Eria Odhuba, Head of AR, goes deep into the influencer mix.
Remember this line from Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
In the good old days when I started off in the tech industry, we’d just begun to move away from floppy discs, computers booted up really slowly (at least mine did), mobile phones multi-tasked as house bricks, social media didn’t exist, and organisations that wanted to get an idea of what technology to buy read industry analyst reports – sometimes, very long reports. I should know, because I wrote a few of them.
The role of analysts as THE primary third-party influencers was clear, and they really played an excellent role guiding organisations through complex decision-making processes regarding IT.
Fast forward to today, and while industry analysts still play a major role, they are not the only party in town. At the end of last year I went to an event at which industry analysts were joined by technology journalists (as expected), management consultants, bloggers, storytellers and academics driving student meet-ups.
All these influencers play a huge role in testing messages, driving conversations and amplifying what is great about a vendor’s technology. And they do this across multiple platforms – check out this blog post by our very own Marc Duke on the science of influencer marketing on how to deal with this complexity.
So how do you drive analyst relations programmes given the different influencers making their mark in the industry?
Well, fundamentally, how you view industry analysts should not change (see my white paper on how organisations can ensure AR delivers to the bottom line). Analysts are not irrelevant or losing their influence (just look at their increasing revenues). It is just that AR programmes need to take account of wider influencer relations activities, and organisations just have to be very clear what they want to get out of their engagements with analysts versus the other types of influencers.
So analysts still produce reports for those that want them, but even they have changed the way they get information out to a wider audiences (i.e. those that don’t have subscription seats). Analysts write their own blogs, interact with other industry bloggers, host webinars (many of them free), and speak at or run their own events. And, as I saw at the event, they pretty much know all the relevant journalists in their research areas and happily have drinks with them.
The crucial thing is that the core messages you deliver to industry analysts should be consistent to other influencers and across all the platforms (sure, you may give analysts some information under NDA). Ultimately the intermingling of various influencer types means it is easier to get caught out if your strategy or messages have holes in them.
Mapping this matrix of influencers, messages and engagement takes time and, more importantly, needs executive sponsorship. Board-level buy-in is necessary to develop the consistency in messaging to all influencers despite the engagement models with each, and it also means more employees are willing to take ownership of contributing to the developments of great relationships with influencers – including industry analysts.
Considerations for balancing AR programmes with wider influencer marketing or PR strategies:
- Focus on the core messages you want to deliver to ALL influencers, but tailor the delivery to match the different types of influencer;
- Point analysts to great work that other influencers may have produced (e.g. academics may have some data that would be useful to analysts as they build a picture of market trends and technology barriers/uptake);
- Identify the analysts relevant to you that use social media:
- read their blog posts and contribute to discussions they have started (sometimes, the exchanges are worth more than a 60 minute briefing);
- follow them on Twitter and comment on their posts etc;
- If you’ve connected with an analyst, make sure you also connect on LinkedIn and follow their posts – opportunities to commend them, comment or refer to others then become possible – just don’t use this as a platform to sell!
- THEN – use the picture you have built of analysts on social media to plan for and engage with them as part of the briefing / consultative process – bring all the various strands together but remain focused on the consistent message you are trying to deliver to them;
- Think about the conversations you have had with industry analysts – how can the information shared be used to drive engagements with other influencers? If you’ve used an analyst for message-testing, get that message out to customers and drive conversations with other influencers so they can amplify or provide feedback from an even wider audience.
Your plan should be to get industry analysts, technology journalists, management consultants, bloggers, storytellers and academics all telling your story – the way you want it.
So, why reference to the movie, The Matrix?
Blue pill = you have a very narrow view of industry analysts – just brief them, see them as people who simply churn out reports or pay expensive subscriptions to access reports which, while valuable, may not be balanced with output from the wider influencer audience.
Red pill = you start to do all the above and realise you are just beginning a journey that will spin faster and faster. This requires a new way of managing the various influencers and measuring the impact each has on sales or market perception, and figuring out how AR can drive engagements with analysts so that the final output is a consistent message that resonates in the market – and across all the influencers.
Which pill do you want to take?
Marc Duke, head of influencer engagement, takes an in-depth look at why even in B2B circles peer review sites matter.
Influencer Marketing, as the name suggests, is about influencing the various people, groups and organisations that are trusted by the buyer or decision maker when making a decision to purchase products or services. One such group are Peer Review websites, where customers leave reviews of recent purchases, and their importance is growing all of the time.
A couple of statistics to back this up:
- Nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase (Spiegel Research Center, 2017)
- 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase after reading a trusted review (G2 and Heinz Marketing, 2017).
While you may have read a tale or two about fake Amazon reviews and getting friends and family to write about a holiday chalet on TripAdvisor, when it comes to B2B peer review sites things are much more regulated and the process of working with influencer sites is a lot clearer.
To give some context here, peer review sites are most relevant to software providers that are targeting businesses. For example, the adoption of cloud software has increased beyond all recognition in last decade. The Software as Service (or SaaS) market has become mainstream and with it the importance of reading and relying upon peer reviews to inform purchasing decisions has also risen. The reason for this is simple; it’s great to get a free trial of a piece of software but even better if you can read about the experiences (positive and negative) of your peers.
So what peer reviews sites are we actually talking about? Four major sites are:
Before you start to target peer review sites, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- What categories do they cover?
- Are my competitors listed?
- Are my markets covered?
- Do the sites just generate traffic or also provide leads?
- Do I have the resources to create accurate product and company profiles?
- Do I have the resources to handle negative reviews?
- Does my marketing process enable me to maximise positive reviews/endorsements?
Assuming you can answer all of these questions, you are then in a position to look at working with Peer Review sites. The first thing that needs to be done is create a profile of your company and product/s, which doesn’t cost a penny. Once you have a company and product profile the next step is sourcing customer reviews. If you have happy customers it’s a case of asking them to provide a review of your product in much the same way you would ask a connection to endorse you on LinkedIn. If you don’t have a large bank of customers, you might find that some users will discover your profile.
You also have the option of contacting the account management staff at these sites who will be happy to discuss how to run a reviews programme (how to get reviews on your product page) and ways in which to generate branded collateral with reviews left by your customers to help with your sales process. You will need budget for this, so you have to weigh up the benefits compared to the costs. Just remember that all of these sites want to cover every vendor in the market. so Getting set up will just cost you some time and information so even a start-up should consider peer review sites.
The main benefits of working with peer review sites include:
- Traffic – people can click from the review page to your site or landing page
- Endorsement – some reviewers are happy to be referenced and to be used in customer reference programmes
- Leads – some sites offer ‘click to trial’ so a prospect reading a review can request a demo
- Insight – there is a lot you can learn about your competition.
One thing is for certain – businesses can’t ignore peer review sites as they are increasingly becoming a decision making tool of choice for some customers, and a positive review can help move a prospect from the top of funnel to the bottom. However you look to engage with peer review sites, they are certainly worth considering as part of your marketing strategy.
Marc Duke explains the science of influencer marketing:
I am a sports fan, so any sporting metaphor works for me. When I thought about Influencer Marketing this classic baseball reference sums it up and here’s why:
Influencer marketing is about making sure the people who influence your target customer know about your offering. The idea of covering all your bases means you have ‘influenced’ all those stakeholders who influence the purchasing decision, and can endorse or advise in favour of your company over the competition. When you communicate directly with your customer or prospect, you are then pushing on an open door as they have already been positively influenced and are already open to dialogue.
Which bases do we cover?
1) Identifying your influencers
So that’s the theory, but who are the people influencing your customers? Much will depend on whether your business sells direct to the customer or through the channel. Either way, the first job is to map out a set of discrete groups that influence the purchasing decision. Let’s take the example of a company that produces environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient office lighting.
Influencers that make the cut will include:
- Journalists – who write about office environments.
- Industry analysts/consultants – who write about the market and provide ‘behind closed doors’ advice to decision makers
- Academics – who teach about ergonomics and design and need to be aware of the latest trends
- Industry associations – who represent the trade and bring together people who work in in the industry
- Industry gurus – who blog, write and speak about the latest trends
- Existing customers – who use the product/service and can endorse its use
- Competition – who’d rather your target customer used their solution!
- Partners – who you work with to your mutual benefit
- Investors – who have invested in your business
- Charities – supporting greener initiatives
I could go on but by now you should have noticed a couple of things. Firstly, this is a long list (one client I worked with identified SIXTEEN separate influencer groups) and secondly, other parts of your marketing activity already address some of these groups e.g. journalists will be handled by PR and industry analysts will be looked after by the Analyst Relations team.
2) Scoring your influencers
For this example let’s just focus our influencer efforts on the industry gurus. How do we identify them and how do we work out the weight of their influence? Not as simple as you might think, and there is a need for some smart metrics that can evaluate the following:
- Reach – how big a following does this guru have on twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc? Does this person have blogs or articles in local publications or globally?
- Relevance – how engaged is this influencer socially e.g. how popular is the content that this person has shared?
- Expertise – from their public activity how is this influencer perceived? For example, have you noticed that they are giving keynotes at major industry events?
Each influencer will need a numeric score from 1 – 10 for each category. Ultimately, we will come up with a final influence score. The idea here is that there must be some measure of influence, even if arbitrary, that enables us to track and decide who indeed is an influencer of our target customer base.
3) Engaging your influencers
Assuming we have done our homework, we will probably have anything between 20 to 50 gurus that we have scored and ranked. But how will we work with them? This is where you need to be totally clear that working with an influencer is about education – NOT selling. It’s about informing – NOT persuading and it’s also about recognising that this influencer is rightly lauded because they might have a better understanding of the market than you, they have more experience than you or they just might be really, really smart!
The sorts of questions you need to think about:
- Is there information you can share that they will value and find of interest such as a white paper on an issue they care about?
- Are there things they can actually help with e.g. taking part in a podcast, speaking at one of your events?
- Do you have people in your company credible enough to establish and maintain proper relationships with your halloed influencers rather than just sell at them?
If you have big ticks to all the above then you are ready to go out there and influence those influencers.