Influencer marketing is progressing from too much hype and trial-by-fire programs to sensible strategies and accepted best practices. There’s no better time than today to re-fresh your thinking about influence — what it is, who has it, what roles it can play in business. I’ll be discussing these topics at next week’s Bay Area Executives Meetup in Mountain View, CA, along with moderator R Ray Wang of Altimeter Group and my co-panelists Michael Brito of Edelman Digital, Ali McCourt of Intuit and Tony Welch of HP. Special thanks to Tatyana Kanzavel for organizing the event and panel!
An interactive panel with R Ray Wang, Michael Brito, Barbara French, Ali McCourt & Tony Welch
Tuesday, August 24th
Networking 6:30 - 7:00 PM
Panel 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Location: Samovar Conference Hall, Mountain View, Calif.
Event hashtag: #baexec
The panel will provide perspectives on these critical questions about influence:
1. What is influence? and how do we align it with business value?
2. The myths vs. realities of influence
3. Key success factors of influence
4. Identifying influencers: who and why?
Space is limited. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door and include gourmet food and wine. Register now to get on the waiting list and (hopefully) get confirmed!
Bring your questions, join the conversation, and engage!
If you’ve been following my blogs or are a client, you’re familiar with my position on alternatives to the tech industry analysts for research and advisory.Â With this post, I’m bringing these conversations about alternatives to the industry analysts online. This post introduces some basic ideas and examples.
My position is simple: well-respected alternatives are out there; more sources are popping up all the time; only a fool ignores the good ones. Likewise, only a fool rushes in. The supply ofÂ ersatz research is bountiful as ever. Caveat emptor.
Today, I see very few cases where the alternatives completely displace the industry analysts. Typically, they coexist as vital resources. Often, they’re served up side-by-side in an integrated information portal available to employees. The alternatives tend to be most useful in 3 scenarios:
- Supporting specific decisions in real time
- Delving into topics that don’t attract dedicated industry analyst coverage
- Helping professionals develop broader, deeper or more inclusive perspectives
So where’s the good stuff? That depends on whether you want data-driven intelligence to help you buy and implement tech, or build and sell it. To start, here’s a short list of examples.
Associations: Long a sales and marketing channel for the tech industry analysts, many associations now offer their own research services to members and the public. Â Some groups permit members to conduct custom research and encourage well documented case studies and best practices. Others leverage member-supported research for advocacy and thought leadership. Classic examples include theÂ Consumer Electronics Association, IEEE, NASCIO and Socitm.
Academics: The ongoing disconnect between business and academia, at least here in the U.S., baffles many including me. The mutual disrespect might have been appropriate in years past. It is not today. Here’s the bite: some of the most successful companies in the world know this and fund research. Â Classic examples in this category include MIT Sloan School of Management, Stanford University and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Consultants: Management consultants have produced insightful research for decades. This group has the greatest overlap with the industry analysts who advise tech buyers. Classic examples include Booz Allen Hamilton,Â Deloitte and Â PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Smaller associations, universities, and consultancies can produce equally valuable data-driven insight. Plus, there are several other categories. Media and government agencies jump to mind.
Data-driven insight is available from many reputable sources. IT professionals look to them for information, validation and advice. As a result, tech providers need to see them for what they are: influencers.
Influencers are magnets. For example, we know that an influential keynote speaker is a sure-fire way to attract an audience. Yet, influencers are not simply intermediaries between us and our customers. They can also attract other influencers to our brands, our causes and our communities.
Robert Scoble demonstrated this dynamic to me during the Supernova ‘09 reception last month. I had approached to ask his opinion on the growing raft of influencer ranking tools and we got to talking more generally about how influence works. Within minutes, Mashable’s Ben Parr interrupted, intent on getting Scoble to say he’d attend an upcoming event. Scoble was having none of it, until Parr mentioned that a particular person would be there. That changed everything. Scoble turned to me and said, “See, that’s one way you influence me.”
You’re not likely to be in Ben Parr’s position, in terms of knowing the one precise name to drop and when to drop it. However, you can get there. Here are some simple tips on how to attract influencers with influencers.
1. If you have a 1:1 relationship in place, just ask. I know it seems too simple. However, the best way to find out is to ask. Pose the question in an appropriate context. Be upfront. You might explain that you’re building a larger circle of thought leaders, and want to include the people that they would most like to associate with. Or ask, “Who influences you? Who most influences your thinking?” If you’re producing a panel discussion ask your influencers to name their dream panel.
2. Create opportunities to discover and develop relationships between your influencers. Let influencers mingle by arranging dinners or adding social time to your business events. The key is to facilitate introductions and conversations without being a control freak. Don’t hover every minute: allow private conversations within the group. Stand back and observe the social dynamics. Then figure out what you learned and how to apply it to make your influencer marketing program even better.
3. Open the door to diverse people inside your organization. It’s good practice to assign an employee as a buddy to an influencer - but only to a point. Make it easy for influencers to tap into different parts of your company and get to know a mix of personalities and roles. Put this capacity into the DNA of your influencer marketing program. Examples include issuing a descriptive contact list, enhancing a private influencer portal with selected employee profiles, or involving different topical experts each time you brief your opinion leaders.
4. Watch for signs of trouble. Every one of us comes with baggage. It’s our nature. So, make no assumptions about who attracts who and who repels who. As you get to know influencers as people, you’ll find that some at competing companies enjoy opportunities to rub elbows while some who appear repeatedly at the same events and in the same press stories privately loathe each other.
Ask, watch, listen, think. Trust me, there’s just no app for that human touch.
Solid research is the only way to cut through the chatter about identifying and prioritizing influencers for word-of-mouth marketing and other forms of influencer marketing. Mike Gotta (Burton Group / Gartner ) points out a just such a study, from the pharma industry. I like this study because it focuses on finding the hidden opinion leaders who drive the first wave of word-of-mouth product referrals.
The study identifies two distinct types of opinion leaders among the target physicians: those who are trusted and respected by peers (called sociometric leaders) and those physicians who think of themselves as well connected and influential (called self-reported opinion leaders).
The opinion leaders identified by their peers are not the traditional targets pursued by marketers. If anything, they contradict current marketing wisdom about influencers and influentials. They are not overtly well connected, outgoing or high profile in terms of being published or public speakers.
Three nuggets to think about:
The study finds little overlap between the two types of influencers. Physicians fell into one group or the other.
The under-the-radar opinion leaders are quicker to use new product and more likely to influencer others to try it. This finding is based on matching network data with perscription records.
The under-the-radar sociometric opinion leaders are more interested in what their peers are doing, and are more open to word-of-mouth or social influence, than the self-reported opinion leaders.
Both types of opinion leaders play important roles in robust influencer marketing programs. One group is not better than the other; they’re just different kinds of people. The best course of action is to identify and address both types of opinion leaders. That means doing more research and more segmentation.
Summary at Knowledge@Wharton (hat tip to Mike Gotta)
You can’t do influencer relations without a good set of tools for identifying influencers and measuring and tracking their influence. Here’s a new tool for your consideration: Edelman’s TweetLevel, by Jonny Bentwood. TweetLevel calculates an “importance” rating of 0-100 for anyone with a Twitter handle. And, it’s free to use.
Most of the big agencies provide their clients with pricey dashboards and services for monitoring company reputation, PR programs and more. So it’s refreshing to see this Twitter discovery and ranking tool out in the public domain offered free of charge.
The total “importance” score is based on measurements in 4 areas: influence, popularity, engagement and trust. The underlying data comes from a combination of respected 3rd party influence/activity ranking sources, such as TwInfluence, and original Edelman calculations.
TweetLevel saves you time and gives you repeatable results, which we all need. From there, it’s up to you. It can’t tell you who the influencer is engaged with or whether the Twitter exchanges are positive, negative or neutral.
How would you use it today? A couple of ways to consider even now, during beta:
Lots of people play a part in a typical B2B purchase decision and naturally, identifying them is an important activity for any influencer relations program. You need to know who they are, including their name, job and location. First, you have to figure out who they are. That’s no so easy.
The big temptation is to start by asking the primordial question, “Who’s influencing the decision-makers at my accounts?”, and then jumping right to the obvious answers.
Not so fast!
It pays to back up one step. Start by thinking about the different kinds of people likely to be involved in purchase decisions for your products and services. This exercise helps you form a more complete picture of the influencer landscape. It also helps you avoid falling into ruts. This step encourages you to think about new types of influencers that may have emerged in your market and types of influencers your company tends to overlook.
In my case, I use the 24 categories of influencers from the Influencer Marketing book (page 55) with some additions for some clients. Generally, this basic list covers the ground and more:
Authors and management thinkers
Bloggers (and microbloggers)
Business and trade journalists
Buyers groups, purchasing lists and procurement authorities
Commentators and other individuals
Conferences and events
Consumers and consumer groups
Government agencies and regulators
Individual and niche consultants
Industry bodies, forums and federations
Peers (role-based, industry-based)
VARs, distributors and similar channel partners
Venture capitalists and investors
Get the most out of this exercise by concentrating on the types of influencers likely to have an effect on decision-makers during the actual decision process. Influence can be exerted directly — one-to-one, influencer to decision-makers — or indirectly. Indirect entails exerting influence through intermediaries.
Looking for a useful definition of “influencer” within the context of influencer marketing? Duncan gives a great run down in a B2B Marketing Online feature on influencer marketing by Meg de Jong, acting deputy editor:
“Duncan Brown, European managing director at specialist company Influencer50, points out that in terms of B2B marketing, marketers will be specifically interested in those individuals that impact on the buying decisions of firms.
“Depending on the specifics of your business, a large variety of people â€“ both internal and external to your target companies â€“ could be identified as influencers. These include journalists, consultants, academics, authors, sourcing advisors, management gurus, procurement advisors, systems integrators, regulators, government executives, standards setters, industry associations, resellers, lobbyists, events, forums and bloggers, among many possibilities.”
I am surprised to find Duncan saying that it’s rare for customers to be influencers. Sales professionals repeatedly tell me that customer references and customer case studies are highly valuable in winning business — not only towards the end of the purchase decision, but during short-listing as well.
Otherwise, it’s a excellent overview of B2B influencer marketing.
It’s a sure bet that when CIO and IT decision makers gather in groups, tech sales people circle nearby, angling to slip into the crowd. The common wisdom is that every member of these groups is a sales target. Each member is ripe with purchasing potential. That’s certainly a practical way for tech providers to look at IT peer groups. Yet when you view these groups primarily as a source of sales leads you’re leaving their greatest potential untouched.
High-end IT purchase decisions involve many types of influencers, and some of the most credible and trusted are professional peers within the senior IT and CIO community. Â We see the signs of this all around us, and we know the truth from our own lives. Â Research studies help quantify what our guts are telling us. Case in point, a late 2008 Forrester Research study*:
The members of these groups are gathering to share experiences, learn from each other and talk shop. In other words, they are influencing each other.
So, think twice next time you are compelled to drop an IT peer group into your lead funnel. You may be dropping highly valuable influencer networks into your cold calling program. That’s no way to treat an influencer.
* Â©Â 2008, Forrester Research. From “Using Buyer Social Behaviour to Boost B2B Social Media Success” by Laura Ramos, Oliver Young, Patrick Tripp.
Please join us for what promises to be a lively discussion about what’s wrong with marketing and how an influencer program can fix it. On May 20th, we are hosting a reception and presentation on influencer marketing at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Check out the details below. We’ve reserved complimentary tickets so email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or any of us, to get onto the guest list.
Purchasing decisions made within organizations have changed over the past decade, but marketing hasn’t. Today, networks or “ecosystems” of influencers shape enterprise purchase decisions. Hayes draws from work with clients such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Orange Business Services to show how to identify the diverse individuals who influence decision-makers in a market, how they influence, and how to engage them.
Date: May 20, 2009
Reception: 5:30 PM
Presentation, Q&A: 6:00PM
Where: Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105 (directions & parking)
Â Phone: +1 (415) 597-6700
Juniper Networks is updating its consultant relations strategy to better reflect the role these influencers play in customer decision-making. The new consultants program, under the umbrella of its channel partners program, is aimed “at partners who influence a customerâ€šÃ„Ã´s buying decisions but donâ€šÃ„Ã´t actually take part in the sale.”
This is an interesting approach to formalizing and updating consultant relations as part of a sales influencer program. For example, Juniper is looking to the consultants to provide neutral business or industry expertise as part of each customer’s decision-maker ecosystem. They bring in the consultant, or the prospect brings in the consultant. Either way, Juniper formally recognizes and supports the consultant during the sales process. This includes a stated emphasis on protecting the objectivity and independent advice of the consultant.
In a recent article in Business24-7.ae, Samer Shaar, a regional managing director for Juniper Networks explained:
“Independent players like Kallis, General Dynamics, Deloitte and Touche do not specialise in IT solution, but focus on the business concept. The system integrator and alliances come after that. Such an approach provides a business ecosystem that is functional and the neutrality of the consultant is also not lost… This is a trend and will become the next wave although it has not yet gone completely mainstream.”
It’s still fairly rare to see a corporate partners program embrace consultants in this way. Normally, the field organization ends up with the responsibilities — from ferreting out consultants in their accounts to putting together information packets and building relations without any special support from corporate.
It looks like a good approach.