How can the intense brightness that often follows humankind’s darkest moments help us achieve greater team unity and newfound marketing energy, gratitude and strength?
As the pandemic marches on into its second year, B2B marketers looking to rise above despair and make this a brighter and more successful year can look especially to the five reasons we’ve gathered here for being optimistic about the many positive opportunities and experiences that 2021 holds in store.
Let’s jump right in and take a look at five inspiring reasons for B2B marketing optimism in 2021 and beyond.
1 — We’re More United As Teams & As Communities
Despite the difficult pandemic challenges of 2020 that have continued into 2021, B2B marketers have gained a newfound understanding of the power of successful teamwork, even as remote work has typically meant less physically time together.
Online collaboration systems are undoubtedly flourishing as never before, as teams meet and share in fascinating and sometimes unanticipated new ways using Zoom, Slack, monday.com* and so many other powerful tools for digital integration.
Teams that haven’t been used to working together remotely have gained not only new technology skills, but a new sense of understanding and appreciation for work associates and the challenges we all face — issues that were largely unseen in professional life during pre-pandemic times.
Be ready to tap into the pure and boundless energy that are likely to overflow when our professional and personal lives are safely able to return to not quite what they were, but as close as we can come.
The day World War II ended saw great global celebrations and relief, and while the pandemic recovery won’t likely be such an overnight occurrence, when we collectively switch to lives more closely resembling those we had before the global health crisis, each of us will be able to harness tremendous new energy, which can’t help but inspire our marketing efforts and lives in new and exciting ways.
When this post-pandemic energy is released into the B2B marketing world, the floodgates of creativity are likely to open and drive increased focus on campaigns that connect brand and customer in deeper and more meaningful ways.
3 — Our Gratitude Will Create Great Marketing That Makes a Difference
Living for over a year under trying circumstances has helped us to be thankful for our little victories, and to appreciate a new sense of gratitude brought on by some of those small aspects of our lives that have turned out to mean so much more than they did in pre-pandemic times.
During 2020 global usage of technology climbed in ways it’s never done before, resulting in a proliferation of new social media tools, expansion of online communication options, and the growth of marketing tactics that can help us succeed with each new possibility.
The sky’s the limit for B2B marketers who find the right tools that allow them to build relevant best-answer content. With such a wealth of application, tool, utility and service choices, the hardest challenge may simply be finding the ones that allow you to work in the manner that brings out your best.
To help you find new tools, we’ve published insight into some of the top tools for B2B marketers, such as these:
5 — We’re Stronger From Overcoming Pandemic Marketing Challenges
It may not be immediately apparent yet, but by overcoming the challenges the pandemic has thrown at our professional and person lives, we have gained strength that may take some time and reflection to fully appreciate.
In 2021 this strength will unfold and eventually work its way into our efforts as B2B marketers, bringing a fresh zest for the power our content has to change hearts and minds.
To help us see and appreciate the strengths we’ve added, it’s helpful to look back and reflect on the challenges we’ve faced and overcome during the past year — whether small or monumental.
Some find that making a comprehensive list of the obstacles we’ve survived helps to bring into clearer focus the progress that will infuse our 2021 marketing efforts with new strength.
Combined, these five reasons for B2B marketers to be optimistic — our greater team unity, energy, gratitude and strength along with powerful new tools — can provide new inspiration as we gather ourselves to face the many challenges and opportunities of 2021.
Each year I’ve taken inventory of the major trends emerging within our B2B marketing agency practice and with the crazy year that was 2020, the new year requires even greater focus on what’s ahead. Some of the marketing predictions and trends I’ve shared in the past include:
It’s interesting to see things like Video, Voice, AI and influencer marketing persist each year. The fact is, when it comes to B2B marketing trends, the world is moving fast and while marketing innovation hasn’t slowed, there are still fundamental shifts in B2B buyer preferences for information discovery, consumption and engagement that have not yet been implemented by the majority of marketers yet. As a result, a lot of the “trends” we’ll see a focus on in 2021 are not particularly new, just not evolved.
The chaos of 2020 created some important shifts including 80% or more of the sales cycle happening in digital (Forrester) and impacting B2B verticals in very different ways. The uncertainty caused 50% of buyers to hold off on purchases (Harvard Business Review) but with Tech and Telecom least affected (eMarketer) that also meant an opportunity, especially for those B2B marketers that understand the new normal of go-to-market strategies is here to stay (McKinsey).
So, with all that’s changed in 2020 due to the pandemic as well as political, economic, and social uncertainty, what are the major trends B2B marketers need to be aware of for success in 2021? Here are 20+ that stand out:
With an “epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions”, 70% of respondents to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer study said brand trust is more important today than it was in the past. Part of the problem is that globally, CEO credibility is at an all-time low and changing expectations create an opportunity to create that trust. 86% from the Edelman study think CEOs should speak out publicly about societal challenges and some are doing that. For example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shared an email he sent to Microsoft employees expressing gratitude and the steps Microsoft is taking to support customers and the community as a long form blog post on LinkedIn. We saw an increase in the number of CEOs communicating in this way and the continuation of that trend in 2021 will help regain both CEO and brand credibility.
Building trust in B2B brands goes beyond CEOs of course and marketers would do well to take inventory of what current perceptions are of the brand and ensure marketing strategies and customer engagement are aligned around creating promises and experiences that strengthen credibility.
One major impact of 2020 for B2B marketers was a shift to a digital-centric approach when it comes to marketing and sales. Because of the pandemic, the virtual loss of field marketing, outside sales and in-person events created a massive shift to virtual events and online information discovery, consumption and engagement for buyers. B2B marketers had to make significant changes from legacy tactics to digital. As a result, there’s been a big wake-up call to move B2B marketing to digital formats and according to research by Singular, 76% of marketing leaders say that digital transformation in marketing technology is their most critical focus for 2021 (Forbes).
According to Gartner’s Buyer Enablement Survey, more than 3 out of 4 people said the latest B2B purchase journey was very complicated. The challenges brought by 2020 have created even more complexities for marketers and buyers alike and that spells an opportunity to double down on optimizing experiences. Customer Experience is a priority, but so is employee experience and any experience created through the content and media published by a brand. It’s no longer enough to simply inform audiences with information.
In 2021 B2B brands will focus on authenticity in their communications and make substantial efforts to better empathize with buyers, be “more human” and add emotion to their marketing strategy.
“2021 will call on brands to authentically infuse empathy and emotion into their brand strategy, and I cannot think of a more appropriate time to build those emotional connections with customers and cultivate relationships,” Jennifer Chase, SVP and Head of Marketing at SAS (Forbes).
As the majority of B2B buyers have shifted to digital channels, B2B marketers must understand the expectations that drive information discovery, consumption and engagement experiences and then optimize accordingly.
The challenges of 2020 forced B2B marketers to re-evaluate everything from their core offering to their approach to marketing. 94% of respondents to the Content Marketing Institute B2B Content Marketing Trends Report said that they had to adapt their content marketing strategy because of the pandemic. These pivots during the pandemic have driven some important changes in business and marketing strategies. Many of those changes will persist as most CMOs feel that their go-to-market models in reaction to 2020 will continue for the next 12 months or more. (McKinsey)
Areas of greater focus include:
More emphasis on marketing ROI – With slimmer marketing budgets, marketers have become more accountable to the business impact of their efforts. Greater ROI focus has impacted everything from strategies to tactics to measurement to technology and processes.
Retention marketing – According to Harvard Business Review, a 5% increase in customer retention can deliver up to 95% increase in profits. With 2020 budgets on hold and uncertainty about when they will open up in the new year, keeping current customers is more important than ever and that trend will continue in 2021.
Virtual events – Effective virtual events offer both livestreamed content on a schedule as well as on-demand video and online networking. At the same time, webinars and virtual events spiked in 2020, but people are looking for more. Zoom fatigue has set in and Lori Wizdo from Forrester thinks that physical events will rebound but with a new digital dimension. This will create some new opportunities in 2021 for hybrid event models for customer engagement.
Social purpose/cause marketing – According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, in 2020 65% of consumers said they are looking for brands that reflect their values. 43% said they’ll switch loyalties if companies don’t align with their beliefs. And 63% of Americans believe that brands that issue a statement in support of racial equity need to follow up with concrete action. Consumer expectations extend to B2B brands and there’s plenty of research supporting the importance of Millenial and GenZ preferences for what a brand stands for. The events of 2020 have made brand positioning on social causes even more important in 2021.
B2B Marketing Tactics
Influencer Marketing – The influencer marketing industry was worth $8 billion in 2019, and it is estimated to grow to $15 billion over the next two years. Our research into B2B influencer marketing has revealed that collaborating on content with industry experts helps improve customer engagement and marketing effectiveness in three key areas: 1. Trust: 77% of B2B marketers say they believe that prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts. 2. Experience: 77% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand. 3. Performance: 63% say their marketing would have better results if it included a B2B influencer marketing program.
Content Marketing – 83% of marketers surveyed for a report by the Content Marketing Institute said publishing content that provides value to their customers contributed significantly to the success of their content marketing efforts.
SEO – Search engines (56%) are more trusted than traditional media (53%), owned (41%) or social media (35%). Edelman Trust Barometer.
Video – 70% of the B2B buyers watch product videos as a part of their research. Cisco estimates that by 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic. Research from Google has indicated that 70% of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos throughout the buying journey.
Podcasts & voice – Voice engagement is on the rise from accessing information on mobile devices and smart speakers to formats for information consumption like podcasts and the new audio-only social network, Clubhouse. Audio and voice will continue to be a trend for information discovery, consumption and engagement in 2021.
Personalization – The loss of cookies and the move to first party data creates new opportunities for personalization in B2B marketing. Buyers do expect more meaningful, useful content experiences and personalization will only grow in importance to deliver on those expectations.
Interactive Tools and Content – According to Demand Gen Report research, interactive content is 23% more effective at educating buyers than static content. A good example is this Salesforce ROI calculator and in 2021, delivering engaging content experiences and driving greater marketing performance means more of this kind of tool.
Learning Hubs for Leads – While not exactly new, the attraction to cross-train and advance skills is greater than ever. To meet that need, B2B brands are increasingly investing in learning hubs where audiences can exchange their contact information for access to rich educational resources. Examples include HubSpot Academy, SEMRush and many more.
Email and Marketing Automation – Email’s one to one connection continues to be important. 84% of respondents to a SmartInsights study have implemented email as a marketing tactic. What different in 2021 is a greater focus on storytelling, personalization and more informal content vs. explicit sales offers.
ABM – A great example of a B2B marketing trend that has been on many lists over the past few years is ABM. There are very vocal advocates for ABM but it still has not as much momentum as other disciplines when it comes to active implementation. However, past research from SmartInsights reveals ABM is a top priority for B2B marketers (46%) compared to video (41%), influencer marketing (38%) and AI (38%).
Agile Marketing – Continuous improvement in marketing is as important as ever, especially after a year like 2020. According to CMI, 94% of B2B marketers said they had to change their content marketing during the pandemic. 80% of those that adopted a more agile content marketing strategy felt it was effective (Forbes/CMG Partners). And according to research from Merkle, 85% of marketers plan to increase agile usage in the next two years.
It’s been reported in the past in a study by Oktopost that 80% of B2B leads are generated from LinkedIn. It’s hard to argue that any other social network is more important than LinkedIn for B2B marketers. LinkedIn provides an incredible opportunity for everything from building brand thought leadership to specific prospect targeting through organic content and networking as well as their evolving advertising and sales solutions. In 2021 will continue to be the leading community for B2B marketing opportunities. (LinkedIn is a client of TopRank Marketing)
AI and Chatbots
Research from Salesforce found that 80% of business buyers expect real-time responses from brands they interact with and the digital first approach most B2B marketers are taking in 2021 means AI technologies like chatbots and virtual assistants will become a part of the mix. As far as AI and machine learning overall, the expectations of modern buyers requires processing huge amounts of data to deliver personalized experiences across platforms and channels. To do that, two-thirds of B2B marketers are currently planning, evaluating, or implementing AI for marketing or sales initiatives.
Nearly 10 years ago I published a book called Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing. One of the key concepts from the book was the model we use to stay current with what customer preferences are for the information they need during their journey. Understanding buyer preferences for information discovery, consumption and engagement will reveal all the trends you need to know in order to deliver relevant and actionable marketing that best serves the customers that will grow your business.
While it’s tempting to chase shiny objects with trends posts, as I reviewed the major trends for 2021, I found that the discovery, consumption and engagement model to be just as true and useful today as it was 10 years ago. 2020 caused business customers to change their behaviors in significant ways and those B2B marketers that stay tuned in to information preferences will know what strategies, tactics and technologies they need to focus on.
Just what is a B2B influencer, and what do they actually look like?
In our third season of Break Free B2B Marketing video interviews we’re having in-depth conversations with an impressive array of top B2B influencers, exploring the important issues that each expert is influential about.
Successful B2B influencers have a rare mix of the 5 Ps — proficiency, personality, publishing, promotion, and popularity — as our CEO Lee Odden has carefully outlined in “5 Key Traits of the Best B2B Influencers.”
Offering up all of those boxes and more is Oliver Christie, chief artificial intelligence (AI) officer at PertexaHealthTech, who we’re delighted to be profiling today.
Nothing helps individuals and the businesses they work for break free from the norm quite like a tech disruption. The microprocessor. The internet. Mobile data. E-Commerce. When these technologies came onto the scene, everything changed… but what’s next?
According to Oliver Christie, it’s AI. In his own words: “Artificial Intelligence is the biggest technology disruption of our generation.” As far as he’s concerned, A.I. isn’t just the future, it’s the present. In today’s new episode of the Break Free B2B Marketing Interview series, Christie speaks about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, including topics like A.I. and morality, bias in A.I., and the direction of A.I.’s future.
Artificial intelligence isn’t science fiction. It’s very much a science reality, and Oliver Christie is one of the leading experts talking and consulting on the topic. In today’s 31 minute interview with TopRank’s own Josh Nite, he’ll be passing some of that expertise along.
Break Free B2B Interview with Oliver Christie
If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.
:55 – Introduction to Oliver Christie
3:05 – Human-centric artificial intelligence
4:14 – Personalization and how to avoid the “diabolical side”
5:46 – The ways Oliver believes AI will impact the life of the everyday person in the next couple years
7:10 – Personalization on Amazon
11:13 – How AI will be reshaping business
13:46 – What’s your new question?”
16:50 – How the pandemic is changing the way technology is being developed
19:10 – Bias in AI
22:46 – How Oliver Christie found his niche as a thought leader
27:58 – The importance of being yourself
Josh: I’m really interested in what we were talking about before we started. The idea of human-centric AI. AI can feel like this distant or cold thing or something that is, you know, it’s powering my Netflix algorithm. But I don’t know how it relates to my day to day. How is it a human-centric thing? We’re thinking about people and individuals.
Oliver: Something we’re moving more and more towards is thinking about people as individuals and what matters to us. How we talk. How do we act? What are our interests? You mentioned Netflix. The algorithm which says what you should watch next. If that’s successful, you watch more. If it has an understanding of what you might like, you can see more media if you get it. If it gets it wrong, if it doesn’t know who you are, it is a turnoff and you never see the difference between that and other media services. I think that the next big leap is going to be our products and services are going to be much more reactive to who we are. How will we live? And so on. But there are some big challenges. So it’s not a quick and easy thing to do. But I think the future is pretty exciting.
Josh: Have you ever been on Amazon while not logged in? It’s such a striking thing to open an incognito window or something and you see how much personalization goes into that page and how just clueless it seems when it’s not on there.
Oliver: Amazon’s an interesting one. It’s algorithm is better than nothing. And it works to a degree. Some of the time, if you match a pattern — so the music you listen to, the books you buy — f someone is quite close to that, it works. As soon as you deviate, it pulls down or as soon as you’re looking for something original, it also doesn’t work. So I think Amazon is a good example of where we are at the moment, but not where we could be next. Amazon doesn’t once ask, what are you trying to achieve in your shopping? What are you trying to do next? And I think that’s going to be one of the big shifts that will happen.
Josh: What are we trying to achieve with that shopping, though? Besides, for me, it’s filling the void of not being able to go out to a concert and having a party, having something to look forward to with deliveries coming in. What kind of intent are you thinking about?
Oliver: Imagine you had the same shopping experience and let’s say it’s for books, videos, or courses. And the simple question can be, what would you like to achieve in your career in the next six months? Where would you like to be or what’s happening in your personal life? Want some advice and information which could be really useful? I think this sort of tailoring is where things are heading. So it’s still selling books and courses and videos and so on. But it’s understandably the intent behind content. What could this do to your career? What could this do for your family life, your love life, whatever it might be? Now, of course, we’re all locked down at the moment. So it’s a very different sort of situation. But I think some of the same things still apply. There’s going to be a back and forth. So how much do you want to give up about your personal life? Better recommendation. And I think it’s kind of early in some respects. But the data they passed shows, yes, if you get something positive out of it, you’ll have to give up some of that previously.
Are you wondering whether you’re missing valuable customer feedback because you’re just not looking in the right places?
Our digital landscape today offers a wide array of well-used standard methods for B2B marketers to collect customer feedback, with just a few including:
Monitoring Social Media Activity
Customer Experience Surveys
Website Data Analysis
Customer Reviews & Other User Generated Content
Usability Test Data
Sales & Customer Service Team Data
There are many other traditional ways as well, and each method excels in its own specific way, holding the promise of providing insightful information about customers or prospective customers.
There is also an entirely different realm of customer feedback opportunities, however — an area filled with less-explored avenues that offer a great deal of audience insight to B2B marketers willing to venture off the beaten feedback path.
B2B marketers can optimize their 2021 marketing efforts by using any or all of the five powerful unconventional sources of finding customer feedback that we’ll explore.
Let’s jump right in with five unconventional sources of valuable customer feedback.
Getting to the heart of the questions most important to your customers and potential audience is a helpful path to learning more about your customers and gaining the information necessary to provide best-answer solutions.
We’ve looked at numerous tools for finding the questions customers are asking, such as those I explored in “10 Smart Question Research Tools for B2B Marketers,” and now Google has expanded on its Google Search Console offering with the recent U.S. rollout of its Question Hub, a new service for finding unanswered search question data.
Google Question Hub, previously only available in three non-U.S. nations, focuses on the unanswered questions searchers are seeking to answer — data that can then be used to create content that fills these informational gaps — a potential goldmine for B2B marketers looking to differentiate their business with best answer content.
Google Question Hub uses topic categories to organize unanswered questions searchers have submitted, and allows those using the tool to add their own answers, in the form of articles or videos on sites verified in Google Search Console, or via YouTube video.
Question Hub lets users of the utility see how well the answers they’ve submitted have performed, and although the search giant notes that providing answers in Question Hub doesn’t affect search rankings for connected sites, forthcoming updates could eventually consider this sort of content among new search ranking signals should Google choose to do so.
As a new free tool, B2B marketers looking to both learn more about customers and the questions they’re asking, and to provide answers through Google Question Hub may find it worthwhile to explore this new Google functionality.
Sometimes asking for customer feedback in unexpected places — and during unexpected times — can catch a customer at just the right spot to provide extremely frank insight.
As I explored in “5 Stars: 20+ Tips to Invigorate Your B2B Marketing Using Testimonials & Reviews,” Airbnb saw success by making video reviews a simple and optional part of customer feedback surveys. Offering brands the best of both traditional text-based input and — for those who choose — the advantages of video reviews, Airbnb’s system allowed users to easily leave video by turning on their phone or computer’s camera to leave a video response.
This video review format leads some customers — especially those who like the option to leave audio or video feedback — to share lengthier and more precise feedback, which in turn can give businesses greater insight into customers.
The richly emotional opportunities afforded through direct video feedback can help B2B firms lend a more empathetic ear, and can lead to the creation of content that addresses any concerns brought up in customer video feedback.
“If they say yes, then we’ve incorporated a video widget into the survey where they can just turn the camera on on their phone or computer and leave a response,” Airbnb customer insights manager Raj Sivasubramanian has said.
“The customers that chose that option really embraced it. And we actually had a lot of customers tell us in the video, ‘This is really cool. I love the fact that I can do this,’” Sivasubramanian added.
The technology to gather video or audio feedback — whether via survey forms or other feedback systems — has never been easier to implement, and in 2021 savvy B2B marketers looking to up their customer feedback strategy would be wise to consider such possibilities.
A key element to this approach is offering the ability to leave video or audio feedback at a point in the customer journey where it isn’t necessarily expected. This isn’t to say that feedback options shouldn’t also exist in the traditional places on company websites or social platforms, however the power of surprising a customer with the ability to share their thoughts verbally and visually — without having to type in feedback — may be underestimated among B2B organizations.
Where do you go in the online universe when you want to find honest thoughts from real people about topics that are new to you, whether they revolve around a local business or a global enterprise?
More people than ever have started including the search term “Reddit” in their search queries, to see what word on the digital street is regarding almost any particular subject, which may be why the social news aggregator and discussion platform is courting the half billion average monthly active user mark, and why its generated more than 30 billion monthly views of user-generated content.
Whether it’s gathering customer feedback in the form of ask-me-anything (AMA) events or keeping tabs on how your audiences are venting about possible frustrations relating to your brand, Reddit offers a slew of insight for B2B marketers willing to explore, as I dug into recently in “8 Things B2B Marketers Need To Know About Reddit in 2021.”
With its sizable growth in past years Reddit can hardly be considered either an up-and-coming social platform or a niche-only network any longer, but others in the social landscape are still in that wild west stage of finding a specialty, and B2B marketers can benefit by taking a look at these communities, such as Clubhouse, Slack Communities, and others.
Polls offer a special two-for-one value for B2B marketers, providing quality customer and prospect feedback while also offering brands a powerful interactive social media content marketing element.
Brands that take the time to listen to what customers are saying through their answers to poll questions gain an inside glimpse into where marketing efforts may be put to the most effective use, and are also a helpful way to increase brand awareness.
While social media polls are by nature more limited in the number of responses that can be offered, brands can draw people in beyond simply selecting an existing poll choice by using the final poll choice to encourage responses in comments.
Brands can also gather social media poll data to get feedback on existing products and services, to learn customer pain points, to test interest in new product offerings, and to gauge reactions to new industry trends.
Websites today can collect more data than ever, yet filtering out the noise to harness the truly relevant gems of helpful customer feedback information may also be at an all-time level of difficulty.
Whether in the form of real-time human support chat logs, chatbot interaction data, or website usage information, pulling out the good stuff has been an ongoing challenge faced by B2B firms.
Luckily, to combat the record volumes of data, an impressive array of powerful data extraction tools have been developed, some focused primarily on gathering customer feedback.
There are some online spots holding potentially valuable customer feedback that may often get overlooked, especially some of the chat functions in applications used alongside virtual events. Just a few in these categories, where you may find customer feedback, include:
Zoom Chat Logs
Skype Chat Logs
Google Hangouts Chats
Microsoft Teams Chats
Custom Event Chat Application Logs
Smart B2B Marketers Stand Out With Better Customer Feedback
In the increasingly complex business environment of 2021, B2B brands need more than ever to clearly differentiate themselves from the competition.
Thankfully, finding and using customer feedback in places your competitors may not be monitoring can prove to be a strong technique to help your business stand out. We hope the unorthodox forms of finding customer feedback we’ve looked at here, from Google Question Hub to Clubhouse and more will help with your B2B marketing efforts in 2021.
According to the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 96% of B2B marketers that engage influencers consider their program to be successful and 90% expect their budget for influencer marketing to increase or stay the same over the next 12 months.
Why the confidence? 77% of marketers say their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts with 84% engaging influencers to create brand awareness and 69% counting on influencers for lead generation.
Influence plays a role across the entire B2B customer lifecycle from awareness to advocacy and with B2B marketing going decidedly digital during the pandemic and uncertainty of 2020, the importance of peer, expert and influencer recommendations through social and digital media are more important than ever.
Without question, the uncertainties driven by economic, political and public health have affected business customers in a variety of ways from pausing on purchasing to taking more time to do research on solutions. How B2B marketers adapt to these changes is essential for success in 2021 and beyond.
So how are B2B brands like LinkedIn, SAP, monday.com and others finding marketing wins during a time of uncertainty? One way is through understanding which voices are most influential to their customers and then partnering with those influencers to collaborate on content used for thought leadership, brand engagement and lead generation.
Based on research of hundreds of B2B marketers, several best practices have emerged to optimize content with influence. The most successful B2B influencer marketing programs share certain characteristics including:
Engaging in ongoing (Always-On) influencer marketing vs. periodic campaigns
Rely on industry experts and analysts vs. purely social influencers
Use blogs as content publishing platforms
Use software to identify and qualify influencers vs. gut feel
Create interactive content with influencers
Have a centralized influencer marketing program
Have a documented influencer marketing strategy
But what can B2B brands expect from influencers? Everything from increased social reach to improved credibility of brand content to increases in leads in sales.
Working with the right influencers, you build credibility with the audience you are trying to reach. influencers can help you deliver content that solves problems, educates and inspires your intended audience. The biggest benefit is the engagement, how you can work with your influencers to create meaningful engagement that leads to the right outcomes for your brand. Amisha Gandhi, VP Influencer Marketing and Communications at SAP
B2B Influence in Action: Monday.com
When the pandemic swept through the world in 2020, monday.com identified an opportunity to help support teams that had gone from working in-office to working remotely. To help position itself as a valuable resource for remote teams, Monday.com partnered with TopRank Marketing to develop an influencer marketing program featuring remote work experts that could reach and engage teams facing remote work challenges more effectively than the brand on its own.
By engaging influencers with audiences hungry for information about remote work best practices, the Monday.com influencer program added value to the target audience and increased awareness of Monday.com’s solutions.
1,790% above goal social reach from influencer shares
300k organic brand social impressions from influences
Nearly 3k video views of a livestream featuring 2 influencers during the first week
Learn more about Monday.com’s best practices approach to working with B2B influencers in this case study.
Engaging influencers creates a competitive advantage for B2B brands.
Influencers’ industry expertise lends credibility that results in convincing and converting your target audience. Rani Mani, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe
Our research supports Rani’s insight with 77% of marketers saying their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts.
What B2B marketers can do to take advantage of the influence opportunity is to decide what topics the brand wants to be known for that customers are seeking. Using topics of influence, a content marketing program can be developed that incorporates industry experts that are influential about those same topics.
Collaborating on content of mutual value provides influencers an incentive to help share that content with potential customers that are likely ignoring ads and formal brand marketing. As B2B brands continue to engage influencers, benefits include content for demand and lead gen as well as relationships with trusted voices that can organically advocate for the brand.
For many B2B marketers, the challenges of this past year have forced an even greater focus on marketing that is more in line with how buyers are discovering, engaging and acting on digital information. These challenges have also put a greater emphasis on marketing strategies that create a true return and impact on the business. Engaging with relevant, trusted influencers provides an opportunity to do both.
Last year I finished up my fifth full year as a B2B marketer. A lot has changed in that half decade.
When I started, there was a growing movement: “B2B marketing doesn’t have to be boring.”
Now we’ve finally moved on to, “B2B marketingcan’t afford to be boring.”We’ve finally acknowledged that B2B buyers arepeople— they want useful information, they want to be entertained, and they’re just as bored by corporate-speak-laden white papers as everyone else.
To our credit, I think marketers already knew this. We just had to convince the rest of the organization.
For the most part, we marketers have more leeway to choose the best way to reach our audience. And, of course, with that freedom comes responsibility.
Howdowe hit the sweet spot of what our audience wants to hear, and what our brand is trying to get across? How do we give them that value that inspires reciprocity?
Here’s how B2B marketers can get closer to their audience in 2021.
#1: Ask the Sales Team
Let’s make 2021 the year we finally ditch the sales v. marketing mentality for good. Tighter alignment between the members of the Revenue Squad can only benefit everyone.
The sales team has a wealth of insights about your target audience. They’re the ones taking meetings, answering questions, talking one-on-one with members of the buying committee.
In short, sales can tell you where the sticking points are, where more persuasion is needed, and what type of content ultimately sways people toward a purchase. Tight alignment with sales will make your content more relevant to your audience and more useful for your sales team.
#2: Flip the Script on SEO
Are you still thinking of SEO as, “The way to get search engines to recommend our content?” If so, it’s time to update that mentality.
The most valuable function of keyword research right now is to determinewhat humans are searching forandhow those queries are worded.It’s all about guiding content creation to match your audience’s demand, from the planning stages through execution.
The best SEO strategy is to create content that genuinely meets — and exceeds — your audience’s needs. If your content doesn’t meet a proven need, no amount of keyword stuffing or H1 tagging will grant it visibility.
Make your keyword research a tool for understanding your audience. What do they want? How are they trying to find it? How can you be the best answer?
B2B buyers don’t spend their entire waking lives thinking about work. If we want to know our audiences better, we need to think about the broader context of their lives, too.
When we see our potential buyers more holistically, we have a much broader canvas for relevant content. We can talk about maintaining work-life balance, the challenges of remote work, even the challenges that working parents face in relating to their children.
Any topic for content is relevant, provided that 1) Your employees or brand has expertise on it, and 2) It serves to make your audience’s life better in some meaningful way.
If you’ve been stuck writing “X more reasons you should try our solution” style content, let this broader context inspire you to write more useful, helpful content that takes the whole person into consideration.
#4: Explore Influence
At the heart of it, marketers are trying to earn people’s attention. It makes perfect sense to take lessons from the folks who have already captured that interest — people who are already engaging and serving your target audience.
Tools likeTraackrandBuzzsumocan help you determine which voices your audience is listening to. From there, you can see what type of content they’re creating, how they’re capturing interest, and let that inform your own content creation.
And, of course, you can take it to the next level: Co-creating content with these influencers and reaching their audience directly (see our2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketingreport for more).
#5: Above All, Be Useful
When we see our target audience as people, rather than B2B buyers (or a target audience, for that matter), we can begin to practice truly radical empathy. Not just the empathy that lets us walk in someone’s shoes long enough to sell them something, either.
I mean the type of empathy that leads us to find out how to improve their personal and professional lives, to be genuinely useful, to lift people up because we care about them. Content that sets out with this aim in mind is guaranteed to pull you and your customers closer together.
And, of course, helping people and caring about their success is a great way to earn attention, build relationships, and develop long-standing loyalty to your brand.
Most B2B marketers in 2021 are busier than ever due to the pandemic, remote work challenges, and increased expectations to show results.
Thankfully, keeping pace with the swift changes marketers face today are a whole slew of tools tasked with streamlining busy marketing efforts.
We’ll take a look at some of these helpful tools for busy marketers, and several new social media platforms that are poised to rise during the year ahead, all to help refine and augment your B2B marketing strategy.
Sorting through lists of the seemingly endless number of available marketing tools and platforms can be frustrating as well as a hit and miss proposition, however we’ve put this collection together so that you can skip the search and get right into tools you can use today to help you create unforgettable B2B marketing stories.
Let’s jump in with our collection of handy tools and platforms to boost your marketing experiences.
1 — Awario
Awario is a social media and web monitoring tool offering a variety of real-time social listening and analytics features, focused on bringing brands insights about their customers, competitors, and industries.
The competitive intelligence and instant social listening feature set Awario offers can also be helpful for B2B influencer marketing, providing insight into whether mentions are positive or not, as well as other functions including global location data, topic clouds, and additional demographic information that can help ward off potential customer care issues.
2 — Descript
Descript allows marketers to create podcasts, videos, transcripts and more through a collection of powerful collaborative tools, highlighted by the ability to edit audio using text instead of traditional wave-forms.
The collection of utilities Descript has brought together aims to make video editing similar to a video word processor, to speed up development time and increase productivity and efficiency — all areas busy marketers are looking to do better in 2021.
3 — Telegram
While more a platform than a tool at heart, by recently courting the half billion user mark, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging and video call platform Telegram — noted for its word-of-mouth insight — now represents a wealth of opportunities for marketers looking for new customer engagement sources.
In 2021, marketers will likely see the free service launch its first advertising platform, presenting opportunities via its public one-to-many channels.
4 — Clubhouse
Audio-based social platform Clubhouse has generated considerable interest for a limited-release service, in part due to Silicon Valley backing that has led to some 600,000 invitation-only users registering to use its pop-up audio chat room features. Active involvement of celebrities on the platform has also played a part, and the app’s recent “Creator Pilot Program” has also increased interest among curious marketers.
Marketers have for the most part cautiously observed Clubhouse, yet 2021 is nearly certain to see more brands — undoubtedly including certain B2B firms — testing the waters at Clubhouse when it becomes publicly available. Some marketers including industry veteran Dennis Yu have shared their initial forays into using Clubhouse, while others such as A. Lee Judge are actively seeking marketing perspectives for embracing the new platform.
Creative professionals in multiple industries are weighing in as well, such as photographers and those in technology.
5 — DATAtab Statistics Calculator
Bringing complex statistical calculation functionality to private and secure web browser sessions is the specialty of DATAtab, a simple and swift tool marketers can use to perform browser-based data analysis without having to send important data to the cloud.
The service forgoes tracking cookies and third party providers, offering more secure handling of sensitive data.
An additional bonus spreadsheet-related tool from Microsoft allows marketers to incorporate certain elements of machine learning into Microsoft Excel data, providing a glimpse of how artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used in various aspects of marketers’ lives.
Get Off The Marketing Assembly Line With Helpful Tools
We hope you’ve found several new-to-you marketing tools and up-and-coming platforms among those we’ve taken a look at here, and that you’ll find them helpful as you build new campaigns in 2021, and that they’ll also help build your own team’s knowledge.
Need more helpful tools? Here are several articles we’ve written exploring additional tools for B2B marketers:
We’ve finally turned the corner to 2021 and like many other marketers in the B2B world, I am ready to make this year better than ever. One source of inspiration I’ve found effective are the insights from industry research. That’s one of the main reasons we conducted the first research survey around B2B influencer marketing.
Having watched the growth of influence in marketing for B2B companies closely over the past 9 years, 2021 represents a significant opportunity for marketers to connect with the trusted voices in their industry to co-create content, inspire meaningful engagement and community, motivate authentic brand advocacy and boost influence of brand executives and subject matter experts as well as the brand itself.
The data for B2B influencer marketing are compelling:
74% of marketers agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand
63% of marketers agree that marketing would have better results if it included a B2B influencer marketing program
12X more marketers are very successful who run always-on influencer programs vs. those who do periodic campaigns
60% of marketers who do not implement ongoing influencer marketing programs report not having the right skills in-house or knowledge to execute
But where should you start? Where should you optimize? What are successful B2B marketers doing when it comes influencer marketing? To help answer those questions and more, I’ve pulled out 45 key statistics from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report:
The B2B Influence Advantage
96% of B2B brands are confident about influencer marketing
90% of B2B companies expect their budget for influencer marketing to increase or stay the same in the next 12 months
77% of marketers say their prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts
84% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create brand awareness
69% of B2B marketers work with influencers to help generate new leads
78% of B2B marketers achieved increased social reach of brand content working with influencers
64% of B2B marketers increased the credibility of brand content working with influencers
53% of B2B marketers increased new leads by working with influencers
34% of B2B marketers increased sales by working with influencers
91% of B2B marketers say relevance of audience is the top criteria for selecting an influencer
“Engaging with influencers provides a myriad of competitive advantages.” Rani Mani, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe
See how Monday.com created a marketing advantage working with influencers to drive 1,790% above goal social reach from influencer shares of brand content. Case Study
The Engine of B2B Influence is Always On
60% of B2B marketers who use always-on influencer marketing are very successful vs. 5% of those who use periodic campaigns
34% of B2B marketers engage in always-on influencer marketing programs
25% of B2B marketers engage in intermittent influencer marketing campaigns
75% of marketers using always-one influencer engagement saw an increase in views of brand content
94% of B2B marketers using an always-on approach believe influencer marketing will grow in importance in the next 12 months
89% of B2B marketers using an always-on approach expect their budgets to increase or remain the same in the next 12 months
87% of B2B marketers collaborate on content with influencers
82% of B2B marketers engage influencers to promote brand content
66% of B2B marketers engage influencers to participate in events
58% of B2B marketers work with influencers as brand ambassadors
35% of B2B marketers work with influencers as brand advisors
“B2B brands would be wise to adopt an always-on influencer engagement approach and they look to build true brand advocates.” Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager at LinkedIn
See how LinkedIn approached building a 75 strong influencer community organically with an always-on approach to influencer engagement resulting in nearly 2,000 brand mentions and 84 million in reach. Case Study
B2B Influencer Marketing Integration
90% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with social media marketing
83% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with content marketing
56% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with public relations
50% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with SEO
32% of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with ABM
83% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create blog posts
67% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create recorded video
64% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create webinars
59% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create interviews
52% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create podcasts
48% of B2B marketers work with influencers to create live video
“Integrating influencer content is a direct line to building trust and customer confidence.” Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs
See how Cherwell Software integrated their influencer marketing with content and social media to achieve a 342% better click through rate on content reaching a relevant audience that was 90% new. Case Study
B2B Influencer Marketing Operations
39% of marketers say their top challenge with influencer marketing is that the process is too manual
25% of less successful B2B marketers use software vs. 50% of the most successful to identify influencers
68% of the most successful influencer marketers have a documented strategy vs. 25% of the least successful marketers
76% of B2B marketers use software to identify influencers
66% of B2B marketers use software to monitor influencer social network activity
64% of B2B marketers use software to qualify influencers
63% of B2B marketers use software to measure and report on influencer campaign results
43% of B2B marketers use software to manage influencer campaigns
41% of B2B marketers use software to manage and nurture influencer relationships
“You need to come up with a strategy, plan of action and a process. All incorporate various tools and techniques and will give you the knowledge and skills to run a successful influencer marketing program.” Ursula Ringham, Global Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP
See how SAP’s influencer driven podcast, Tech Unknown was operationalized for multiple internal and external objectives resulting in a reach of 128 million from influencer shares and a 66% increase in downloads. Case Study
Whether you’re just getting started and considering a pilot project or you’re looking to optimize your existing influencer marketing efforts, you can find insights and inspiration from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report as well as the Inside B2B Influence interview series featuring top B2B brand marketers from companies like Adobe, Citrix, Dell, IBM, LinkedIn, Onalytica, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Sprinklr, Spirion, and Traackr.
If there was a year in need of inspiration, 2020 was it. Luckily, we’re continuing our long tradition of highlighting inspirational marketers who are also influential.
Over the past 10 years we’ve honored hundreds of women in marketing doing great work, creating and sharing content, and making a difference in the industry including last year’s 50 Women CMOs Who Rock in Marketing.
In this, the 11th year of publishing the TopRank Blog List of Women Who Rock in Marketing, we’ve taking a more B2B approach. The vast majority of honorees in the 2020 edition of our list work for B2B brands or have a B2B marketing function within a B2C or B2B/B2C brand.
To find this impressive group of marketers, we leveraged our existing network developed over the past 10 years as well as the influencer marketing software platform Traackr to help identify those individuals who either identify as B2B marketers, create content about B2B marketing and engage with an audience on B2B marketing topics. As always, the baseline social data points include topical relevance, resonance with the network and reach.
While there are many more women in B2B marketing leadership positions as proven by the research on CMOs we did last year, being able to engage communities via social networks and publishing content is what makes those on this list stand apart.
Executive social engagement is becoming a much bigger priority for B2B brands as companies invest more in building the influence of internal subject matter experts, key opinion leaders and senior management. This is especially true with positions like the CMO where many customers expect to engage via social media.
In this final 13th episode of Inside Influence where I talk with B2B marketing insiders about what’s working and what’s not in the world of influencer marketing, our perspective has shifted from B2B brands to the influencers themselves.
At TopRank Marketing, we conducted the first in-depth research into B2B influencer marketing which inspired this series and Onalytica recently conducted the first research study of B2B influencers to better understand influencer marketing from their perspective.
Any B2B marketer that wants a complete picture for success with B2B influencer marketing going into 2021 and beyond will benefit greatly from both reports:
To drill down into the insights around the Onalytica report, I talked with Tim Williams, CEO. We covered:
About Onalytica as a B2B influencer marketing platform
Tim’s role as CEO at Onalytica
The current state of B2B influencer marketing
The impact of COVID-19 on B2B influencer marketing
Why Always-On influencer marketing is good for both brands and influencers
How to convince more B2B brands to focus on the experience they create for influencers as much as they do for customers
Opportunities for B2B companies to leverage both external influencers and employee influencers for marketing
B2B influencer engagement trends for 2021
What B2B marketers can do to better showcase influencer expertise in content
What B2B brands can expect if they hire an agency
What to be optimistic about with influencer marketing post-pandemic
See the full video interview with Tim Williams in Episode 13 of Inside Influence here:
Below is a highlight transcription of our discussion.
Tell us about your role and what Onlaytica does
Tim: Great. So I’m the CEO of Onalytica and I’ve always been in social media, sort of marketing communication circles and formally in public affairs. I’ve always helped build software that helps brands try and influence the influencers who obviously then in turn influence the target audience or the end consumer. That’s been my passion. I’ve spent 20 plus years helping brands communicate their audience better.
At Onalytica we have an influence marketing software. We tend to use this in influencer advocacy, employee advocacy, virtual events, account-based marketing, and social selling. Those are these use cases that we help brands with.
I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front…listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
Then in my role, I’d really just try and listen to the brand. It’s a very immature marketplace. It’s evolving. So I see it as my role to be out there to publish content and to try and lead from the front. But importantly, listen to what customers are saying and see how technology can really advance the industry.
I’m not keen on us just taking a passive look at the industry and trying to sort of build more revenue with customers. I think that technology is often like a challenge and solution for the industry to mature. So I guess I see my role as just helping in whatever way I can to progress and really just help brands connect with influence communities to create inspiring content.
You and your team at Onalytica recently conducted a comprehensive B2B influencer research study. At a high level, what is the current state of B2B influencer marketing?
Tim: Well, interestingly, it was off the back of the TopRank Marketing research report. Obviously TopRank are a great, leading agency in the field and producing lots of research and obviously you and I talk about research and have done quite a lot over the past few years. We’ve done some state of the industry stuff before with brands, but we really wanted to flip it to be able to give a 360 degree view on top of your research to people out there.
[Influencers] do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way.
I think what was really interesting is that it confirmed a lot of the beliefs in your report that the state of the industry is that influencers do give that third-party opinion. They do make a big difference if brands are partnering with them in the right way. It also showed up a lot of the gaps and a lot of the challenges for marketers on where the industry is going to head and what needs to happen for the influencers to feel like they’ve got a positive experience.
A lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs.
I thought it was really interesting. I was very encouraged by the results, the gaps. Some of them do still surprise me with the way some marketers approach influence marketing, but I think that’s just natural because a lot of the people doing influence marketing now don’t have influencer marketing in their job description. It’s something that they’re just inheriting and running through pilot programs. I just think it’s a natural outcome of people experimenting and I think the learning and the improving is really what we’re seeing now.
What do you think the impact of COVID has been in terms of the state of influencer marketing for B2B?
Tim: In April to May this year I think a lot of influencers were extremely worried, especially the ones that were flying around the world and getting paid a lot of money. They were probably having very lucrative retainers or one-off, gigs with brands and I think that work obviously immediately dried up and they had to pivot their proposition into virtual events. I’ve seen some influencers do that very successfully now.
I think it was a bit of a shock from April to May and I think in terms of the social media consumption and the influencer output on channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, we saw an increase in that social media activity and consumption. I think the biggest change was that we felt that the end consumers of the B2B to C, because everyone’s obviously a person at the end of the day, increased.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period…influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it.
The appetite for influencers increased in a few months like it would over a five-year period. Even though the budgets weren’t there from brands because everyone was pausing their budgets, I think the underlying factors have really advanced. So what we’ve seen is that from July onward, so in H2 of this year, influencer marketing in B2B has been better for it. I think it’s almost helped the industry rather than just being too like “marquee event driven” where influencers are paid a lot of money to speak all around the world.
The Onalytica research of B2B influencers found several similarities with TopRank’s survey of B2B marketers. For example, Always-On campaigns were described as far more successful for both influencers and marketers. You and I understand the reason for that, but how do you explain it to marketers stuck on campaigns?
Tim: I always see influencer relations as like there’s two parallel strategies. I think there’s the content or the events that you’re trying to run in campaign mode. Then there’s the longer term relationship building and building of great experiences for a campaign that you might run in three or four quarters time.
I think that the brands that are starting off and just like activating with a one-off mindset, they just don’t put as much effort into the long-term game. So the influencers by default then just invest less themselves because they don’t know whether they’re going to have anything in the future. So I think it’s just natural.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships.
I think that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with influencer relations, you can do a few things that make a big difference and build long-term relationships. First impressions can last for, you know, 20 or 30 years.
I think it’s hard, especially when brands are in quarterly budget cycles. Both of us working in global tech a lot and the restructuring is a major challenge because people do move around in roles. So I think everyone gets it, but I think when you show the results of a longer term attitude are better than a short term, then I think that’s when people can invest a bit more.
We’ve both talked about the importance of the experience that brands create for influencers and the impact it can have on an influencer marketing program’s success. Your research reinforces this in several areas from the need for quality outreach to who does the outreach to quality of the brief. How can we get more B2B brands to treat the influencer experience as important as the experience of the customers we’re trying to influence?
Tim: I think it’s a key area that the industry has to improve on. I think it’s about how much input you need to get the output that you’re wanting as a marketer. So, if you’re having to invest five hours to research an influencer that you don’t really know, that you’re not quite sure what output they’re going to give you, I think there’s a disproportionate amount of effort that marketers won’t invest in.
I think partly, agencies solve that problem, like yours. Obviously you know a lot of the influences and there’s sort of the trust of working with them. At Onalytica we built relationships with thousands of influencers and we know the ones that you can trust and there’s an element of credibility and time-saving there.
I think there’s also the ability to get to know someone within 10 or 15 minutes. This is really a technology solution where you can know what books they’re going to publish, what motivations they have and what days they like to work. I recall speaking to one influencer at Social Media Marketing World and they told me, “on Monday I write my blog posts, on Tuesday I do my research, on Wednesday I look after my kids and on Thursday I do this,” and I’m thinking, “how could a brand approach that influencer and really know what makes them work without hearing it directly from them?”
Influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want.
So, I think it’s a technology solution, which we’re trying to solve where if we showcase profiles that show what really drives the passion and motivations of influencers, then brands can quite quickly say, “Oh, there’s a great connection with what we’re trying to do here.” Then they have the confidence to reach out and it doesn’t feel like this kind of matchmaking dating where you don’t have a clue what they they’re actually interested in. It’s agencies, technology and I think influencers also have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to know them and what they want. And I think if we all close the gap, then it’s going to translate into a better experience for the influencers.
Influencers are not limited to industry experts as you know – employee are influential too. What opportunities are there for B2B brands to be more effective at engaging both to achieve marketing goals?
Tim: I think this is where the real magic happens for us when we’re talking about integrated advocacy. When we talk about employee advocacy, we see them as four segments.
We see them as the topics execs which need to show leadership. They need to be out there on social, creating content. There’s intrinsic value in what they say in the marketplace. So the execs are part of the employee advocacy for us.
The next level down is the subject matter expert. Say, in the tech industry or environment, it might be talking about AI or sustainability or supply chain procurement and any of the important topics that might be driving the thought leadership. So, you’ve got various different employees that are thought leaders, but maybe not driving as much impact externally for your brand. There’s a wonderful opportunity out there.
The third segment are sales. So, social selling or social enablement of salespeople as some people like to call it is really important. That’s the third category.
Then the fourth one is everybody else like your general employees. There’s lots of employee advocacy tools to help develop the general employees.
What we like to look at is the execs as subject matter experts and the salespeople. To give you an example of what we think works really well, it could be a LinkedIn live session with an external influencer. You might also bring in an industry expert into this who wouldn’t call themselves an influencer, but just has really deep expertise in your particular area. And then you could invite one of your subject matter experts internally to be part of that discussion.
Now, the subject matter experts might not feel initially comfortable with putting themselves forward, but then they start speaking on a peer to peer level with the external influencers and they realize that they get on, they have a lot in common, they love the subject matter that they talk about. Guess what? That relationship continues on LinkedIn, Twitter, offline, on WhatsApp, like whatever form of communication that they have.
It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers.
If you think about that one example and you amplify that through all of your workforce, your employees are the biggest asset that any brand has. It’s really powerful when you can start transforming your content through the voice of your employees and external influencers. That’s what we describe as the kind of dream integrated advocacy model. In terms of actually making that happen, because some brands have 300,000 employees and across different business units, markets and languages, obviously it’s a massive transformation change. But I think if you look at them as different segments, you can activate them in different ways, that’s a really, really powerful operation.
B2B brands engage with influencers in different ways from event activations to content collaborations to advisory councils. What engagement trends are you seeing going into 2021?
Tim: I think you touched on something really interesting. The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace. I know a lot of influencers that were asked to create some content, but then suddenly they’ve started writing strategy documents for really large brands about how they should tackle certain challenges or innovation within the marketplace. They’re kind of ghost writing a lot of the strategy of companies.
The advisory role as an independent analyst is often a bit of a hidden fact within the marketplace.
I found that really interesting and shocking because I thought that it was the actual company that was writing their own strategy, but then it was an influencers actually shaping that. But I thought it was really cool because some of these influencers have so much experience that they’re taking on different personas.
I do think that’s something that is changing. And I think that when we talk about influencers a lot of people think that we’re talking about just the professional influencers that work on a paid basis and they’re on a retainer sometimes. They’re great at creating content and they’ve got big social networks. We see that this is a much larger community of people from industry experts that would never call themselves influencers: the independent analysts, advisors, consultants. Then you’ve got the events speakers, key opinion leaders in the industry. That’s where things are evolving.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”.
I don’t think people are in love with the word “influencer”. I think it’s got a really bad rap from the B2C industry. I think that influential experts is more where we’re trying to go, but there’s, there’s many different personas. So I think how brands are leveraging the different personas and who owns it as a brand is really the cause of key trends going forward.
Content is most often the output from influencer collaboration but subject matter experts are not always expert content creators and many B2B brands are not really pushing the boundaries of effective content formats either. What can B2B marketers do to better showcase the expertise of the influencers who have collaborated?
Tim: I think it’s a really good question. Some of the influencers are content creators and they’re specialists at that. So actually having an influencer interview some of the subject matter experts is one way in which brands haven’t leveraged that enough, I don’t think. It’s interesting who should interview each other because you see both forms of that.
People are fed up of advertising…people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think that the trend that we’re seeing is that people are fed up of advertising. They’re fed up with brand generic messages. There’s just so much content even since the pandemic. The content has spiraled even more so. I think people are just not in the mood for product being pushed down their throats.
I think the subject matter experts are the people that can personalize the content and I think that brands are investing in the platform to help develop the social profiles of the subject matter experts. I’ve seen a big increase in investment into that. I don’t think there’s any shortcuts. I think it’s about enabling them to feel comfortable maybe in video, like sitting down in a more traditional way, but then translating that into social bite sized video content.
Subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels.
I know that you do a lot of interactive and visual content. I think the subject matter experts have the expertise, they just don’t know how to translate that into wonderful sort of social communication channels. I think that’s the job of marketers and communications professionals to be able to connect those two together. I don’t see any magic wand. I don’t know whether you’ve got any ideas or what you see from TopRank.
Well, this is a problem we solve every day for companies. When a brand does make the effort to invest in high quality content from industry experts or industry influencers, they can take that content and make something the contributors will be proud of. Something so good it will inspire them to want to make it even more successful.
Tim: Yeah, I completely completely agree with that. And obviously the end customer is what we’re all working to influence and impress. I think that the activation of subject matter experts comes down to behavioral psychology of whether they want to develop their profiles, what their fears are and how to motivate them.
I think what has changed is that a lot of topics execs or subject matter experts traditionally speak to 20 people in a room or 200 people or 10,000 people in a marquee event. Now they’re seeing that they can actually speak to 20,000 people every week through social. I think that takes a couple of examples to really get through. So they have that light bulb moment and I think marketers and communications professionals, if they can help them switch that light bulb on in their heads, then suddenly they will invest a bit more effort into the content that they put out on social.
What are you most optimistic about when it comes to influencer marketing?
Tim: I think one thing is personalized, relatable content. I have a massive passion to just break out of the boring B2B into the inspiring, personalized content. But to be able to do it in a way that doesn’t feel hard.
I am very passionate about bringing technology to solve problems. And I know that there is friction – it seems easy. Like we can just pick up the phone to five influencers, create some content and then a couple of weeks later, you should have some great content and it can be that easy.
But in reality, some brands take three or four months and struggled to get to that outcome. So what I’m passionate about is the quality of content to improve. And from a technology standpoint, we want to try and reduce the friction so that people can create this content. And it seems not as easy as paid media and hitting a button, but it doesn’t seem like it’s too much effort for them to start off.