7 Top B2B Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020

7 Top B2B Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020

An interesting extract on influencer marketing’s role in the B2B space, from a blog posted on toprandblog.com by Lee Odden (2019).

 “While there are some who think the expression “influencer” is an expired term, the role of influence on B2B buying decisions is irrefutable. According to the World Federation of Advertisers, 65% of multinational brands will increase influencer marketing spending in the next 12 months and there’s good reason for increased confidence: The 2019 Content Preferences Survey from DGR reports 95% of respondents favour credible content from industry influencers as a top preference, a 30% increase compared year over year.

For companies operating in the B2B space, here are 7 trends worth digging in to for 2020 and beyond:

Increased use of AI – From finding the right influencers, to recommending content topics, formats and channels and performance optimization, artificial intelligence and machine learning will play a much greater role in influencer marketing. Signals of influence exist beyond social media and bringing together disparate data sources and automating analysis, selection and opportunities for engagement in an increasingly competitive environment will require more robust technologies.

Democratized Influence – B2B purchasing is a team sport involving individuals at multiple levels from buying committees conducting research and making recommendations to executives with budgets to decide. Each of those individuals rely on centers of influence around them as they discover, consume and engage with information. Everyone is influential at some level and more brands are going to tap into the niche influence of the many, whether they are employees, customers, industry community members or traditional influencers.

Brandividal Media – The number of professional influencers who operate their own media or networks of multiple influencers with media and distribution channels will increase and compete with traditional digital media. Influencers with complementary domain expertise and networks that combine forces can offer a B2B brand the reach of a major publication but with the credibility and trust of respected influencers. These influencer media entities can take many forms, from a podcast network to a group of YouTube creators to a team of bloggers that can provide turnkey event coverage and promotion.

More Engaging Content Formats – B2B is evolving from boring to bold through video, interactive and VR/AR content. That trend will continue with influencers creating and co-creating these formats with B2B brands. We’ve seen interest in more infotaining B2B influencer content rise dramatically over the past year including our first deployment of a VR influencer environment for one of the biggest B2B technology brands in the world. Whitepapers, ebooks and case studies still hold value, but there is no reason to limit that information packaging to web pages or static PDF formats anymore.

Influencer Tech Integration with other Martech – Influencer identification, engagement and measurement technology will increasingly become integrated with cloud marketing platforms. As B2B brands mature in their influencer marketing practices, the need for integration will increase. Influence is an important part of the brand experience, so why not make it easier to connect and grow influence for the brand by making it easier to connect with other marketing technologies?  The simplest example would be enabling the coordination of SEO, social media, PR, ads and influencers and the alignment of a narrative across those channels.

Consumerization of B2B Influencers and Content – Business users of software have come to expect a consumer like experience and that same set of expectations is spilling over into how business influencers create content and engage. A simple example is the rise of LinkedIn video creators. Influencers publishing video content on YouTube have created expectations for video content wherever it can be found, viewed and engaged with. LinkedIn is a great example of where consumer video skills are playing out with B2B content. People like Goldie Chan, Michaela Alexis and Allen Gannett have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on LinkedIn and millions of video views. The continued rollout of live video on LinkedIn will only attract more of B2C-like video behaviors over to the B2B influencer world.

Influencer Experience Management – As brands have elevated their focus on customer experience and employee experience, there will be an increased focus on managing the experience of brand influencers. Far too many B2B brands treat their influencer relationships transactionally and in terms of what the brand can get from the influencer. B2B brands that make any effort at all to learn more about influencer goals, preferences and capabilities in combination with providing opportunities to connect with other influencers, will go along ways towards building brand advocates and inspire more effective influencer behaviors.

Whether you’re tired of or wired for “influencer marketing”, make no mistake: The growth of influence on individual and organizational effectiveness in the B2B marketing world will continue for years to come. Those who are influential in the B2B world have the domain expertise their networks trust. Not staying on top of how the world of influencer marketing is evolving is simply leaving your customers open to the influence of your competition.”

Source: Odden, L. (2019) “Seven Top B2B Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020”, Available online from <https://www.toprankblog.com/2019/05/influencer-marketing-trends-2020/>, [Accessed on 15 August 2019]

Influencers: Superheroes or Supervillains?

The IMM Graduate School | Super heroes in combat FB webScrolling through my Instagram timeline I came across yet another self-proclaimed influencer flogging what seemed to be the millionth product in as many days. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and instead of being influenced in a positive way and loving the product, I was annoyed… not only with the person who posted it, but also with the brand.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there and because of this the word ‘influencer’ has gotten a bad rep in recent years.

Influencer marketing is still quite a new concept in South Africa, and it makes sense that we’ve been learning through trial and error. However, we’ve already learnt big lessons and we see many brands implementing remarkable influencer campaigns, but there are just as many who are still struggling to get it right.

Think strategy

A lot of influencer campaigns fall flat for one main reason. Brands skip an extremely important step when considering influencer campaigns – strategy. Everyone is implementing some sort of influencer tactic but haven’t given much thought as to what success looks like for campaigns.

With a lack of strategy, influencers can either be superheroes or supervillains for your brand. Strategy can be the difference between annoying your target market and them having negative feelings towards your products and services; or being top of mind when they are making purchasing decisions and having warm, fuzzy feelings when thinking about your brand.

One of the mistakes we observe is that there seems to be one list of influencers that is shared between brands and agencies, as we see the same influencers being used time and time again by various brands.

When this happens, the influencer and their content loses its authenticity, rendering them ineffective. It’s as easy as expanding the list of influencers that brands use, including the types, making sure they align with brand values and are best suited to reach objectives and target markets to get around this.

The vetting of influencers is also paramount to ensure that they do not engage in activities or behaviour that can harm the reputation of the brand. Equally important is to audit influencer followings and engagements to check for fake or bought followers and fake engagements… aka using social media pods and the like. Don’t fret, there are companies out there that specialise in doing just that, trust the professionals to get this right for you.

On the flip side, it’s also in the interest of influencers to be discerning about which brands they work with, in order to not be overused or switching between competitors too quickly, which can lead to brands not wanting to work with them; and ultimately getting a reputation for being a blegger*.

Being authentic to their own brands and their currency is the reason people follow them and value their opinions and recommendations. Once influencers work with anyone and everyone, their influence will drop as they are no longer viewed as unbiased and authentic.

When brands take a step back and identify the basics, like what they want to achieve and who they want to speak to through influencers, the next step is to match the type of influencers that should be utilised.

Each category of influencers excels in achieving different objectives. Whether you decide on nano, micro, macro or mega influencers, make sure that they are best positioned to influence the target market in the desired way. 

*A blegger is an influencer who works with any brand without making sure the brand aligns with their values and audience. Bleggers are also known to push different brands within short lag times between each other and thus causes fatigue in their audiences.

Veldskoen: Stepping out of the comfort zone

The IMM Graduate School | Veldskoen: Stepping out of the comfort zoneInfluencer marketing is on the rise – even in South Africa – but there can be no greater endorsement of a product than having one of the world’s favourite royals stepping out in it. Lucinda Jordaan tracks the Veldskoen story. 

If ever there was a case for celebrity endorsement, Veldskoen has it. The innovative start-up, founded in South Africa in 2017, had steadily been making inroads into the UK market when they got a call from one of the country’s largest newspapers, The Times, this past February.

“The editor had spotted Prince Harry in a pair of veldskoene and wanted to know if we had a picture they could use,” explains co-founder and chief marketing officer, Nic Latouf. The company had sent a pair to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex shortly after their wedding, but had no proof they had liked, or even worn them. Until The Times ran a story on the veldskoen, and the Prince’s long-time love for the shoes.

“On the Saturday morning the first story got published, we had a sale every 15 minutes. It continued throughout the day into most of Sunday, and just continued,” Latouf recalls. The following Saturday the paper printed another small story on the shoes, next to a pic of footballer, Steven Gerrard – “and every 10 minutes we had a sale; even our shoes on Amazon did well, as well as another UK site (Kendrick Imports) that stocks them too,” adds Latouf.

The timing couldn’t have been  better: Veldskoen is one of the youngest companies manufacturing the iconic South African shoe – but had just kicked off with a complete reinvention of the popular handcrafted footwear, and a digital campaign aligned with an online savvy, e-commerce oriented audience.

They’re intent on taking it global, and were advancing into the European, Australian and US markets when The Times’ article ran. But none of their research prepared the company for how these various markets align.

“They all require a completely different mindset and strategy,” notes Latouf. “For example, we understand the impact of influencer marketing, and how powerfully it can be leveraged. But in the UK we struggled with the same strategy we had been using in South Africa, which was Facebook and ads. Yet a small article gets printed in the UK and people go crazy.”

The company had a similar experience in Italy, where they had been advised to stay away. “We were told that Italians buy one very expensive pair of shoes that last a lifetime. Yet somehow, a journalist found the story and wrote about it – and then, every hour in Italy, somebody would buy a pair.”

Latouf’s conclusion? “Influencer marketing is huge in the UK and Europe; magazines are dedicated to influencers, bloggers, creatives, and readers who trust the printed word.”

History in the making

The history of the shoe also makes for a great story and, says Latouf, was the thrust of their campaign from the get-go. “We see ourselves as storytellers first – and that’s the secret, that’s why we did well from day one. Obviously, the product itself is great, and that in itself is a great story. Everybody sees it differently; some see it as the farmer’s shoe, for instance – yet we all have a connection to it from a different lens. We’ve just reimagined it and brought it into its current form. It’s an everyman shoe, not just for a specific person – it really is for everybody.”

Modelled on Khoisan footwear and first manufactured by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, the veldskoen is a South African stalwart – one that has never been out of production. Made by small and large producers throughout the country – and in a few neighbouring states – the sturdy, handmade, rubber-soled, leather shoe has, over the years, gained visibility in various countries, and in various guises.

In Jamaica, where it gained fame as the Clarkes Desert Boot, the veldskoen is regarded as the national shoe: it has been featured in US Vogue and was showcased at the 2013 Design Indaba. It’s also the premium product of one of the oldest working shoe factories in South Africa, the Wupperthal factory in the Cederberg, which was established by Rhenish missionaries back in 1834.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and Veldskoen has just announced its launch in the US, backed by investor Mark Cuban and his partners Angela and Steve Watts, who all appeared on Shark Tank together.

Fast, bold moves for a company that originated from a conversation on truly South African brands, and boasts of a philosophy centred on style, optimism and migration.

“It all started during the 2016 Olympics, when the South African team walked out of the tunnel to take part in the nation’s parade,” recalls Latouf. “They looked terrible, and (founders) Nick (Dreyer) and Ross (Zondagh) got into a debate about whether we have anything truly South African that they could have been dressed in. The veldskoen came up and with it, the idea that it was boring. The idea evolved into how to make it not boring anymore, with a story about how someone in New York had converted a work shoe by adding a Nike sole, and had then run the Boston Marathon in it.” This, explains Latouf, was the “real early thinking about the brand”.

By April 2018, when Brian Joffe’s venture capital firm, Long4Life, came on board and bought into 49% of the company, Veldskoen had already gained a foothold in the South African market, and was preparing its UK launch.

“One of the things that excites me is how diverse our customer base is,” notes Latouf. “I’ve sat on our WhatsApp line with domestic workers who have never bought online, and didn’t understand e-commerce; I’ve taken them through the process via WhatsApp, and there’s a thrill in knowing that their first online purchase was a pair of Veldskoen.”

Nic Latouf’s top digital marketing tips

We have a very specific lens through which we look at digital and online, and a very specific way that we interpret it, which is probably different to what other people are looking at. There’s a lot happening online, and some of the things we’d suggest are:

  • Be very careful of putting all your eggs in the Facebook basket, and even Instagram. If you build too much of your audience and reliance on one of those platforms, and they decide to change their algorithms, your business could suffer instantly. If Mark Zuckerberg wakes up one morning and decides to change the algorithm, he can put you out of business, and you’ve got to make sure that nobody can put you out of business except yourself.
  • Content is no longer king – content distribution is. That’s where people need to be thinking now: about distribution as much as they’re thinking about the actual content. We’ve got to a stage now where just about everybody can make amazing content – but not everybody has the knowledge to distribute it, or the platforms or databases or audiences of their own to do so.
  • Keep an eye on WhatsApp: lots of interesting things are happening there. We are building and testing a lot of interesting things on this platform, and I’m more excited about WhatsApp than I am about Facebook. I don’t think the latter is going anywhere, but I do think it’s going to evolve, and put a lot of people out of business that put all their reliance on it.
  • Look at building your brand online but find other avenues to sell. So, use social media as a brand building exercise, but don’t put too much reliance on running Facebook ads, and that’s all you do.

We look at Instagram differently to everyone else. There’s a lot of hidden functionality within this platform to enable you to engage your customer in very smart ways. For instance, you’re able to look at different locations, or hashtags. Because we’re very excited to tap into the tourist market, one of the things we do is look at locations, and who’s taking pictures where, on a daily basis. And we keep an eye on that in real time. So, for example, if somebody is taking pics of themselves on Lion’s Head or at the V&A Waterfront, nine times out of 10, they’re probably going to be a tourist. Within minutes of seeing that picture, we DM them, and just start a conversation. We welcome them to the country, find out how much they’re enjoying it, and build a bit of a relationship.

Then we invite them to our showroom and tell them of our shoes and the history of them – and we do very well in selling our shoes to tourists in that way.

The influencer equation: LIP = Lust + Investment + Proximity

One book every marketer should have on their bookshelf is Influence by Robert Cialdini. The author writes extensively on the six principles he believes underpin ‘influence’ –reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. And in 2016, he added a seventh: unity. The unity principle posits that the more we identity with others, the more we are influenced by them. Authority figures have the power to sway us.

We’re seduced by powerful stats from experts. According to a 2015 Schlesinger Associates study for Augure (now LaunchMetricscom), 81% of marketers believe influencer engagement is effective. It begs the question of what “effective” really means because with enough money, brands can pay influencers to get their message out to the masses and create ‘talk-ability’. This can be disastrously effective.

It’s a fact social media influencers have changed the marketing game and given brands access to people in ways businesses could have never imagined.

The Influencer Marketing 2018 research report[1] by Business Insider Intelligence reckons ad spend generated by influencers will reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. This represents a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38%.

With numbers like that in play, it’s no wonder influencers are a vital part of any marketing plan. But like everything else, there are good, bad and ugly sides to the influencer story which is why cutting through the clutter of influencer jargon and fluffy research stats is important to understanding a proven model of success that’s worked for banks, handsets, cellular providers and alcohol brands.

While there’s a lot of hype, there is in fact a science behind crafting a successful influencer campaign. We call it the LIP influencer model: LIP = Lust + Investment + Proximity.

 

  • Lust

Influencers must have a strong desire of affinity for what they are endorsing. It’s that simple. Find influencers passionate about your brand, let them fight to be on your team, and watch the magic unfold. While many marketers will hunt for influencers with large followings and approach them for endorsement, we recommend reversing the process by getting influencers to fight for why they should be chosen by you. It’s a bit like the dating game, except the influencer has to make the first move.

A brand that got influencers to make the first move was Vodacom, which tapped into the power of South Africa’s hottest young student influencers to drive their youth package, NXTLVL. Thousands of students applied to be an influencer for Vodacom and go through rigorous interviews on campus to qualify. Passion for the brand was the primary metric for fit.

Tip: Don’t get lulled into followers as a primary metric. Spend the time discovering if your influencers have a connection to your brand before taking the conversation further.

 

  • Investment

Investment wears three hats – Time. Training. Financial.

The Vodacom brand team knew that investing in influencers wasn’t a once-off exercise and committed to a year-long influencer programme. A longer timeframe meant that service provider could take a constant barometer of the team’s progress and make adjustments as the campaign grew. And the results speak for themselves: Vodacom exceeded its original target of NXT LVL customers.

Training was another crucial element and Vodacom understood that they were investing in influencers as if they were extensions of their own marketing team. The time spent training influencers on the brand’s vision, objectives, and products were crucial. This meant bringing influencers into its inner circle.

Tip: Brands taking influencer marketing seriously know that investing for the longer term must be a consideration in the annual budgeting process.

 

  • Proximity

A 2015 Schlesinger Associates report into influencer marketing alludes to the power of proximity, stating that 92% of consumers trust earned media such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family. In other words, the closer the proximity of a trusted group, the higher the sphere of influence. Having a favourite celebrity or supermodel recommend switching cellular networks doesn’t have the same credit as a best friend’s recommendation.

Looking specifically at university students (Fig 1), we see that peer groups have more influence on each other. Not only that, but as the sphere of influence expands outwards, the degree of trust drops and scrutiny rises. We have discovered that Afrillennials (African Millennials) are natural-born sceptics about celebrities endorsing multiple brands.

Authenticity is a big factor, and the youth have their eyes trained like a hawk for the inauthentic and will make sure to let everyone know when it’s absent. Just look at the global outrage over the Pepsi commercial in which celebrity Kendall Jenner brought a political march to a standstill. It was slap-in-the-face inauthentic.  She’s a supermodel and a reality TV celebrity, not an activist or social change maker. But it went viral. It got engagement.

In contrast, Vodacom won the authenticity race by infiltrating and activating at every touch point of a student’s world, thanks to influencers taking the brand to social events, showcasing it on campus, and boosting the offering on their social media platforms. The tight proximity of their influencers to the student market meant more authentic engagement.

Tip: Choose Influencers from a market that is closer to the sphere of influence in your target market. If you’re targeting youth then seek out young people with influence.

 

Final point

Influencer marketing is here to stay. Effectiveness takes time and effort and a process of steady accretion. Brands who succeed in bringing influencers into their circle of trust do so by walking the journey together as opposed to seeing them as just another billboard.

The revolution has been digitised

The revolution has been digitised 

Three dynamic personalities, each of whom have taken the concept of digital disruption and melded it according to their particular creativity and experiences, gave delegates to the IMM Graduate School’s last Marketing the Future event of 2018 plenty to think about.

The IMM Graduate School reconnects with past and present students at its Marketing the Future events which provide a platform to stimulate thought and discussion around some of the critical challenges and opportunities emerging from the marketing industry today.

Here are some gems from trend analyst Dion Chang; Jay Badza, founder and head honcho of Orchard On 25; and Pepe Marais, founding partner and CCO of Joe Public.

Chang: The future you were waiting for has already passed

The first wave of digital disruption is long gone, and we are well into the second phase, where robotics, automation, algorithms, Big Data, and virtual and augmented reality have already significantly shifted reality as we know it.

“The important thing is understanding the cross-industry impact. People are so fixated on their own industries, they don’t look at the neighbouring and ancillary industries,” said Chang. “The lines are blurring more and more, and suddenly something that happens in say hospitality becomes a huge problem in healthcare … or something like that. It’s about reskilling or understanding that your skills are hybrid.”

Continual learning and upskilling are paramount to keeping your head above water in the sea change of our current age.

Jay Badza: The fine art of influencer marketing

“We are in the middle of a marketing revolution. It’s only those brands that are bold and ballsy who are going to stand the tide,” said Badza. A vital component of this is for brands to make clever use of social media and the rise of influencer marketing.

Brand Ambassadors are a thing of the past and the proliferation of social media platforms has seen the rise of influencers as the true marketers of the future. And like any professional, they deserve to be paid. It’s no longer acceptable to ‘pay’ a social media star with ‘exposure’ or free coffee and a donut.

To be successful, however, it’s key to understand your brand story and exactly how a particular influencer is going to fit into that strategy. By engaging with influencers, brands ensure that they are part of the broader conversation and play a part in changing cultures.

Pepe Marais: We’re only human after all

To become more purposeful as a human being and as a business, we have to move beyond money as the primary motivator. The way business is positioned at the moment is that the bottom line has become the top priority, with dire consequences. The world is changing, and legacy companies are crumbling in the wake of new age start-ups and the digitally enhanced reality of millennials and centennials. “We need to push for something greater than money to stand for,” Marais said. “In my experience, as being more of an artist, you put your hat down, you play your heart out, and the money follows, and I think that approach is lacking in the world. Which is why I’m pushing for something greater than money to stand for as a brand.”

The results can be dramatic. Joe Public faced bankruptcy in 2009, but since finding a purpose for the business it has grown into a JSE listed company that is well known for its creative, human approach.

Social media stories a vital ingredient in content marketing

Desh Govender, digital manager at Diageo, was the final guest at the IMM Graduate School’s monthly Marketing Friday sessions, seeing out the 2018 calendar with a healthy dollop of insight into the topic of content marketing, and the role of social media stories in communications.

In an age when many marketers are trying to wrap their heads around all the new developments in content marketing, the use of social media stories as part of their integrated communications is an essential ingredient for success. The session attracted marketers, agency owners and media publishing houses and created a lot of interesting talking points and reflections about brands winning on social media.