Think influ­encer mar­ket­ing is only for B2C brands? Con­trib­u­tor Michael Brito explains how the prin­ci­ples of this high­ly effec­tive tech­nique can be applied to B2B mar­kets.

Total brand spend­ing on influ­encer mar­ket­ing was $81 bil­lion in 2016 and is pro­ject­ed to reach $101 bil­lion by 2020, accord­ing to a 2017 study from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Nation­al Adver­tis­ers and PQ Media.

It’s not stat­ed how much of that invest­ment will come from con­sumer or B2B brands, but it’s clear that influ­encer mar­ket­ing has become an inte­gral piece of mar­ket­ing pro­grams today.

For con­sumer com­pa­nies, if you have a prod­uct or ser­vice with mass con­sumer appeal, there are thou­sands of influ­en­tial con­sumers (called cre­ators) that you can “hire” and acti­vate through paid cam­paigns. Com­pa­nies like Open­In­flu­ence and Clever have access to thou­sands of influ­encers as a part of their opt-in influ­encer net­work. All you need is an idea or cam­paign and a size­able bud­get. And the great thing is, you can start track­ing your pro­gram instant­ly.

How B2B is different

For B2B brands, it’s not that easy. Tech­nol­o­gy and busi­ness influ­encers can’t take a video of your SaaS (soft­ware as a ser­vice) plat­form or snap a pho­to of your data cen­ter and dri­ve sales any time soon. It just doesn’t hap­pen that way. Also, an influ­encer with a large fol­low­ing on Snapchat or Insta­gram doesn’t have much cred­i­bil­i­ty with B2B buy­ers, unless they hap­pen to work in IT them­selves — which isn’t a typ­i­cal sce­nario.

Also, B2B buy­ers don’t typ­i­cal­ly click on a link from an Insta­gram post, go to a cor­po­rate web­site and pur­chase soft­ware. They usu­al­ly start the pur­chase process read­ing reviews, ver­i­fy­ing specs and Googling every­thing under the sun. This behav­ior is usu­al­ly the result of a con­ver­sa­tion they had with a peer or co-work­er. They spend hours, days and some­times months research­ing the tech­nol­o­gy, ask­ing ques­tions and bounc­ing ideas off their net­work.

The min­i­mum aver­age sales cycle for enter­prise soft­ware is six months. Even though social media has accel­er­at­ed this cycle, it’s still much longer than the cycle for con­sumer prod­ucts. It’s said that B2B buy­ers get as far as two-thirds through the pur­chase jour­ney before they con­tact a ven­dor, and that’s only if the vendor’s capa­bil­i­ty meets the basic tech­ni­cal require­ments.

How influence works in B2B

Sad­ly, reach­ing B2B deci­sion-mak­ers isn’t easy. They are sophis­ti­cat­ed, well-edu­cat­ed and skep­ti­cal about sales and mar­ket­ing. That means that — even if it’s more dif­fi­cult than for con­sumer brands — the most effec­tive way to over­come this skep­ti­cism is by influ­enc­ing their deci­sions through trust­ed third par­ties — influ­encers. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing data points:

  • Con­tent shared from and cre­at­ed by influ­encers pro­vid­ed 11x high­er ROI than the aver­age dis­play ad after 12 months, accord­ing to a case study con­duct­ed by Nielsen Catali­na Solu­tions for Tap­In­flu­ence.
    92 per­cent of mar­keters that used it in 2017 said that influ­encer mar­ket­ing is effec­tive at reach­ing audi­ences, a Lin­qia sur­vey found.
  • 71 per­cent of mar­keters believe that ongo­ing ambas­sador­ships are the most effec­tive form of influ­encer mar­ket­ing, a 2016 Altime­ter Research study for Tap­In­flu­ence dis­cov­ered.
  • So, it’s clear that influ­encer mar­ket­ing is rep­utable, but how is it imple­ment­ed for B2B brands? It starts with under­stand­ing the 1:9:90 mod­el.

The first ref­er­ence to the 1:9:90 mod­el was in 2006 by The Guardian’s Charles Arthur, who said that “if you get a group of 100 peo­ple online, then one will cre­ate con­tent, 10 will ‘inter­act’ with it (com­ment­ing or offer­ing improve­ments) and the oth­er 89 will just view it.”

Since then, the 1:9:90 mod­el has been adapt­ed into var­i­ous meth­ods to find, seg­ment and acti­vate groups of peo­ple online. I have been test­ing and refin­ing influ­encer mar­ket­ing pro­grams for large B2B brands and have altered the def­i­n­i­tions:

  • The 1% Influ­encers: These are the opin­ion lead­ers and con­tent cre­ators. In the con­sumer world, they’d be known as ‘trend­set­ters.” They can reach the major­i­ty of their mar­ket when they write, Snap, tweet or pub­lish just about any­thing online. They can cre­ate new mar­kets, buzz­words (e.g., “Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion” or “Enter­prise 2.0”) and new prod­uct cat­e­gories. Five years ago, this group con­sist­ed only of tra­di­tion­al media and the large ana­lyst firms. Today, influ­encers can be any­one — media, authors, con­sul­tants, sec­ond- or third-tier ana­lysts and any­one else with a spe­cif­ic point of view, has some degree of intel­li­gence and has a large audi­ence.
  • The 9% Pro­mot­ers: Peo­ple in this group are extreme­ly active in social media. They are also very active par­tic­i­pants in forums like Red­dit. They rec­om­mend prod­ucts and ser­vices, cof­fee shops, con­sumer prod­ucts, sneak­ers — you name it. They have a point of view about every­thing and will share it freely with just about any­one will­ing to lis­ten. At times, they will over-share their brand expe­ri­ences with­in their com­mu­ni­ties, whether good or bad. They sign up for newslet­ters, leave Ama­zon and Yelp reviews, down­load con­tent, com­ment on it and share it — any action that lets their peers know exact­ly what they think. This 9 per­cent is the audi­ence that can poten­tial­ly make or break the con­ver­sa­tion.
  • The 90% Mar­ket: This is every­one else. It’s easy to reach this audi­ence with a $3 mil­lion-dol­lar Super Bowl ad if you have the bud­get. They are experts at con­sum­ing con­tent. They read, learn and absorb every­thing online. They Google every­thing — dis­cov­er­ing new prod­ucts, read­ing reviews and con­sum­ing news con­tent. They do not pub­lish any­thing, nor do they con­tribute much to the con­ver­sa­tion. But don’t neglect them, as their strength lies in num­bers. It’s this por­tion of the 1:9:90 mod­el that decides how com­pelling the oth­er groups are at telling your brand’s sto­ry — and it’s all based on their pur­chase pow­er and behav­ior.

The 1:9:90 mod­el of influ­ence can apply to any brand, large or small. The dis­tinc­tion between the groups is impor­tant, though. You can’t engage with or com­mu­ni­cate with an influ­encer the same way you would with gen­er­al con­sumers. But, what­ev­er the dif­fer­ences between these three audi­ence groups, each one plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in the con­tent engine. If you can pos­i­tive­ly engage with an influ­encer or group of influ­encers and get them to talk about your com­pa­ny or prod­uct, you have the poten­tial to reach the entire mar­ket.

Things to look for in an influencer

The process starts with iden­ti­fy­ing the right influ­encers. Sad­ly, many mar­keters use just one data point to deter­mine which group of influ­encers to engage with, and it’s usu­al­ly “reach.” While reach is a good met­ric, it’s not the only one. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing:

  • Reach: How large is their social com­mu­ni­ty across all dig­i­tal chan­nels — blogs, RSS sub­scribers, con­tributed posts, social? Reach is impor­tant because you’ll want to know that influ­encers can actu­al­ly get con­tent in their fol­low­ers’ feeds.
  • Rel­e­vance: How often are they ref­er­enc­ing top­ics and key­words that align with your busi­ness or describe your indus­try? Rel­e­vance will con­firm that the influ­encer is “on top­ic” fre­quent­ly and didn’t just share an arti­cle six months ago and then leave the con­ver­sa­tion.
  • Res­o­nance: When they cre­ate con­tent, how far does it trav­el on the inter­net? Are oth­ers engag­ing with it? This met­ric helps sep­a­rate real influ­encers from the ones that have large com­mu­ni­ties but no engage­ment. Or, in some cas­es, the ones that resort to shady tac­tics that make them appear to be more influ­en­tial than they actu­al­ly are.
  • Ref­er­ence: Are they ref­er­enced by oth­er influ­encers? In oth­er words, are the oth­er influ­encers in your pro­gram shar­ing, com­ment­ing on, lik­ing or retweet­ing con­tent?

One tool I use to help iden­ti­fy influ­encers is Ona­lyt­i­ca. They have a unique plat­form that allows for both bio and con­tent search. So, if you are look­ing for an influ­encer, say an edi­tor, jour­nal­ist or engi­neer, who is dis­cussing “arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence,” you can find them quite eas­i­ly and pre­view the con­tent in real time.

Once you under­stand your spe­cif­ic mar­ket and real­ize what your mar­ket­ing goals are for influ­encers, you’ll want to spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time research­ing which ones can dri­ve impact for your brand.

In my next arti­cle, I will show you how to pro­file influ­encers and research their con­ver­sa­tion­al trends and media con­sump­tion habits in order to dri­ve action­able intel­li­gence.