Communication between brands and buyers used to be one way: companies advertised and people bought, and that used to be the end of it. However, social media has dramatically changed the rhetoric, putting people in the front row of such engagements. One group, in particular, has achieved such a tremendous influence over other people’s decisions that they have become very hard to ignore. Unsurprisingly, these individuals have been dubbed “influencers.” These key players have gained a large following by reviewing, commenting on, and writing about products and services, occasionally touting an assortment of different wares for themselves and others. Their success often stems from frivolous, entertaining posts, but their business is more than serious. For consumers, influencers have become virtual friends and trusted advisers, and for brands and advertisers, a hot commodity that can be leveraged to promote their products to the millennial and Gen Z populace. These two groups combined, according to Bain & Company, will be responsible for 70% of the $350B in global spending by 2025. It’s common knowledge that people are more likely to take action based on the advice of their peers, and B2B is no exception.
The creator economy is a software-facilitated economy that allows individual creators, curators, and community builders to earn a living from their creative endeavors. Examples of software platforms that help creators showcase and monetize their hobbies include YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch, Spotify, Substack, and Patreon.
Creators with a large following and an ability to affect the purchasing decisions of others are called influencers. While there are many ways for creators to earn online, in most cases, their income, which is shared with the platforms they use, is based on the content they create or the subscriptions people buy to access such content. Creators often have an alluring appeal because of their girl-next-door feel, which seems more authentic to the younger generation, who is a primary consumer of software-facilitated content. The best influencers have the means and skills to repackage any brand’s message to what might be more congenial and agreeable to the influencer’s own voice and their followers’ tastes.
Despite the flippant nature and easy feel of their videos, some influencers heavily invest in the production process. The end product, some 20-second video, is often the result of relentless work and countless hours behind the scenes that have included script writers, video editors, lighting specialists, directors, and high-end equipment. It’s worth every penny, according to statistics. Li Jiaqi, aka Lipstick King, along with his fellow influencer Viya, chalked up 250M views during a 12-hour streaming session ahead of Singles’ Day when they touted a potpourri of trinkets worth $3B.
Currently, the market for the creator economy is estimated at about $100B, and is predicted to reach $4T within five years. As mentioned, the greatest driver behind the trend is a younger generation, particularly Gen Z, who is expected to become the most powerful demographic in terms of purchasing power in the coming years. In fact, by 2030, this generation will actually surpass millennials in their spending power. It’s important to note that nine out of ten Gen Zers live in emerging markets, and a fifth are from India. It’s particularly significant to pay attention to this fact for B2C brands looking for ways to expand their market reach and cater to this growing demographic. At a minimum, they must account for different cultural perspectives and accommodate local payment methods and currencies.
A closer look at statistics coming from China, where influencing gained prominence earlier than in the West, reveals that the creator economy contributed $210B to the overall Chinese economy in 2020, which was roughly 1.4% of GDP, according to The Economist. In an attempt to catch up, 75% of American marketers say they’ll be spending a significant part of their budget on influencers in 2022. According to Insider Intelligence, influencer spending is expected to surpass $4B, an increase of 12% compared to the previous year. Research and Markets, an analytics firm, estimates that the mediators behind influencer-related services made $10B in revenue globally in 2021, signaling a trending demand for such services.
There are a myriad of ways creators can make money from their content: by partnering with brands, selling merchandise, advertising products and services, and receiving donations, among other things. Out of all these revenue streams, brand partnerships are the most important, since they generate the biggest revenue for both creators and the platforms on which they operate. According to various estimates, advertising, in turn, generates about 10% of influencers’ income. Each platform accumulates a balance for its creators, then pays them in what is commonly referred to as “mass payouts,” which can happen once per day or week depending on the platform and its contract with creators.
At the same time, the relatively low cost of the production process, along with the influencers’ following, translates into significant value for the brands. Since the actual worth is difficult to estimate, executives often look to special analytic companies that promise to track the campaign’s visibility across online platforms. The number of such firms rose by 25% in 2021 to 19,000. One of the parameters these businesses use to determine how much a brand needs to spend to achieve a given degree of exposure is “media impact value”’ (or “miv”), a marker indicative of the expected return from a marketing campaign. Using this measure, Chiara Ferragni, an Italian with 27M Instagram followers, generated a total of $36M in miv for brands, including Dior, Prada, Lancôme, and Alberta Ferretti, according to The Economist.
Of course, influencing presents its unique challenges; especially so for brands that have previously relied on exclusivity and price discipline. Influencer-led campaigns by Louis Vuitton and Gucci in China faced acute criticism for cheapening their brand. Moreover, influencers can become expensive, even if the common perception is that influencing is a cheaper investment than traditional advertising. Lipstick King’s live-streaming success has fueled his demands to such an extent that if a campaign fails to be a success, a brand’s profits completely erode. There are also indirect costs and challenges associated with attracting influencers. First, individuals are harder to control than paid actors, which has prompted many brands to include “good behavior” clauses in their contracts. Even so, influencers’ unpredictable behavior and untoward antics can run up quite a tab. Secondly, and this is especially true for China, authorities can occasionally clamp down on the tech sector and influencers, in particular, which makes brands wary of making more contracts with Internet personas.
Influencer marketing, which according to HubSpot’s 2022 Marketing Industry Trends report was the top marketing strategy, is a field of marketing that focuses on using key trendsetters to showcase a brand’s messaging to a wider audience. Rather than selling directly to a target group, companies inspire, hire, and pay market influencers to promote their products or services. For a B2B influencing marketing campaign to be successful, brands should not only adopt the approaches already established in B2C, but also explore and use innovative ways to attract experts with deep industry knowledge who can influence corporate buyer behavior. It’s important to note that, while the results of a B2C influencing campaign can be seen relatively quickly, B2B influencer marketing campaigns require longer to take off, as the B2B shopping journey is much more complex and includes more decision-makers.
According to Influencer Hub, companies make $5.20 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing. In fact, a Nielsen study with TapInfluence revealed even better numbers — 11 times the ROI compared to traditional advertising. Now, that makes influencing a very good investment. Apart from the obvious impact on the bottom line, influencers offer B2B companies other advantages:
- A unique point of view that resonates with the brand’s target audience;
- Original thought leadership that makes the brand more visible by proxy;
- Access to closed professional networks;
- Authentic credibility that instills confidence and solidifies trust in the brand; and
- Information about customers’ pain points and expectations.
To get a better idea of what B2B influencing implies, we provide a few examples of B2B influencer marketing campaigns below.
- Guest blogging
Guest blogging is one of the most traditional and effective forms of B2B marketing. By sharing your content on expert blogs and encouraging thought leaders to publish original content on your publishing platform, you have a better chance of not only reaching the desired audience, but also increasing both the visibility and credibility of your publication and brand.
Podcasting is an incredibly powerful tool that can spearhead a campaign by hyper-targeting your audience. Not only is it a great branding instrument, but it also creates value for listeners who can learn more about a subject related to their interests. Reach out to your favorite podcasters with a unique angle on a specific issue in your industry. Rather than sell something openly (although that’s also a good strategy if you sponsor a podcast), give valuable insights and educate the audience about your brand, your industry, or the market.
3. Event management
Business people are far more likely to engage in physical functions such as conferences, meet-ups, trade shows, conventions, and so on. Even during the pandemic, these events went online so business leaders could continue their discussions in a digital format. During business meetings of this sort, B2B influencers present their products or services, talk about challenges and opportunities in their respective industries, and engage in productive discussions with the audience. Such events often look to sponsors, experts, presenters, and others for help with engaging, which can give more visibility to your brand and open up fantastic new opportunities for expanding your network of professionals and decision-makers.
4. Employee advocacy
The underlying principle is that your employees know your products best. Not only have they helped to create these products, but they are also responsible for selling them. Thus, it is a shame if you don’t incorporate their status to influence your prospective buyers. Some of your employees might have a large online following already, which can be successfully leveraged in your campaigns. By posting custom tweets or sharing their thoughts on professional networks such as LinkedIn, your employees can help spread the word about your brand’s innovative spirit, company culture, dedication to social issues, and sustainability.
5. Leveraging existing customers
Businesses trust the opinion and experience of other businesses, especially in the same field or industry. So if you can promote your brand by sharing your customers’ evaluations, these testimonials will certainly add more credibility. Since potential shoppers are always on the lookout for reviews and recommendations from their peers, existing customers can influence your target market. Ask your customers for help preparing case studies or creating compelling videos in which they share their success stories or the challenges your brand helped them overcome. Such validations are a great way to bias potential customers in your favor.
To reach the targeted business audience, brands need to find the right influencers. To successfully accomplish this task, it’s important to thoroughly understand the B2B buyers you’re looking to attract. One way to do so is to create an in-depth profile of your target customer or a B2B buyer persona. Once you’ve created such a profile, research those buyers and their businesses further. Look at what websites they visit, what events they participate in, which trade organizations they hold memberships in, whom they interact with on social media, and so on. Collecting this data will enable you to better understand the kind of content you need to create and which events and influencers you can reach out to in order to make a favorable impact.
There are also countless tools and databases on the market that you can use to find potential influencers and thought leaders, such as:
- Heepsy — One of the largest databases with 7 million influencers;
- The Room — Best for agencies, charities, and startups; and
- Fourstarzz Media — Best for small and medium-sized businesses.
Once you’ve found the right influencers, execute your strategy. There are a few essential components of a strategic influencer initiative:
- A content campaign directed at a very specific target audience and market;
- A secondary push that drives greater brand awareness to a larger following; and
- Key metrics that measure the success of your campaigns.
Finally, track specific performance benchmarks metrics, evaluate their impact, test different angles in a strategy, reach out to potential buyers for feedback, and repeat if necessary.
Even though it is difficult to know the impact your blog post, podcast, or social media message has on a company’s buying decisions, influencer marketing is a fantastic tool that can ultimately change your relationship with buyers and greatly impact key decision-makers to choose your business over the competition.
Author: Marina Conquest
Technical author and e-commerce advocate