I’ll be honest: Of all the latest content marketing trends to enter the scene over the past five years, influencer marketing is the one I’ve grown most passionate about. Prior to joining Content4Demand, I was an editor and writer for our sister brand, Retail TouchPoints. I took a liking to social media marketing, and it soon became one of my beats. I spent hours delving into the social strategies of some of the top brands and retailers and began to analyze how these organizations were using influencers to maximize word of mouth, cultivate communities and, of course, generate sales.
Imagine my surprise when the trend began to pick up steam in the B2B world. I soon picked it up as my passion project, immersing myself into analyst reports, third-party research and case studies to determine how peers and social communities impacted content consumption and buying behaviors. I began to wonder: Do influencers have a place in B2B? Would they not only drive content downloads and engagement, but ultimately spur long-term engagement? Is there a way to use influencers strategically and incorporate them into a more holistic marketing strategy?
Within that time, we’ve seen some B2B brands incorporate influencers into several facets of their marketing strategy. At Content4Demand, we’ve even helped some of our clients develop influencer campaigns. But has B2B influencer marketing reached a tipping point? Have B2B brands formalized their strategies and successfully embedded influencer strategy into their marketing plans and investments?
TopRank Marketing and Traackr investigated to better understand the current state, and inevitable future, of influencer marketing. To add further commentary and perspective to the final research report, the companies onboarded one of my favorite analysts, Brian Solis of Altimeter Group. (If you don’t know him, do a quick search and take some time to get lost in his articles and videos. He’s the man.)
The resulting report uncovers some interesting realities about influencer marketing:
- B2B brands are still trying to figure out what works: Influencer marketing is still a relatively new concept in the marketing world; however, it’s clear that B2C brands are significantly more mature in their efforts. Reminiscent of the celebrity endorsements of yesteryear, B2C brands are using YouTube stars, bloggers and even reality stars to give their brands and products more legs. Compared to their B2B counterparts, they’re creating more ongoing and campaign-driven programs. Conversely, nearly half (49%) of B2B brands are still experimenting
- There’s no clear leader in influencer strategy: A core takeaway from the report is that if brands want to scale their influencer relations, they need to put the time and effort into building and sustaining relationships. However, survey results reveal that there is no clear leader who owns influencer marketing or spearheads these efforts. In fact, most respondents said the marketing department owns influencer marketing, while PR is more likely to engage with influencers.
- B2B marketers aren’t seeing the big picture: Nearly half (48%) of B2C influencer marketing programs are ongoing. That means they’re not just one-and-done campaigns. These marketers are thinking long term about how they can build relationships with influencers and sprinkle them into campaigns for the foreseeable future. This is a stark contrast from the B2B world, where only 11% are running ongoing influencer programs. I think a part of this aligns with the fact that many brands are still experimenting with influencers to see whether involving these outside parties is valuable for their brand. After all, you don’t want to invest the time, money and effort in a tactic that doesn’t resonate with your audience. I’m hoping as brands run more test campaigns, they’ll soon see the big picture of influencer marketing and will find creative ways to tie these experts into their long-term strategies.
- Influencer marketing will soon be integrated into all facets of marketing: As I noted earlier, successful influencer marketing is strategic and holistic. It’s not just about using influencers for the sake of using influencers; you need to ensure their involvement adds value to the conversation and that you incorporate them into several facets of your campaign. Many organizations agree: 57% believe influencer marketing will be integrated in all marketing activities in three years. This creates even more pressure for marketers to test, learn and determine how they can be more strategic about their influencer outreach and engagement.
Over the next year, I’m sure we’ll see influencer marketing evolve even more. I’m excited to see how B2B brands continue to embrace analysts, experts and thought leaders to create more compelling content and campaigns.
Does your organization sustain relationships with industry influencers? Have you seen success with influencer marketing? Share your story in the comments section below!