Influencer marketing is without a doubt a trending area for marketers and public relations professionals.
In retail, travel and entertainment, savvy marketers are connecting with people who have a great number of followers — and influence — and compensating them with cash, gifts or an experience, such as a stay in a resort or a cameo in a show.
The idea of connecting with the right people and working those relationships is both a refreshing and seemingly simple approach. However, how does influencer marketing apply to complex selling environments, such as within regulated industries (financial or healthcare, for example) or with enterprise software sales?
Without exception, a pithy Instagram post or a Tweet from an influencer is not going to have a meaningful impact on shortening long sales cycles or getting a chief security officer (CSO) to narrow solutions they’re considering for their global operations. In my experience, there are, however, people and organizations that have pull with buyers and industry organizations that are worth investing in relationships with.
This article comes with thanks to Forbes and Scott Mills, a member of the Forbes Agency Council.
To use the financial industry for illustration, which is one I’m quite familiar with, reaching and persuading bankers to buy into new concepts, strategies and solutions is without a doubt a difficult assignment. When selling something that represents a sizeable investment for the financial organization, it is likely that the company has to accomplish several things. It must:
1. Sell the business-side leader (head of retail banking).
2. Satisfy a host of people involved in the decision, which may include the board of directors, IT department and procurement.
4. Demonstrate that your company is financially stable enough to satisfy the client.
For technology sellers, companies are also faced with demonstrating integration with at least one other existing critical system, such as a “core” platform and demonstrating that the company is operationally mature and disciplined enough to handle the prospect’s business.
Marketing to everyone within a bank who needs to buy — or at least sign off on — the agreement requires a highly coordinated effort. It is made easier by reaching third parties who have influence with the prospect and the industry as a whole.
Who are the super-influencers?
Super-influencers are people who advise or provide services to your prospects. They are trusted industry authorities or other vendors that are already serving the bank. Some examples of super-influencers include:
• Attorneys who advise bank boards.
• Accountants who serve the risk committee and CFO.
• Consultants hired to manage a transition or guide strategy.
• Executives of industry associations who drive education and governmental affairs.
• Industry analysts covering specific operational areas.
• Regulators who advise what changes would be acceptable to them.
• Key vendors that are already entrenched in the bank.
• Media who drive conference agendas and what topics are elevated within their channels.
While media is often the target for public relations outreach, trade media is frequently made up of industry experts in their own right. These people deserve an intelligent approach to building relationships.
Super influencers typically have the power to sway a decision. As such, super-influencer marketing is a programmatic approach to identify them, reach out and build relationships.
A super influencer’s value is based on their reputation.
Just as you expect a trusted friend or mentor to provide sound counsel, so do those who turn to their accountants, attorneys and key executives for professional services. As such, these super influencers continue to invest in their development and understanding of forces shaping their industries. Doctors read about new treatments. Researchers seek answers to challenging questions. And educators study, write and publish to broaden their understanding and to influence others. This quest for knowledge is the basis for connecting with super influencers. So is the story you want to deliver. When determining the story, consider the following:
• How are you changing the industry?
• Is there an example of a client company that is achieving outstanding results?
• Are you applying lessons from another industry?
• Do you have research that suggests a shift in the market?
• Is your solution reducing risk? If so, what kind?
Regardless of the channel or communications tactics, the underlying strategy for reaching super influencers has to be based on appealing to their curiosity, helping them broaden their understanding of their industry and doing a better job for their customers and business community.
Many super influencers are paid to recommend the right solution or company or provide an informed opinion or guidance. Consider the people and organizations you know with strong reputations — protecting their reputation drives their actions and decisions. The bottom line is that tactics found in retail or entertainment influencer marketing programs do not translate well to business-to-business (B2B) super influencers because they do not trade their reputation for short-term profits or trivial gifts.
In broad strokes, utilizing super-influencer marketing requires you to build and prioritize audiences, determine what assets or content you’ll need for them and continually foster mutually beneficial relationships.
So, what is fair game for leveraging these relationships?
While some relationships can be based on information sharing or leads, others can provide opportunities to work together on projects that would reflect well on both parties. For example, an attorney and PR practitioner could collaborate on articles about crisis planning and responses. An accountant and consulting firm might create webinars that address operational risks associated with new regulations. And two complementary software companies might create co-branded educational materials about transforming a segment of the industry.
If you are a B2B marketer operating within a complex environment or regulated industry, you know there are no shortcuts. Embrace the complicated and practice these super-influencer marketing tactics — together they represent your competitive advantage.
Note from Bennett – there is a fine line between paying someone to support your PR campaign, and finding mutual benefits with no payment. This is not a new trend as celebrity endorsements have been around as long as we’ve had speech – an outstanding tool, maybe even SUPER if used with intelligence and as one portion of a well-considered campaign.