Traditionally seen as the preserve of B2C marketing, influencers are now an integral part of the B2B marketer’s armoury. The good news is you may already have them in your contacts folder

Think influencer campaign and what springs to mind? Shiny-haired celebs selling suspiciously expensive herbal teas? Insta-posts with strings of increasingly meaningless hashtags? Unboxing videos of, well, anything. The sort of tactic that, arguably, has a home in consumer marketing – but not in the more serious realm of B2B.

This sort of thinking, though, means that agencies (and their clients) are missing a powerful weapon in their strategic armoury.

In truth, it might be easier and more helpful for the B2B mindset if we swap out the word ‘influencers’ for ‘experts’, ‘thought leaders’, ‘journalists’ or even ‘significant employees’. It would be surprising if a CMO hadn’t already engaged the services of some or all of these groups to help add authority and credibility to a specialist topic. 

Rahul Titus, head of influence at Ogilvy, points out that influence exists on a spectrum and that anyone who has the power to influence an audience (be it B2B or B2C) should be on it.

“They might have different terminology – advocates, talent, celebrities, influencers – but the outcome is always the power to influence,” he says. “I believe in outcome-based measurement. Outcomes over output. Likes, shares and engagement metrics in general are important, but what CMOs care about most is the business impact – be it sales, change in perception or brand uplift. This is absolutely measurable in influencer marketing if you know what you are looking for.”

Power from within  

It’s important to look within your organisation too. Because employees know more about a business’s services and solutions than anyone else – and their brand advocacy can deliver significant results.

“I think within every organisation there will be a future or existing micro influencer,” says Catherine Maskell, MD of the Content Marketing Association. “This is someone that will already know brand values and tone of voice, so the room for error is somewhat reduced.”

Satisfied customers, too, can be slotted into an influencer spectrum. As we know, there are few things more powerful to a potential customer than a compelling case study or positive review from a current client.

But what happens if your business is perceived as struggling to recognise market factors and keep up with the future of the industry? This is where the organisation can lean on influencers within the industry and outside of the business to elevate the brand’s position on a certain topic.

For example, when Vodafone Business wanted to lead the conversation around business transformation and the new digital landscape, Ogilvy immediately looked to influencers to drive this conversation. Using specialist tools, hundreds of influencer profiles were analysed to discover futurists, academics and thought leaders that expressed strong opinions around the topic and would resonate with the audience. The result: Vodafone Vantage Point. A round table webinar discussion with specialists that provided valuable industry insights which the target audience could digest and debate with their peers. 

Sharing this content through the influencers’ networks not only brought the campaign valuable reach on social but also ignited fresh thinking. Crucially it also showed Vodafone in a new light as a thought leader and fast tracked their right to speak on a subject area that previously they had little traction within.

Finding your influencer

Identifying your influencer and interrogating their credentials is crucial, says Titus.

“You have to vet the influencer for authenticity. Are they genuinely one of the most trusted authorities on this topic?”

Maskell agrees, adding: “I’d also check out their history, both visual and verbal, as those can hide ‘hidden gems’ which may lead you to some difficult conversations with your existing customer base too.”

When you get it right though, an influencer can help to shape the perception of an industry – and even positively affect analyst and investor views of a client’s share price. Ogilvy’s thought leadership work with satcom and inflight connectivity provider Inmarsat Aviation, for example, saw the agency compile the first of three year-long reports in conjunction with the London School of Economics. The report author, Alexander Grous – renowned for his research into the tech and travel sectors – provided Inmarsat with an extensive and well-received white paper which outlined the financial benefits to airlines of using satcom-enabled inflight broadband on their aircraft.

The report – Sky High Economics – repositioned inflight connectivity as a value-generator for airlines, not a cost. It established Inmarsat’s credibility within the specialist and sceptical aviation sector, and sparked new conversations with customers. And its credibility was such that the findings were independently ratified by analysts at Deutsche Bank in a note to investors.

So influencers come in many guises, and you may already be working with them in some capacity. From LinkedIn contacts to trade press journalists to industry bloggers, there is a host of options to pursue. So identify who’s right for you, get in touch with them (or use your agency’s influence team to set things up) and begin your influencer journey. Your secret strategic weapon is ready to be deployed.

Richard Willett, B2B online marketing manager at Oglivy, also contributed to this article. Read the original piece published in B2B Marketing here.