Oct 15, 2021
Host Will Francis chats with B2B marketing strategist Lee Odden about how we find the right influencers, how to decide who to work with, how to become an influencer, how to manage influencer campaigns, and how to gain the most value from those relationships over time. Lee Odden is an author, international speaker, and CEO of TopRank Marketing. Working at the intersection of content, search, and influencer marketing he is also on the Industry Advisory Council of DMI.
This episode was adapted from the Q&A session with Lee after his webinar with DMI on How to Create Marketing Impact with Business Influencers
Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. I'm Will Francis. And in this episode, we hear from Lee Odden, who joined us for a fantastic webinar last week all about influencer marketing in the B2B space. During that live session, we had a great Q&A, and the audio from that is what you're about to hear. In that Q&A, I asked Lee about how we find the right influencers, how we define who we should work with, how to become an influencer, and how to manage influencer campaigns and gain the most value from those relationships over time. If you'd like to watch the full webinar, in which Lee starts by giving us an in-depth presentation with case studies explaining how influencer marketing works, you'll find the link to that in the show notes for this episode.
Lee is a B2B marketing strategist, author, international speaker, and CEO of TopRank Marketing. His work integrating search, social, content, and influencer marketing for some of the world's biggest B2B brands has been recognized by "The Wall Street Journal," "The Economist," "Forbes," and cmo.com. I hope you enjoy our chat.
Surely, everybody wants the most famous people on the planet sharing their brand and their products. How do we find the right kind of breed of influencer for our brand?
Lee: That's a great question. Yeah, one of the most important things, when you're architecting an influencer content program, is to identify, obviously, the relevant types of content mapped to its purpose in the customer journey, meaning that, you know, we're not going to generate a lot of new leads if all we're doing is publishing top-of-funnel content, right? So most content marketing programs do have some sort of architecture that connects the type of content with an outcome. So the same goes with matching influencers. So if I have broad-based awareness-oriented content, I'm going to work with what we call "brandividuals," right? The top-of-funnel content is really, you know, something that's meant to help people understand the nature of a problem and the nature of its solutions, you know, they're just beginning their journey. So to get attention to that, we're going to work with the most famous of influencers in the industry. We don't expect anybody to buy from that. We simply are trying to get them into the beginning of that conversation.
But as we move through the customer journey and the buyer is starting to do more research and collect more data, find more information about solutions, now we want to bring influencers that are closer to being practitioners in specific craft that's relevant to the solution. A lot of times, these can be people in the community, they're not as big and popular, but they do have very high engagement rates, and we can prove that out with our influencer marketing tools and software. They're driving a lot of conversations, their niche influencers. And sometimes they might even be employees of the brand. As we get towards the end of that buying journey, now, of course, you know, we want to work with customers, if possible. Sometimes people pick case studies in B2B marketing based on other factors besides who's most influential of our brand's customers or individuals at those brands that could speak to the effectiveness of our solution. So it's a mix, and influencers play different roles in the same way that content plays different roles as marketers guide buyers through that whole sales process or guides them from that awareness, you know, consideration in purchase sort of journey.
Will: Yeah. Because I've seen, you know, that kind of, I suppose, categorization of influencer is resting on three kinda metrics really, like size of audience, strength of engagement, so how engaged their audience is, and then, also, how deep is their relevance. So you get people with tiny audiences but are highly relevant. They may be an academic, in the field, and that's a very different thing, isn't it, than working with, yeah, Kim Kardashian, who you showed earlier in your presentation.
Lee: Yeah. Yeah. The core blocking and tackling metrics of any influencer software that most people use to collect the data are reach, relevance, and resonance. So reach, as you said, you know, its network size. Relevance is the topical relevance, in other words, the alignment of what it is that the influencer publishes to the topic you want to be influential about. And resonance is the degree to which that topic generates outcomes, or interactions, or engagement amongst the first and second level audience that that influencer has following them. And this is, of course, all, you know, based on public social data that we arrive at these three key metrics. There's more than that, actually, but fundamentally, those are criteria for picking any influencer. Imagine a stereo system that has an equalizer, you know, old-fashioned stereo, and we have these levers that can...yeah, those metrics we can move up and down according to the characteristics that we're looking for.
Will: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I get that. No, that's good. Thanks. Thanks for clarifying that. How do we become an influencer? So we're essentially doing the influencing ourselves. I mean, everyone asks me this as well when I run these kinda sessions. But what do you say when people ask you that?
Lee: Well, I think the first thing is you've got to stand for something. What is it that you wanna be influential about, and what is your unique point of view? And once you arrive at that, you've got to publish. You've got to create content that creates value for people around that topic you wanna be influential about. And you know, you've got to be very intentional about attracting an audience, nurturing your audience, nurturing your community around that topic that you wanna be influential about.
So being influential in B2B is different in that, you know, if I just am good at creating videos, I can just decide I'm an influencer about whatever topic I'm really good at creating videos around from a B2C perspective, right? I don't necessarily...you know, I can be, what's that fellow who walks up to folks, and as Johnny Carson says, "What do you do for a living?" you know, what does that guy know about cars? He doesn't have to know anything about cars. He's just at the right place at the right time, and now he's got, you know, millions of followers on TikTok, and you know, he quit his finance job, and now he's just doing that and making a living, right? So in B2B, you actually have to have domain expertise. You should have...you know, be able to back up the point of view that you have that you wanna be influential about. So if you wanna be an influencer, stand for something.
Will: That is one of the crucial [crosstalk 00:07:21.058] B2B isn't it? Because it's so...in general, you are working on a more niche level. You're not working on broad consumer goods. You're working in domains that require, yeah, like, deep expertise like finance, or software, or technology, something like that. So that makes a lot of sense to me. And to sort of link that to another question that's come through from Mohammed Sadiki [SP]. Thanks for your question, Mohammed. He says, firstly, "Thanks for the presentation," and he said, "What's your opinion on community building in B2B?" Because it's so important in B2C, but it does feel like a bit more of a challenge, doesn't it, in B2B, like, generating a kind of real thriving community.
Lee: Well, building a community at large obviously makes sense. You've got more than...you know, you've got a lot of people that have similarities in the challenges they're trying to solve. And if you can create a community where you can connect people with each other and be a resource with each other, at the same time as you being from the brand, making resources available to that community, this is something that can strengthen relationships. It can warm the market.
But in the context of influence, creating an influencer community is also very, very important. As I mentioned, LinkedIn has developed a community of, you know, 75 to 100 sales and marketing experts over time. It didn't just happen overnight. These people didn't just say, "Yeah, sure, I'll do whatever you ask me to do." We had to create a lot of micro-interactions that led up to increasingly more substantial asks and commitments and just generally, you know, creating relationships with these people. And as a result of that, you know, these folks are organically advocating for the brand. They're organically standing up for the brand also when people ask questions or make statements and that sort of thing.
So building communities might be harder in B2B in the sense that you're dealing with more specific topics in a smaller number of people, but they're still people, and they still have concerns, and issues, and cares, and goals, and challenges. And if you can connect those people with each other in the context of your brand, you can create something really special.
Will: Yeah, and that is a really important distinction to make, actually, and something, yeah, I think people need to really think about, and we don't skip over is this, what LinkedIn did. So it wasn't a community in the sense that it was, like, a few thousand followers on a platform, which isn't really a community, but it also wasn't a community in the way a Facebook group might be or something like that. This is like a community, like a VIP super-user tight group of influential people who they gained something by being part of, like, this kinda inner circle and, presumably, is a great networking thing for them. They gain a bit of inside knowledge into what's going on at LinkedIn, so they maybe gain, you know, an edge there, maybe early access to stuff, who knows? So they gain something from it, just by being part of it. And like you say, over time, it grows in value for them. And so they reciprocally feel like they wanna, yeah, advocate for the brand and sometimes even defend the brand and stand up the brand in the future.
Lee: And you know, savvy marketers that do develop communities are using...you know, they're not just feeling warm and fuzzy about this. They're measuring. They're measuring share of voice amongst that community of influencers for mentions of the brand, for example, or the brand sentiment. So maybe our starting point is that, you know, maybe we only have 10 mentions, you know, a week from this community of 100 people. But after our relationship-building activities and our activations, now, the people that those in the industry trust the most around this topic, now they're mentioning our brand, in context, 100 times a week, right? So it's very important that we think about these clever ways of, you know, marshaling resources but also that we're measuring them in a way that, you know, illustrates brand impact.
Will: Yeah. And I get that. I mean, you know, I've been sort of a micro-influencer myself, believe it or not, years ago, and you know, I've got a following on Twitter about consumer tech, basically, and got engaged by some big brands, big tech brands. And it also is weird that they run a campaign and then they just kind of...they just go. They just leave. And you'd be like, "Well, do you know what, you gave me all this free stuff, and you flew me to this thing. And to be honest, I'd be pretty happy to do kind of a bit more for you now, and you've just gone on to your next campaign." That was just a line item on the kind of media spreadsheet, you know, "Oh, some influencers." And the next time, they'll do the whole...they'll start from scratch again. There will be no continuity. And I always thought that was, I think...I think that's really hard. And still there's loads of brands that do that. And you waste the equity that you've built up with those people. So it's become one of my kind of top influencer tips is, like, you know, as you said, don't just run campaigns and move on, but you go in further. Actually, you went further. You know, think more always on. Think about how you can develop long-term relationships with these people, because it will grow over time, and the value does come back to you over time. So I'm glad you brought that up.
Lee: Absolutely. And it is sad that, you know, you have an experience like that because there is so much opportunity. Money left on the table as it were, equity and goodwill. We've actually developed some very robust content repurposing approaches that can make it super-efficient for brands to continue to maintain, you know, signals, create signals of connection with their influencer community, meaning that it's a very efficient way to give influencers visibility, drive attention to the brand. You know, a lot of people think of, "Oh, I've got to run an always-on program. Now, I've got to be...you know, I've got to add five more headcounts or something. How am I going to possibly afford that?" You don't have to. You don't have to. There are some efficient ways to do that.
Will: Yes. Do you mean through tools and agencies?
Lee: So for example, let's say an influencer activation is...let's say we're gonna create an e-book, and then a short-form video, blog post, you know, sort of like a cluster of content types. But we approach that by interviewing each influencer. We ask each influencer, like, 10 questions, and we take the answers to those questions, and then we create the e-book, we do a video interview real quick, and we do promo social content, blog post, newsletter, whatever. Then we atomize the answers that our 10 influencers who answered 10 questions each into quotes, and we repurpose and we cluster their answers together as new content types. And we spread this out over four, five months, six months after the original content asset is published. That's one thing you can do in terms of repurposing influencer content. And of course, when you do that, you reach out to them and let them know, "Hey, just wanna let you know, thanks for the e-book, you know, last week. We've got some other things planned for you. You don't have to do anything. We're gonna let you know when this other stuff publishes." They appreciate that. It gives them exposure.
Will: Absolutely. Yeah. And I love that you picked up on that as well. You talked about how influencers can be...how you outsource creative production, right, like, in how you actually get stuff made. And that is a really good point and something that, yeah, definitely you want people to think about and go away thinking about because, absolutely, influencer marketing...I'd hate people to think that it's, oh, you know, you just create stuff, and then you just pay people to republish it on their Instagram and their Twitter. I mean, that's just not what it's about. You'll get influencers so much more invested if they've actually played a role in creating it or they've created content. And like you say, you can then be smart about how you repurpose that over time and increase this kinda lifecycle. And so, yeah, it's important.
Now, there's a few questions I wanna get to, and again, there's a few people asking some version of the question, like, you know, how...I know it's the big question you always get asked when we talk about influencers. How do we find influencers? How do we identify them? So for instance, Ernesto Partida, here in the questions, has asked that, you know, he said that he once read that the ideal engagement rate for an influencer should be above 10%, so you should be picking people who have a 10% engagement rate with their audience, or so he read. So two-part question, just tactically, how do we go about finding influencers? And then, secondly, yeah, what sort of metrics can we look out for like that to show us who to work with?
Lee: Right. So you know, it really depends on our starting point. If our starting point is one where, let's say, for example, we have companies come to us and say they're a new...you know, they're a new funded startup of some kind, and they don't have relationships with any industry experts. You know, they don't have customers so much. So starting from scratch like that requires, first, identifying the topic that you want to be influential about or that matters to your customers. And then we'll typically...we'll go to software, like Traackr. And I showed a screenshot of Traackr, T-R-A-A-C-K-R. And Traackr is like a search engine for influencers, but it's also a CRM and an analytics tool for influencer marketing. And there are quite a few enterprise influencer marketing platforms like this out there that have, you know, collected information about influencers in various industries on various topics, and they continue to...like Google crawls the web, they continue to crawl, and copy, and index the content that the influencers publish and the reactions of their followers so that you, as a consumer of the software platform, can pop in and say, "Oh, who are the supply chain influencers?" Type in supply chain plus modifiers and categories, and all kinds of other criteria, and it'll give you a list.
Now, you can't just go to market with that list. You've got to validate that those influencers are publishing in the right formats that you're interested in because, obviously, you wouldn't engage a YouTuber to create blog posts, or you wouldn't engage a blogger to do live stream video if they've never done that before. So there are some steps in the validation and qualification area, and that's where the engagement rate stuff comes into play. If you're an established brand and you already have quite a bit of market awareness, then we can use social listening or influencer software to identify people who are equally influential on the topic but are also very positive towards the brand, or in terms of the point of view or position you're taking on a topic, you wanna find people who share those values, who share those perspectives, but also have domain expertise. And again, when you're architecting a content program, you have to simplify, oversimplify top, middle funnel content, you want to match the type of influencers with the level of content that you're doing, right? So you find influencers through a combination of software and also talking to frontline...
Will: [crosstalk 00:19:20.776] Sorry. Any kind of favorite tools that you wanna shout, you know, just sort of give a shout-out?
Lee: Traackr, T-R-A-A-C-K-R.
Will: And it's quite expensive, isn't it, Traackr?
Lee: Yes. It's solving an expensive problem.
Will: It is. [crosstalk 00:19:40.082]
Lee: I mean, sure, you can go to Twitter. You can go to LinkedIn. You can go to Facebook and Instagram, and you can do a search. And you could definitely use the platforms themselves for free. And then, you know, you've just got to take the time to filter through and see, you know, who might be interesting for you to work with. There are other tools like BuzzSumo, which is pretty much just collecting data from Twitter. And people have to understand, a lot of these tools, low-cost tools, they're only using data from Twitter. Twitter is not the entire social web. So it's up to you. If you wanna work with influencers who are only influential on Twitter, then by all means, use a tool like BuzzSumo, which I use, and I've used BuzzSumo for...I mean, ever since they launched, to be honest, when Steve Rayson founded the company. So I still use BuzzSumo. But you know, the more sophisticated problem you have, the more sophisticated tool you're probably gonna need.
Will: That's a very good point, actually. So I thought one of the most interesting slides as well that you've pulled up was where you looked at the reason that people do influencer marketing, and driving sales seemed to be quite far down that list. So which, I suppose, I would expect, but maybe a lot of people don't intuitively think because they think, well, surely, that's why we're doing it, right? So talk me through how we kinda set expectations or how you typically set expectations of an influencer campaign. What would you advise clients to expect and want of that activity?
Lee: Well, I think we all realize that putting a piece of sales literature in front of a prospect does not compel them to buy a million-dollar software package with a million-dollar implementation consulting fee. It's ridiculous. So there's a lot of education that occurs. Sales cycles that take 6, 12 months, 18 months, depending on the size of purchase, this is a lot of content that is necessary in order to educate that buyer. So you know, the approach that you might take has to be in concert with, you know, the outcomes that you're after, and the expectations that you set have to do with the marketing strategy that you're following. So in other words, there's a lot of companies that have brand expectations when they work with influencers. Why is that? Because when you're working with people who are really well known and well trusted, you can create very quick brand affinity between your brand and that topic you want to be known for if you work with those people who are already well known about that topic. It's like going to a party and everyone says, "Hey, everyone. Meet Will. He's funny. He's smart. He's tech-savvy. He's amazing. You've gotta talk to him." And that's setting an expectation for what people will experience when they're with you, right? And if that host is really well known and respected, bam, you're instantly life-of-the-party guy, if that's what you wanna be, right?
Will: I do. Well, I thought your SAP example was good. And I think, actually, for anybody thinking about how to do this, I think podcasts are a great way in, because I think Shopify do a very similar thing to what it sounds like SAP do. You know, they have their own experts, they bring experts from outside. Everybody wins because people like to be exposed on the podcast. People get a lot out of being on the podcast. Everyone gets a lot out of listening to it because it's based on a specific expertise. And, hey, if you're not into e-commerce, it's a very boring podcast, but they don't care about that. If you are, you'll love it. And it's a great way to just go very deep in your niche and sort of develop relationships. And also, you find once people have been on your podcast, they're pretty warm to...you know, you had an email conversation with you. So you kind of warmed a bit of a relationship there.
Lee: Yeah, certainly. And you know, here's the thing about podcasts. The podcast example I shared was particularly creative. If people go and listen to it, if they look for TechUnknown SAP podcast, they'll find that the production stands out in terms of B2B podcasts. And this is something that isn't just good for the customer who's gonna consume the podcast content, but it's a best practice when it comes to influencer collaboration on content to inspire the influencers to want to help make it successful. In other words, it's really competitive right now. It's getting more and more competitive for the best influencers. If you ask, even if you're from a well-known brand, if you invite an influencer to collaborate on content, and the content itself is just your standard-looking white paper, research report, two-dimensional, blah, blah, blah, black-and-white kind of thing, what is that really gonna do for them, right? Who's gonna look at that? How many millions in ad spend are you gonna put behind that to amplify it maybe before they say yes? Or you can share with them examples of interactive content, immersive content, dynamic content, things that are really going to make that influencer look and sound great. And this is directly correlated with the degree to which they share, right? If you make them look good, it is like you said before, it's an "everybody wins" situation. It's good for the end consumer of the content because it's more interesting to consume. It certainly represents the brand well, and it's something that the influencer is proud to be a part of.
Will: Yes, absolutely. And it's just a way to surround yourself by, you know, the right people in your industry, and it's just about finding the right angle. You know, again, here's another one, Jefferies, who are a big financial services brand, did this one called Hidden Forces, and they just talk about things that are moving the world economy in unexpected ways. It's interesting. And, yeah, you know, I think there's lots of examples of that. It's not hard to do. I just wanted to mention that. Anyway, I think the podcast is a great way to, like you say, surround yourself by those kinda key players.
Thanks to Lee there for some great insight into the world of B2B influencer marketing and indeed influencer marketing in general. I hope you found that useful and insightful. You can find more out about Lee at toprankmarketing.com or @leeodden, L-E-E O-D-D-E-N, on Twitter, or you can just search his name, Lee Odden, on LinkedIn and connect there. And thanks to you for listening. If you enjoy our podcast, please do leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, recommend the podcast to a friend, or share it in social media, because all of that helps us to help more digital marketers get ahead of the game. Thanks.