The State of B2B Influence Marketing – Top 10 Insights for 2021

Lee Odden B2B Influencer Marketing

What does the state of B2B influencer marketing look like now and in the future? How can B2B brands start a successful influencer program? Why is it more important than ever to approach B2B influencer marketing with an always-on influencer strategy?

Many of these questions are answered in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report and yet we all know the complexity and opportunity combination of influencer marketing requires further exploration. Luckily Jason Falls connected with our CEO Lee Odden for a podcast interview to explore  the answers to these questions and more, along with his most recent B2B influencer marketing insight.

After listening to the podcast, I’ve pulled out 10 of the most compelling insights about the state of B2B influencer marketing to help inspire your success in 2021 and beyond.

1 – B2B Influencers Are Credible Voices Throughout The Customer Lifecycle

B2B purchases are a journey, and there is a long cycle of education and content consumption that occurs as brands or buyers educate themselves about possible solutions and how they might work for their company.

When you talk about end-of-funnel activities, where you’re looking for increasing purchase intent, increasing order volumes, and acceleration through the sales cycle — things like that — the explicit advocacy of a subject matter expert in the form of an industry influencer can definitely facilitate these.

The credible voices of B2B influencers play a role throughout the entire customer life cycle.

It’s important to identify the topics of influence that are representative of how the brand wants to be known — topics that customers actually care about — and find the people that can represent those ideas and values.

“The credible voices of B2B influencers play a role throughout the entire customer life cycle.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

2 – Digital Influence Is Heightened During The Pandemic

The ability to influence doesn’t just exist in a digital world, but with the pandemic, for B2B it’s more digital now than it ever was before. There are opportunities now to connect with people who may be more offline influencers, however the bulk of digital marketing that’s occurring in the B2B space is online, and the signals of credibility that people are using to determine whether someone is relevant or interesting to them tend to be digital.

A holistic approach is important, including the use of tools, including Traackr, which is both a B2C and B2B platform. A tool is only as effective as the expertise of the person using it. It is up to the expertise of the users as much as it is about the platform, because the data is agnostic in terms of B2C or B2B — people are either publishing or they’re not.

The content they’re publishing is either topically relevant or it’s not, and the topics they are publishing are either resonating or not. These can be identified by engagement activities, and by whether messages are propagating and being shared or not.

“A tool is only as effective as the expertise of the person using it.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

3 – Identify Core Characteristics Of Influence Around A Topic

We can identify core characteristics of what makes a person influential around a topic of influence, partially through the use of the appropriate software. There are however lots of other steps to consider — manual inspection of the content that influencers are publishing, the cadence of publishing, and certain background information that should be taken into consideration before recommending them to a client. They have to be doing what your brand is talking about to determine whether an influencer may work or not.

Influence is not permanent — it’s temporal. While at the moment of identification a person may be very influential about a topic, will they always be influential about it? Maybe, or maybe not, and on top of understanding the key performance indicators (KPIs) being delivered on for the campaign, or for the influencer engagement activity, you’ve also got to be able to report on the effectiveness of what is being done.

“Influence is not permanent — it’s temporal.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

4 – Understand The Conversations Being Driven By Influencers

Are we moving the needle or not? Are we reaching those business outcomes that we’re after, and at the same time we have to identify — through tracking URLs and other metrics available via influencer marketing platforms and web analytics — whether or not, or the degree to which an individual is effective for a purpose.

You can certainly look at data from social media monitoring tools such as Brandwatch, Agorapulse and others, to monitor various topics and hashtags, and Keyhole is another useful tool for hashtag and handle tracking. They offer an on-demand way to understand the conversations being driven by influencers, as they share social messages and the content they help to make.

At the same time, you have to be accountable as in any campaign, and you’ve got to report upstream to the stakeholders in the organization things such as, “Okay —here’s our goal, and here’s what we achieved.” There are real-time metrics and things that help you optimize in an ongoing way. There are also campaign metrics that determine the effectiveness of a program, and that may ultimately help decide whether you keep someone or sunset them and replace them.

5 – Use The Right Influencer Ingredients For Your B2B Recipe

Everyone is influential about something, as Lee often points out, and all of us both influence other people and are influenced by others on a daily basis.

When we take this holistic view, it’s like we’re a chef in a kitchen with a recipe, and we have ingredients and there are different types of influencers that can make a very effective campaign. If you’re making a stew, you know that potatoes are one ingredient — and that’s your brandividual — the famous person you’re going to use to attract others.

However you’ll also want to go after reach influencers, internal subject matter experts at the brand and perhaps some of their customers, along with other niche experts that are out there in the field that are practicing in their particular area — people who their friends would go to if they needed help or if they needed advice. You want to bring all these different ingredient voices into a campaign and architect and build a recipe highly appropriate to what the audience will find delicious.

“Everyone is influential about something.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

6 – Achieve Affinity & Elevate Brand Perception With Influencers

It’s so much more than just a tally of fans, friends and followers and whether a person is famous — there are different types of influence. This is something to consider as you become more sophisticated in B2B influencer marketing.

It’s more about what they are and how they are using influencers than merely what they’re good for. A lot of B2B marketing investment you think of as overwhelmingly focused on the end-of-sale-cycle type of activities. However, they’ll never get there if they don’t achieve affinity, if they don’t achieve connection and engagement before that. If they’re not ever considered, they’ll never make it to the sales conversation. A lot of the top and middle of funnel activity is where a great deal of demand generation activity is happening.

At the moment that’s where a lot of B2B marketers are investing in influencer marketing — to elevate brand perception, to warm the market and increase consideration. Ultimately they will also get to that point-of-sale conversation as well.

“A lot of the top and middle of funnel activity is where a great deal of demand generation activity is happening.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

7 – Recognize B2B Influencer Marketing’s Sales-Generation Potential

B2B is different from B2C, in that with B2C it’s fine if you have a person explicitly advocating for a product — it’s often what people do — they hold up a bottle of soda or face cream or whatever it may be and ask people to buy it to look beautiful.

In the case of B2B, however, if you have someone explicitly endorsing a product like that — for something that can often take six months to two years as a sales cycle — and you have someone explicitly endorsing it, that can come across as not so believable.

To some degree that’s why there aren’t more B2B marketers using industry influencers specifically for sales generation. There are however quite a few interesting anomaly types of case studies where millions of dollars in revenue was generated by working with influencers, however this isn’t the norm just yet.

8 – Overcome The Fear Of Getting Started In B2B Influencer Marketing

In some ways there’s both so much and so little confidence in B2B influencer marketing at the same time. 96 percent of marketers believe that engaging influencers consider their programs to be successful, according to our recent groundbreaking 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report.

We have that on the one hand, yet the other hand, 60% say they don’t have the knowledge to execute or have the right skills in-house to implement ongoing influencer marketing programs.

This isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, however, because one is just broadly about influencer marketing, and the other has more to do specifically with ongoing, always-on efforts, which tend to be more successful.

9 – Benefit From The Advantages of Ongoing Influencer Programs

Only 19 percent of companies are implementing ongoing influencer marketing programs, however 60 percent of marketers who use always-on influencer marketing programs consider themselves very successful, versus only 5 percent who do traditional periodic campaigns.

This means that 12 times more marketers who use always-on say they’re very successful than those who just do periodic campaigns.

B2B influencer marketing is without a doubt a relationship business, and this means developing genuine relationships, where through the exchange and through the experience a brand is creating for the influencer, that influencer is getting value and getting exposure.

Sometimes they get paid, and all the while they’re also learning more about the brand and growing closer to the brand.

10 – Learn From Successful Influencer Marketing Programs

Our client Adobe has an influencer program called Adobe Insiders, and Lee is a member of the program.

He’s seen the program from the inside and found it to be incredibly effective with the relationships that Adobe has invested in and developed among their community of influencers.

Many, without even being asked, are publishing to business publications like Forbes, Inc., and other publications, just because they have this love for the Adobe brand.

There’s no doubt that it’s a very beloved brand anyway, but the fact that Rani Mani, the head of global influencer enablement at Adobe, is such a charismatic personality and pays so much close attention to personalized communications with the people that are part of this community and creates a platform for them to connect with each other has a great deal to do with its success and what a powerful community the Adobe Insiders have created.

Find out more about Rani and the B2B influencer marketing advantage in our recent Inside Influence video interview with Lee, in “Inside Influence: Rani Mani from Adobe on the B2B Influencer Marketing Advantage.”

Learn More About Ascending To B2B Influencer Marketing Success

via GIPHY

We hope these 10 B2B marketing insights and tips from Lee’s conversation with Jason on the Winfluence influencer marketing podcast have been helpful, and that they’ll inspire and bring newfound success to your own efforts.

You can listen to Lee and Jason’s complete interview on the Winfluence podcast here.

If you’re among the 60 percent of B2B marketers who feel they need help to execute an ongoing influencer marketing program, contact us to get started with B2B influencer marketing, and find out why brands from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business,  and Adobe to IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more have chosen TopRank Marketing.

How To Move From A Pilot B2B Influencer Marketing Program to Always-On Success

Light Bulb Turned On

It sure is a good thing that the internet turns off at 10:00 PM every night, and doesn’t flip back on until 8:00 in the morning. And thankfully, business buyers completely tune out after they finish work, which is always at 5 o’clock sharp in this world of reliable and universally consistent routine.

Marketers and brands would really have their hands full if these things weren’t true.

Wait, what’s that? None of them are remotely true?

Welcome to the World of Always-On

There is no off-switch. The internet is open for business 24 hours a day. Buyers and decision makers are engaging with content in unpredictable patterns, thrown further askew by the pandemic-driven disruption of workday archetypes. An increasingly lengthy and complex buyer’s journey challenges B2B marketing strategies to be more versatile, agile, and perpetually present than ever before.

“There is no off-switch. The internet is open for business 24 hours a day. Buyers and decision makers are engaging with content in unpredictable patterns.” @NickNelsonMN #AlwaysOn #B2Bmarketing Click To Tweet

Earlier this month, Howard J. Sewell wrote at Business 2 Community about marketing success and the accident of timing.

“For more companies than not, marketing success is rarely about convincing a given individual, on a given day, to buy what it is you’re selling,” he argues. “Rather, it’s a question of being the company that the buyer finds, or thinks of first, when the relevant need occurs.”

This essentially makes the case for adopting always-on marketing programs, which are gaining traction as more organizations see the value. It’s a convention that can apply to many different elements of a strategy, including (and especially) influencer marketing.

Today we’ll explore taking the step from pilot B2B influencer marketing program to always-on success — why and how?

Taking B2B Influencer Marketing from Pilot to Autopilot

Running a pilot program is a great way to get a feel for influencer marketing and validate it as a smart tactic for your organization. Earlier this year I shared tips for jumpstarting a pilot B2B influencer marketing program in five steps, which included:

  1. Get buy-in throughout the organization
  2. Compile a list of influencers who align with your brand
  3. Start priming influencer relationships
  4. Integrate B2B influencer marketing into your strategy
  5. Co-create a piece of content with one or more influencers

The key here is not to treat influencer engagements as one-off, transactional encounters. As TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden put it during an interview for the Social Media Marketing Live Streaming Show over the summer, “If you only have one interaction with an influencer and then you don’t ever see that person until the next time you need them, that leaves the influencer feeling very transactional, and not very special.”

Running a pilot program doesn’t need to entail a long-term commitment to influencer marketing in your strategy, but it should always be built on a long-term, relationship-building mindset.

This sets you up to take the next step: from pilot to autopilot, where your always-on influencer program becomes a self-sustaining community of genuine brand advocacy and affinity. That’s not to say it’ll become completely hands-off — maintaining and nurturing influencer relationships takes work, as do the collaborative efforts with these influencers that drive business results — but once you’ve laid proper groundwork and set a clear vision, much of the heavy lifting is done.

Lee makes this point in explaining why always-on influence costs less and provides better ROI. Some things he recommends keeping in mind:

  • Pay-to-play doesn’t always pay off: Organic relationship-building can take a little more time and effort up front, but tends to be far less expensive than one-off, paid influencer campaigns, with much greater all-around value.
  • Old friends know the brand ropes: Deeper ongoing engagements with influencers leads to better mutual understanding of needs and guidelines, with less hand-holding required.
  • Return on relationships: Building authentic relationships with influential experts in your industry yields word-of-mouth and proactive advocacy benefits that money can’t buy.
  • Repurpose with a purpose: Always-on programs bring new efficiencies in terms of repurposing and refreshing co-created content in ways that support the brand, influencer, and audience.
  • Advocacy at scale: Developing and strengthening relationships over time leads to compounding benefits, as trust grows and new contacts enter the fold.

When considering these advantages, it comes as no real shock that — according to the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Reportonly 5% marketers who do periodic campaigns are very successful vs. 60% of marketers who implement always-on influencer marketing programs. That is a sizable chasm.

“Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers,” says Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager for LinkedIn (a TopRank Marketing client) in the report. “This approach means that the relationship ceases to be ‘transactional’ (what can you do for us) when we’re in a state of ongoing activity. Because of this foundation, we are in a situation where, when urgency strikes, we’ve been able to immediately activate influencers, whether it be for private, direct, unfiltered feedback and consult, or for external, public-facing advocacy and amplification.”

““Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers.” Garnor Morantes of @LinkedIn #InfluencerMarketing #AlwaysOn Click To Tweet

That’s the kind of marketing engine built for our modern-day environment, where buyers and decision makers are essentially active and consuming content round-the-clock, seven days a week. An always-on influencer strategy allows brands to be reactive, nimble, and responsive to change. You can learn more about LinkedIn’s successful program in our case study.

LinkedIn Case Study Image

Take the Next Step with Always-On Influence

The good news is that a properly executed pilot influencer marketing program — one focused on relationship-building and brand synergy — helps facilitate the transition to an always-on program that can become a pillar of your marketing strategy. At TopRank Marketing, we’re happy to help out with whichever stage of the journey you’re in.

Check out the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report to learn more about always-on influence, why it makes sense, and how to make it work. Reach out to us if you’re ready to get rolling.

Inside Influence: Janine Wegner from Dell on Thought Leadership and Influencer Relations

Janine Wegner Interview

Today marks the 4th installment in the Inside Influencer series. I want to thank everyone who has viewed the interviews, made comments and shared with their networks. This week we’re continuing our search to find out what’s working and what’s not within the world of B2B influencer marketing as well as further insights from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

Episode 4 of Inside Influence features guest insider, Janine Wegner, Global Thought Leadership Program and Activation Manager at Dell Technologies who our agency TopRank Marketing has the pleasure of working with on influencer content marketing programs like The Zettabyte World – Securing our Data-Rich Future.

Janine and I were able to dig into a topic that I think represents a huge opportunity for influencer integration: the intersection of thought leadership.

Our conversation covered many of the most important topics in B2B influencer marketing including: 

  • What it takes to be an influencer marketing thought leader when you work at a global B2B brand
  • Whether thought leadership and influencer marketing are independent or synergistic disciplines
  • How Dell Technologies works with B2B influencers
  • The benefits of working with influencers besides building brand awareness and lead generation
  • Key insights from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report
  • The difference between influencer marketing and influencer relations
  • How process is essential for scaling influencer marketing
  • Top challenges when working with influencer marketing
  • Predictions for the future

Here are highlights of our conversation and you can watch the full interview below.

I recently heard a B2B marketing leader describe thought leadership and influencer marketing as an either / or. Do you agree or can they work together?

Janine: If I had an ideal world I would always like to combine both. If we look at thought leadership, one thing is a thought like coming up with a new innovative idea, point of view or solution, new product or service, whatever it is the certain organization is doing. And leadership. That’s not up to a person or an organization, right, to call themselves a leader. Actually you need a validation from an external audience, from an external source. Sometimes it can be analyst firms that confirm that, it can be through highly credible influencers and industry experts. For us certainly that is kind of how we have approached this.

Using influencers and industry experts for thought leadership validation is absolutely key. @janinewegner

Thought Leadership even in its combination with influence has that element of validation by third parties. And so, to me, using influencers and industry experts for thought leadership validation is absolutely key. From the past years we’ve been doing this combination, it has actually shown us so many great returns, not just from brand awareness and perception but also in carrying our thought and what we’re doing, how we’re exploring the next generation of technologies or the next horizon of technologies to communities, that we might not have tapped into before through traditional means. By connecting with those likeminded people, those industry experts, sometimes even niche experts, a whole new community opened up to us, which was great.

Dell has long engaged different types of influencers in ways that impact the business from content collaboration used in marketing to thought leadership. How important do you think influencers are for Dell Technologies?

Janine: It has been increasing. At first it was like maybe some teams here and there that just wanted to work with some knowledgeable experts in a certain field or in a certain region. For example, events with panels that wanted to have an expert opinion back in the days when we could still do physical events. Today it’s a lot of webinars and online events.

Over the years we’ve seen that there’s so much more and there are so many different types of influencers that you can engage with. Working with influencers all comes down to having a good strategy in place and really knowing your objectives, knowing what is a complete marketing suite, where are your gaps and how do you want to reach your audience? What is the story you want to tell? Where on the customer journey do you want to do that? Once you know that, you can then determine what kind of influencers makes sense.

Is it someone you need to increase awareness and have a broad reach and a huge following on social media. Or is it someone, like I said, like if you have an online panel and the vendor panel where you want to have a certain type of expertise that this person brings to the table? There’s so much richness in the diversity of of influencers.

What we’ve been doing over time at Dell is really kind of doubling down on where we can make the best use of influencers. @janinewegner

And so what we’ve been doing over time at Dell is really kind of doubling down on where we can make the best use of influencers. We’re working with influencers from the C-level all the way to dev ops and anything in between. This is really exciting because we get to work with lots of different people. And also in recent months, we have been making really great progress in building an actual team that’s just responsible for influencer relations. We have people that are truly focused from B2C all the way to B2B influencer relations, which is awesome.

In the report you shared that having an end to end process for influencer marketing is key to not only be effective, but also to scale. What goes into that kind of process?

Janine: I think all having an internal process is a must for any organization of any size, because you want to start at your business objectives. I alluded to this a little bit earlier. You want to know what it really is that you are after so you can set your KPIs and know, at the end of the day, if you actually met your objectives.  Otherwise, why are we doing all of this and why we’re spending this money at resources and time?

Also, it’s not just looking at influencer relation tactics as like an add on once you’re done with that campaign, but building it into your complete marketing mix and marketing and communication mix. So, you want to kind of start on setting the objectives then also selecting a great partner and vendor, like your company itself has been tremendously helpful to us, right?

We’re looking for people that have a diverse network of influencers, right? Because we are an end to end solution company. So we need to go from PC all the way to infrastructure and emerging technologies. But also as a global brand who has a network with a global reach, it could be either, influencers that have a global reach or people that are very knowledgeable within a certain region or country that is of interest.

All of this goes into like building a strategy and setting those objectives and finding the right partner. Then you go into identifying who the right people are for whatever stage on the customer journey you want to produce this kind of collaborative content for. Then you can set the right KPIs for the program. You can execute it.

Of course you need to have budget to execute it. You need to ask your business folks to get it for you. Then you execute it, measure it and then you can present a new case to get more funding for the next project.

I feel when people are starting out within this field, they should start small, but very focused. Don’t try to boil the ocean…where can we make impact? @janinewegner

Oftentimes I feel when people are starting out within this field, they should start small, but very focused. Don’t try to boil the ocean, right? Like, really thinking like where can we make impact? What is something that we can show our leadership that this really works and brings us really tactical benefits? And from there on out, you kind of go one stage bigger. And bigger. Until you truly have that full suite of influencer marketing and, or influencer relations or a combination of both.

Who are some other B2B brand influencer marketing professionals that you admire?

Janine: So many! One is Konstanze Alex who used to work with me at Dell technologies. She showed me a lot about influencer marketing and how to work in that space. She’s now at Cisco, sadly, we miss her terribly. Also, the both of us were on a panel together with Amisha Gandhi from SAP and just hearing how she kind of worked from the ground up and like build this huge team and really look at how to integrate influencer marketing within the whole marketing suit that SAP has to offer is fantastic. She’s really a trailblazer within the industry and certainly inspired me. I was very pleased and honored to be on a panel with her.

To see the full interview with Janine, watch video below:

If you would like to connect with Janine further about B2B influencer marketing, you can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Next up on Inside Influence, we’ll be talking to Rotem Yifat, Head of Influencers & Online Partnerships at Monday.com.

Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence interviews:

Inside Influence: Ursula Ringham from SAP on Influencer Marketing Operations

Ursula Ringham SAP Interview

Welcome to the 3rd episode of Inside Influence: What’s working and what’s not inside the world of B2B Influencer Marketing. Each week we feature an interview with a B2B marketing insider on all things influence and a deeper dive into the insights found in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

In this 3rd episode of Inside Influence you are in for a treat: A discussion with the force of nature and client of TopRank Marketing that is Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing at SAP.

Ursula leads the Global Influencer Marketing team at SAP in collaboration with the entire SAP product portfolio to create innovative content with trusted external voices to build brand awareness and create pipeline. She is also an accomplished storyteller, author, creator, influencer marketer, digital innovator, social media maven, champion of girls education, and self described “outdoor sports freak”.

Our Inside Influence conversation covered a variety of influencer marketing topics including:

  • The key components of influencer marketing operations
  • The importance and application of influencer marketing software
  • An influencer marketing case study featuring an SAP podcast
  • Advice for marketers that want the benefits of influencer engagement but are hesitant to commit
  • What B2B brands can expect if they hire an outside agency to help with influencer marketing
  • What B2B marketers should watch out for when working with influencers and influencer programs
  • Rising influencer stars in the B2B tech space

Here are a few highlights of our discussion with a video of our full interview below.

77% of all the world’s revenue transactions go through an SAP ERP system, so we’re probably the biggest company in the world that you use every day, but you don’t know anything about it.

Of course most people in the marketing world know you, but for those that don’t, can you share a bit about the work you do at SAP?

Ursula: Sure. I work at SAP and if people don’t know what that is, SAP is one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world. 77% of all the world’s revenue transactions go through an SAP ERP system, so we’re probably the biggest company in the world that you use every day, but you don’t know anything about it. What I do is I manage our global influencer marketing program where we collaborate with trusted voices that influence customer decisions. What we like to do is collaborate with them to tell the story of how SAP makes the world run better and improve people’s lives.

Your contribution to the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report on influencer marketing operations was really important because I think a lot of people don’t think about all the behind the scenes work that goes into an effective program. What are the key components of influencer marketing operations that marketers should know about? 

Ursula:The operations part of influencer marketing is so important. I think when you’re just starting with an influencer program, you’re just like, okay, where do I begin? You know there are people you need to research with a large social following, but that’s the wrong approach. You’d have to start with your strategy.

You also need some tools to help you. There are different influencer relationship management tools that you can use such as like Onalytica or Traackr which are more for the enterprise. These are also tools that are going to help you with tasks. For example, when we work with other teams at SAP, the very first thing we do is we have them fill out a form about the audience demographics, what success looks like, and the buyer persona.

The key thing is (Influencer Relationship Management) tools save you time and help you manage all your projects in one place.

We collect this information so we can find out who’s that person that you want to help tell the story with you? And that’s really, really important. When you use influencer relationship management tools, you can go in and plug all that data in. The tool will surf the whole web, bring everything back and populate a report for you showing matching influencers. Then you can look at who are these influencers? The key thing is the tools save you time and help you manage all your projects in one place.

Great. I suppose along with software, process comes into play and the whole operations thing too, right? As far as like best practices?

Ursula: Oh my gosh, there’s so many different best practices. But the one thing that I always tell my team is even if the tool brings up all these people, you need to read, watch and listen to every single asset that these influencers has come up with. That’s a best practice.

You really have to go and see what the influencer’s personality is like and how they present themselves.

You can’t just look and go, wow, this person meets the criteria on paper of what this team wanted. Maybe they wanted them to be located in North America and have a podcast. Or maybe they had 50,000 followers. But you really have to go and see what the influencer’s personality is like and how they present themselves.

Of course, now our world is all digital and about video. For that you have to see how they perform if you want them to be a host. The biggest practice is the process that I have: you have to watch, read and listen to everything out there.

The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report includes a case study featuring your work with SAP in the form of a podcast. Creating a single resource to serve as a platform for different internal customers and different external audiences is impressive. What role did influencers play in the Tech Unknown podcast?

Ursula: Absolutely. We created this podcast called Tech Unknown. We actually just finished our second season. For the first season, it was basically an influencer talking to other influencers, live.

When you look at influencer marketing, you have to think, what is the story you’re going to tell?

For the second season, we wanted to create something different. And so we took inspiration from This American Life, a great podcast. We have a host that tells a story, which is the most important thing. When you look at influencer marketing, you have to think, what is the story you’re going to tell? It’s not just like, let’s do this campaign. You have to think about what is the overall story?

The podcast is a series and what we did was to identify an influencer who would be our host. So decided that would be Tamra McClary. She’s a great thought leader and influencer. The reason we chose her is she’s energetic, her voice, and how she introduces things is great. The audience can relate to her.

For the second season she was the host and our focus was on the topic of data. We looked at all different lines of business and how data affects different businesses out there. Then we would bring in other influencers to give their perspective as like thought leaders on that topic. So if it’s talking about HR data, we bring in an HR expert. And then we might have a customer involved in it or an SAP executive who could talk about the customer.

The whole thing was around thought leadership and the influencers played a critical role because they validated the story. They are that third party validation about what SAP is talking about as a challenge in the industry. The hope is that people realize, “Oh, SAP has a solution to my challenges. Let me go check that out.” That’s why it was so important that the podcast included influencers.

And I’ll have to tell you one thing that is absolutely incredible. We would create a summary blog post about the podcast that we publish on one of our website properties. The gal who manages this thought leadership area of sap.com knows SEO really well. If you typed into Google, “future of data”, out of 1.5 billion search results, our blog post came up number one. It’s a combination of working with the influencer who has the social media presence on the topic. Also, Tamera the host is out there and she’s promoting this blog summary that she wrote. She’s promoting the series and we’re getting the word out there using the right keywords and it all comes into play. It’s all full circle, right?

It’s a podcast, it’s a blog, it’s the influencers. It’s all working together to create this awareness that people are going to pay attention to and realize that SAP has a solution to their business needs.

So who are some B2B tech influencers that really stand out today? And are there any re rising stars you would like to mention also?

Ursula: Oh my gosh, there are several. One of the first people that comes to mind is Sally Eaves.

She’s someone that she’s been on the scene for quite some time, but the thing is, Sally is first of all, Sally. I don’t know where she gets that energy. She is 24/7 go, go, go. She’s doing so many things. She has a background being a CTO, but then she has a side of her that is about education, children and the environment and how technology is influencing society. She’s kind of like the whole package and she’s really good and knowledgeable and very charismatic. We’d love to do some work with her because she’s fantastic. She also has a British accent, which makes that fun for us Americans. She’s one of the top ones that I would recommend. I love following her stories, so definitely check her out.

To see the full Inside Influence interview with Ursula, check out the video below:

To connect with Ursula on all things marketing and influence, you can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

B2B Influencer Marketing Unleashed
Don’t miss Ursula and I as we present at the virtual Content Marketing World conference this week: Influencer Marketing Unleashed: Top Tactics for Success from Global B2B Brands. This is my 10th year in a row speaking at CMWorld and this presentation highlights the best of the best when it comes to information about B2B influencer marketing including:

  • Key trends based on the latest B2B influencer marketing research study
  • Use cases and case studies from Monday.com, Cherwell Software, LinkedIn, Adobe, Alcatel Lucent Enterprise and of course, SAP.
  • A framework for enterprise B2B influencer content campaigns

While the CMWorld conference is happening virtually this week, you can get access to presentations on demand as well. Check out the website.

Next up on Inside Influence is a conversation with Janine Wegner, Global Thought Leadership Program and Activation Manager at Dell Technologies.

Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence interviews:

Rani Mani, AdobeThe Value of B2B Influencer Marketing

Garnor Morantes, LinkedInThe Power of Always-On Influence

Inside Influence: Garnor Morantes from LinkedIn on the Power of Always-On Influence

Inside Influence Garnor Morantes

Welcome to the second episode of Inside Influence: What’s working and what’s not inside the world of B2B Influencer Marketing. Each week we feature an interview with a B2B marketing insider on all things influence and a deeper dive into the insights found in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

This week, we’re talking to Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager at LinkedIn. Our team at TopRank Marketing has been fortunate to work with Garnor on an award-winning, ongoing influencer marketing program for LinkedIn over several years and his leadership has been instrumental in its success.

Our conversation touches on:

  • What Always-On influencer marketing is and why its valuable for B2B brands
  • The challenges faced by campaign-focused influencer marketing efforts
  • Advice for B2B marketers considering influencer marketing
  • How LinkedIn Marketing and Sales Solutions (clients) has developed an influencer community with an Always-On approach
  • Key statistics from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report
  • How LinkedIn works with influencers to improve customer and prospect experience
  • Whether marketers should pause or proceed with influencer marketing during the pandemic
  • Who some of the rising star B2B marketing and sales influencers we should be paying attention to
  • Predictions on the future of influencer marketing for B2B brands

The work that we’re doing with influencers is not centered around campaigns, it’s centered around relationships.

How would you explain an Always-On approach to Influencer Marketing to someone who is not familiar?

Garnor: For us as we think about Always-On as a strategy, the biggest thing that comes to mind is that the work that we’re doing with influencers is not centered around campaigns,  it’s centered around relationships. What I mean by that is, who do we want to be working with, who do we want to tell our story, who do we want to engage with.

It’s about building that relationship and finding people that are going to get mutual benefit out of this relationship and as a result we can have that type of engagement that isn’t just centered around different points in time like in a campaign based strategy.

The other thing I think about when it’s Always-On is really, are you activating this program through some channels that are always on? For us it’s our blog and our social channels and those are 24/7. I think that’s another way to think of an Always-On type of strategy.

At LinkedIn Marketing and Sales you’ve take more of an Always-On approach to influencer marketing with some great results in terms of reach and engagement. Can you share a little bit about your objectives and approach?

Garnor: Our objectives as we think about the influencer program is that it works really well in concert with our other programs, our other communities: customer advocates and even industry analysts is that we want to leverage and work with the influencer program in way that it is able to take the messages we want to deliver as a brand or business unit for Sales Solutions and Marketing Solutions, and empower those influencers to tell that story as well.

Our objective (with influencers) is that they know what our story is, that they are familiar with it and can lend input into it as well.

As I mentioned earlier, they have their own story to tell, their own brand, and their own narrative. So I feel that we are finding influencers that are already aligned with that message and that story. Our objective is that they know what our story is, that they are familiar with it and can lend input into it as well. They are the experts in many instances. They’re the feet on the ground who are talking to the marketers on a daily basis, talking to the sellers. So we want that feedback, that input into it.

The objective is equally gathering that input, getting better at telling our story and developing our products and services, while at the same time empowering a set of advocates or people out there that have large followings, or developing followings or are just experts in their field to tell that story as well.

That’s really at a high level the objectives we are trying to meet as we develop these programs. And we do that by keeping an eye out for the types of content that influencers might be creating that supports the message we’re telling. At the same time on occasion, creating some new campaigns in which we can arm these influencers with more information, with some assets that tell the story that we want to put out there – create some new content around that and have them be a key part of the delivery and the content creation.

What do you think are some of the top challenges working with B2B influencers today?

You put your message and your brand in the hands of someone else, what happens if that person says some things that are not in alignment with your brand?

Garnor: I go back to what’s going on in society and really that backdrop that we all heavily need to consider with everything we’re doing these days. There is that risk: you put your message and your brand in the hands of someone else, what happens if that person says some things that are not in alignment with your brand?

There’s a bit of that risk, there’s a bit of that challenge. For us, we have really placed a ton of emphasis on developing the trust and relationships with influencers – we feel pretty good about it, about where we stand, about the messages they’re going to deliver and what they’re going to say. That’s a risk.

Another challenge is one that you also mentioned earlier, is how do you find the right influencers? There’s so many people out there purporting to be experts. How do you find the right ones? We already talked about some of the ways to do that, being a more active part of the conversation.

The number of B2B brands considering influencer marketing for the first time or elevating their efforts has actually increased in the past 6 months. At the same time, our research shows that 60% of marketers do not feel they have the right skills in house or capability to execute. What advice can you share with marketers considering an influencer marketing program?

Garnor: I think the advice that I would give is take a moment and step back and not think of it as an influencer program. Think of it more as what is helpful for your buyers? What is important for your buyers and what they could benefit from?

Start thinking about who the audience truly is and as a result, who might be able to speak to them better than you can?

When you stop and take a look at that, then you start thinking about who that audience truly is and as a result, who might be able to speak to them better than you can?

For example, if you think about our business lines, the ones that I support, we’re talking about marketers and sellers. Yes I work in marketing, but I don’t have the necessary skill sets that I think a lot of these marketers are asking for. So then you start to take a look at what are they asking for? What are those conversations and who is a part of that conversation and can we have a relationship with them?

I think that’s the place to start. It removes some of the overwhelming nature of what setting up an influencer program can be. If you just think about who are the sales leaders and people who are experts in sales I should be talking to? Because that’s my end goal, to talk to sellers.

Let me start there, let me build a relationship with them. Let me see what they need, or what they have to offer and what I can offer them. That can do some of the upfront work of identification of influencers and also what ultimate output, methodology and process are going to work best because it happens from those discussions and relationships. I think that’s the advice I would give.

Check out the full video interview with Garnor here:

To connect on all things B2B marketing with Garnor, be sure to follow him on LinkedIn.

Next up on Inside Influence we will be talking with with Janine Wegner, Global Thought Leadership Program & Activation Manager at Dell Technologies on the intersection of influence and thought leadership.

Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence interview with Rani Mani, from Adobe.

Inside Influence: Rani Mani from Adobe on the B2B Influencer Marketing Advantage

Inside Influence Rani Mani

On the heels of the release of the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report and the announcement that several of our clients (LinkedIn and Alcatel Lucent Enterprise) have won awards for B2B influencer marketing campaigns, I am very happy to share the launch of a new video interview series: Inside Influence: Interviews with B2B Influencer Marketing Insiders.

What is Inside Influence?

This is a show that goes behind the scenes of B2B influencer marketing and showcases conversations with insiders from the world of B2B influencer marketing. We’ll be talking with practitioners at B2B brands of all kinds and sizes to answer the rising number of questions about working with influencers in a business context.

The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report has provided data for B2B brands to benchmark some of their strategies, operations and best practices. The report has also helped drive more conversations around B2B influence and the Inside Influence series aims to answer questions, provide deeper insights and also highlight many of the talented and unsung heroes of influencer marketing in the B2B world.

First up is the amazing Rani Mani, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe where among many responsibilities, she manages the B2B Adobe Insiders program which I am very happy to be a member of. We’ve had a chance to talk to Rani before in this interview and with Inside Influence you will get to see the conversation happening on fresh topics that matter today and into the future.

In this first episode of Inside Influence, we talked to Rani about

  • 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report
  • The role of influence across the customer lifecycle
  • How influencers bring freshness and creativity to brand content
  • The benefits of working with B2B influencers during the pandemic
  • How influencers can help humanize B2B brands, including Adobe
  • Top challenges working with B2B influencers
  • Insights into the B2B Adobe Insiders community
  • The future of B2B influencer marketing

What are some of the other outcomes B2B brands can expect from working with influencers?

Rani: For us it’s been thought leadership in terms of getting some fantastic minds to tap into, you’ve got your pulse on what’s happening in the community and you’re able to anticipate what’s coming up around the corner. Also reach of audience that you normally wouldn’t is also a really nice benefit.

Something we’ve seen firsthand is crisis management and reputation management. When folks are misconstruing who we are and what we stand for, it’s so nice to have trusted advisors swoop in and save the day and explain what’s happening in a way that’s relatable and digestible for the everyday person. And it’s so much more believable when it comes from a peer vs. an executive from the company or a brand channel.

customer experience management
In the report, you mentioned one of ways influencers help B2B marketers create advantage is that influencers bring a heavy dose of freshness and creativity to the content a brand produces. Can you share an example of that influencer creativity in action with Adobe?

Rani: I have so many. One is what we did a couple of years ago with you and your company, TopRank, when we did this very unique and interactive digital storytelling around reimagining and reshaping customer experience management and the future of CXM. We leveraged several brand personalities such as Ann Handley, Scott Monty and Shama Hyder. That was a very interesting piece of content that lives on today.

In addition we went to New York, you were there with us, for Advertising Week and we had all of our Adobe Insiders on camera at NASDAQ where you gave your top challenges in advertising and also gave predictions on what the future of advertising would look like. That was super compelling because not only did it produce wonderful wisdom for the industry, I think you had mentioned, what a fabulous experience it was for the individuals going through it.

You know our good friend and colleague Abhijit Bhaduri, he is out of India and does these fantastic visually compelling sketchnotes when he does his content. It’s really a wonderful way to get through thought leadership and it really cuts through the clutter out there in the digital area. Similarly there’s Kathleen Hessert and her GenZ Group, they do a lot of infographics chock full of memes and emojis that relate to that generation, very fun and playful. Adobe has benefitted from a lot of fresh, creative content from all of you.

Let’s talk about the future of B2B influencer marketing – what do you think will change in 2021, What needs to change?

Rani: I really think the power is shifting. Individual influencers are taking more control and have the opportunity to be more selective about who they do work with and what kind of work they do.

I think we’ll see a lot more influencers standing up for their creative freedom and creative license and I think we’ll see less prescriptive micromanagement from brands. I think the high quality influencers simply won’t stand for that any more. You’re not here as order takers, right? You’re here to collaborate and to co-create and you’re here to be thought partners, not to be puppets. I love that statement and I feel that is the evolution that’s going to happen. It’s already underway but I think it’s going to go in full force as we move past the pandemic and into the future.

Check out the full video interview with Rani Mani here.

For more B2B influencer marketing insights and her overall awesomeness, you can connect with Rani here on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Next up on Inside Influence we will be talking with with Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager at LinkedIn and the brains behind the LinkedIn Marketing and Sales Solutions influencer community.

What Does Award-Winning B2B Influencer Marketing Look Like?

Professional businessman making a heart with his fingers image.

In a time of increased competition and uncertainty, standing out is more important than ever.

Of course there’s plenty of B2B marketing that stands out, but what kind performs? Is it ads, content marketing, SEO, social, ABM or influence?

At TopRank Marketing we make it our business to deliver on and exceed expectations for content experiences that will inspire customers through influencer marketing. But what does award-winning B2B influencer marketing look like?  How can you infuse your own campaigns with the type of powerful elements that combine to deliver stellar marketing performance?

To help answer those questions, let’s take a look at two highly-successful efforts from our clients LinkedIn and Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) to find out what common elements both campaigns share to make for decidedly uncommon success.

Award Winning B2B Influencer Marketing in Action

Awards Image

We were thrilled that the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) B2 Awards awarded TopRank Marketing its silver winner in the social media category, for our work with LinkedIn in the successful “LinkedIn’s Social-First Approach to Engaging Influencers & Audiences Alike” campaign, and that the 2020 Content Marketing Awards has selected TopRank Marketing as a finalist in its best content marketing program in technology, for our work with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) in the successful “IT Vanguard Awards” campaign.

The ANA’s B2 Awards recognize the top performing B2B marketers with a unique focus on driving demonstrable business results, and in 2020 entrants submitted in 47 categories which have evolved to reflect the growing role of B2B marketing and rapid industry changes.

The 2020 Content Marketing Awards recognize and award the best content marketing projects, agencies and marketers in the industry each year, recognizing all aspects of content marketing, from strategy to distribution, from design to editorial, and is the leading international awards program for corporate content creation and distribution.

LinkedIn’s Social-First Approach to Engaging Influencers & Audiences Alike

LinkedIn Case Study Image

The average daily time that a user spends on social media is approximately 153 minutes (Statista). And, with 706+ million registered users (63 million of which are in decision-making positions), the LinkedIn platform presents a big opportunity for brands to engage their target audience. (LinkedIn).

But reaching and connecting with both marketers and sales professionals has become increasingly difficult due to the overload of information thrown at them each day. The brand LinkedIn also faced this challenge, even on their own platform.

So, in order to better reach these decision makers, LinkedIn Marketing and LinkedIn Sales Solutions set out to create a social-first campaign that would communicate authentically to then attract attention to specific LinkedIn Showcase Pages. Goals included:

  • Increase engagement and continue to humanize LinkedIn as a brand by partnering with well respected industry experts to share real-life struggles, stories and obstacles with a focused audience.
  • Drive new audiences to the targeted Showcase Pages via the influencer’s audiences (that were not already following or engaging with the LinkedIn brand).
  • Continue to nurture and grow relationships with the influencers themselves as part of an ongoing influencer program.
  • Engage the audience in-channel (versus sending to alternate content off platform).

LinkedIn Campaign Insights & Strategy

LinkedIn Image

To create and optimize this social-first influencer content campaign, specific insights and strategies were leveraged:

  • High-level audit of the LinkedIn Marketing and Sales Showcase pages to identify the most engaging content based on:
    • Content Length
    • Topic
    • Visuals
    • Featured Influencers
    • Best Publishing Time/Day
  • Identification of best-fit target influencers based on:
    • Audience Relevance
    • Participation Likelihood
    • Best Stories
    • Relevance and/or admiration of target audience
  • Research into appropriate hashtags for the campaign.

Based on these insights a campaign approach was created, including:

  • A messaging/post formula including:
    • Context at the beginning of each post
    • Tagging the contributing influencer
    • Showcasing their story/insights
    • Utilizing hashtags
    • Compelling visuals
  •      Activation of influencers when posts went live.

Influencer Content Campaign Concept

In order to better reach an overloaded audience, we focused on the idea of partnering with influencers to make professional networking more personal vs. more traditional “best practices” content that fills most professionals’ social feeds.

Instead, relevant influencers we asked to share real-life stories based on 3 key questions:

  • Describe a defining moment in your career and how it shaped you as a marketer or sales professional.
  • What is one thing not on your LinkedIn profile that people should know about you?
  • Who is one rising star in your field that you’d like to recognize? What makes them amazing?

By shifting from purely professional content to a combination of professional and personal, LinkedIn was able to better connect with the audience around their own professional opportunities and provide them a platform to engage directly with experts they respect.

B2B Social Influencer Campaign Results

Results for this influencer marketing and social media program exceeded all target goals. Below is a breakdown of the results:

#MyMarketingStory

  • 239% above reaction benchmark
  • 348% above comment benchmark
  • 150% above shares benchmark
  • 100% influencer activation around the campaign

#MySalesStory

  • 247% above reaction averages/goal
  • 215% above comment averages
  • 400% above shares averages
  • 100% influencer activation around the campaign

Influencer Metrics

  • 14 influencers activated (leading to 75+ over time)
  • 228 total social posts (excludes LinkedIn data)
  • 853 engagements (excludes LinkedIn data)
  • 5.84M estimated reach (excludes LinkedIn data)

LinkedIn Social Influencer Campaign Insights

The goal of this campaign was to drive authentic engagement, on platform, between LinkedIn and their customers. With over 706 million registered users including 63 million in decision-making positions, LinkedIn Marketing and LinkedIn Sales created a powerful and successful social-first campaign leveraging LinkedIn Showcase Pages by connecting with content on both a personal and professional level.

LinkedIn Looks at What’s Next in Marketing Content Together

“At LinkedIn, we’ve worked with the TopRank Marketing team for about two to three years now, and what I really like about working with TopRank is they really, truly come to the table as collaborative partners,” Judy Tian, marketing manager at LinkedIn observed.

“I’ve worked with a number of agencies where in marketing, I’m asking for deliverable A and they just give me deliverable A. But what’s great about TopRank is they also think about B, C, and D and really try to push my thinking of what’s next,” Judy added.

“I think in marketing you are only as good as the creativity of your team and your ideas. The more voices that we bring to the table and the more proactiveness and willingness of everyone contributing ideas, the better off your marketing campaigns will be, and for us at LinkedIn, TopRank has truly become an extension of our own marketing team,” Judy explained.

TopRank Marketing & Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Not Afraid To Innovate: The IT Vanguards Awards Program

Alcatel Screen Shot

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), a 100-year-old business technology company, decided it was time to raise the stakes in sales funnel management. While ALE had hundreds of contacts, the company was not achieving the desired traction with their current methods.

Their big idea was a recognition program for IT network and IT enterprise communications leaders. By celebrating industry leaders, ALE hoped to forge stronger relationships with clients and prospects — and build a more robust contact list.

But how could ALE make sure that this seed of an idea produced the desired fruit — not only in its inaugural year but in years to come? The company looked to TopRank Marketing to help them create an innovative program, unlike anything that had been done before.

TopRank Marketing provided end-to-end support for the initiative, collaborating with ALE on branding the IT Vanguards program, and then executing a strategic marketing plan which included influencer engagement, press releases, LinkedIn Pulse content, emails, and blogs.

The IT Vanguards website doubled as a way to collect nominations and celebrate the winners. Once the winners were announced, the IT Vanguards website was populated with the honorees’ top leadership advice. These insights positioned both the winners and ALE as thought-leaders while also providing meaningful value long after the close of the program.

All milestones — from announcing the program to celebrating the winners — were promoted using a strategic blend of content marketing, influencer marketing, and social media. The content was amplified on social channels through paid ads as well as posts by ALE employees, program judges, honorees of the IT Vanguards program, and relevant third-party organizations and industry associations.

Results of the IT Vanguards Program

By all definitions, the IT Vanguards program was a resounding success. With more than 50 quality, relevant nominations, the IT Vanguards program was an effective means to identify and celebrate the best IT network and IT enterprise communications leaders.

The program also excelled as a way to generate brand awareness and engagement. There were nearly 14,000 combined landing page views during ten weeks of contest promotion. On social channels, the program boasted 100% engagement from program judges and honorees through activities such as direct conversations with the ALE and TopRank Marketing teams, social sharing, and internal sharing.

The program also spurred third-party recognition of the honorees’ prestigious achievement, including press releases and special ceremonies held by the honorees’ local governments, school boards, and companies. These activities further heightened the credibility of the IT Vanguards program and the market leadership position of ALE.

Lastly, the IT Vanguards program delivered in terms of business development. Using the IT Vanguards program to celebrate the IT network and IT enterprise communications leaders, ALE generated opportunities for meaningful conversations with prospects. The company attributes three million in the pipeline to the campaign.

We’re honored…

…to win the ANA B2 Awards silver award for our combined efforts with LinkedIn — an especially strong campaign as we outlined above, and to be named a finalist at the 2020 Content Marketing Awards in the best content marketing program in technology category for our joint efforts with ALE.

Get Your Own Award-Winning Results From TopRank Marketing

TopRank Marketing, the only B2B marketing agency offering influencer marketing as a top capability in Forrester’s “B2B Marketing Agencies, North America” report, delivers award-winning work to clients including LinkedIn, AT&T, Adobe, SAP, Dell, 3M, monday.com and others. Contact us today to discover how we can help create award-winning marketing for you.

For additional new case studies and to learn more about B2B influencer marketing trends, best practices and predictions for the future, be sure to access the all new 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, which features insights from hundreds of marketers surveyed as well as expert analysis by the TopRank Marketing team and contributions from top B2B influencer marketing professionals from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, Adobe, Traackr, IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more.

B2B Influencer Marketing Report Preview

How to Win at B2B Influence With The Magic of Content Co-Creation

Win B2B Influence
Today we live in an age of information overload where the speed of content discovery and the variety of options for media consumption across connected devices presents new challenges for B2B brands and buyers alike.

The natural response for buyers is to filter their choices and focus those few sources which are most trusted, credible and meaningful. For brands that want to differentiate and even dominate in their category, becoming known as “the best answer” for their domain of expertise will have enormous impact.

The challenge of increased digital sophistication brings an opportunity: businesses can differentiate and capture market attention by growing their authority and influence.

Content is a top priority for brands.
Numerous research studies continue to support the fact that content marketing is a top priority for marketers but there are also some challenges; companies find it difficult to produce enough content, as well as create content that engages and has enough variety.

Even when companies are able to produce high quality, relevant content on a regular basis, the challenge of distribution and reach is a concern for many. Part of the solution is to connect B2B content creation efforts with internal and industry influencers that already have communities they engage with on the same topics.

Influencer content and authority.
Brands aren’t the only non-traditional online publishers. Subject matter experts are also able to publish through social networks and media, blogs and increasingly easy contributions to online publications.  Besides creating topically competitive content, SME publishing has empowered individuals to attract their own audiences and become as influential as the some of the companies they buy from.

In addition to working with established influencers, brands can nurture future influencers to create a more effective brand community that exponentially scales reach and engagement.

The shock of content proliferation.
As a result of the content explosion, brands are faced with the reality that the majority of the content they produce might never be discovered or engaged. At the same time, brands must recognize their customers are becoming more influential about the same topics brands are spending advertising and marketing budgets on.

When business customers are empowered to create, consume, publish, interact and transact anytime, anywhere, how do brands break through to create meaningful connections and engagement? How does the dynamic of content and influence help fulfill buyer information discovery, consumption and engagement expectations while delivering on business outcomes for the brand?

As a vehicle for influence, content is one of the most powerful tools in a digital marketer’s mix to attract, engage and inspire buyers to act.

“Content co-creation is the currency for building relationships that can boost credibility, influence and action.”

The B2B content + influence solution.
A business content and influencer marketing strategy can be one of the most effective combinations B2B marketers can make.  By incorporating relevant influencers that can inspire action with content marketing efforts, marketers can reach new audiences with brand messages that are credible and trusted.

Influencer driven content marketing is also one of the best examples of how digital marketing and public relations are converging. The integration of messaging, content, social media and engagement right along with the promotion of information and media designed to inspire transactions should be the focus of any business that wants to differentiate and grow.

Buyers trust influential experts.
The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report reveals that 77% of B2B marketers believe their prospects rely on advice from industry influencers. Additionally, 84% trust influencers to create brand awareness and 69% count on influencers to help generate new leads.

While B2B content marketing on its own is effective, working with influential experts to co-create content is an approach that yields surprising results.

Lead with Empathy
Influencer content gets results.
When the pandemic swept through the world in early 2020, monday.com identified an opportunity to help support teams that had gone from working in-office to working remotely.

As a provider of remote project management software this transition created an opportunity for our client monday.com to position itself as a valuable resource for remote teams. Monday.com partnered with TopRank Marketing to develop an influencer marketing campaign featuring industry experts that could reach and engage remote work teams more effectively than the brand on its own.

Seasoned experts and influencers in the remote work space were engaged to collaborate on and promote content published on the brand site, on the influencers own sites, brand social channels and via livestream.

By engaging influencers with audiences hungry for information about remote work best practices, this campaign added value to the target audience and increased awareness of monday.com’s offering with impressive results:

  • 17.9M in potential reach from brand mentions by influencers (goal was 1M)
  • Over 300K organic impressions on social media
  • Nearly 3k video views of a live stream featuring two industry experts within the first week

See the full Monday.com influencer marketing case study here.

By connecting with market and niche influencers and working with them to achieve mutually beneficial goals, modern marketers can create invaluable relationships with authoritative experts. These connections can result in the creation of high quality, relevant and authoritative content that serves the interests of the influencer and the brand as well as providing access and reach to the influencer’s community.

B2B influencers are credible, authoritative individuals who have an engaged community that follows and acts on their thought leadership.

Winning at B2B Influencer Marketing means working with influencers to affect change in thought and action amongst a network towards goals that are mutually beneficial to the brand, the influencer and their community. Whether it is a partnership to co-create content or more general advocacy, business influencers open doors for brands to connect with engaged buyers they might otherwise never reach in a meaningful way.

“Everyone is influential about something.”

B2B influencers can be industry professionals, they could also be inside a company as subject matter experts or a company’s own customers. Influencer relationships with brands often include a value exchange of some kind and it’s up to the company and influencer to decide whether that’s an exchange of information, visibility, compensation or something else.

The essential questions of B2B influencer content.
To be effective when working with business influencers, B2B brands need to consider what they want the influencer to do for them beyond a simple endorsement.

  • How will the influencer’s involvement help the company reach a particular business goal?
  • What will an ongoing relationship with influencers mean to the brand’s marketing efforts and reputation in the industry?
  • Also, what kind of content does it make the most sense for the influencer to contribute to?
  • How does the brand want to be known and which influencers already have that credibility and authority?

These questions and more will be answered in the following model for B2B influencer content co-creation.

6 best practices for working with and influencing B2B influencers to co-create content:

  1. Identify Influencer Program Goals
  2. Research, Engage and Recruit Influencers
  3. Develop Co-Created Content with Influencers
  4. Inspire Content Promotion
  5. Influencer Measurement and Program Optimization
  6. Ongoing Influencer Relationships

1. Identify Influencer Program Goals – Serving different audiences (influencers, brand, prospects, industry media) requires a strategy that identifies distinct goals. While most subject matter experts and influencers desire increased visibility, B2B brands will want to grow their expertise for a topic amongst a target audience and attract new business. Consumers of the influencer content will want expert information from someone they trust. Industry news media will want examples they can reference and subject matter experts they can cite.

Just starting out, co-created influencer content can be as simple as a value exchange: increased exposure for both the influencer and the brand with the objective of attracting new target audience engagement and influencing a spectrum of conversion actions: subscribe, download, register, request information.

As an influencer content program matures, goals can become more sophisticated and multi-faceted to include public relations, recruiting, customer marketing and more advanced customer acquisition.

B2B influencer content programs should be tied into the content marketing plan and editorial calendar. An important part of designing an effective influencer content program is to identify the specific topics to be covered. Specifying topics and themes will drive all subsequent actions in the program from influencer recruiting to planning which media type to create to content promotion.

2. Research, Engage and Recruit Influencers – It’s important to identify the key themes that represent topical focus for the brand, the product or service and the campaign or program that you will creating with influencers. The sooner your company specifies these topical areas of focus, the sooner influencers can be identified and engaged.

“The time to start recruiting influencers is long before you need them. Romance takes time.”

It can be useful to start influencer identification by brainstorming with executives, marketing, communications and product managers to develop a list of known topical experts and even nominations of specific individual influencers. However, subjective measures like these bring heavy bias. It is always a good idea to validate influencer recommendations using data about topical relevance, resonance of that topic with the influencer’s audience and the their network size. There are many influencer marketing platforms which can provide the data needed to properly filter which individuals are perceived as influential by the communities that listen to them.

Influencer sourcing and engagement takes time. Many influencer co-created content projects will draw from both existing influencer relationships and involve making new influencer connections. Initial recruiting might be limited to small, easy projects that advance the relationship to more robust and substantial time commitments.

It is possible to jump start an influencer content program by working with a specialist agency that already has relationships with relevant industry influencers.

The most common mistake businesses make with influencers is to qualify them based purely on network size (fans, friends and followers) and affinity to a certain industry or area of interest. Without the ability to affect the way a network thinks and how they act, an influencer isn’t really influencing anyone.

“A brandividual is popular. An influencer is effective at creating popularity.”

Topical relevance, resonance and reach characteristics will be useful with influencer discovery tools like BuzzSumo which focuses on Twitter data. There are also robust tools like Traackr or Onalytica.

After you use a tool to identify and initially qualify influencers for each topic, then you can bring that list back to your internal subject matter experts to manually review and filter. Of course, no influencer discovery tool is perfect. Correlation between internal recommendations and data from an influencer marketing platform might take more time, but it’s a best practice for distinguishing between brandividuals and effective influencers.

When recruiting influencers, there are several important considerations:

  • Relevancy and effort to ask ratio – It has to be timely and on message with what they stand for. It also has to be easy for them to do. Popular, smart people are busy!
  • Be clever or humorous – Nothing cuts through the crap like humor but most of all, be a real person when you communicate, not salesy, pushy or entitled
  • You are a known entity – Having a reputation as a brand or being a well-known person in the industry is very useful. Previous personal contact with the influencer is even more valuable.
  • Vision of the project – Be able to articulate what the influencer’s involvement will be and what it will do for them personally. Also show how the project will help others.
  • Optimize for attract – Create influencer projects so good and so well known, people compete to be involved.

What doesn’t work.
Presumptive, high expectation recruiting pitches with no personalization and little upside for the influencer rarely work. It’s the equivalent of a stranger approaching you and saying, “Let’s get married”.

The time to start creating relationships with influencers is long before you actually need them. If a company is thinking that working with influencers is even a remote possibility, they should start identifying, qualifying and engaging with them now. That way, when the time comes to work together on a project, there’s already some familiarity and credibility before “the ask”.

Effective influencer recruiting for content co-creation projects comes down to being relevant and interesting, respectful and to deliver a great experience that results in a desire for more.

3. Develop Co-Created Content with Influencers – The content marketing plan for co-created influencer content should identify the primary and sub-themes, the influencers to work with for those assets, the types of contributions the influencers will make, the type of content to be created, deconstructed component parts, social share messages and details on repurposing.

Go modular – Modular content planning allows pre-promotion of the co-created content project to build momentum for launch and then deconstruction of the content for customized repurposing and social promotion on networks, blogs, and the media.

Select topics – Topics represent the themes and areas of focus for planning editorial and for sourcing influencers. Topic alignment between brand, influencer and community is essential for mutual value to be created.

Identify type of content or media mix – Types of content are often determined by the content marketing plan, and target audience. At the same time, there are some types of content more amenable to co-creation with influencers such as eBooks, reports, blog posts, quoted infographics and video compilations. A clear line of sight must be present between the co-created content and the content objectives in the marketing plan.

Once influencers, topics and media types are identified, a campaign to request content is initiated. Setting expectations during the recruitment phase for how participation will work is essential. Influencers are busy people and providing a timeline with due date, clear instructions and even examples will result in a higher participation rate.

Influencer content collection requests are often more effective when a few A-list influencers are already on board with the project. Leverage their name recognition to influence other influencers to participate.

Be prepared to send 2 to 3 content collection emails and when the deadline arrives, do not be afraid to use a fear of loss pitch. But by all means, be cordial, helpful and respectful.

4. Inspire Content Promotion – Influencer communications should provide expectations and clear timelines along with the benefits for all when a co-created influencer content project is successful.

Providing influencers with tools such as sharing images, pre-written tweets, embed codes and short URLs can substantially increase promotion participation and reach.

There are four important considerations when encouraging influencers to help promote the content they helped your company create.

Create content worth sharing. Topics that address issues that are important to the influencer will get your foot in the door and useful, visually compelling content will inspire them to open that door and share. Reaching out blindly and asking to share doesn’t work as well as having a connection first and then asking.

Let the ego do the talking. Content that includes an influencer’s contribution will probably get shared even more. Because let’s face it, people love to see themselves get recognized. Better yet, ask them to participate in the creation of the content.

However, when mentioning influencers in content it’s essential that it be credible, high quality and creative. Most influencers have caught on to the tactic of simply mentioning famous industry people just to get them to share. There must be value created that inspires and earns the share

Make it fun and easy. When emailing a promotion request, consider making it funny or at least clever. We’ve gone so far as to write outlandish examples of what NOT to do or suggest fake prizes for contributing like his/her beard scarves or beef jerky underwear.

Also make it especially easy for the influencer to share. Capture their attention, succinctly explain what it is and what you want them to do. Then offer pre-written social share text that’s even personalized just for them. You may even create a resource page with images and other share options for them to use.

Pay them. Either compensate the influencer with information and promotion or simply pay them to share your content. Once you start down this road, it’s pretty difficult to get off, so plan for continued compensation once you start.

5. Influencer Measurement and Program Optimization – Individual influencer promotions of the co-created content project can be measured based on social network shares, sentiment of those shares, engagement on the topic, links and blog pickups.

Embeds used by influencers to create blog posts can be tracked for referred search traffic along with referred social traffic from their links. Referred traffic that results in website visits can be further analyzed for metrics such as time on site, categories of content consumed, leads and sales.

Overall reach, engagement, traffic, leads and sales for the content project can be tracked as well, taking note of the contributions made by influencers towards key performance metrics like growing affinity between a topic and the brand as well as business outcomes like leads and sales.

6. Ongoing Influencer Relationships – Beyond the campaign or program at hand, do make the effort to continue the relationship with influencers you have worked with. The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research found that 12 times more B2B marketers who run Always-On influencer marketing programs are successful vs. those running intermittent campaigns. Focus on creating a great experience for contributing subject matter experts and they’ll be very interested in working with your brand again on future projects.

The more influencer programs you develop, the more influencers you will have connections with and draw from. Remember, when it comes to promotions, you can also ask past influencers who are not part of your current program to help, since they are aware of the value that would bring and the effect of “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Ways to stay connected and Always-On with influencers in a meaningful way include:

  • Offer them feedback after the program about the effect of their contribution
  • Cite influencers in your future blog posts
  • Connect and engage with influencers on social networks
  • Refer influencer expertise to other companies that could use them (i.e. help them get work)
  • Cite influencers in contributed articles to industry magazines, newspapers, websites and newsletters.
  • Include them in future projects

Whether your brand is engaging with influencers to provide useful information or you’re co-creating content with influencers to create a useful industry resource that will be shared with new communities, there’s a value exchange that can benefits everyone involved. Content is the key to that value transfer between brand and consumer, brand and influencer and for the overall community involved.

To learn more about B2B influencer and content marketing best practices, be sure to check out the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report, or contact us directly at TopRank Marketing.

B2B Marketing Subject Matter Experts & Industry Influencers: Which Should I Choose?

Four businesspeople holding question mark signs over their faces image.

What does being an influencer really mean in the B2B world?

The classic B2C influencer is someone with a big following on social media, someone who makes a living doing makeup tutorials or cosplay or skateboarding tricks. Brands who want to reach their audience can simply provide free products or sponsor a post — it’s inherently transactional.

But for B2B, the question is a little trickier. B2B influencers are very rarely celebrities with millions of followers. For example, given enough time and money, you could get Taylor Swift to endorse your hybrid cloud solution. But would her endorsement really persuade your audience?

You can’t judge influence in B2B by follower counts alone. There are multiple ways that people can be influential in the B2B space. Which type of influencer your project needs will vary depending on your goals.

Let’s take a look at two different types of B2B influencer: The Subject Matter Expert and the Industry Influencer.

Subject Matter Experts Vs. Industry Influencers for B2B Marketing

Which is better for your project: A thousand impressions or a single multi-million-dollar click? There’s no right answer for every situation, of course, and the answer may very well be “both.” But the point is to ask the question when your project is in the planning stages.

We can start by defining each of these influencer types, and then we can dig into how to choose the right influencers for your content.

Who Is a Subject Matter Expert?

A subject matter expert (SME) could mean anyone who knows a lot about one particular subject. In influencer marketing, though, it means something slightly different: It’s someone who has that knowledge, and may be influential in business circles, but also has a small social media footprint.

SMEs can include practitioners in a particular field, executives of successful businesses in your target industry, or even your own employees. They may not have the reach of an industry influencer, but they do have knowledge that your target audience will find valuable. What’s more, they’re a credible source, because they’re right down in the trenches with your audience.

The challenge of working with an SME for creating content is that they may not be used to speaking to an audience. While an industry influencer can whip up a 500-word blog post in their sleep, an SME will take more time and encouragement before they’re ready to contribute.

If your goal is to maximize awareness with top-of-funnel content, you wouldn’t go with SMEs exclusively. For content further down the funnel, with a highly-targeted audience, however, the more SME content, the better.

Who Is an Industry Influencer?

Let me say, first, that an industry influencer is no less knowledgeable than an SME. But the work of an industry influencer includes building an audience and actively pursuing thought leadership status. They’re keynote speakers, authors, and podcast hosts. They are more likely to be analysts and consultants than active practitioners.

There are several advantages to working with industry influencers, beyond the obvious broader reach: They already know how to quickly create content and package it for their audience. They know the value of self-promotion and can see when it’s mutually beneficial to create content with your brand. And they can have a broader perspective of the industry, gleaned from analyzing trends and/or consulting with multiple businesses.

Industry influencers are perfect for top and middle-funnel content. But they are less likely to get into the specifics of day-to-day operations, while an SME would be equipped to give those practical details that make lower-funnel content work.

What Type of Influence Does Your B2B Marketing Need?

Which influencer is right for you? As I said, you might want more SMEs in a lower-funnel piece and more industry influencers in top-of-funnel content. But really, the answer is that a healthy mix of influencers tends to get the best results.

Industry influencers bring reach, polish and thought leadership. SMEs bring a practitioner’s experience and credibility. The two can complement each other to make your content irresistible to your audience.

For example, our client monday.com created content with SMEs and industry influencers for their remote work campaign. By combining the strengths of different types of influence, the campaign achieved 1,790% of its projected goal for social reach.

Create an Influencer Community

Here’s one more way that B2B influencer marketing is different from B2C. While B2C agreements tend to be one-off and transactional, B2B influence is about building relationships and forming a community. Instead of contracting with an influencer for a single project, it’s important to keep in contact. Make sure your influencers know each other and facilitate conversations. Help them network, teach, and learn from each other.

When you take an always-on approach to influencer marketing, you can create a trusted group of go-to experts, folks who are loyal to your brand and ready to collaborate on an ongoing basis.

And that’s far more valuable than a Taylor Swift retweet.

What’s working, what isn’t, and what’s next for B2B influencer marketing? Find out what your peers had to say in our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report.

10 Wise Quotes To Inspire Your Influencer Marketing

Two people jumping in the air in front of a beautiful sunset.

What will successful B2B influencer marketing look like in a post-pandemic world, and what can marketers do today to be ready?

Here are 10 quotes from some of the best in the B2B influencer marketing business to inspire your marketing today and to prepare for the eventual post-pandemic landscape.

1 — Rani Mani of Adobe

Rani Mani

For Rani Mani, head of social influencer enablement at Adobe*, reaching out to uncover the heartfelt motivations, challenges, and aspirations of B2B influencers can be a great way to start building a long-lasting  marketing relationship. She shares additional insight in our recently-released 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report.

“I often start my discovery conversations with influencers by finding out what really makes their heart sing — what does success look like to them?” — Rani Mani @ranimani0707 Click To Tweet

2 — Ann Handley of MarketingProfs

Ann Handley

Ann Handley, speaker and chief content officer at MarketingProfs see empathy as key to all successful marketing efforts, whether they are of the B2B influencer marketing variety or more traditional approaches. “Start with empathy. Continue with utility. Improve with analysis. Optimize with love,” Ann has wisely suggested — advice that will well-serve marketers looking to embrace gratitude.

“Start with empathy. Continue with utility. Improve with analysis. Optimize with love.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Click To Tweet

3 — Amisha Gandhi of SAP Ariba

Amisha Gandhi, vice president of influencer marketing and communications at SAP Ariba* has observed that co-creating content with influencers offers an array of advantages.

Amisha Gandhi of SAP Quote Image

“Working with influencers, to co-create content, delivers value and can inspire audiences to take action.” — Amisha Gandhi @AmishaGandhi Click To Tweet

4 — Tom Treanor of Arm Treasure Data

Tom Treanor

For Tom Treanor, global head of marketing at Arm Treasure Data*, B2B influencers make good sense in an array of content areas businesses may already be involved with, as he outlined recently in “How B2B Influencer Marketing Offers Brands an Ideal Alternative to In-Person Events.”

“Consider how you work with influencers in areas such as podcasts, webinars, live-streams, ebooks, blogs and social content. Are there ways that your marketing can be improved with the help of industry influencers?” @RtMixMktg Click To Tweet

5 — Ty Heath of LinkedIn

Ty Heath

Ty Heath, global lead of The B2B Institute at LinkedIn*, sees the power of B2B influencer marketing in building ongoing relationships, especially helpful for breaking through the noise in light of rising content attention deficit.

LinkedIn Ty Heath Quote Image

“People can break through the noise. People trust people. Influence is about relationships.” — Ty Heath @tyrona Click To Tweet

6 — Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing

Our own CEO and co-founder Lee Odden has been instrumental in the development and growth of the practice of B2B influencer marketing, and has long seen its multiple advantages for not just brands and influencers, but also B2B buyers.

“When planned and implemented effectively, B2B influencer marketing programs build trust and confidence for buyers, influencers and the brand.” — Lee Odden @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

7 — Tamara McCleary of Thulium

Tamara McCleary

Tamara McCleary, CEO at Thulium, sees the power of long-term, ongoing marketing efforts — especially when these types of always-on programs are applied to B2B influencer marketing.

“A long-term influencer program will allow your brand to create true brand advocates, powerful brand evangelists, and raving fans.” — Tamara McCleary @TamaraMcCleary Click To Tweet

8 — Ashley Zeckman of TopRank Marketing

Ashley Zeckman

Our own senior director of digital strategy Ashley Zeckman sees B2B influencer marketing as a great way to collaborate around ideas, and a more effective alternative than traditional one-way “buy this” approaches.

Rather than unapologetically telling us to buy a product, #B2B influencers are collaborating around an idea. – @azeckman #InfluencerMarketing Click To Tweet

9 — Konstanze Alex of Cisco Systems

Konstanze Alex

For Konstanze Alex, head of global digital storytelling at Cisco Systems, trust and relationship-building are key when it comes to working with B2B influencers.

“Regardless of which team at a brand engages with influencers, relationship and trust building should be a top priority” — Konstanze Alex @Konstanze Click To Tweet

10 —Joshua Nite of TopRank Marketing

Joshua Nite

Our own content marketing manager Joshua Nite recently shared his insight on how B2B marketers can best work with influencers during the global health crisis, and in “How to Nurture B2B Influencer Relationships During the Pandemic” he offered a smart take on the similarities between influencers and friendships.

“Influence relationships operate by much the same rules as any friendship: Get to know the person, don’t talk about yourself too much, give something before you ask for anything, and be sensitive to their emotions and needs.” @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

Walk Your B2B Influencer Marketing Walk

via GIPHY

Using the wise advice we’ve highlighted here from Rani, Ann, Amisha, Tom, Ty, Lee, Tamara, Konstanze, Ashley, and Joshua, you can walk your B2B influencer marketing walk with efforts that will take you on down the line to new heights in 2021 and beyond.

Whether you work with a top B2B influencer marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing or utilize your own team, now is an ideal time to reach B2B influencers and work together to drive digital brand conversations.

* Adobe, SAP Ariba, Arm Treasure Data, and LinkedIn are TopRank Marketing clients.