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June 22, 2017

Does Influencer Marketing Really Work for B2B Tech?

Mark Schaefer, an influencer in his own right, looks at Influencer Marketing - something that is currently all the rage for consumer-facing brands, but does it work in the high tech sector?

By Ellie Burns

Influencer marketing is all the rage for consumer-facing brands, but does it work in the high tech sector? It’s a question that has come up in many conversations I’ve had with CMOs over the last few years.

Mark W. Schaefer is a globally-recognized author, speaker, podcaster, and business consultant who blogs at one of the top five marketing blogs of the world. He teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University and has written six best-selling books. His many global clients include Pfizer, Cisco, Dell, Adidas, and the US Air Force.

If you’ve asked this question, you’re not alone. A report by Altimeter, Influence 2.0, published in January 2017, revealed that almost half of B2B organizations surveyed are in the experimenting phase of influencer marketing, while more than half of their B2C counterparts have established programs in place.

To understand the dynamics for B2B organizations, I partnered with Traackr, an influencer relationship management platform, to interview 10 influencer marketing experts who are pioneering the practice within the most recognizable business technology brands.

Our findings are presented in The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology, which uncovers six paradigm shifts emerging within the marketing departments at Intel, Dell, IBM, HPE, Microsoft, Samsung and more.

In our candid conversations, we learned about the unique challenges B2B organizations face when implementing influencer marketing, and what it takes to succeed. What may surprise you most is that these forward-thinking experts are not asking themselves if influencer marketing works for B2B; they actually see it as a significant strategic lever.

The Case for Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology

For today’s new breed of technology buyers, companies may be seen as cold and detached but their favorite online experts are trusted friends. As buyers, we ignore ads, but we’ll subscribe to all of the content from our favorite influencer.

However, the easy button for content marketing is dead. The economic value of content marketing does not come from content alone. It comes from the transmission of content. Which is why the influencers companies seek to work with, achieved their positions as influential because of their ability to transmit content and, in B2B in particular, their expertise, to an engaged community.

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In response to these challenges and opportunities, influencer marketing has become a beacon of light, but it does require a new mentality to properly execute.

What the Practitioners Say About B2B Influencer Marketing

Establish a Fair Value Exchange

The goal between a company and an influencer should be to establish a fair value exchange. In the paper, Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner at IBM explains, “The influencer has worked hard to build a powerful personal brand, and they put that at risk every time they put their name out there. So, if an influencer becomes a celebrity and endorses anything that moves for money, that personal brand won’t last very long in the B2B environment.”

It’s critical to align both influencer and company values in order to deliver a meaningful program that authentically resonates with your buyers. Our 10 experts all agreed that for B2B influencer marketing to succeed, your organization has to learn to put promotion on the back burner and lead with purpose.

Spend More Time Building Long-Term Relationships

To avoid a false start with your influencer marketing program, avoid the easy notion of compensating an influencer to talk about your brand. Begin with identifying and nurturing influencer relationships. The business deal will arise naturally.

“Our intention is to never have an influencer sell,” explains Konstanze Alex-Brown, Global Digital Communications at Dell in the paper. “Never. And that is supported all the way through our culture. Yes of course there is a temptation to want an influencer to say ‘buy this or that,’ but our team is very clear from the beginning that we will never expect that in the relationship.”

Answering the Billion-Dollar Question: Does Influencer Marketing Really Work?      

When integrated throughout the B2B organization, influencer marketing can move many needles within a B2B organization. Our 10 experts collectively explained how the practice impacts everything from brand awareness, R&D, SEO, competitive advantage; and, yes, revenue.

“Influencer marketing is becoming a much more sophisticated discipline within the marketing department,” said Amisha Gandhi, Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP. “We know that programs and content typically typically generate 2 – 4x greater return than if we were to run that same campaign without an influencer partnership.”

Influencer marketing works. According to the experts featured in The Rise of Influencer Marketing in B2B Technology, you just have to start somewhere. Put a stake in the ground, define KPIs tied to business objectives, and refine as you go.

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