Influencer marketing is increasingly popular in the B2B space, for the simple reason that buyers trust experts more than ads. But many B2B marketers are approaching it in the wrong ways, missing the mark with both the influencers and their audiences. A new report offers a wealth of guidance for doing B2B influencer marketing better.
For example: Always-on influencer campaigns are more effective than one-off efforts. Budget isn’t the most important factor (unlike the B2C world). Marketers are frequently out of alignment in what they ask influencers to do versus what influencers enjoy doing.
Those are just a few of the key findings from The Current State & Future of B2B Influencer Marketing, a new report from Onalytica. The full 39-page report is well worth downloading, but here are seven key insights and takeaways from the research for B2B marketers.
Though there are some similarities between B2B and B2C influencer marketing, in important ways the two strategies are very different. As noted in the introductory section of the Onalytica report:
B2C influencer marketing is largely focused around product marketing and driving product sales whereas in B2B, brands are leveraging influencers for everything from crisis comms & managing brand perception, thought leadership, consulting, to speaking at events and to test & launch products.”
On to the lessons of the report.
B2B Marketers are Misaligned With Influencer Preferences
Per the study, “The most popular collaboration is posting social media content, with 79% of influencers doing this for brands, but only 44% of influencers enjoy this type of collaboration.”
What influencers enjoy doing most is talking: 68% of influencers say they enjoy speaking at events, while 56% enjoy participating on panels.
A recent survey from TopRank Marketing (summarized in The State of B2B Influencer Marketing here) found that the most common influencer activity among marketers was collaborating on content (87%) and that the most popular content types were blog posts (83%) and recorded video (67%).
The key takeaway for B2B marketers is pretty clear:
- Provide influencers with speaking opportunities.
- Record those presentations or panel discussions.
- Promote the video.
- Repurpose the content, for example as a blog post (like these answers to tough SEO questions).
Always On Beats Hit or Miss
Influencers are almost three times as likely (71% vs. 25%) to say they do one-off campaigns with brands as to work on an ongoing retainer basis. But that is messed up, because “always on” campaigns are significantly more likely to be deemed “very successful.”
As the authors of the report put it, “One-off campaigns can be great for building quick brand awareness and product sales, but when it comes to building trust and advocacy, longer-term, always-on partnerships are the way forward.”
The takeaway for B2B marketers is to note the difference between B2B and B2C influencer marketing summarized above: in B2B, it’s about relationships. So, choose your partners carefully and thoughtfully, then design campaigns to run for at least a year, to build traction and momentum.
It’s Not All About the Money
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of B2B influencers said they would work with brands for free. Not surprisingly, influencers were less likely to say they’d work for free if they have very large followings and a track record of successful campaigns. Marketers with limited budgets may want to look more at “B-list” or even micro-influencers who have a smaller, but highly engaged following.
What do influencers want if its not cash? Exposure. The opportunity to champion something new and interesting. In the case of startups, possibly stock. The association with other influencers and emerging brands.
36% of influencers said the most important factor when deciding whether or not to work with a brand is an “interesting brief”—more than twice the share (17%) who said monetary compensation was most important.
For B2B marketers, the takeaways are 1) do your research up front, and 2) have a discussion. Influencer marketing is as much about what you can do for them as what you want them to do for you.
It is More About Branding than Lead Generation
Solid majorities of both marketers and influencers believe B2B influencer marketing increases brand awareness (it does).
On the other hand, while 69% of marketers count on influencers to drive new leads, just 43% of influencers say they are helping with this.
That shouldn’t be surprising. When DemandBase produced this cartoon and promoted it on Twitter, was the objective lead gen? Well, maybe. Some. But there’s no question the influencers involved were sharing this widely with their networks, drawing huge attention to DemandBase’s brand relaunch campaign.
The point for B2B marketers is that while influencer marketing can drive some lead generation, that shouldn’t be the primary metric for measuring success. The biggest benefit is brand building.
Do Your Homework
The most important component in bringing an influencer on board is high-quality outreach, and the key ingredient to doing top notch outreach is research.
Influencers get a lot of requests to collaborate. To get a “yes,” your pitch needs to stand out. The top 9% influencers receive on average one request per day. 20% of influencers get a couple per week. The least-busy 44% still get, on average, about one request per week.
Per the report, “Influencers receive an abundance of requests, so brands face a challenge to stand out and get noticed…influencers value an interesting brief the most, which requires the brand to carry out their due diligence prior to reaching out to the influencer.”
For marketers, that means the outreach effort isn’t easy and there aren’t any shortcuts. But it’s work that pays off: according to the report, “93% of influencers who think brands do lots of research rate their outreach as good or very good,” and “70% of influencers who think brands do lots of research consider their campaigns to be very successful.”
The Messenger Matters
While half of influencers say they have no strong preference for who contacts them, among the half who do care, nearly 70% prefer to be contacted by a senior executive or subject matter expert.
The bad news for B2B marketers and agencies is that only 28% of those influencers prefer to be contacted someone from marketing or comms, and just 4% prefer outreach from an agency.
The good news is that, because the quality and “interestingness” of the pitch is so critical, marketers and agencies have a vital role to play in conducting the research and crafting the outreach, even if they are not the ones actually reaching out to influencers.
The Most Important Factor
There are many reasons influencers will choose to work with brands, beyond monetary compensation. These range from increasing their own credibility or profile to building an initial relationship.
But the #1 reason across influencers of different types—social media amplifiers, content creators, event speakers, opinion leaders—is believing in the product or cause. That makes it critical for marketers to do their research to identify the right influencer(s) to work with, and to craft a compelling brand story.
The points above barely scratch the surface of the findings and insights presented in this 39-page report. If influencers are part of your B2B marketing plans, download the full report to get the whole story.
The report was authored by Alicia Russell of Onalytica, Michael Brito (a.k.a. Britopian) of Zeno Group, Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing, and Tamara McCleary of Thulium. It’s unusual to see that kind of intellectual horsepower behind an industry report like, making it even more worthy of a full read.
The study touches on the process of “professionalizing” B2B influencer marketing, noting that, “While some brands have been working with influencers as a key component of their
marketing activities for several years now, it is still a relatively new practice for many companies – even for some large global brands.”
The B2C influencer marketing world seems, in contrast, much more institutionalized, with established platforms like NinjaOutreach, Heepsy, HypeAuditor, and Paladin. Can Onalytica do the same on the B2B side, and bring B2B influencer marketing out of its wild wild west phase? It will an interesting ride to watch.