Whatever your business area, it’s been hard to miss the buzz surrounding influencer marketing in recent months. However, the application of influence has mainly been in the consumer sectors of beauty, lifestyle, and other niches where the focus is on high-volume, low-value sales.
Far less has been seen of it in big-ticket B2B marketing – but there’s no reason the concept can’t be used to boost business-to-business success as well.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is a new take on the venerable technique of celebrity endorsements, translated into today’s social media-dominated digital landscape. It works by leveraging the popularity of a social media figure within a tightly defined niche and having them either overtly endorse a product, or merely give some neutral exposure to increase awareness.
Compared to mass-media endorsements made by mega-celebrities, the numbers involved may be small, but the credibility of the influencer and the highly targeted interest group means it can be a winner if you get it right.
How Does Influence Translate to B2B?
Critical areas for B2C influencer marketing have been beauty and fashion, travel, and consumer technology. However, the technique can be pressed into service for B2B as well. It just requires a slightly different approach and a recognition of the overarching marketing differences between the B2B and B2C arenas.
The B2B Buying Process
Much of consumer buying depends on impulse purchases, with marketing strategies playing on emotional triggers to generate interest. That makes influencer marketing a perfect fit, relying as it does on social proof, loyalty, and credibility.
The business buyer operates in a significantly different way. Purchasing decisions are taken much more methodically, with a longer buying cycle, and with greater importance given to cold figures instead of an emotional appeal.
When using influencers to reach business buyers, it makes more sense to take a brand-building approach rather than pushing for direct sales. You should aim to be forging a reputation among decision makers, who will then add your brand to the consideration mix during their next purchasing round.
That has a massive impact on the choice of influencer, who needs to have a strong standing within a sector rather than sheer celebrity. Consumers must see the endorsers as trusted business operators rather than famous but ephemeral figures. Considering this, ideal candidates for B2B influencers include:
- Prominent operators within a defined industry, who have established a history of proven success.
- Thought leaders who can provide distinctive views on a sector, even if they’re not necessarily major players commercially.
- Sector personalities known for their conference and media visibility.
- Journalists who enjoy wide respect and trust in specialist publications, or who are communicators in more general media.
Whether you’re dealing in B2B or B2C, the crucial point is that influence is about far more than pure numbers. Unlike traditional celebrity endorsements, you’re not aiming for saturation exposure which translates into emotional buys, but to leverage reputation within your direct market. Focus and credibility are essential.
Connecting with B2B Customers
Once you’ve identified a candidate figure within your niche, you then need to make sure they’re capable of reaching your target audience. The major players in consumer influencer marketing tend to focus on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms with large user bases. However, few serious business decision makers will be found frequenting these services in a commercial capacity.
Instead, LinkedIn is the obvious choice for reaching professionals, although depending on your industry, Twitter can provide rich hunting grounds too. Your ideal influencer will have a following that overlaps with your business accounts but enjoys a broader reach.
Quality Content for B2B Influencer Marketing
There’s little point in using an influencer to try and boost B2B sales in a one-off campaign. That may work for lifestyle-based purchases, but B2B marketing requires a more extended game. You should aim to have your influencer become a brand advocate and explainer, who can transfer some of their trust and credibility onto your reputation.
You’ll need to get your influencer entirely on board and committed to the project, working for the long term, rather than signing them up for a one-off product placement deal. For this, quality campaign content is critical.
The straightforward promotional material isn’t particularly useful; you need to provide genuine value to the reader. Ideally, the entire arrangement should be beneficial to everyone involved – the customer should learn something that helps their business, the influencer should bolster their reputation, and your brand should gain visibility and credibility within your sector.
Influencer marketing is one of the fastest-growing techniques in the consumer sphere but has hardly begun to find its feet in B2B. That means the opportunities are enormous for those who can move quickly to establish firm foundations before their competitors see the potential.