Influencer marketing is nothing new to the consumer world. Celebrities have been hawking brands for clothing, jewelry, food, beverages, cars, cosmetics, sporting goods, luxury items and more since the 19th century. More recently, brands pay handsomely to have athletes wear their gear on the field, to place their products in the latest blockbuster films or to launch their latest designs at high-profile events and festivals.

The digital age is enhancing influencer marketing beyond celebrity endorsements, opening the door for ordinary individuals with niche interests to build a large following through blogs or social media platforms. Now, as consumer brands are allocating even more resources toward influencer marketing, B2B marketers are starting to see how this strategy can benefit their brands and help them achieve marketing goals as well.

According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, 83% of the 30,000 respondents said they trust recommendations from other individuals. Approximately 66% of these respondents said they trust online consumer reviews. This confirms that referrals and testimonials from people we know, trust or admire are among the most effective forms of marketing. In response, 75% of B2C brands are engaging in influencer outreach. These brands are projected to spend $101 billion by 2020, according to a 2017 study by the Association of National Advertisers and PQ Media.

It’s not too difficult to figure out why celebrity endorsements work. Most consumers want to emulate their favorite celebrities or use products that are considered by the masses to be popular. But individual bloggers and social media influencers aren’t necessarily celebrities. Their appeal comes from authenticity and familiarity. Readers and followers can relate to their experiences, and this creates a sense of trust.

Clearly influencer marketing is effective, so why aren’t more B2B companies adopting these strategies? Turns out, many of them are thinking about it. While only 11% of B2B companies are currently using influencer marketing, 49% are considering or experimenting with it.* As we saw during the early days of social media, it’s harder to see how a channel with such wide appeal can be leveraged for B2B, since business audiences are much more specialized in their needs than traditional consumer audiences. But influencer marketing can be effective for B2B for the same reason it works for consumer brands. Most professional services business is referral-based. In fact, more than 90% of business decision-makers rely on opinions shared via social media by industry experts and peers, according to the Harvard Business Journal.

Influencer marketing can work as effectively for B2B as it does for B2C for another reason: even if there is a narrower audience, the premise for the 1:9:90 model remains the same. In 2006, Charles Arthur of The Guardian said that “if you get a group of 100 people online, then one will create content, 10 will ‘interact’ with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.” This applies whether you’re spotlighting Coca-Cola or sharing insight on the latest legal decision, as long as you’re getting it in front of the right audiences.

Here are just a few more reasons that B2B companies should consider an influencer marketing campaign – because such a campaign:

  1. Expands reach
  2. Provides a higher ROI
  3. Improves brand awareness among target audiences
  4. Offers results that are measurable
  5. Boosts SEO
  6. Increases brand engagement through comments and shares on social media

Admittedly, it does not make sense for professional services brands to pursue an influencer marketing campaign in the same way as a consumer brand. Taking a thought leadership approach to influencer marketing is more effective. For instance, a company may work with a highly respected industry leader to publish industry blogs, co-author a trade article or co-present at an industry conference, which may then also be posted to social media platforms. Influencer management tools such as Traackr and Onalytica can help determine which industry leaders are the best fit and have the most influence.

Posting written or video customer testimonials and being purposeful about getting customers to provide online reviews may also be effective. Ultimately, B2B companies can work toward creating their own influencers by developing thought leadership content and asking colleagues to share it on social media channels such as LinkedIn or Facebook. Progress can be measured by monitoring the thought leaders Kred score, which is a site that ranks social media accounts based on their level of influence.

Just as with a B2C campaign, before engaging in any B2B influencer marketing campaign, it’s important to identify campaign goals, align with the right thought leaders and determine the appropriate metrics. Of course, engaging a strategic communications firm like Cooksey is the best way to ensure the campaign achieves its desired outcome.

*Stats provided by Michael Bouso in his article “Influencer Marketing for B2B Markets.”

Michelle Hargis
Vice President & Account Manager
michelle@cookseypr.com