Should influencers have a place in B2B marketing?

Influencer marketing – a phenomenon which has taken the marketing world by storm over the last decade. Not convinced? Well, global influencer marketing has tripled in size since 2019 and its market value is projected to reach a record of $24 billion this year.

But while most of us are familiar with some examples of influencer marketing, (Charli D’Amelio and Dunkin’; Lauren Singer and Absolut Vodka), it’s not a concept that’s particularly prevalent in the B2B world.

So, the question is does it have a place in B2B marketing?

What is an influencer?

Simply put an influencer is someone who influences people to buy a particular product by promoting or recommending it on social media.

Of course, using people to endorse and promote your brand and products isn’t anything new. Wedgewood started the trend way back in 1760 with royal endorsement and the 1950s and 1960s saw a plethora of actors, musicians and athletes endorsing a wide range of products, something that is still commonplace today. But influencer marketing takes it to a whole new level.

When social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter started gaining popularity in the 2000s, brands noticed some social media users had very large numbers of dedicated followers. These weren’t people who had built their fame through acting, sports, or music, but rather through being a celebrity on their social media of choice. Brands realised by partnering with them, they could reach a potentially untapped market to raise awareness around their own products.

Then Instagram and TikTok came along, and introduced a whole new form of visual storytelling transforming influencer marketing into what it is today.

Does this work for B2B marketing?

When you think of influencers you think of them primarily endorsing consumer brands and helping generate direct sales.

Crocs chose Max Balegde to promote their shoes, as he normally wears Crocs, so for them it offered the perfect degree of authenticity, something which is often missing from celebrity endorsement. Meanwhile, Dior chose 67 different influencers to represent the 67 different shades in its Forever Foundation collection.

But does that mean influencers aren’t applicable to B2B marketing given you’re selling to other businesses? Well, in the words of Mark Ritson “every marketing concept and approach is still relevant to B2B”. If you want to see his slighter stronger worded response to this question, read the full article!

The bottom line is influencer marketing, whether it’s B2C or B2B, is a strategic approach which allows you to promote your product or service through a collaborative partnership. In fact, we would argue one of the major differences is simply the use of terminology.

Consumer brands build relationships with ‘influencers’. People who are passionate, creative, and come across as authentic and relatable.

B2B brands also use influencers but call them ‘subject matter experts’ or ‘key opinion leaders’. These are people highly qualified to talk about a particular topic, widely respected in their field and they may even have written or contributed to research papers.

Admittedly, that sounds pretty dull and boring, and it’s a little hard to believe that having someone who’s written a research paper talk about your particular offering would carry any credence with notoriously picky procurement bods.  But don’t forget, these are people too!

Yes, they are people who will undoubtedly do their research and make the best financial decision for their company, but they are also people who have emotions and may get excited by a famous name, especially if they are a renowned expert in their chosen field.

And that highlights another major difference with B2B influencer marketing – the target audience. B2B is all about impressing decision-makers, whether that’s a procurement department or members of the C-suite.

Obviously, this directly impacts on the kind of content you’re creating. In the B2C world something entertaining, a bit silly or even tear-jerking is the norm. In B2B the focus needs to be on content that is informative, useful, and solution focused. Then you could be onto a winner.

But is B2B influencer marketing worth it?

B2B influencer marketing is a marketing tactic, and like any marketing tactic needs to be done properly to make it worthwhile. For one thing, you need to choose the right key opinion leader who aligns with your brand value and will resonate with your audience. Ian Wright, BVMS, BSc, MSc, MRCVS, is a practising vet and has a master’s degree in veterinary parasitology, so is the perfect fit to provide advice and guidance around parasites for companies such as Elanco.

Then, of course, you need to factor in their dedicated online following. Cat the Vet, an ardent opponent of feeding dogs and cats raw diets and the cosmetic alteration of animals, is used by companies like Hill’s, and BSAVA to promote their events and raise awareness around important issues such as the best care for cats with chronic renal disease. Given she also posts consumer-focused content this allows these companies to not only raise their profile among businesses but also consumers as well.

But influencer marketing isn’t just about expanding brand reach or engaging with a previously untapped audience.  It’s also about breeding loyalty and trust.

Ian Wright may not bang on about specific Elanco worming products, but because he is such a well-respected expert, the fact he has agreed to be associated with their sponsored content suggests he trusts their products. After all, he isn’t going to risk his reputation by putting his name against a product or brand he doesn’t have faith in. The result – enhanced trust for the brand in question.

And that’s why other B2B bands are jumping on the influencer bandwagon. Voith, a company who provide technical equipment to hydroelectric power plants, used three experts as influencers in a campaign which was broadcast across a number of different channels.

Meanwhile, Dell has created the ‘Trailblazers’ podcast. Featuring Walter Isaacson, former CNN CEO and bestselling author of a biography on Steve Jobs, he tells the stories behind technology’s impact on the world of business.

So, yes, B2B influencer marketing can be worth it, as long as it’s treated like any other marketing activity and is thought through properly. In fact, we can’t help thinking, it could be the one to watch in 2024.