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The role of influencers in B2B

A B2B influencer is more likely to be a local builder than a Kardashian, but has key input at two key stages in the purchasing process.

It’s an old adage that “people buy from people” and influencer marketing is rooted in this belief.

In May, Adobe took 65 influencers to its Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, a diverse group of creatives that ranged from an award‐winning Generation‐Z actress through to vloggers to a bunch of marketing experts. The aim was to bring together a range of professions and geographies to create a wealth of thoughtful content on topics that matter to Adobe and its users.

As Rani Mani, head of social influencer enablement at Adobe, says: “Influencers are extremely strategic to how we do business because they humanise our brand by being names, faces and personalities behind our logo. They are also so much more believable and authentic because they are technically not on our payroll, and yet genuinely use our products and services to put things out in the world.”

Influencer marketing is a growing area. It is one of the top four tactics marketers plan to adopt in 2019, according to a survey of IT marketers in Europe and North America by Spiceworks. The survey shows influencer marketing getting more attention in Europe than, say, analytics powered by artificial intelligence or marketing chatbots.

It is important to draw a line between influencers in the consumer space, such as a Kardashian who will thrill over a packet of diet tea in exchange for a chunky fee, and the very wide range of jobs and roles that make up influencers in the B2B space. In a business context, the term ranges from “micro‐influencers”, such as local IT consultants, to celebrity achievers who resonate with target groups, such as Arianna Huffington and Buzz Aldrin as used in Dell’s recent Dear Tech advert.

Jonathan Brown, vice president of marketing at telecoms firm GTT, says in his industry, influencers can be peers, one chief executive to another, or anyone engaging directly with a decision‐maker who is going to have an influence.

“They can be analysts, industry leaders, anyone who a business leader turns to for advice or for opinion, or has respect for. And that isn’t necessarily always traditional sources,” says Mr Brown.

Ideally, the influencers should be a two‐way communication channel, providing honest feedback from the marketplace that can help a company improve both products and messaging. Ms Rani believes its influencers give Adobe an “outside‐in point of view” on what’s going on in the world, what matters to them and their communities, and how the company is faring in relation to the competition. “This feedback and collaboration is mission critical,” she says.

In the Raconteur B2B roundtables, senior marketers said influencers had a vital role at two points in the sales process where potential buyers were sometimes unreachable by other means.

The first was at the initial stage of the buying process when a buyer may be invisibly collecting information by downloading reports from consultants or an influencer group with strong power, especially in technology and software. Information absorbed at this early stage in the process can have long‐lasting effects in terms of framing the business problems and the type of solution that should be purchased.

The second critical moment is just before a buying decision when a buyer may disconnect from the sales dialogue to make last‐minute vendor checks with a more personal circle of influencers, such as former colleagues or contacts in trade associations.

“If you’re a builder, then you’re going to ring other builders,” says Mark Clisby, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Yell, saying this shows how contented customers are, in effect, one of the most vital influencer groups.

But quantifying the value of influencer impact can be challenging. As Debbie Grishman, vice president of global content for commercial services at American Express, says: “While it’s hard to measure, we believe the return on investment (RoI) is in brand awareness, affinity and consideration.”

Alicia Tillman, CMO at SAP, says two of the most important ways the company measures RoI on influencer marketing are brand awareness and brand lift. Influencers make up 30 per cent of overall share of voice on social media during major events, such as SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s annual conference for users and partners, and the company sees a significant increase in its SAP brand channel numbers during these events. “Influencers are certainly contributing to that,” says Ms Tillman.

But Adobe’s Ms Mani maintains the biggest RoI is the influencer relationships themselves. “Having a trusted cabinet of advisers on speed dial is priceless,” she concludes.

This article originally appeared in Future of B2B Marketing, published in The Times on 8th July. Click here to download the full report.

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