Is Influencer Marketing B2B’s Golden Egg Opportunity?


May 16, 2017

by Carla Johnson

As much as we’d like to think we’re impartial buyers, everyone’s influenced by someone. When it comes to big-ticket purchases, it’s even more true.

B2B buyers like to think they make decisions based on research and data. But they may be the group most influenced during the buying process. It that’s the case, how can companies make an intentional effort to collaborate with the right influencers in a way that’s genuine and believable to their buyers?

Enter influencer marketing.

The first time I heard the term was from Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing at the 2014 Content2Conversion conference. He talked about how TopRank Marketing looks at influencer marketing as the cultivation of long-term relationships. Lee and his team look to co-create content with influencers, instead of asking them to promote something they had no part in creating. Co-creation generally leads to higher-quality content that’s more relevant to the influencer’s audience. It also creates buy-in for both parties, making influencers more likely to take pride in, and aggressively promote, the finished product.

Lee and his team have done some tremendous work in leading the practice of influencer marketing since I first heard him talk about it. I recently had the chance to catch up with him about how B2B marketers are using influencer marketing. Here’s what he had to say.

B2C brands have used influencer marketing for awhile. One of my favorite is Marriott’s partnership with Jacksgap for their 24 Hours in… series. Why has it taken B2B brands so long to pay attention and catch on to influencer opportunities?

That’s a great question, and I think that in many ways, B2B has been playing a game of catch-up. In TopRank Marketing’s research with Traackr and Altimeter, we found that 48% of B2C companies are mature in their work with influencers and running ongoing programs. Forty-nine percent of B2B marketers are still in the experimenting stage and only 11% run ongoing influencer programs.

Many B2B brands think of influencers only as the most famous of people. When you compare that to popular culture, there aren’t too many Kardashians in B2B. That disconnect has caused slower adoption in the past, but we’ve seen a huge increase in the past few years. This is especially true amongst B2B technology companies in their testing, evaluation and implementation of influencer programs.

I think we’ll see the influencer marketing growth trend amongst B2B companies continue this year and into the next few years.

What can B2B brands expect from using the influencer marketing approach?

Business buyers are confronted with a dizzying array of information sources and simply don’t trust branded content or advertising. With self-directed buyers pulling themselves through much of the journey with content they discover and consume, it creates a real challenge for brands that can’t break through. In addition, content creation demands and expectations for promotion continue to rise in B2B marketing departments, often without a corresponding increase in resources or budget.

When integrating influencers into marketing, and especially content marketing, B2B brands can expect to tap into deep expertise that enables them to increase the quality and quantity of content they produce. When collaborating on content with the right influencers, the resulting content will be more authentic to the buyer with extended reach through promotion by trusted and credible experts that are not the brand.

What’s the biggest hesitation you hear from B2B brands trying to decide if they should incorporate an influencer program into their marketing mix?

As consumer influencer marketing gets more media attention – good and bad – B2B brands often interpret what influencer marketing is through that lens. In other words, they see influencer marketing as paying online celebrities a lot of money to tweet, post to Instagram and Snapchat.

With that perception, influencer marketing doesn’t connect with them in a B2B context. They don’t want to pay famous online brandividuals to create content that isn’t in line with the information engagement channels or media types that B2B buyers spend their time on.

Another concern is about control over what the influencers create or say and to avoid potential issues with the FTC. While there are a handful of high-profile examples of mistakes by consumer influencers not disclosing their relationship with the brand and B2C influencer campaigns being connected to much-publicized situations like the Fyre Festival, there simply are very few, if any, examples in B2B.

B2B influencer collaborations involve far more oversight and close collaboration than the free-for-all that sometimes happens with paid consumer influencers.

For years, you’ve helped your B2B clients get up and running with influencer marketing. What lessons have you learned as it becomes more sophisticated?

Of course, the easy lesson is that popularity does not equal effectiveness.

Another is that identifying, qualifying and engaging influencers is an ongoing activity. Influence is not permanent. Brands need to monitor their group of influencers and continually evaluate who is effective and who is in a slump to make decisions about which people to engage with and for what program.

Another big lesson is mapping influencers to topical expertise that also aligns with the marketing goals of the program. You might even work with one influencer for top-of-funnel content and a different influencer for end-of-funnel content based on their expertise, reputation and ability to perform.

Being influential and behaving as an influencer are very different things. This is especially true in B2B where there are subject matter experts who are not entirely social beings or social media savvy with large, active networks. That means brands must assist those influential experts to become influencers. B2B executives are often the same way.

Working with 10 micro-influencers versus one big industry rock star can deliver substantial returns in engagement and contribution to marketing performance. Micro-influencers all have active, niche communities that engage at a much higher level than people who are professional influencers. Genuine relationships result in far higher and qualitative engagement than being famous.

Last, but I could go on and on, is that influencer marketing is not an alternative to online advertising. It’s true that some companies see big returns on engagement through influencers versus advertising alone. But when you have incredible content co-created with influencers being promoted to their networks combined with targeted advertising, it’s a huge advantage.

Emerson has developed a tremendous influencer program by partnering with Hank Green for its I love STEM program. What are some other B2B brands you see doing especially creative work in influencer marketing?

We’re actually working on some interesting influencer content projects with Oracle, SAP, Dell and LinkedIn that are pretty cool right now, especially those that include interactive content. I’ll be sharing some of them at the ANA Masters of B2B conference.

We’ve also run a longstanding B2B influencer content program over the past six years for the Content Marketing Institute and their Content Marketing World conference. That program is creative because it taps conference speakers to contribute tips and insights. We turn those short form contributions into an array of campaign assets including ebooks, blog posts, infographics, motion graphics, social content and emails that effectively promote the conference and the speakers alike. The result is more awareness and attendees for the conference, leads for the underwriting sponsor and new consulting engagements for our agency – all out of the same program.

Source: GE Aviation Instagram

But enough about the work we’re doing! Some good examples of B2B company influencer programs include:

General Electric does a great job with Instagram photos and stories to highlight products, technology and their people. In particular, GE Aviation posts some amazing photography.

If you think of your customers as influencers, Okta has done a fine job of creating a large number of customer stories, many from major brands, with a variety of content types on their corporate website.

Of course, there’s also IBM’s NewWaytoEngage Futurist program that features a fairly large number of influencers that they partner with to co-create a variety of content ranging from videos at conferences to articles published on the THINKmarketing website.

TopRank Marketing recently collaborated with Altimeter and Traackr to research influencer marketing. What are some of the key findings?

Sure, here are a few insights that I think are worth pointing out.

  • Influencer marketing is underfunded. Brands allocate an average of 10% of their marketing budget to influencer marketing. Of those surveyed, 50% allocate less than $100,000 annually.
  • However, there is room for much optimism. Fifty-five percent of marketers surveyed plan to spend more on influencer marketing in the coming For those that spend more than $250,000 annually, it jumps to 67% and even higher to 77% for those using influencer marketing technology.
  • 67% of marketers cite lead generation as a goal for their influencer marketing programs
  • 57% of marketers say influencer marketing will be integrated with all marketing activities in the next 3


a copy of the full Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing report by Brian Solis here:

Learn more from Lee Odden about Influencer Marketing and its impact on B2B marketing by registering for the ANA Masters of B2B Marketing Conference, May 31-June 2 in Chicago.

Photo credit: BigStock/Sam 2172

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.