When you hear the term “influencer marketing,” what do you think of? If you’re like most marketing professionals, you’ll probably immediately envision a young, attractive man or woman selling the latest cars, beauty products, or fashion. For B2C companies, this is a pretty accurate description. But did you know that influencer marketing can be leveraged by B2B brands as well in the form of B2B influencer marketing? Let’s look at some influencer marketing statistics.
- In one study, B2B brands can get an annual ROI with influencer marketing that’s 11x the amount of traditional methods.
- Social media experts say that 94% of B2B marketers who’ve tried influencer marketing feel it’s highly effective.
- 67% of marketing practitioners have used influencers to promote content.
- Influencer marketing by B2B companies was expected to grow 31%.
- Overall, influencer marketing is the fastest-growing way to get new customers.
From these statistics it is easy to see that influencer marketing has become a major force in customer acquisition. Even for B2B brands, the cost is made up many times over. Here’s the thing: people love to get a sense of how something works. They like to know that your company (or client) has a great product that will meet their needs at the right price. By engaging influencers, you can place a brand ahead of the pack without spending a huge amount of money. If someone the customers trust recommends something, there’s a good chance they’ll want to try it.
With that in mind, here are some ways you can implement B2B influencer marketing for your brand. Besides a description of the technique, we’ll give a few examples of how it has been used successfully. Armed with this information, you should be able to make informed decisions.
Give Away Free Product or Service
Here’s a technique that is used in B2C marketing, but works just as well with B2B companies. Giving away free products and services lets people try things risk-free. Long used as a sales technique in the form of samples to professionals or consumers, when applied to influencer marketing it means giving those samples to influencers. Here, the idea is to encourage influencers to talk about your products on their own to customers. Maybe they’ll mention the awesome software they’ve tried or show off something that was made with your equipment. Best of all, this is a relatively inexpensive way to try and generate a little buzz. Here is an example.
If you’ve ever struggled to find the right freelance talent for your job, know that freelancers also spend a lot of time looking for the perfect clients. Aegora is a company that helps freelancers and companies find each other. However, they’re also new kids on the block. So, to bring people onto their platform, Aegora did a lot of old-fashioned sales work. After about 90 days they had around 500 people on the platform, and from there they were able to attract influencers. After that, the platform was able to grow due to word-of-mouth and influencer buzz. All it took was some manpower and a free-of-charge trial of the service.
Collaborate with B2B Bloggers
Over the years, collaborating with bloggers has been one of the more traditional methods of influencer marketing. Often called “blogger outreach,” this technique encourages bloggers to talk about the products and services they use on a regular basis. Like giving things away, this is a technique that has been adapted from its B2C marketing origins.
Back a few years ago, blogs were mainly a consumer activity pursued by people who wanted to project their thoughts into the universe. It wasn’t until much later that the technique evolved into something that businesspeople would do. Now, it’s a great way to demonstrate thought leadership and exchange ideas in the business world. For that reason, blogger outreach still has some value within the B2B marketing world. In fact, major brands have deployed this approach recently.
Unlike some of the other companies we’ll talk about, American Express has two examples in one. First there was the #loveMyStore campaign. Here, American Express had a small business owner and blogger talk about the importance of accepting credit cards. Of course, these cards should include Amex. As a result of their efforts, Amex distributed over 400,000 new decals to store owners after getting 5 million impressions.
Their other influencer marketing effort centered around a blogger who travels frequently and likes to use the Centurion Lounge. In this case, the influencer talks about how having access to these lounges really helps her get through those long trips. This campaign was mainly geared towards business travelers, because they are the ones who spend the most time and money traveling. At the same time, it appealed to those who make decisions about corporate credit cards by demonstrating the value of an Amex to executives.
For both campaigns Amex did something really smart: talk about the win-win. Stores might be able to get more customers when they take American Express. After all, not everybody carries several cards, and a lot of old-fashioned travelers still carry just an Amex. With the brand ambassadors, real people are shown the perks of card membership. Hint: it’s a lot more than just getting to buy now and pay later.
Hold Events for B2B Influencer Marketing
Many of us think of “events” in business as primarily conventions and seminars. Often, they’re held by trade groups or corporate training departments and can be quite boring. However, events are also a powerful marketing opportunity. This goes far beyond just setting up a booth or paying to have your logo put on promotional materials.
If you have brand ambassadors or other influencers who love to promote your products, consider leveraging their power in events. Maybe you could sponsor a seminar featuring your product. As part of a convention, these seminars could be quite powerful. Alternatively, consider having influencers participate in product release parties. This is a highly effective technique for B2C brands as well. Some examples are below.
Among B2B brands, SAP is an influencer marketing giant. They frequently bring influencers along to either host events or speak at them. For instance, they once had an event in Germany where influencers talked about their IT-specific specialties. This was a highly successful event, because it was trending on German social media for days and people talked about it extensively.
In another example, SAP has something called the Sapphire conference, held annually in Orlando. In addition to the standard seminars and talks, SAP has a segment where they interview real users of SAP software. Many of them are influencers. Also, there’s an opportunity to chat with these influencers, both in person and online. This is a huge event, drawing a total audience of over 100,000.
General Electric (GE)
Like SAP, General Electric does a lot with events and influencers, so let’s take a look at two. First, GE decided to showcase their longstanding support of women in science. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM careers, so this is a hot button issue for feminists. So, they teamed up with Lena Dunham to talk about how awesome careers at GE are. Unlike most campaigns, this weeklong sponsored content partnership was intended to recruit new employees and humanize the company. It was reportedly very successful.
Another event they used was called #GEInstaWalk. Here, GE invited top influencers and science geeks to check out their new aviation plant in Canada, and a transportation division plant in the US. The point was to show what GE is doing and raise brand awareness. As a result of this initiative, there were 3.8 million Instagram page views and 3,000 new followers. Needless to say, the campaign was run a second time
Include B2B Influencers in Your Content
People love branded content, and they respond well to influencer marketing. As a result, the most popular way to do influencer marketing for B2B brands is including influencers in their content. This content can take a wide variety of forms. For instance, you could include people in blog posts, videos, podcasts, and much more. Here, the idea is to allow the influencers to be creative, but the content creation is primarily the responsibility of your marketing department. Alternately, you can give influencers a branded miniature website to post content, granting them much more creative license. Since this method is so popular, we have a variety of examples to discuss.
TopRank runs one of the biggest conferences in the market industry, called Content Marketing World. Most years this is a huge conference that can be a lot of fun. Due to COVID-19, they’re going to hold the conference virtually this year. However, a few years back they decided to do a huge influencer marketing push. They invited more than 40 influencers to talk about the conference. Over a short period of time, these influencers developed posts that gave beginning content marketers some advice. The content was branded and turned into blog posts, slides, and even e-books. Once distributed, these content pieces were hugely popular. Several hundred thousand people interacted with the content, and the conference was hugely successful that year. Versions of this technique have been used in subsequent years.
What makes this example unique is the sheer number of influencers used in one campaign. While conferences can be expected to have speakers participate in the marketing of a conference, TopRank went beyond the usual here. In some ways, the marketing itself became a sort of extra event. This conference is still quite popular, drawing the executives of some major marketers as speakers.
Getting sales leads is often one of the most challenging parts of being a startup or agency. However, InspireBeats is an industry leader in helping companies thrive in this area by sending outbound emails to try and set appointments. To raise awareness of their services (and prove they work) they decided to have a multi-influencer marketing campaign. This one used 10 each of podcasts, guest blog posts, and blog features. The team interviewed influencers in the same industry, offering information in exchange for their help. Meanwhile, the content was classic examples of giving out information for free.
This campaign was so successful in generating sales leads that they have continued this technique over the last few years. Leads poured in, and the content was reposted in various locations around the Web. Overall, it was a highly effective and inexpensive campaign.
A mixture of the “including influencers” technique and brand ambassadors, the Cisco Champions program is a major ongoing influencer marketing campaign. Here, influencers are invited to share their Cisco product-related expertise with viewers. Much of the content is on YouTube, but there are Twitter discussions and podcasts, as well. As with most campaigns of this type, influencers allow their brains to be picked but the content production is the responsibility of Cisco.
How successful is it? Very. Over the years, this campaign has proven to be one of the most successful in B2B marketing. Over 55,000 Tweets and many Mentions can be credited to this effort. A major achievement: having actor Bryan Cranston speak at their conference.
Within the finance industry, many people believe that AI-fueled performance management software is the wave of the future. This is especially true with complicated investments, as some concepts can be fairly difficult to understand. As one of the major software manufacturers in this space, Prophix needed to position itself as a thought leader. So, they created Penny, an AI assistant, to help people discover a website with influencer-related content. The idea was to showcase the value of AI while also leveraging the power of influencers.
This campaign was hugely effective. They experienced a 642% increase in engagement along with new influencer relationships. In other words, not only did the campaign yield impressive immediate results, but it opened the door to later influencer campaigns. Talk about a marketer’s dream!
There’s no denying that content marketing is a highly competitive industry. DivvyHQ is a software program in this space, which helps schedule content and measure its success. Hoping to edge out some competitors, DivvyHQ developed a multifaceted marketing campaign that included influencer marketing along with other modalities. The campaign was huge, including over 30 influencers in their branded content. That includes pages where influencers dish out advice with a “back to the future” theme.
As with other case studies we’ve discussed, this is a highly successful ongoing use of influencer marketing. They’ve met their KPIs and exceeded them, often within a week of each release. In addition, many new influencers have come on board to help with further campaigns. In other words, these campaigns have helped facilitate more of them for a sort of snowball effect.
Customer relations isn’t exactly something you think about in the legal industry, but Introhive is out to change this. They’ve developed a CRM software that’s specific to this specialized industry, which is somewhat remarkable given most people don’t *want* to need a lawyer. For this particular influencer marketing campaign, they developed an ebook, called a “playbook” for CRM. In this book, they present the viewpoints of several industry influencers and describe how they use the software. At the same time, this software was also presented at industry events.
Keep in mind, the legal industry is very traditional and conservative. Working with government and client affairs every day makes lawyers less likely to take risks. Not to mention the ethical issues of law practice. However, Introhive realized great results through their marketing campaign. 8% of customers reached became sales leads, and the corporate Twitter account increased its following by over 80% in the first month. At the same time, Twitter impressions increased from around 760 per day to over 12,000 in three days. Especially with the specialized nature of their product, these are stunning results.
Cherwell Software makes a program that manages service incidents in Information Technology. Since this particular industry is heavy on software tools, there’s significant competition, and Cherwell needed to stand out. So, they gathered a group of 25 influencers. In this situation, most of them were new to working with Cherwell, so lots of prep work had to be done. Then, they sent out a variety of content for these influencers to distribute, such as blogs, an ebook, and social media content.
As with many other campaigns, the effect was significant. Their ebook was widely shared, and the campaign garnered 22% of the sales leads for that period. Since brand awareness was a major goal of the marketing campaign, the level of social sharing was especially valuable. Sometimes name recognition is the most valuable thing that brands can get in a competitive market. According to company representatives, the campaign exceeded expectations significantly.
Software giant SAP did a highly successful influencer marketing campaign for their Human Resources software called Success Factors. Human Resources is one of those essential business processes that employees love to hate. One of the things that makes this program unique though is that it’s about more than just hiring, firing, benefits and payroll. Instead, the program helps employees stay focused and engaged through wellness initiatives. So, with such a unique program it’s important to not only get HR on board but help employees through software adoption.
This is where the influencer marketing came in. They were asked to talk about employee wellness issues and how to engage employees. Content took several forms, including an ebook, social media content and animations. With the support of these influencers, SAP was able to have a highly successful campaign. They blew through their goals by 272% and enjoyed a 68% conversion rate from the ebook. Furthermore, most of the ebook downloads and conversions were a direct result of influencer sharing. For any marketing campaign, these are incredible statistics. However, the extent to which the results are directly tied to the influencers is almost as stunning.
Content Marketing Institute
One of the better problems we marketers have is the large variety of conferences and other industry events we can attend each year. One of the better known conferences is called Content Marketing World, where we talk about trends in content marketing and meet new people. Wanting to increase attendance, the Content Marketing Institute decided to employ influencer marketing for their 2018 conference. Here’s how it worked.
36 different speakers were asked to contribute insights for a video game themed ebook, which you can still find on CMI’s website. In addition, they used interviews, blog posts, social media content to be shared by influencers, and email marketing. Once again the difference was significant. The conference booklet is done every year, but this time readership more than doubled, shattering expectations. Also, the blog posts were shared extensively. It is interesting that attendance numbers weren’t included in the press releases or other writeups for this promotion. However, even without that result we can see that this was a highly successful campaign.
Create a Roundup Blog Post
Since I do a lot of roundup blog posts myself, this is a favorite subject. In short, they can be done for several reasons. For one thing, the backlinks created by these posts is excellent for SEO. For another, the links encourage people to visit other websites than the one where the post was found. This allows for a lot of cross-promotion within influencer networks. From a brand perspective, this also is wonderful for boosting brand awareness. Because of this, roundup posts are very popular in B2B industries. With a little bit of effort, the blog writer can benefit heavily from influencer networks. Here, I’m going to give an example from my own blog.
This one’s a bit different from the other ones I’ve talked about here. In this case, I am the influencer who is producing the content. My contact, Codrut Turcanu writes these influencer roundup posts for a living, and I interview him for a podcast episode. Later on, I had the episode written up into a blog post. Anyway, we talk about one of Turcanu’s case studies: BuildFire.
Buildfire is a program that helps people build apps for the Appstore and Android marketplaces. Anyway, the task was to build a roundup post that leveraged influencers to market Buildfire. According to Turcanu, the results were fairly significant. 4,000 people had visited the blog post at the time of our interview, which was several years ago. In addition, there had been 1200 shares and almost 250 keywords generated. For those who don’t know, these are large numbers for a small company. In addition, blog comments and backlinks were plentiful.
By the way, you might call this case study a two-fer that demonstrates the value of roundups. I am giving you a link to that blog post, but both within the post and this one there’s a link to my interviewees website. He will probably get more leads as a result of this, and it’s a great illustration of why influencer marketing is so important.
Guest blogging is a bit of a different approach from most of the other methods we’ve talked about so far. Here, you are borrowing the influencer’s forum to reach their audience. However, you’re playing by their rules, not yours. However, this is a powerful method of B2B influencer marketing, because the more substantial content lets you be a thought leader. And, you’re doing that without having to draw people to your website to consume the content.
Personally, I am involved heavily in guest blogging: both through inviting people and posting on other influencer’s blogs. This lets me reach diverse audiences in an effort to sell my consulting services. In return however, I offer the opportunity for them to guest blog for me as well. It’s a win-win. Here are some larger companies that engage in guest blogging, and the results they’re getting.
As a tech startup, Video Fruit needed to find new customers, and fast. Their core business is coaching small businesses on how to build their email marketing lists. They also sell a range of software and other tools to help implement email marketing campaigns. With sales growing slowly, the business’ founder Bryan Harris pitched some influencers to let him write a guest blog post. He was offered the opportunity on OKDork, an established industry blog.
Harris tells us what happened next: the day of publication, his site got about four times the usual hits. This comes out as 1,086 visitors instead of the usual 285. The next day, he still got nearly 700 visits. His conversion rate was 12%. Especially for a small company, that’s a lot of extra business. Best of all, the positive effects of that exposure have endured.
One of the common challenges that companies face is seeming like a faceless corporation. The larger the company, the more likely this is to be a problem. Not only that, but if the company sells something that people often take for granted, their brand recognition can go down. Worst of all, these days large companies are often “under fire” for how they are perceived to treat their employees. In such a difficult environment, employee advocacy is often a wonderful tool for marketers. Here are some companies who have leveraged the power of employee advocacy successfully.
As a huge B2B business with over 200,000 employees, IBM has plenty of opportunity to use them as brand advocates. In fact, many IBM employees identify themselves with the brand by calling themselves “IBMers.” While this is powerful employee advocacy on its own, IBM has made concerted efforts as well. One of their methods is to promote employees as thought leaders through content marketing. Another one involves IBM Verse. Due to employees spreading the word, it gained 50,000 subscriptions within the first two weeks after launch. Think about it: that’s approximately one subscription for every four employees, in two weeks. When your employees are your besties, the sky is the limit.
Landis+Gyr is an energy company. They leveraged the power of employee advocacy effectively by having them talk about the company on social media. By showcasing their customer focus and corporate values, they were able to get a high level of engagement. Best of all, customers were educated about what the company could do for them. The net-net was a pilot program that ended up generating over 1,500 engagements, 1,800 shares, and an estimated earned media value of over $10,800.
Collaborate with B2C Brands
This tactic seems less obvious than many of the others, but it makes sense that B2B brands collaborate. For instance, there are brands that sell to both businesses and consumers. In addition, there can be “customer versions” of a product within industries. By collaborating with B2C companies, a B2B can take advantage of that brand’s connections. For instance, a beauty products company can collaborate with a woman-owned B2B. You never know who is a potential customer among them due to common interests.
Really, Microsoft is both a B2B and a B2C company because of its universal reach. In this case study, Microsoft teamed up with National Geographic to showcase women in STEM careers. As a corporate outreach program, they wanted to encourage girls to consider these career paths, since they are so underrepresented. The campaign used National Geographic photographers and their influence to show what amazing women work in these fields. On the first day, 91 million people viewed the photographs, and 3.5 million gave likes.
From all of these B2B influencer marketing examples, it is easy to see how successful influencer marketing can be. Large companies make a splash, but smaller companies get great results too. Sometimes influencers can make huge differences, especially for smaller companies. In short, if you haven’t tried these techniques you’re missing out on a lot of impact.
Hero photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash