Influencers have long been a fixture of the advertising and marketing industry. But while they were once used mainly to extol the virtues of trendy lifestyle and fashion brands, influencers are now playing an increasing role in the B2B sector.
Whether or not you take your fashion cues from Chiara Ferragni, live vicariously through Damon and Jo’s travelogues or look to Simeon Panda for fitness tips, they’re here to stay—young people in our midst who inspire tens of thousands, even millions, of followers on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. They earn a living by sharing their opinions, daily lives or hobbies, often backed by a powerful sponsor. Influencers discuss topics at the heart of a brand’s business, pose with expensive shoes, gush about the latest detox diet or offer a peek into what it’s like to drive across Finland in a new MercedesBenz GClass. It’s what they do, cheered on by an enthusiastic community of followers. According to the agency Territory Influence, there are over four million influencers in Europe. Many of them have carved out a constant presence in our lives, their bookmarked sites stored on our smartphones next to contact information for family, friends and colleagues. Their videos and blogs vie for our attention along with sports, business and political sites. And push notifications ensure that we’re always in the know. A survey by the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW) found that one in six internet users aged between 14 and 29 has purchased a product presented by an influencer.
FROM B2C TO B2B.
The influencer trend shows no signs of abating. The German Association for Influencer Marketing (BVIM), founded in 2017, estimates that Germany’s advertising industry spends several tens of millions of euros on influencers—and this figure is increasing. Invitations, discounts, gifts and additional fees abound for influencers interested in working with sponsors. This marketing strategy has up until now generally targeted younger private consumers. But as business relationships take on an increasingly important role, the global online market for B2B influencers is catching up to B2C. It is even projected to become one of the largest growth areas outright in the coming years. Companies must therefore find a way to build a solid reputation within these echo chambers, using the right channels. Top influencer rankings such as the one published by Forbes show that influencer marketing has long outgrown its beginnings promoting beauty, fashion and fitness trends. It now touches everything from home living, design and travel to entertainment, parenting and technology. The influencer industry is becoming more and more professional, and it’s not averse to taking on niche topics as well.
AUDIENCE REACH ISN’T EVERYTHING.
Rather than beauty and charisma, the assets flaunted by B2B influencers are proven expertise and experience in their field. These influencers include industry analysts, scientists or opinion leaders such as renowned speakers, authors or bloggers. Their topics and products require much more explanation than, say, a high-end lipstick. And their target audiences are much more interested in solid arguments than ephemeral impressions. They purposely build their reach around a specific topic in order to make a name for themselves within the right professional circles. In the B2B arena, value is placed as much on high-quality contacts as on the influencer’s reputation and trustworthiness. They persuade by appealing to rationality and facts rather than emotion. After all, B2B influencers understand not only the needs and trending topics within their communities, but also the issues and challenges facing their peers. They use this to achieve lasting credibility, develop new target groups and address topics that raise their profile. By contrast, increasing sales is not high on their list of priorities, according to a survey conducted by the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.
TAPPING INTO NETWORKS.
The real prize is access to influencers’ specific networks, such as LinkedIn followers or Xing groups. Both of these career-building platforms are becoming popular forums for exchanging knowledge, enabling members to post their own articles and position themselves as experts. LinkedIn calls these influencers their Top Voices. An algorithm looks at how often a member’s articles, posts and videos are liked, shared and commented on, and how this ultimately impacts the size of their virtual following over a specific period of time. Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZero Media, Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, and Sallie Krawcheck, the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, all ranked among LinkedIn’s Top Voices for 2017. While not exactly household names, these are prominent individuals in their respective fields. This can lead to genuine encounters with them during interviews for a specialist magazine, for example, or at conferences to which they were invited by popular demand.
PROMOTING TOPICS, NOT BRANDS.
Employees can be effective B2B influencers, too, as they are experts in their fields and also masters of networking. More and more companies are looking to recruit brand ambassadors from within their own ranks. In addition to putting a face to the brand, employees are able to embody values credibly, convey enthusiasm for what they do and appeal to potential job candidates. They have a knack for communicating genuine excitement, as opposed to simply regurgitating canned messages and marketing-speak. In general, B2B influencers truly believe in their cause, thereby upping their persuasiveness. IBM, Bosch and Daimler give volunteers within their own workforce—whether rank-and-file workers, department heads or top executives—what they need to disseminate their knowledge through various channels. These bloggers and subject-matter experts are taught how to create content and interact with people on social media. Authentic, personal insight into their chosen topics is the name of the game. That’s because both audiences and influencers themselves gravitate above all to interesting, engaging content.
NEW EPISODE IN THE WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING.
B2C and even B2B influencers are just another step in the evolution of advertising and marketing. They’re not reallyanything new. After all, people have been hawking products and services for ages. Think of market criers, vacuum salesmen and product endorsements. George Clooney gave Nespresso a touch of glamour while Nike harnessed Michael Jordan’s fame and success to boost its own brand. But actors and athletes sometimes lack credibility, and their own celebrity can even overshadow the product they’re meant to sell. Influencers are—or at least seem—more trustworthy in their recommendations. In B2B circles, this effect can be magnified when meaningful expertise is shared, winning over audiences using concrete knowledge.