, which is true influence.
We think about [influence] as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. @briansolis
Influence is something that we don’t think about in terms of marketing. We think about it as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. Therefore, taking the insights, thought leadership, and ideas to help them do something in a new, different, or better way. So it’s essentially bringing influence down to cause and effect. What is the effect or what is the outcome that you want to see and how you share content, ideas, or whatever package that is, to help that individual or help that organization move forward in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise, without hopefully seeing your work.
When we talk about B2B influence, let’s take out the, “How many followers do you have?” or “How many impressions are you going to drive?” and let’s look at it for what it is, right? A business or an executive needs help in these times of great transformation and disruption. And where do they turn for that when there is not a playbook about building the future? That doesn’t exist, right? What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you listen to? Right? That’s the role of someone who adds value to the conversation.
You’re essentially building a community around people who are helping one another invent forward, right? To break convention or break mediocrity.
I want to thank you for writing an introduction to our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report – the first dedicated study of B2B influencer marketing. You mentioned that the need for influence is Always-On. Can you drill down into that?
Brian: Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. There’s always something new. There’s always a new opportunity. There’s always a new way to do something differently moving forward. And so this is an opportunity to build an infrastructure within your organization that is constantly adding value to business customers as they seek it in a variety of contexts in their journey.
Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. @briansolis
If we think about customer experience in the B to C world, one of the biggest transformations that I hope we’ll see is we’ll see organizations be always on and always connected from within so that the back office and the front office then facilitates a much more intuitive, always on and personalized customer journey.
The same is true for business to business. Business customers are going through that journey. There’s different stages all the time, and they’re always in need of insights, information and engagement. That means the opportunity to engage, the opportunity to provide content, the opportunity to guide their journey is always on. That takes influencer marketing.
We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. @briansolis
Maybe this isn’t so much about influencer marketing as it is about influencer experience. We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. That takes the concepts of influencer marketing, content, and product marketing and essentially creates this much more powerful alliance of ways in which we can think beyond, “Hey, how many views did we get?”, “How many impressions did we get?”, “What was the reach on that last piece of content we created?”
Then we can start measuring things by how many questions we answered, how many people we drove towards the stage to want to know more. And how did we change the thinking among executives and really start to get to a much more meaningful place where influence is essentially a code word for helping people?
A few years ago we both worked (much more you than me) with Traackr on the Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing research report where there was quite a gap between B2C and B2B influencer marketing adoption. Has that gap closed much in the past 3 years?
Brian: You know, I don’t have the data around me, but I have to imagine that you had a big deal to do with closing that gap because you’ve been a champion for B2B influence for a really long time. You’ve been a pioneer in actually making this a formal construct within companies. That report that we worked on was our way of not only showing the discrepancy between the two, but actually showing the need for them to be actually more similar than dissimilar.
Influence 2.0 is a concept that was introduced to help marketers think about influence differently than the way that it’s still largely thought about, which is a broadcast mentality or what I call a drafting someone’s social capital. That’s when a person has street cred within an industry and brands want to partner with them so that they can draft their credibility and attach it to our brand.
That’s all fine, but if you’re consistently adding value through strategic partnerships, building trust, and also becoming an influencer yourself, I always believed brands needed to become influencers as well, then we actually can forge an ecosystem, essentially a community of belonging together to make that community stronger for one another and for the market.
I always joked when I spoke to B2B audiences, I specifically loved to use the best B2C examples. I mean anything besides the traditional stuff where we see influencers getting free products and they put it on Instagram. That’s to me, the same as celebrity endorsements, I’m talking about influences outcomes. Like, “I trust you. I value what you’re thinking. You’re guiding me in my decision-making.”
I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen. @briansolis
Whether I’m a consumer or whether I’m a business customer, that’s what I talk about with influence. I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen, right? If you could humanize something, then people will find it more relatable. It’s not like as a business customer, they’re not consumers. It’s not like they say, okay, I’m done shopping for headphones and now I have to look at B2B enterprise systems here, so I’m going to forget what it was like to be treated as a human being. I actually think that humanization is what can make B2B even stronger.
Our research found that 77% of marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry influencers and yet 60% say they do not have the skills or expertise in-house to execute influencer programs. Of course many of those marketers trust outside experts like agencies to help. What do you think B2B marketers should expect from agencies or consultants when it comes to influencer marketing programs?
Brian: I hope that agencies think of themselves as partners in trust-building. Because it changes the conversation from marketing. Part of the challenge is, what’s the brief or what’s the remit? And how does someone respond to that?
I think for thoughtful organizations on the outside, you should probably consider influencing the decision makers as well. Meaning, that you should become an influencer in helping your customers understand that what they’re buying from you is not just the ability to connect them with people who have a lot of followers or audiences or networks or proven track record of content. But you’re actually partnering with them to build a market of trust, to build a community, an Always-On community. When I research the decisions I need to make it happens at midnight, you know? Influence never sleeps, right?
You have to find the things and the trusted voices when you can and you want them to be recent. You want them to be contextually relevant, which means I can’t just find an article. Maybe I want data visualization. Maybe I need a video, whatever it is, right. I need to find it my way. So, I actually think that this is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things.
This is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things. @briansolis
I wrote, I think, the first industry report on digital influence back in the day about 2011 and in that, I talked about authority and popularity and what I see, especially in B2B, we see it in B2C too, the authority part of this was always under appreciated. Authority essentially says, I not only know what I’m talking about, I know what you’re going through. So therefore, that’s what’s inspiring a lot of my work and hopefully I can earn your trust because that’s the consideration set I’m bringing to the table.
That’s the work that external partners need to do to help internal partners who are caught up in everything that they have to deal with beyond influence – everything that they have to constantly substantiate and try to justify all of the work in the investments that they’re making. Those things will become much more valuable within the organization if they can tie it to business outcomes or to customer lifetime value or to things that actually have an impact on the business.
I can tell you after doing this for so many years, tying my work to those things, that’s all a customer is looking for: real help. And a business is looking for outcomes and the two are mutually beneficial. So let’s help those decision makers think beyond influencer marketing and more about influence.
The pandemic and many other forces driving a feeling of uncertainty and change have created an environment where there are new challenges, yet also opportunities. What role do you think influence can play in helping brands during these “uncertain times” better connect with customers?
Brian: I think ultimately, yes. It’s not that it’s never not been important. There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now. There’s also a lot of fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. These are just human, natural human feelings that exist. These are things we’re dealing with. We’re coping. We’re not just working from home or trying to work from home during a pandemic with a whole bunch of other stuff like remote learning or whatever it is in our households. Right?
So that importance of light that we talked about in the ignite moment, that’s more important than ever. Add to that the digital distractions that everybody’s dealing with that’s now compounded more because we have to be digital first. Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before.
Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before. @briansolis
That’s what I think we want people to think about here leaving this conversation. If I had to reinvent my definition of influence and my approach to it because of 2020, what would I do differently? If I could set aside 20 years of work in March and start all over again, you can do it, because it only makes you more relevant and better. That’s ultimately all we want to do and that’s ultimately what people are looking for.
Any tips you can share with senior B2B brand executives on becoming more influential themselves?
Brian: There are individuals that I think do a really amazing job within brands, whether they know it or not, that make that brand trusted and much more influential within the customer community.
Talk to Paul Greenberg for example. Paul’s a dear friend and an incredible, Godfather of CRM, an incredible analyst and also an incredible human being. He empowers individuals who feel like they want to change within organizations to go and change within these organizations because they know it’s what’s right for the community.
So, I think the first part is caring. You’re not just trying to be an influencer and run an influencer marketing program, because you care about the fact that customers are struggling to find information. They’re frustrated because they couldn’t previously do the things to make the impact that they really wanted to make. Influencer marketing or influence in that regard just becomes a means, a mechanism of which to activate a community.
What does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. @briansolis
So that part is about caring, which is actually a rare, rare gift out there. The other piece is, what does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. And that means you have to actually know what is happening out there, what people are struggling with. And you have to care so much about solving that, that is the heart of everything that you do. Then, hopefully it inspires you to see a different path forward of which becomes your unique voice.
Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” @briansolis
Of course, the mechanics of making that voice heard is not just about how loud you are or how you put fear into people or how popular you get. Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” I think those things are where businesses need to focus and where business leaders need to rethink what it takes to build that brand, that trusted brand out there.
To see the full Inside Influence Episode 9 interview with Brian Solis, check out the video below:
To connect with Brian, you can find him at BrianSolis.com, on Twitter and LinkedIn.