The Dos and Don'ts of B2B Influencer Marketing

Much of the marketing industry is confidently familiar with, if not incredibly well-versed in, influencer marketing. The home-grown celebrity touting praise for trending products is present in the social feeds of countless, and their reach and power to persuade has gone unnoticed by few.

Beyond increasing brand authenticity and building trust with consumers, influencers offer a solution to some of the most notable digital marketing challenges and opportunities today. With tweaks and adjustments to social media algorithms, brands are experiencing a noticeable dip in their organic reach across popular platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The rising cost of digital advertising and increasing use of ad blockers also have added barriers to the communication flow between brands and their buyers. Influencers create a new path to communicate and connect with consumers despite these digital advertising challenges.

Though many have come to understand influencers through the lens of B2C marketing, in his CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing, Lee Odden suggests that the B2B marketplace has an opportunity to improve upon the strategy of engaging influencers and to reap the same benefits of their consumer-facing counterparts.

In the Guide, Odden highlights challenges B2C influencer marketing is confronting as pitfalls for B2B marketing professionals to avoid. He urges B2B marketers to stay mindful of cultivating a culture of opportunistic influencers. In the B2C space, concerns surrounding influencer legitimacy and the authenticity of their networks has diminished the perceived value of insights shared by genuine influencers.

To support a better culture in B2B influencer marketing, Odden advises against treating your influencers as a mere advertising distribution channel or approaching your relationships with influencers as transactional engagements. Influencer marketing should be a collaborative endeavor, with companies investing time and energy into helping influencers pursue their personal goals, just as influencers are helping companies achieve theirs.

Clarifying key differences between B2C and B2B influencer marketing, Odden explains that longer sales journeys, larger purchase decisions and decision-making committees that consist of more than one person change the way B2B marketers should collaboratively create content with their influencers. He emphasizes the subject matter expertise of B2B influencers as a key skill set to leverage in influencer marketing. Understanding this unique value B2B influencers bring to the table should also inform how B2B marketers strategize returning value to their influencers. An ideal way to structure relationships between B2B influencers and the brands they support is to position B2B influencer marketing as an opportunity to raise awareness among a brand's and a B2B influencer's mutual audience.

As Odden said in his Guide, “Pay an influencer and they’ll be your friend for the day. Help someone become more influential and they’ll be an advocate and friend for life.” B2B influencer marketing abounds with opportunity if you know the mistakes to avoid and best practices to abide by. Lee Odden's CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing is a great place to start learning.

What Exactly is Advocate Marketing? - Thoughts from Referential's Ryan Quackenbush

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Dudley Field Malone, someone you don’t need to know anything about, once said that one good analogy is worth three hours of discussion; I think many of us probably had a professor or two in school that could have benefited from this approach.

Along the line of analogies, if you’re like me, you’re always looking for a brief, simple way to explain otherwise complicated topics. I struggled with this in my past, working for highly complicated cloud-native software organizations, when my Grandmother would ask me what my companies did. “We work in computers, Gram,” I’d say.

The conversations would inevitably turn to a topic she was more interested about anyway: me, her loving grandson. She’d ask me something like “what exactly do you do?” My response, of course, is that I worked in advocate and customer-centric marketing. It’s at this point that I’m sure you’re picturing my loving grandmother’s eyes glazing over with confusion. You wouldn’t be wrong. If you tell someone you work in marketing, they generally understand what you do. But if you add the modifier “customer advocacy” to the term, suddenly, it’s like you’re speaking in Greek.

“What exactly is advocate marketing, Ryan?” She’d ask me.

Truth be told, it’s pretty simple.

“Think about it this, way, Gram,” I’d say. “I’ll give you a few different scenarios. Let’s say there’s a brand-new restaurant that opened up across town. You’re reading the Sunday paper, and in the middle of an article you’re reading is an ad that says ‘New Restaurant- best steaks!’ You kind of register that, you might check it out sometime.”

She nods, and I move on.

“Ok, second scenario - you’re watching the hockey game tonight,” (true fact: my gram loves watching hockey, but doesn’t care about teams), “and during a commercial break, an ad comes on for this new restaurant. They take you inside, show you food being put on tables, maybe the owner says ‘Come on down’ or something to that effect, and it’s over, and you sit through a few more minutes of ads before the game comes back on.”

Once again, she nods, patiently waiting for me to get to the point.

“Last scenario - Aunt Phil calls you, or I do, or your old co-worker Gene. Or maybe someone next to you in line sees the paper you’re reading, recognizes the steakhouse in the ad and says to you ‘Oh, I’ve been there - I really enjoyed the food they provide!’ I ask you this - which of those three scenarios is going to make you that much more interested in going to the new steakhouse?”

My grandmother responds that obviously the third, as familiarity with the product and personal experience is much more valuable than simply reading or seeing an ad.

“That, gram, is pretty much what I do!”

Advocacy is about building relationships, establishing trust, and enabling your existing customer base to get out and market – or advocate – for you, on your behalf. Most times, it’s a bit more strategic than a stranger looking over your shoulder in a checkout line.

At Referential Inc., we take our collective experience as a team to build our clients fully fledged reference and advocacy programs from the ground up. My restaurant analogy doesn’t take into account overseeing program goals, providing detailed reports and metrics or implementing launch plans, but at Referential Inc., expertise in these and other core aspects of advocacy program management drive our approach and service delivery.

At the end of my analogy, my grandmother responded by stating that it “sounds like what you do is very important to the company.”

An effective advocacy program truly is.

Customer Experience: A Bandwagon Worth Joining

Customer experience is on everyone's mind and for good reason. According to nearly three-quarters of the more than 8,000 consumers surveyed for Salesforce's third edition of the State of the Connected Customer report, an exceptional customer experience with one company raises their expectations of other companies.

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Today, experience with a company is as important to consumers as the quality of product or service they purchase from an organization. In the age of consumer empowerment, customers' new-found agency in the marketplace is driving a demand for ethical, trustworthy brands that build customer relationships founded on personalization, timeliness and connectivity.

The key takeaways from the report revealed that those organizations that excel at customer experience are proactive about customer needs and interests; they anticipate when a consumer might be interested in trying a new product version or be in need of assistance and deliver support before the customer asks for it. They also meet their customers where they are, offering a variety of ways for consumers to connect with a company through platforms like phone support, social media, websites and smartphone apps.

Lastly, organizations meeting the customer experience expectation listen to their consumers, document those interactions and share them broadly across the organization so that no matter which department a customer engages with, they're always speaking to a company representative that has a complete, up-to-date record of the customer's relationship with the company.

How can companies deliver on the increasing customer experience expectations of consumers? One discovery the report made was that consumers expect companies to leverage emerging technology like AI to improve customer engagement.

For those eager to "hop on the customer experience bandwagon" and meet new expectations of consumers, implementing an innovative customer engagement strategy should be followed by careful measurement of the approach's success. In the report's key findings article, recommendations are made for evaluating the effectiveness of a customer experience strategy from a variety of vantage points.

For marketers, measuring client lifetime value can provide invaluable insight on how effectively you're engaging customers. Sales teams shouldn't forsake the value of tracking customer retention as it can often indicate how satisfied a consumer base is with their relationship with your company. From a company-wide perspective, analyzing the effectiveness of cross-functional collaboration can also be a key indicator of how well-positioned your organization is to deliver on today's customer experience expectation.

The report shares many thought provoking discoveries that are worth a read. Is customer experience top-of-mind for you and your team? How do you provide meaningful engagement to your customers?

A Foundation in Trust - Thoughts from Referential's Ryan Quackenbush

Advocacy is all about establishing and nurturing relationships. At Referential, we help our customers build trust and lasting engagements with their existing customer base in order to foster mutually beneficial interactions. Collectively, we have decades’ worth of experience on our team to determine the best course of action for any given situation.

It’s with this as the backdrop that I’d like to tell you a little bit about my first week working here.

Whenever you start a new job, there’s always a level of tension and nerves. You go over scenarios in your head, maybe shop for some new clothes to wear in the “business casual” office, and keep your fingers crossed that you get along with your co-workers. I’m based out of upstate New York, but I went over the above in detail as I flew across the country to San Jose for my first week at Referential, Inc. 

I arrived at the airport fairly early, and upon landing received a message from Helen, my new boss. The text was an enthusiastic “Welcome!” accompanied by a grinning picture of her and two other recently arrived remote employees.

 
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It was the start to a truly immersive first-week experience, unlike any I’d ever been through before nor expect to partake in again. I sent along an appropriate and timely response:

Several other members of the global team and I were picked up by Helen and promptly whisked away to her home for the week – literally. After all, the best way to establish rapport and a relationship with someone is through close interaction; this week proved to be a quick study, in that regard.

Each evening, after working and commuting to the office together, our gracious hosts Helen and David prepared dinner for us, and we would gather around the dining room table to talk about

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work and our lives away from Referential. We all speak the language of Customer Advocacy of course but very quickly reached common ground on topics that touched on family, art, music,sports and even politics.

After dessert, we’d move to the lounge for a glass of wine and a few laughs. Quickly, I came to enjoy this most of all, as those that began as strangers quickly became my friends and trusted associates. It also helps that, for the most part, they laughed at my jokes!

Advocacy is, again, all about the establishment and nurturing of a relationship. My hosts for the week certainly walk the walk, as the kinship I sensed between my new team was readily apparent to all. I look forward to learning more as a Referential employee, and I’m grateful to join a team equipped and enthusiastic about teaching.

The Good Guys Triumph - Thoughts From Referential's David Feber

One of our primary goals as a champion of ‘all-things-advocacy’ is to make our clients, and in turn, their own clients, look like heroes. Creating award nominations – be it for a specific person, a product, or even for an entire company – is one of the most rewarding of the many advocacy-related activities Referential gets involved with. The task is all the more fulfilling when we have the opportunity of showcasing the achievements of someone that both really deserves to be recognized and who is just a great person to work with.

We had this experience with Dr. Stefan Lüders, the Chief Security Officer of CERN, the Geneva-based home of the Large Hadron Collider - the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Our team did an onsite video session with Stefan last year and was immediately taken with his expertise, personality and immensely pragmatic approach to securing the vast and complex CERN infrastructure. Fast-forward a few months, and we had the opportunity through one of our clients to select and nominate Stefan for the much-coveted SC Magazine “CISO of the Year” award…… and he won!

Dr. Stefan Lüders, the Chief Security Officer of CERN, accepting SC Magazine's CISO of the Year award.
Source: SC Magazine

The black-tie awards ceremony was held at a high-end London hotel, with the opening speech noting that this year’s nominations registered the highest scores ever, including many that would have won in any other year. Stefan beat out multiple high-profile CISOs from organizations such as FedEx, Legal & General and the UK's National Lottery.

The ceremony and the ensuing after-party really emphasized the magnitude of winning this highly prestigious industry title. Stefan’s reaction two days after the event? “I am still trying to recover!!!! What a thrill! I am deeply touched, grateful and honoured to be presented with this award!”

In typically modest fashion, Stefan added, “However, I do not claim this trophy for me, but for my team, my colleagues in the CERN IT department and throughout the organization, as well as all our external peers helping us to raise the security bar. In the end, ’security’ is all about team-work, no?”

In these times of somber news stories and escalating tensions around the world, it’s great to see the good guys winning! Congratulations again to Stefan!

The Team is in Town!

At the end of May, our San Jose headquarters were abuzz with various members from our worldwide team, including colleagues from our satellite office in Monterrey, the East Coast and England. The worldwide team gathered for a week of reflection, planning and team building -- a bi-annual tradition at Referential.

In between client meetings, cyber security training and catered lunches, the team partook in a variety of different activities, including a fruitful skills sharing session, celebrating the conclusion of our office wellness challenge, and developing curriculum for our online training courses.

During our skills share session, we discussed strategies for collaborating with sales teams and for making advocacy programs easily accessible to all internal departments. Our discussion also touched on how to foster meaningful customer relationships, deliver value at every touch point with a c-suite client and show appreciation and gratitude for advocates. The team drew on current and past experiences in the customer advocacy field to provide perspectives from a variety of different industries and types of advocacy programs, sharing an incredible breadth of insight and strategy with the group, which also is being leveraged to educate other customer advocacy practitioners through our training program.

We also celebrated the conclusion of our office wellness challenge by collectively reflecting on the initiative and holding a raffle for all who participated. We used Influitive's AdvocateHub to create an Experience comprised of a variety of health and wellness activities for our team to partake in. The entire group stepped up to the challenge, committing to weekly activities like trying out a new food plan, taking 10,000 steps everyday, volunteering for a charitable cause, and tackling home wellness projects such as updating fire safety equipment and donating items from a newly reorganized room.

"All-hands" weeks are invaluable to our worldwide team as they provide precious moments for our global workforce to gather in the same time zone to share account updates and best-practices, and connect with one another over lunch and coffee instead of video call or email. There are always new tactics and techniques to be shared with one another, as well as stories of triumph and learning.

We're looking forward to hosting worldwide team members at our San Jose headquarters again in November!

Verizon Creates a Campaign Based Entirely on Customer Stories

If you tuned into the Oscars in February or have since consumed your share of television commercials, you might have experienced Verizon's recent foray into the wonderful world of customer advocacy. In an ad series titled "Why they chose Verizon", the wireless network provider abandoned its cleverly comical, celebrity-studded approach to advertising to produce a collection of 30-second stories from real-life customers filmed in front of simple white backdrops.

As the half-minute ads play, the audience is introduced not to characters, but to people presenting as themselves, sharing stories from their lived experiences using Verizon's phone services. In one commercial, instead of being greeted with tantalizing statistics about quality of performance, we meet a husband who shares the story of how his phone provider enabled him to contact his wife in the middle of hurricane. In this moment, the audience gains an immediate and tangible understanding of the everyday value the wireless service provider returns to customers. It's a comforting, emotional moment that surely inspires Verizon customers in the audience to feel confident in their phone service while making others wonder what the "reliability" their provider touts means when it matters most.

Andrew McKechnie, Verizon's chief creative officer, shared in this interview: “The sentiment around the campaign is that these are real stories...As the stories come to life, it’s to show we have 130 million customers and they all have a reasons they chose us.”

The campaign is a compelling example of the different response a customer advocacy infused approach to marketing can elicit from an audience. Have you seen any recent commercials that leverage customer advocacy?

A Better Way to Ask for References

Strategic customer advocacy professionals approach customer advocacy as an opportunity to build relationships with customers, not simply ask for favors – an invaluable framework for asking for references shared in this SiriusDecisions blog.

The blog’s author, Amy Bills, teaches us that beforeapproaching customers for a reference, advocacy practitioners should take apause to consider the personal and professional motivations of customer advocates.The blog shares a great example of how leveraging customers’ motivations inrequests for references can morph a company-focused ask into a customer-focusedask that inspires action from advocates and nurtures more intimaterelationships with customers.

In the article, Bills also reminds us of the importance of ensuring program participation is simple for advocates. She shares how keeping in mind customer motivations and using them to structure acts of advocacy so that a customer can engage in those actions they are most interested in (and avoid laborious tasks like PowerPoint production) can improve customer interactions with your advocacy program.

Visit the blog for several other readily actionable tips for personalizing and enhancing your asks for references, and if you decide to put any into action, we’d love to hear about what you learn in the process!