The case of influential marketing and its power to deliver economic and social good within the marketing discipline
Marketers recognise that social media can reshape the dynamics between different organisations and the use of online channels has been fundamental for both economic as well as social growth through the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that influencers are posed to connect different organisations within business networks, Business-to-Businesses (B2B) marketing practitioners see an emerging need to investigate and understand how B2B organisations can best build reciprocal relationships through influencer marketing.
The US influencer marketing industry was estimated to be worth $8 billion in 2019 and may reach $15 billion by the end of 2022. Although most of this value is in Business-to-Consumer (B2C) markets, some 15% of B2B brands are known to engage in influencer marketing programmes (Business Insider, 2021), which can reportedly deliver a ten-fold higher Return on Investment (ROI) than traditional forms of digital marketing. Despite the undeniable potential of influencer marketing in B2B, understanding and research about influencer marketing in corporate settings is extremely limited. This blog discusses the results of one of the first empirical studies explicitly undertaken to investigate B2B influencer marketing.
- B2B marketers advocate the concept of ‘Influential Marketing’ (IM) not ‘Influencer Marketing’ as known in B2C.
- Trustworthiness, expertise, professionalism, and know-how exchanges rooted in relationships within B2B organisations.
- Employee advocacy, customer reference marketing and organisational endorsement are key for Influential Marketing’s successful implementation.
- Influential Marketing harnessed to improve B2B brands' performances in various aspects.
The growing importance of ‘influential’ marketing
Influencer marketing is of growing significance within the B2B domain, and its principles are valid and robust. However, most organisations steer away from, or are uncomfortable with, using the term “influencer marketing”. The negative connotation associated with “influencer marketing” derives from the over-commercialisation of certain B2C social media influencers, who focus excessively on the entertainment value of their content creation. The term may have acquired a negative association engendered by its use in B2C and media representation. Influential users in B2B differ in some respects from the influencers in B2C environments. For example, it is the dedication, impact, and esteem of influential individuals as specialists within a relatively small community that carries so much weight. B2C influencer marketing tends to focus on the public persona of the influencer (i.e., physical appearance, degree of fame, and size of their following), as well as the influencer’s knowledge in a specific field such as fashion or gaming. In contrast, B2B influential marketing focuses principally on the latter aspect. Therefore, we refer to B2B influencer-type marketing exclusively as influential marketing.
What are the main findings?
Following a review of 22 interviews with senior marketing professionals across different sectors in the UK, the results show how B2B influential marketing differs from that of B2C influencer marketing: notably regarding influencer attributes such as professional standing, reach, and type of content. From a strategic perspective, B2B influential marketing employs both internal and external influential individuals to create endorsement-based and experience-based content, aiming at developing trusting relationships and generating meaningful engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. Interestingly, conservativism, lack of practical knowledge and insufficient strategic integration with the marketing strategy are the main challenges faced by B2B organisations in practising influential marketing. Nevertheless, influential marketing is considered a novel approach to acquiring and maintaining relationships that engage influentials in employee advocacy, customer reference marketing, and organisational endorsement.
In implementing influential marketing, the organisation can acquire new customers, thus expand current networks, whilst also maintaining existing relationships within their specific/niche industry. The active engagement between the influential (both employees and experts) and the organisations’ influential marketing strategy, results in higher trust and commitment due to the influentials’ attributes and reach. By leveraging such relationships, the B2B organisation can link up, and collaborate, with internal and external influential (see Fig. 1).
Internal influentials enable the organisation to develop their existing business networks, as they often have strong ties with committed and trusting partners (including external influentials), whereas external influentials can provide a channel to connect with either new or newly developed relationships within the network for the focal brand, as well as supporting existing strong relationships through endorsement. Meanwhile, influential marketing allows the focal organisation and influentials to benefit from collaboration, strengthening their ongoing relationship.
The effectiveness of influential collaboration relies on trust and commitment between the parties involved in the collaboration. B2B brands can choose to collaborate with employees and/or industrial experts within their business networks who are authentic, knowledgeable, and influential within the community. Influentials act as mediators who create or share different types of SM content about a focal brand and engage with their followers (i.e., the focus of communication) and help the focal brand grow its online presence and business network. Such practices can result in strengthening existing relationships with customers, business partners and suppliers. Additionally, influential marketing can be leveraged for collaborative relationships such as a business development tool and partnership tool. Such strategic outcomes enrich the organisation’s resources and allow them to effectively mobilise different resources and create ties and bonds amongst partners to support their influential marketing strategy. Meanwhile, the collaboration between the brand and influentials contributes to the influentials’ personal branding and enhances their influence in the online environment.
Fig. 1. Integrated framework: B2B influential marketing
B2B organisations need to be mindful of the relationships in B2B influential marketing, which differ from corresponding influencer relationships in the purchase-focused strategy of consumer markets. In the planning stage of selecting influentials, organisations must consider both their expertise and social presence. When implementing influential marketing campaigns, B2B organisations must also ensure an active alignment between their corporate voice with the influential’s voice if they are to sustain the engagement and relationships initiated by social media content sharing. Additionally, organisations need to closely monitor and measure both the short-term (e.g., online metrics) and long-term (e.g., sales and collaborations) effectiveness of different influential marketing campaigns, thereby developing sustainable influential marketing strategies. B2B organisations should endeavour to align their influential marketing approach with other marketing strategies and aspects of their organisational culture to jointly fulfil the organisation’s marketing objectives. Finally, B2B organisations can collaborate with employees through employee advocacy programmes while working with external industrial experts who provide endorsement and referencing. This hybrid approach can maximise the reach and coverage of the concerted effort to build wider online business networks.
A full version of the paper can be found here and below: