How to Unlock the Power of B2B Influencer Marketing

June 23, 2021

Influencer marketing is one of the hottest marketing tools of the 2020s. According to Statista, almost 68% of U.S. companies larger than 100 employees are using influencers to market their offerings.

However, most people associate influencer marketing with B2C industries like fashion, home goods, or health and wellness. Which may leave you wondering: What can a B2B company do with it? How do we translate what works for B2C and make it work in B2B? 

What is influencer marketing?

Komal Parikh understands influencer marketing for B2B companies. As a digital strategy leader for Weber Shandwick in Dallas, Parikh has helped dozens of enterprise and B2B organizations harness the potential of influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing, she explains, is widely recognized to have begun in the 1920s with iconic style icon Coco Chanel (2:38). People loved Chanel’s style so much they started mimicking her outfits. Fast forward to the latter part of the 20th century when we saw celebrities like Michael Jordan and Jennifer Aniston impacting the shoes we wore and the haircuts we requested. With the rise of blogs and social media in the early 2000s, trends began spreading faster. 

People have always shared information and recommendations by word of mouth, but digital media made showing and sharing an item, a trend, or a lifestyle easier. As individuals started cultivating their personal brands and sharing them online, influencer marketing became a gig anyone could do – and with bigger impact. Parikh estimates that the influencer industry is worth $14 billion worldwide in 2021 (7:24)

Influencer marketing works in so many industries because it pairs well with digital tactics – and we’re certainly living in a digital world.

Influencers can reach their audiences through a plethora of channels: content marketing, paid social, social selling email marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and earned media, for example (8:08).

Influencer strategy is very much not a siloed strategy. Nor is it fading away soon. Parikh pointed out that while some influencer tactics change (So long MySpace, hello TikTok), its foundation of authoritatively conversing and recommending offerings does not. 

Making B2B Influencer Marketing Work

If you’re wanting to try influencer marketing for your B2B business, there are some important nuances between the B2C influencing you’ve likely seen online and successful B2B influencer marketing. For starters, people know when you’re marketing to them. How can you make sure they’re not just scrolling by your B2B content?

First, think about an influencer’s followers vs. their fit for your brand and product, Parikh says (10:20).

Initially, influencer marketing was all about how many online followers someone had and thus, how many people a brand could potentially reach. But now, savvy marketers focus on who their audience is and how well an influencer’s content speaks to that audience.

90% of business decision-makers initiate their purchasing process by researching opinions from industry experts and peers. Meanwhile, 92% of people around the world said they trust earned media and recommendations from friends more than anything else (14:30). People trust their friends!

And even if an individual has never met an influencer, if they have been following them online for a while – whether by watching their videos, reading their blog, or seeing pictures of them and their life on Instagram – they’re likely going to consider them trustworthy when it comes to the brands that influencer talks about.

Second, focus on authenticity when considering how influencer marketing can work for your B2B brand (11:48). An influencer with a smaller, tight-knit audience who can offer genuine reasons to engage with your product is worth much more to your brand than one who engages superficially with thousands.

You’ll find B2B influencers among those who are analysts, journalists, bloggers, and other thought-leaders. Employees can be influencers and advocates, too. Leads developed through employee social marketing convert seven times for frequently than other leads, Parikh notes. 

Third, focus on the story you want an influencer to tell about your product, service, or brand (13:00). Everyone loves stories. Storytelling is an evergreen tactic that makes your brand stand out long-term. Your B2B company should be thinking long-term anyway, because the B2B purchase cycle is often longer than B2C. Plus, having influencers who know how to tell really good stories takes some heavy lifting off your brand’s marketing team. 

What B2B Influencer Marketing Can and Cannot Do

B2B influencers can:

  • Bring an authentic voice to the brand conversation.
  • Lend their expertise and POV to improve the conversation.
  • Increase brand awareness and understanding through content creation.
  • Provide a lens into upcoming trends and changes in consumer behavior.

B2B influencers cannot:

  • Always drive direct purchase.
  • Provide immediate ROI.
  • Change brand perceptions quickly.
  • Make brand messages go viral.
  • Be the only marketing tool in the toolbox.

How to execute a B2B influencer program

Ready to launch a B2B influencer campaign? Parikh recommends building an influencer campaign through these six steps:

• Define what success looks like (23:48).

Is it awareness? Increased engagement? Increased conversions? Or a combination of all three? Choose to work with an influencer who is strong in that area.

• Determine the types of people who can help achieve success (25:05).

Don’t underestimate the potential of internal influencers. Employees and executives can be persuasive voices among their networks. Equip them with formalized tools and resources so they can be megaphones for your brand(s). 

External influencers like media professionals, industry thought leaders and consumers can also be influential voices. Many industry influencers have blogs or YouTube channels where they share their informed opinions about products, services, and industry news.

• Leverage social listening to identify influencers already operating in your industry (27:50).

Use a social listening tool like Talkwalker or Brandwatch. Social listening tools are great resources to use when you’re trying to identify influencers. Identify keywords relevant to your brand and product, then search for people already using those keywords in their content. You may have to manually search for influencers in your industry space. 

• Score influencers to determine who holds the most clout (28:00).

Once you have a list of individuals you might want to work with, score their influence based on a rubric you create that centers your product and goals. Some call this a brand relevancy score. Some items to score influencers on are basics like number of followers but also more nuanced items like brand receptiveness or frequency of new content. Rank them. Choose your top 3 or however many influencers you have the budget to work with.

• Plan activations around your influencers (29:35). 

B2B influencers vary in their approach to the industry and to their content. You’ll want to work with the influencers individually to find out what touchpoints they use to gather industry information and to share content with their audience. They could be great at videos but not at blogging. They could be available for live chats but shy away from live events.

How they promote your brand will also depend on the media you have to share. Influencer campaigns are custom-built. Create a suitable mix of promotional content and give the influencers plenty of time to share the content with their audiences.

• Measure the impact of your B2B influencers (31:06).

Return to the KPIs you set at the beginning of your program. Measure how much the influencers you’re working with have impacted those KPIs. Some common KPIs attached to influencer campaigns are:

  • Awareness: Your follower growth, impressions, share of voice
  • Engagement: Likes, comments, shares, engagement rate, bounce rate, retention rate, CPM, CPC
  • Conversion: Link clicks, site visits, conversion rate, click-through rate.

Based on how your influencer campaigns perform against these KPIs, you’ll know if pursuing further campaigns makes sense.

Take a Thoughtful Approach to B2B Influencer Marketing 

There’s a lot of potential for B2B influencer marketing. Successful campaigns vary greatly in style, content, and reach. Measure success against your own KPIs. Refine your initial campaigns, taking into account rising stars in your industry space and new tools available. B2B influencer marketing differs from B2C influencer marketing, but with the right approach, it can be just as successful.

To hear from experts like Komal on the regular, check out an upcoming Digital Summit event, with 14 in-person events scheduled in 2021!