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"B2B influencer marketing Ft. Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing" (Inbound Success Ep. 124)

"B2B influencer marketing Ft. Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing" (Inbound Success Ep. 124) Blog Feature

January 6th, 2020 min read

How do companies like Dell, SAP and LinkedIn build successful B2B influencer marketing campaigns that translate into real business ROI?

Adam Sand headshotLee-Odden
Lee Odden

This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, TopRank Marketing CEO and Co-Founder Lee Odden talks about B2B influencer marketing and what it takes to build influencer campaigns that deliver measurable marketing results. 

Lee uses his own agency, TopRank Marketing, as a laboratory where he tests new influencer marketing strategies that he then rolls out to clients like SAP and Cherwell Software.

In this episode, he shares advice on how businesses can partner with influencers, and what kinds of results to expect.

Highlights from my conversation with Lee include:

  • TopRank Marketing is a B2B digital marketing agency focused on content, search, and influence.
  • Lee sees B2B influencer marketing as an opportunity to give subject matter experts a platform to talk about things they're really passionate about, and do it in a way that is a win for both the influencer and the business with which they're partnering.
  • The best influencer campaigns bring together and curate credible voices in a way that gives them value from an exposure standpoint and at the same time are very "info-taining" to experience on the consumer side.
  • With B2C influencer marketing, very often brands are simply feeding the message to the influencer. By contrast, with B2B influencer marketing, brands are giving the influencers — who are experts on a topic — a platform to create and share a message of their own.
  • For companies interested in using influencer marketing, Lee says it is important to begin by identifying the business or marketing problem they are trying to solve.
  • The next step is then to identify the topic about which the business wants to be influential. This is often in the form of a topic cluster, much like you might see in SEO.
  • Once that topic has been identified, Lee and his team use three criteria to identify the right influencers:
    • 1) Topical relevance (the degree to which that individual's own content that they're publishing is a match at a relevance level to the topic of influence that they're targeting)
    • 2) Resonance (the degree to which that topic of influence actually resonates with the influencer's first and second level network)
    • 3) Reach (network size).
  • Lee says that the process of identifying influencers is similar in many ways to the process of search engine optimization because influencer marketing is optimizing for both find-ability and credibility.
  • Unlike B2C influencer marketing, B2B influencers do not always expect payment. It really depends upon the type of influencer you are working with and the level of commitment you are looking for. Lee suggests starting small and working with unpaid influencers before committing to larger paid partnerships.
  • Lee has built strong relationships with a variety of B2B influencers and credits his success to something he calls "influencer experience management," which is essentially the process of ensuring the influencer has a positive experience working with the brand while also obtaining a high return on their contribution.
  • One way he does this is by shortening the time horizon between the influencer's investment and effort and the return that they see, as well as by delivering longer term value.
  • When it comes time to promote influencer content, Lee says it is important to be empathetic to the influencer in developing a mix of media and messaging that you can supply to them and which they will want to promote.
  • Timing is also important and it is critical to have sufficient volume of promotion right at the launch of a campaign in order to trigger social algorithms to show the content at the top of the feed.
  • In terms of results, Lee says that if you are new to influencer marketing, you shouldn't expect that your first campaign will deliver a large number of leads, BUT you should plan to use the assets you develop in your lead gen campaigns and over time, you will see results.
  • He suggests thinking of your first campaign as a pilot, and then building from there.

Resources from this episode:

Listen to the podcast to learn how to build a successful B2B influencer marketing strategy.


Transcript

Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.

I'm Kathleen Booth and I'm your host. And today, my guest is Lee Odden who is the CEO of TopRank Marketing. Welcome Lee.

Lee Odden (Guest): Hey, it's great to be here, Kathleen.

Lee Odden and Kathleen Booth
Lee and Kathleen recording this episode.

Kathleen: I am so excited to have you here. I've been following you online for a very, very long time. And this is one of my favorite things about hosting a podcast, is it gives me an excuse to meet and talk to people who I would otherwise never have a reason to get to know and pick their brains on really interesting marketing subjects. So, looking forward to doing that with you today.

Lee: Well, I'm going to have to reciprocate. I'm going to have to reciprocate because I'm really... I'm interested in picking your brain too, so.

Kathleen: Well, let's do it. Let's get to the picking.

Lee: All right.

About Lee Odden and TopRank Marketing

Kathleen: So, for my listeners who may not be familiar with you, can you tell my audience a little bit about yourself and who you are, what you do, what TopRank does and really how did you wind up where you are today?

Lee: Well, that's quite a story and I'll make it short. So, I'm the CEO of TopRank Marketing. We're a B2B digital marketing agency focused on content, search and influence. We create experiences that inspire people basically.

And we started as a PR firm in 2001. I joined as an SEO guy at the time and started to really explore the confluence of content and PR/earned media and earned media and owned media and how we can surface a relevant audience, not only buyers but also journalists, through optimization.

And I remember that kind of combined into this sort of hybrid mix of services that we have today where we are serving clients like Dell, LinkedIn, SAP. We've done work for Oracle and Adobe and lots of other really cool B2B technology brands.

We're based in Minneapolis where it is wonderfully cold and snowy. We are in the heart of winter a little bit earlier than normal, but that's okay. That makes for some a very fun running in the morning.

And that's one thing about me, I've become a runner in the last 12 months or so.

Kathleen: Do you have some of those tracks things for your running shoes that they have the little springs on the bottom?

Lee: I didn't. So, I opted to get some... oh God, what are they called now? Something One One, Kona One One, anyway. So, these are some special shoes that are made - they're actually a trail running shoes made for the winter.

Kathleen: Oh, wow.

Lee: So, it's a hybrid between a trail running shoe and a hiking boot basically. So, it's got a huge foam foot bed but with super grippy Vibram soles. And I ran in the ice this morning and it worked great. So yeah, I'm an all-weather runner.

Kathleen: Oh, that's great. I used to be a runner. But things have caught up with me and my knees decided that I would no longer be a runner. So, now, I am an avid spinner

Lee: There you go.

Kathleen: But I miss running and I missed it. I used to love running in the snow. It's so pretty and it's such a great way to experience, snowy world.

Lee: Absolutely. I spent many years not doing very much at all being very much a computer geek type person sitting behind a desk. And so, while a lot of other people my age are in your seat... in the situation you described where their hips or their knees or their ankles or various tendons have gone caput, I don't have that.

So, hopefully, I have another 20 years or so of the joy and the euphoria that comes right from the... all those endorphins firing after a great run.

And what's really interesting about what I found about running and really a big fitness focus for me over the last year and a half or so is the parallels to marketing. You know what I mean? Because it's just kind of interesting and very curious.

I think the people expect to lose weight overnight because they tried a new exercise program or meal or diet plan. And people sometimes look at marketing tactics and feel the same way. A lot of inbound marketing tactics actually like SEO and content.

It just doesn't work that way. You've got to invest, you've got to commit and all those other things. So, there's a lot of interesting parallels I think between fitness and marketing performance.

Kathleen: So true.

And you just gave me the perfect segue into my next question, which is that you and I really first connected around this because you reached out and asked me to participate in your B2B marketing fitness guide, which was related to MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum.

I was speaking there and you were putting together a guide that essentially did tie marketing and fitness together and were asking for almost sort of submissions around that.

And it's funny because when I got that email from you, I was like, "Yes, I have always thought this too" that with fitness, we all know what we're supposed to do, right? We know that we're supposed to regularly exercise and this and that. It's just that so few people actually do it.

And it's the same thing with marketing. We pretty much all know what we're supposed to do. But so, few companies and marketers actually managed to do it consistently on a regular basis over time. So, I thought that was genius.

But the other thing that really what's interesting to me as I interfaced with you and your team around that project was just the whole process that you put together and how incredibly thorough it was, how thoughtful and detail oriented it was.

Watching you execute that and the way that you worked with the different contributors and influencers on the project to me was fascinating.

And so, that's what I was excited to dig into today since then I've learned that you do this kind of influence our work not just with your own company but with all kinds of clients. And so, I would love to talk about that with you.

B2B influencer marketing

Lee: Sure, sure. It's one of the joys of what I get to do and that is to shine a light on people with great talent. And it's in the context of influencer marketing.

But really, it's interesting to me to have an opportunity, create conversations to create opportunities or architect opportunities where people can talk about things that they're really passionate about, situations where they can add value.

And then, as puzzle pieces, pull them together into an experience that really showcases them in a really positive, optimistic light. And ultimately, I'm after a 360 win situation. This brings me great personal and professional joy to get to do that.

So, there are opportunities for marketing obviously when trying to create thought leadership or customer acquisition or we have other obviously traditional marketing objectives. But how can we create value for people first?

How can we bring together and curate super credible voices, experienced voices together in a way that gives them value from an exposure standpoint? But at the same time, because of the story behind it all, it's very info-taining to experience on the consumer side, right?

And so, people enjoy consuming the information, they are inspired to share it, people that contribute enjoy consuming the information and they too are inspired to share it. And ultimately, becomes more successful as a result.

Kathleen: So, this is really interesting to me because you think about this term "Influencer Marketing" and it's a very broad catchall for a lot of different things.

And I think most people think of influencer marketing and they're probably thinking of things like somebody pays a Kardashian to plug a product on their Instagram feed or the Fyre festival.

There is certainly that kind of influencer marketing where you're just really paying to put your product or service in front of that person's audience.

But then, there's this whole other world that I think you've tapped into which I think is the more interesting one. And I love that you refer to it as an experience.

But what I noticed about the way that you managed this particular project that, that got this going was that it wasn't the typical, "Hey, you have an audience. I want to get in front of it." What will it cost? It was, "We're creating something and we want you to be a part of it."

And the big takeaway I had was that every... I kept speaking only for myself as somebody who participated. I felt like I had a sense of ownership in it, right? Because I played a part in creating it.

And I think that's a very different angle to Influencer Marketing when your influencer has a feeling of ownership actually co-create the content with you seems to lead to a very different outcome.

So, maybe you could just talk about that a little bit. Because I just feel the spectrum of Influencer Marketing.

Lee: Absolutely. One of the big challenges of our time in the marketing world is the growing distrust consumers have of brands.

And so, our opportunity as marketers is to bring forward as much authentic information and create as many authentic experiences as possible.

So, rather than treating people who are credible experts — and in the case of B2B influencers, we are really talking about credible experts as opposed to people who self-anoint them, an influencer who are really good at taking selfies and all that other silly stuff — so, what we're looking at is inviting them to contribute to a thing that's bigger than ourselves, right?

Where in some cases, it really is changing the world, it's a movement. Others' work, we've done with SAP and the United Nations around some initiatives around the United Nations around purpose. And it's like pretty remarkable.

Where I mean, these influencers are just CEOs of major corporations and celebrities sometimes and then... and other folks. But on the other hand, it's other folks who are working in their industry and they've really established the respect. And they also have that domain expertise too.

So, rather than feeding them a message, rather than treating them like an ad by which is where the B2C world tends to focus, we're rather trying to help them.

First, we identify them as the credible person around the topic and that that topic resonates with their audience. That's our data informed homework we do beforehand.

And then, once we invite that person because they are credible and there's evidence that they are credible, we do invite them to contribute and we want to hear their authentic, authentic voice.

We want to hear what their opinion is in the context of an overall story. And then, whatever they say is perfect because it's real. And that's what people are looking for.

And that's why I think it turns into that experience that is not only good for the contributors, but it's obviously a good experience for the audience that we're out there to attract and engage.

Getting started with B2B influencer marketing

Kathleen: I love that. And trust really is at the heart of business. When people are buying from you, they're buying because they trust you. And that authenticity is the biggest thing that fuels that...

You named a lot of the different companies that you work with. It's an incredibly impressive list. I imagine there are many clients and prospective clients who come to TopRank and they talk about wanting to do some form of influencer marketing.

Can you talk a little bit about what those first conversations look like -- when you engage with someone or consider engaging with someone? I imagine that influencer marketing is not necessarily right for everyone and, or you have to have the right set of expectations.

So, how do you suss that out?

Lee: Yeah, that's a great question because people come in from a variety of perspectives. So, a lot of the time people come in from a marketing or demand gen perspective.

And in that case, they may say influencer marketing outright because they've pulled themselves through education, around industry information or conferences or whatever and have come to the conclusion that this is something that will help them get solve a marketing problem.

And so, really, what we're after first is defining what that marketing problem is because it's not always an exact match. You know what I mean?

Also, we have people who have interpreted what the expression influencer marketing means and then, for example, if they see it only as an ad.

We had a company recently that said, "We have 30 days." There's been some positive news in our industry that would be good and a good reflection on our brand and the problem that we solve as a company.

And so, we have 30 days to quickly... I want you to find some influencers, run a campaign and take advantage and sort of ride the wave of this positive news in the industry.

It's like, "no."

But we're very focused on organic and authentic advocacy and engagement, not on just paying people who are willing to say something nice and it's not legitimate or genuine, you know what I mean?

And also, the timeframe makes no sense. 30 days is crazy, especially in a B2B context.

So, the first thing we're looking for is to really understand what it is that business is... what's the business problem or the marketing problem they're trying to solve?

And the degree to which partnering with credible experts can help solve that problem.

And the interesting thing is, from a demand gen lead gen standpoint, that is totally reasonable. And it is possible within a short period of time to find people who the right kind of people who can contribute to that outcome. It's not always possible.

You do have to look for data, you have to look for evidence of people who are already actively advocating for the brand and that actively publish, that are respected in the industry.

And when you have the good fortune of finding those combination of traits, then, you can reach out to them, invite them to contribute to something and have a reasonable expectation that one of the outcomes from that content you collaborate on is going to result in some sort of MQL.

And usually, in a B2B case, it's a download or a trial or demo or something like that.

On the other hand, there are people from PR who come in. And it's influencer relations to them, not influencer marketing. So, they think of it from an analyst relations standpoint. They're thinking more thought leadership. They're not looking at conversions. They're not looking at lead gen per se.

They're looking at building the influence of the brand, building the reputation of the company and even ways in which they can elevate the influence of their key opinion leaders and senior executives.

Well, that's a very different approach and is also appropriate as a collaboration with industry influencers. It's just executed in a very different way.

So, we find out what it is that it needs to be solved and then we apply the expertise and knowledge and the networks that we've already built with all these different influencers in the different industries, especially in B2B industries and then architect a plan on how to do that.

Identifying the right influencers with whom to partner

Kathleen Booth: So, if you get someone in who has the right expectations and it's a good fit and you think influencer marketing makes sense, one of the things I'm curious about is, how do you identify the right influencers?

I assume there's obviously a component of, they need to have something of a following. But I imagine there's probably more to it than just that. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Lee: Absolutely. In fact, one of the biggest failures that people make is, when they do focus only on popularity. It's easy to do that, but everyone's doing it.

And of course, it can be faked. It doesn't happen as often in B2B as in B2C. So, to identify the right influencers, starts with topic specificity. What is it that you want to be influential about?

What topics are going to matter to your customers or to the audience that you're after? The association of that topic of influence amongst influencers is something that can then elevate the brand and can give the marketing message more credibility, more reach and more engagement.

So, we have to understand what those topic or topics are. Usually, it's a topic cluster.

There's a primary and derivative topics -- something similar to what you might do with SEO for example.

And once we identify those topics, then we use a variety of approaches to brainstorm influencers -- everything from interviewing people at the brand to looking at CRM data to social data.

But ultimately, we're going to use a platform that is crawling the social web platforms like Traackr, T-R-A-A-C-K-R. I spell it just because it's easy that... not spell that right.

And so, what they're doing is they have a database of millions and millions of people on all the things that they're sharing and what their followers are interacting with.

And so, the minimum criteria, the data points that we're looking at are topical relevance, the degree to which that individual's own content that they're publishing is a match at a relevance level to the topic of influence that we're after.

Second, we're looking at resonance, the degree to which that topic of influence actually resonates with their first and second level network, right?

Because we don't want it to be weird that they start talking about Apple mice or something like that and they never talk about that.

And then, the third thing is reach, of course, which is network size.

There are other elements like audience characteristics and what kind... do they publish their own blog? Do they publish to industry websites? Do they speak at conferences? Are they a book author?

And there are other sorts of signals that are both online and offline that we may consider according to the situation. And increasingly, we're starting to bring in SEO metrics.

So, we want to know sometimes where there's someone isn't a recognized entity by Google, right? And so, are they on Wikipedia? Are they showing up in... from an SEO perspective provided that the reason why we're doing the campaign has SEO expectations. We'll look for those criteria.

That's not always the case, but increasingly it is because there's a lot of congruence between topic specificity as it relates to SEO and topic specificity as it relates to influence. You want to help someone be the best answer.

And what we like to say is we're optimizing for findability. But we're also optimizing for credibility.

So, all those factors come into play and identifying well, who's the right match, right? And obviously, there are other things, and I know that I could probably write a book all just about this but we want to make sure that the type of content we have planned is a match for obviously what they publish.

So, YouTubers -- video, right? Bloggers -- text. Podcasters -- audio, and so forth.

And making sure that we're really aligning from a value standpoint what that influencer has demonstrated through their interactions with their community and the values that brand stands for.

All those things factor in to picking the right person. And still, after a campaign or two, it may turn out to be that that person is not a fit because influence is temporal. It is not permanent. It goes up and down and it is very important to revisit these... some of these criteria on an ongoing basis and that's something most brands are not doing.

Working with influencers

Kathleen: I hear a lot of marketers talk about influencer marketing and they're intrigued by it. They love the idea of it. They see the potential. But I think sometimes what stumbles them or causes them to stumble is the actual, like, execution. How is this going to work?

And for somebody who's listening and they're thinking, "This sounds great, I love this idea, I'm willing to go out and find these influencers that combine the credibility with the popularity and all of the other things you just mentioned", this is a two-part question.

First of all, what kind of expectations should they have around, should I be paying these people? And if so, how much? And the second part is, if they're not getting paid, what are the odds they're going to actually say yes to participate?

Lee: Sure. So, getting paid or not paid especially, now, we happen to focus on B2B, so that's where my most of my experience lies.

In B2C, if someone has a significant level of popularity and experience being an influencer for brands, almost all the time they're going to want to be paid. In a B2C scenario, where people don't get paid, maybe you have a cause-oriented marketing initiative.

So, the influencer is part of the same cause or initiative that your brand is interested in and you come together to make a big difference and that's something where they may just volunteer their time because you believe in the same thing.

In B2B, it's less common for influencers to be paid. There's a lot more content and when you look at the full customer life cycle at a B2B scenario, there's just so much more content involved as increasingly buyers are pulling themselves through that sales cycle or through that process before they ever contact sales.

So, what you would pay an influencer for is what you would pay a consultant for in a lot of cases.

So, for example, well, let's look at this. When I reached out to you and some of the others, you know I mean, they were super credible, it was a really a great group of people that shared a quote, a 50 to a hundred words, that's not normally a paid thing.

Plus, we have a great reputation in our industry for making people look really good. We put them in these interactive experiences and it really does showcase and everyone gets... it's really valuable for them and they can monetize that exposure in other ways by being more credible at their job.

It could contribute to book deals, it could contribute to paid speaking gigs or consulting gigs and so on and so forth.

So, on the other hand, if I asked someone to... well, for example, I'm working with Brian Solis on an industry report as an analyst. I'm paying him. I mean, he's an influencer but he's also an analyst.

Kathleen: But that's what he does for a living, right?

Lee: So, he's doing work. Yeah, exactly. And that's a good distinction too.

So, there are different types of influencers. There are "brandividuals" and I would say Brian is one of them. These are professional influencers. They are making it their business to continually collect intelligence to do analysis, to be a thought leader in their industry.

So, they also publish and they actively engage in the network. And they're able to do this in a way that creates much value that it just makes sense to engage them on a paid basis.

So, I mean, sometimes this manifests as a keynote presentation or they may emcee a whole track at your user conference.

They may do a webinar for you that is hyper focused on something that you can monetize through lead gen. Or they could create a whole eBook or they could do a video series. We engage influencers like Tamara McCleary for example, who is the host for a season of podcasts for SAP called Tech Unknown.

And you've got to listen, if you get a chance to listen to season two, just the first episode just dropped. It is so cool. We're talking about supply chain management and it's actually interesting.

It's actually, it's amazing. You go from a farm in Thailand somewhere to a coffee shop and it's all audio. It's like you're listening to an NPR well-produced show but it's a podcast.

And influencers are involved both as a host and as guests. So, the host is probably a paid situation whereas the guests are not because they're only on for one show, for one interview or whatever.

So, hopefully, that makes sense.

So, I think a lot of people just starting out feeling optimistic. They can start off by identifying people who are already advocates for their brand that are also influential and simply invite them to do something simple, share a quote, share commentary about a report, share some insights. Or at this time of year, some trends.

And start things that way and see how that goes. And you can build from there.

Building win-win influencer partnerships

Kathleen: Yeah. And if I hear you correctly, part of it is also making it a great experience for that person who contributes. It's not just asking and getting the information, it's the follow-up that you do, the way that you help that person leverage their involvement in order to achieve their own goals.

Whether that's building their personal brand or as you... I think you mentioned publishing a book or getting a speaking gig. I feel like there's that whole, you called it earlier a 360 win. How do you make it a win for them as well?

Lee: I think that absolutely. And we call that "influencer experience management."

So, customer experience is so much of a, a term, or it's in the vernacular of marketers these days of selling platforms and marketing services or whatever. And we apply those same ideas to the influencers that we work with because so many of them are organic sorts of collaborations and value exchanges that we have to.

It's very important that we make it easy for them to do their best for them to enjoy it and to get a disproportionately high return on their effort. And that spells a win for everyone. It really, really, really does.

Examples of TopRank influencer campaigns

Kathleen: So, assuming that I wanted to do an influencer campaign. I'd love to just talk through what... how this work, what are some of the better frameworks for them and what kinds of results I could expect.

And I guess the best way to tackle this might be to do it through some examples because I know that you've used your own company as a bit of a laboratory to try out new strategies and figure out what is going to work well and what isn't. And then, you tend to roll that out to some of your clients.

Maybe you could share some of those examples and talk through the kinds of results you've gotten?

Lee: Sure. So, excuse me, one of the earlier examples, I think it was 2012 or so, we approached, or Joe Pulizzi and I were talking. So, he's the founder of Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing World conference. We were talking about how we might collaborate together.

Because previously, our blog is fairly popular and we had been a media sponsor for quite a few conferences as a blog which at the time was very... you had to be actual magazine or have a massive email list or something like that.

So, I had great success with that kind of collaboration with events and publications.

And we were talking about what we could do together. And I thought, well, how about if I do this? Now, today, this is going to sound so unique. But at the time it was fairly unique.

So, I thought, well the conference has, I think it was a secret agent was a theme somehow. I don't know if that was a theme of the conference. But oh, know what it was.

So, I suggested, how about if I reach out to somebody of the other speakers and invite them to share their expertise as a preview to the conference. We'll publish this before the event and it'll attract attention to the conference.

At one level, that was like, "Yeah, duh, that makes sense. Okay, great."

But what I knew as a speaker is that this is a multi-track conference. And nothing is more disappointing to showing up at a multi-track conference and finding out that three or four other super popular people are speaking at the same time as you and there's only 25 people in your seats.

So, I empathized with the speakers in this way. And so that is part of the context of my invitation to some of the really popular speakers that I didn't have a relationship with as an invitation to give them exposure, immediate return on their effort, opportunity is really what that was.

And I learned a lesson in this. So, I started out thinking, I would just do 10 question interviews and publish the interviews on our blog. That was the format of the content I had in mind.

I sent out these 10 questions to quite a few of the speakers and only one responded. And that was a big failure. So, one of the questions was, can you share one secret about content marketing?

And I thought, I'm going to try this again. And so, I repositioned a question. I said, I asked it as if I was a character, I said, "You're a secret agent and you've just returned from a meeting with your handler and now you have a secret that will save the content marketing world. What's that one secret?"

And these people who had no time for the 10 questions rapidly responded, many in character, "This is agent 35. Here's my secret from technology company X, Y, Z."

And we got, I don't know, 30s or 25 responses. And so, we use the vintage James Bond sort of theme where you have an aged folder with coffee stains on it. And the red-letter stamps secrets as an eBook aesthetic that Joe Kalinowski at Content Marketing World created the cover.

And then, we took that cover's inspiration and created all the interior aesthetics and everyone loved it. They had all these graphics and we positioned them as the little Polaroid photos and all this stuff.

So, it was, what is it, 40,000, 50,000 views over the weekend on SlideShare alone. It was the featured content on SlideShare and other speakers at the conference were talking about it because it dropped right before the conference.

So, that really set the stage for events and content, the people speaking at events and content, as something where we could create immediate value for people, right?

Because, the hypothesis was not what can we get from people, it was what value can we create for people.

But we've got to shorten the time horizon between their investments and effort and the return that they see. And we also want there -- because it would be digital content -- we want there to be an ongoing or long-term return as well, hopefully.

So, that was the framework for what we still do today. And actually, that was the framework for the project that you contributed to as well.

Kathleen: Yeah, it sounded-

Lee: And so, there's lots of other examples like that. Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah. And kudos to you for recognizing a huge pain point because yes, I have spoken at many a multi-track event and there's nothing worse than there being three tracks and the other two guys have packed rooms and you're like, "Okay, you five people, we're going to have a really interactive session because there are so few of us."

Lee: Yeah, exactly.

Promoting influencer marketing content

Kathleen: So, that's great.

What I thought was really interesting is, a lot of what you talked about is, it really is leveraging the classic principles of marketing. Because when you talked about reducing the number of questions that you asked, it's the same principle behind how many forms do you put in a... or fields you put in a form.

If you asked for 15 things, not a lot of people are going to respond. You asked for two things, you're going to get a lot more. So that makes a lot of sense.

But I think one of the most interesting aspects of this to me is, how you enabled the share-ability. Because I know you did this with the one I participated in as well.

And you talked about the graphics and making it really cool kind of Polaroid picture like things.

Can you maybe talk through how you... what happens once the piece is done? In other words, what assets do you deliver to the contributors and how do you follow up with them to encourage sharing?

Lee: So, the, the magic of promotion starts in the planning.

So, I talked about topic specificity as it relates to search and influence. So, we use search data as a reflection of demand and we use other data sources to kind of get an idea of what questions are people actually asking around the topic, the brand wants to be known for.

And that actually informs the influencers we pick but also the questions we asked them to give insights about.

So, there's information architecture if you will, to the way the content is curated and then structured that follows through then to the promotional assets that are delivered, right?

So, for example, if I worked with you on a future project, I'm like, "Kathleen in inbound marketing, inbound marketing." So, I'm going to ask you about inbound marketing.

And then, in a promotion asset it may be an infographic, it maybe an interactive infographic. We often repurpose content into promotional videos.

Actually, I've got a great example for you to just... we did a conference, had a game theme. All right. So, we decided to use 8-bit video game as an aesthetic.

And then, we did these promo videos where we literally turn the influencers who contributed into these 8-bit characters and you could... and then, it had the music like the Mario Brothers music... and the left to right and the scene moving behind them and whatever.

And so, we use those as a promotional videos and we gave static images, we gave the video content to the influencers to share. And of course, we shared that on our own network as well.

And obviously, we pre-write social messages. And that is an art all by itself because the social message you would give to the industry is a completely different social message you would give to someone that works at that brand or to the influencers themselves, right?

People often mistake that influencers only want to self-promote and they'll give them a graphic with their own photo in it and it's like, no, in certain cases that is... the last thing in the world they want.

But if you give them a graphic with a photo of all the influencers that they are participating with, now, that is motivating because by association, that'll lift their credibility. Otherwise, it just looks like gratuitous chest beating.

Kathleen: It's so awkward when you're like, "Look at me. I'm doing this thing."

Lee: Yeah. And so, it's being empathetic. That empathy is instrumental obviously in marketing but especially with promotion.

And so, there are promotional assets that are a mix of media and messaging.

There's also a timing that comes into play. As we all know, social algorithms will emphasize engagement within a very focused period of time.

So, when there's a launch, we want to architect as much organic sharing as possible around that very specific launch time so that algorithms will respond and then feature that content higher in the feeds and that sort of thing.

What kinds of results can you expect from B2B influencer marketing campaigns?

Kathleen: So, at the end of the day, you run a campaign like this. What kind of results does it deliver?

Lee: So, again, results and metrics and all that obviously are tied to the goals of the program.

While some people will start with a campaign sort of idea, really what it is, it's a pilot. And what you should expect from a pilot where you don't have an influencer program in place already is simply to create great relationships with the influencers to have created content that you can repurpose for demand gen efforts, which could lead to the lead gen that you're after.

But as far as the actual influencer content on that pilot, that is a top of funnel thought leadership type of expectation, that's the reasonable expectation.

And again, like I say, you can repurpose that content for demand gen efforts. You can deconstruct that influencer content and use its ingredients to put in other demand gen and lead gen types of efforts long-term.

But I wouldn't expect leads off of a pilot. I really wouldn't.

That said, we have had pilots do really well. There's a company, it is an IT service management industry called Cherwell software. The very first pilot we did for them, or the pilot we did for them, I don't know, they're 15 influencers talking about... is reacting to a report, an industry trends report that they had produced.

And so, the influencers are reacting to that data and the content of that report, we put it together as an eBook. We gave them compelling content to share that one campaign because obviously, you were encoding all those URLs that they're sharing.

That one campaign was responsible for 22% of their pipeline for the entire year.

Kathleen: Wow.

Lee: It's an award-winning campaign. Demand Gen Report gave it the Killer Content Award offer that year. In fact, well anyway, I'll stop there. But we're continuing to work with them-

Kathleen: I want a link to this campaign so I can check it out and put it in the show notes by the way.

Lee: Absolutely. Yeah. And so, that can happen. But that's not typical.

And the thing is, when you do a pilot like this and you don't have influence or relationships already, I mean, it only makes sense that you're just opening the door to this as a tactic.

It's kind of like, if you know about SEO. Obviously, if we optimize something and we get a couple of links, we're not expecting a flood of leads after a month, that's crazy. Or even a quarter, it takes time to earn it.

Now, if your starting point is one where you have a super mature website and you've got hundreds of thousands of links in all kinds of content and you're just making some technical mistakes, you can fix those things and have great expectations.

Same sort of thing in influencer marketing. If you already have really great relationships and credibility with industry influencers, but you're just not activating them in an effective way, we can see that. And then, we can architect an experience for them that will result in the thing that you're actually after.

So, it really depends on the goal. It depends on the starting point.

But ultimately, no matter where you start, we can get there, right? There's a phased approach that you can take, a maturity escalation that you can follow or a path of escalation and maturity that you can follow that can take you from experimenting to being processed and transactional to be more relationship focused, ultimately, being... having momentum and being fully integrated.

Companies that are nailing B2B influencer marketing

Kathleen: Now, you mentioned Cherwell as an example of a really successful campaign. Are there other companies or specific campaigns that spring to mind if somebody is listening to this and they want to go out and see a living breathing example of how this was done in the wild? What should they look at?

Lee: Absolutely. So, another great example is a SAP has as a Tech Unknown podcast. I mentioned that before. So, just if you Google "TechUnknown" as one word or "SAP Tech Unknown," you'll see season one has been out there and we just crushed it with the downloads or they crushed it with the downloads.

And so, Tamara McCleary was the host inviting industry experts from within and with outside the organization and just really talking about topics of interest to their buying audience.

Same thing with Dell technologies where Mark Shaffer and Douglas Karr are the influencer hosts and they're interviewing people within Dell technologies, group of companies as well as outside experts about things that their audience will care about.

Also, another podcast example I'd love to share is 3M. 3M publishes the largest study of science on the planet, right? It's the study, State of Science Index study.

And as a complement to that, we started a podcast where their chief science evangelist, Jayshree Seth, I'm hoping I'm saying your name right, is the host. And then, she interviews people from astronauts to educators other intellectuals or practitioners in business that work in the field of science to help people understand how science impacts our lives.

And again, I think we're on season two of that. So, audio wise it's a great opportunity.

Episodic content bodes really well I think for influencer engagement because it creates a platform you to have guests. And it's a very natural metaphor for what people already know to be exposed to different ideas and for you to invite people who can add to your sort of portfolio of influencers.

Because when you create that interview experience, the experience can inspire advocacy long after that episode has dropped for that person as they go about talking about things of interest in the industry.

We also create a lot of interactive assets. So, the marketing, fitness, the B2B marketing fitness thing that you were part of was a slightly interactive. There was a conference where I... the topic, what was the topic? Break Free of Boring B2B. So, in fact if you search "Break Free Boring B2B," you'll find this.

And so, I gave a challenge to my team and our designers came up with a couple of designs and one of them was basically, it would be 150-foot-tall grizzly bear with lasers coming out of his eyes lighting up the city. I was like, "Okay, that sounds great."

And so, we used that as the aesthetic for this interactive infographic that featured experts in B2B talking about how to not be boring, how to break free of boring B2B marketing. And we also created a promotional video, which was as or more popular than the actual inner infographic.

So, that went over. Well, people talked about it and I could show it on my mobile phone and people are like, "Oh, that's amazing. Can I take a picture of you holding that infographic on your phone." Which turned into new business for us.

But that also instigated a series of interviews, which we are publishing twice a week now through January where we interviewed people about the series is called Break Free B2B or Break Free B2B Marketing.

So, I mean, what a topic, right? It's universally interesting. How can we break free of status quo? How can we break free of legacy mindsets? How can we break free to greater results? So, there's so many things that we can talk about.

So, that one influencer generated infographic initiated an ongoing series of episodic content. And it's really that episodic content that's creating all the momentum. So, I know that's a whole bunch of ideas there.

But I think what's common amongst all of them is, one, topic specificity, meaning that we know the brand wants to... they stand for something that the customers care about and we find people who are influential around those ideas that have something of value to contribute.

But first, we're creating value for them as a reason to contribute. And all of them are experiential, right?

They're experiential at their audio capture, they're interactive if it's static capture or heck, we've even done virtual reality experiences that feature influencers.

So, it's something that is experiential for the influencer and it's experiential for the consumer, the audience that you're after.

And then, ultimately, because of those meaningful, relevant experiential characteristics, they are productive. They have impact and they deliver on a return on the investment.

Kathleen: Those are all great examples. And I'm really actually looking forward to checking them out because I think there are lots of brands that kind of check the box and have a podcast for example.

But as a podcaster myself, I've really come to appreciate how much strategy there needs to be behind what you're podcasting about and how that fits in with your broader goals and then how that informs who you have on.

Like, there's a lot of work that needs to be done before you sit down in front of the microphone and start talking. And so, can't wait to check a couple of those out and see what they're all about.

Repurposing influencer content

Lee: Absolutely.

And one of the great things about all of this is of course the re-purposing opportunities, because when you are planning to repurpose as part of the content planning itself, atomizing or deconstructing the influencer content into ingredient content is easier.

And it gives you a library of a resource to draw from to add to your sort of recipes, if you will, to follow the metaphor of other content types that you're creating.

So, if you're contributing an article to an industry publication, you go, "Oh yeah, I talked to Kathleen and she said that really smart thing and I've already got that saved. I'll pop that into that article and contributing to Forbes." And are you going to be disappointed that you show up in Forbes? Probably not.

Six months after you actually gave the quote in the first place. So, it's something that is the repurposing opportunity is great because it creates more value from a marketing standpoint. But also, it's a way of showing love to your influencers long after their original contribution and it keeps that love alive, which is super, super important in an organic relationship.

Kathleen's two questions

Kathleen: Absolutely. Well, I feel like I could talk about this forever with you because there are so many good nuggets here. But we do not have forever. And so, before we wrap up, there are two questions that I always ask all of my guests. We'd love to hear your answers on these.

The first is that on this podcast we do talk a lot about inbound marketing. And I'm curious, having worked with so many different companies, is there one particular company or individual that really stands out who's just killing it with inbound marketing right now?

Lee: I think I racked my brain around this a lot. And one company that I think that has had a long view of this and is doing really, really well that we work with is LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

So, about five years ago, Jason Miller, who was at LinkedIn at the time -- now he's at Microsoft, had tasked us with finding and interviewing influencers for a new guide he was putting together called The Sophisticated Marketer's Guide to LinkedIn.

That one guide, five years ago, which had a 21,000% ROI, had become a sub-brand for LinkedIn.

So, if you Google the expression Sophisticated Marketer's Hub, you will find an index of what that one guide has turned into. eBooks, podcasts, a video show, a print magazine, blog posts, obviously social -- they even repurposed the podcast into an actual book.

They have learning courses. They verticalized a lot of this content for other specific industries and they're just... I think they're just doing an amazing job at creating a micro brand around this idea of the Sophisticated Marketer's Guide to fill in the blanks as it relates to LinkedIn as an inbound marketing exercise.

Kathleen: It's fascinating how it has blossomed and sort of mushroomed into this other thing entirely over the years.

Marketing is changing so quickly. That's the biggest complaint I hear from marketers is they can't keep up with it all. How do you personally stay educated and keep up with the changing landscape?

Lee: Oh, that's a secret, Kathleen. I can't really... I'm just kidding. My network is the number one source for sure. Also, my team. One of my great joys in life is getting to meet with my team and talk about challenges and successes that they're having. And I learn an awful lot about that.

I'm also afforded the opportunity to experiment with our agency. I'm still very much a marketing practitioner. So, whatever time I can carve out for experimentation is a great learning experience.

I also subscribe to different topics, not so much websites but to topics so through social channels, there is content around marketing that surfaces to me.

There are some individuals that I'll follow. Obviously, people like Ann Handley as an example.

Certainly, I speak at a lot of events and rather than just... dine and dash as it were, I like to come in and I stay and I sit in on sessions.

And also, competitive intelligence. I'm a big fan of understanding what the market is doing, not just direct... they're not just other marketing agencies, but also other businesses and really doing a lot of reflection and analysis on what seems to be working for other companies in the industry and creating some lessons at our company.

We do quite a bit of knowledge transfer, lunch and learns and other structured learning opportunities.

And so, all these sorts of things keep me accountable to sharing knowledge with my team and they are sharing knowledge with me as well, right? So, it's very dynamic situation, very symbiotic in that way.

And yet, I still feel like I only know 10% of what I need to know.

Kathleen: Oh amen. I have the same problem. There's never enough time. But, yes, it does definitely. I mean, you have an amazing network. And certainly, people like Ann Handley, et cetera, these are people that you can learn so much from. So, I love that idea.

But I think for somebody who doesn't have a network, they could probably even approximate what you're doing by putting together a really curated Twitter feed or set of blogs they follow of people that clearly know a lot and absorb it that way as well. So, that's a great strategy.

Lee: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I can't underestimate the value of experimentation. And whether you're able to do the experimentation yourself or if you happen to be working with an agency and you can carve out a little budget for experimentation, I highly recommend it.

How to connect with Lee

Kathleen: Yeah. Now, if someone's listening and they want to learn more about Influencer Marketing or they want to reach out and ask a question or somehow get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to connect with you online?

Lee: Well, people can certainly come visit us at toprankmarketing.com. And there, they can find our blog, which has many, many articles over the last five or six, seven years around Influencer Marketing, especially B2B Influencer Marketing. And you can certainly connect with me on the Twitter, L-E-E-O-D-D-E-N on LinkedIn or lee@lee.to.

You know what to do next...

Kathleen: All right. Great. I will put all those links in the show notes. So, if you would like to learn more or connect with Lee, head over there and you'll find all of those contacts. And if you're listening and you liked what you heard or you learn something new, we always appreciate a five-star review on Apple podcasts so that other people can find the podcast as well.

Kathleen: And if you know someone else doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork because I would love to make them my next interview. Thank you so much, Lee. This was a lot of fun and very informative.

Lee: Thanks Kathleen.

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