Top 3 CMOs Need to Know About Successful Influencer Marketing Strategies



Lee Odden is the CEO and co-founder of TopRank Marketing and a globally recognized expert on digital marketing. His role at Top Rank involves developing new marketing offerings, consulting on strategy and advancing thought leadership on content marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, SEO, and a holistic view of customer-centric digital marketing.

Renee Yeager was thrilled to welcome Lee to share his Top 3 Things CMOs Need to Know About Successful Influencer Marketing. They discuss how partnerships should begin with specific topic and goals in mind, as well as how to pick the right engagement model. Lee also breaks down ways to measure for effectiveness, including inputs, outputs and outcomes.

Speaker 1: From Yeager marketing. This is the top three for Tech Marketers Podcast, where we discuss trends, challenges, successes and plans with today’s most innovative technology marketers. Here is your host, Renee Yeager.

Renee Yeager: Hi everyone, and welcome to the top three for tech marketers podcast. I’m your host, Renee Yeager and thanks for being here today. You are in for a treat. So my guest is Lee Odin. He is the CEO and co founder of Top Rank Marketing and he’s a globally recognized expert on digital marketing and he speaks all over the world. At Top Rank he works with clients to develop new marketing offerings and consults with them and he is also a well known and sought after thought leader on content marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, SEO and more. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him speak a few times and he’s just excellent and always delivers great content. Our focus for today is influencer marketing. So, Lee is going to be talking about the top three things that CMO’s need to know about successful influencer marketing. And it’s a great conversation and I think you’re going to love it and get some great takeaways from it. So without further ado, here’s my interview with Lee Oden. Hi, Lee. Welcome to the podcast.

Lee Odden: Hey, Renee. It’s great to be here.

Renee: In addition to being a big fan of the content that you publish at Top Rank, I’ve had the opportunity to see you speak a few times. And I think the most recent was the last year at the A&A Master’s of B2B Marketing Conference in Chicago. And if I’m remembering that correctly, you were the keynote and you spoke about influencer marketing for B2B. Do I have that right?

Lee: That’s right. It was a great event.

Renee: It was a really great event and your presentation was excellent. And from what we hear from our own clients, there’s still a lot of questions about how to structure an influencer marketing strategy in the B2B world. So I’m really excited that you’re here today and I’m looking forward to digging in a little bit deeper. So in our top three format, you have three things CMO’s need to know about successful influencer marketing. And we’ll jump right into the first one. So you say, to start with a specific topic and goals, can you speak about that a little bit?

Lee: Yeah. The core DNA of most influencer initiatives is this notion that the brand wants to either reach an audience that influencer has a connection to, or they want to increase their own influence and by proxy, if you work with people that already have that influence, some of it will come back to the brand. So, what really is instrumental in identifying the most relevant influencers are the topics that the brand wants to be known for, that are meaningful to customers. And by using those topics or insights and essentially specific topics, then you can do a much better job at identifying the kinds of influencers that will produce relevant content, but also resonate in a relevant way to their first, second, third level networks. Oh, go ahead.

Renee: No, I was just going to say in our topics, typically, what the company does in terms of their expertise, like in our world we work with a lot of technology companies. Maybe some are networking companies or data storage companies or can it be other things as well?

Lee: It can be other things. So that’s a great question. So it was their engagements theory and this matters to the answer to your question. Sometimes a brand will think of influencer marketing as a program. So you have to launch an entire program with VIP influencers and advocates and that’s one way to go about it. Another way, is a content marketing initiative that happens to use influencer contributions, sort of seasoning to the brand content. And so when it comes down to the topics, it matters how you use them. If you are going for inspiration, advocacy, aspirational types of outcomes, they tend to be more values oriented topics. Values that the brand stands for that customers align to. When it’s more tactical and content marketing focused, then they tend to be a little more like keywords or practical or literal expressions of what it is that the company does.

Renee: Okay. That makes sense. Can you give me an example of a company that you think is doing it really, really well?

Lee: Well, sure. SAP is doing a great job. In the past they were doing influence marketing at the department level. And even when we started working with them, I think we worked at 92 different influencers across multiple divisions in 2017. And one thing that migrated to is, and this is under [inaudible 00:05:04] leadership and now there’s a new person taking our place because [inaudible 00:05:08] is now VP of influence marketing at Arriva, but is to build the community. And so they started with probably a more practical approach to implementing influencer campaign, individual campaigns. So we’re all quite or most are quite successful. But now the movement is developing relationships. More of a community, a persistent community in a wrong way because many of these influencers are appropriate for different companies within the larger SAP brand and it can get confusing.

So having a community and the way you communicate from a larger value standpoint, what’s the community and influencer community results in more compassionate contributions, more organic advocacy of the campaigns that are happening. I think it’s a really good jump. The other thing I’ve noticed they’ve leveled up on experiences. Rather than just having influencers contribute, pull quotes, do blog posts and eBooks and stuff like that. They got actually invested quite a bit into creating interactive experiences that includes influencer content. So that is something that as obviously then appealing to buyers in terms of having an info taining sort of content experience. What’s been really cool is the rate of share has gone through the roof with the influencers. Because now they’re part of something very good, more proud to be seen in because it makes them look so good.

Renee: Yeah, definitely. Can we take a step back and what in your view makes a good influencer? I mean, I would imagine to have a social following and a platform that they have. But if someone was to go about starting a program like this, what should they look for and what’s, I know we’re going to talk about engagement max, but what’s that whole process look like?

Lee: Well, I can’t underestimate the importance of skill in terms of influencer identification. [inaudible 00:07:12] in the equity here and can be, well, things can seem a little different than they really are. And so you can use the influencer marketing technology, your software platform like a search engine and just pop in keywords and look for influencers. But the validation step is where the magic happens. And a person has to do that and validate that the influencer is doing a couple of things. One, that they’re creating content. They’re creating content that’s on topic. That their audience is actively paying attention and reacting to their content, but their audience is reacting to the topic that is desired. And there’s some other factors, too. Ultimately, influencers that you work with need to be able to be beyond just the popular, they need to be a little [inaudible 00:08:01] action. And those are hard influencers to find.

The other thing is you have people playing the game, brand individuals, these are pro influencers, and they’re great to work with. It cost money. They are great to work with because they know how to play the game. Then you have niche technology, you have subject matter experts who are not particularly social. And so there’s a very different approach, necessary to recruit those folks and to guide and nurture them to output the kind of content that can help you affect your influence marketing objectives.

Renee: Is the ultimate goal to have the influencer share out and use their network? And I know you used the term community differently earlier but is they’re kind of audience to promote your content. Has it ever been done in reverse where you would pull some on who’s well known or an expert in the field and pull them in to your community and market that content through your platform? What’s the end? Does it matter? Are there different options for how you go at it?

Lee: Yeah, there’s a smorgasbord of options and applications for how you might work with or partner, collaborate with an influencer. So if they are subject matter expert without community, then they’ve got to have credibility, in order to be of any use, as you were to them. But it certainly, it’s a common thing to borrow to build and that you connect with an influencer that has an active network and so your hope is that they’ll promote your stuff or that stuff you collaborated on to their community. That’s pretty common. But there’s just a lot of different applications for working with influencers, not just as a distribution model.

Renee: A lot of our clients have their internal subject matter experts actively blogging and trying to build kind of an unknown name around a space. Would you call that part of an influencer strategy or is it really finding someone external to the company to kind of be your advocate?

Lee: Anyone with a brain can be influential. Anybody with communication skills, passion, persuasion, someone who is able to attract like minded individuals that pay attention. So that means it’s not just industry experts, but internal executives or employee subject matter experts. Even your existing customers, your members on media and people that are out there. Part of the community at large.

Renee: Excellent. Okay. Let’s talk about micro-influencers. So can you speak to this? What is it? What’s its purpose? And what value does it bring?

Lee: I mentioned earlier the expression ‘brand individual.’ That is one end of the spectrum. This is a pro influencer. They are the author keynote speaker they’re not all over the place doing all kinds of influencer-y things. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have micro influencers. These tend to be very niche influencers. They tend to have smaller audiences, also hiring PJ levels. They tend not to be pros, they’re coming up in the world or they’re just so niche that their audience is finite. And so the idea is, and this is a bit of a generalization, but you could pay a lot of money for a pro influencer and get access or exposure to millions of people. Obviously, this is more common in B to C and B2B, those numbers are. But with micro-influencers, there’s this idea that well, if we engage a hundred micro influencers, for even less costs, than just one brand individual, our engagement rate is going to be substantially better.

And the relationships those micro influencers have with their small networks is probably going to be more intimate and meaningful for our net outcome. It could be predicted as much greater. And the reality is, is that wealth are useful for these applications.

Renee: Yeah, that’s really interesting when you think about marketing overall and how there’s been a desire to do this large cast of message and now we’ve moved to things like ABM. We’re very targeted with much greater impact. And it sounds like the same here from an influencer perspective.

Lee: That’s true.

So let’s talk a little bit about compensation. So are these influencers paid? Is there a typical engagement? Does it vary? What are your thoughts on that?

Renee: In B2B, as a generality, is there’s a lot more micro influencers than brand individuals. And so, if you work with a brand individual person, and by the way nobody really uses that expression to self identify. It just means someone who’s a pro and so they’ll sell stuff. Some of them will act like an agency but they have the attraction of an audience. So in other words, they ca not only make the content or do the survey or go to the event and then BMC and create content, do video interviews, that sort of thing. But they also have an audience that the brand may not and that they can then promote that content too.

But, for the most part though, if you work with someone who is a pro, you’re going to pay. And then you should, because they bring skills that your brand doesn’t have, they bring audience and brand as a pouch. So that can be a project based type of situation or there are some people I know, and not very many that it’s more of a retainer kind of thing. Because they’d be advocates or send ambassadors or something like that. There’s micro influencers. I mean you really pay for the craft, that’s the thing to pay for. And so the thing about a lot of influencers these days, as many are creators and so they have unique skills at creating media. They’re good at, like I said, at events. And being an MC or doing video interviews or running a podcast or video podcasts or something like that from the event. Not only can they do that, but they also have a publication or a blog or something like that that they can do unique content for.

So usually the brand will work out some sort of model that works for everyone. Many of the pro influencers who already have packages, they do have menus of things that you can buy. A price for a tweet, price for blog posts, price for video and stuff like that, that you buy. On a micro influencer level, you tend not to pay. I know in our case, we probably pay maybe ten or 15 percent of our influencers. Any position that we have a dominant, or not a dominant. A substantial reputation in the marketplace. So in case they work with us or influencers that have worked with us, know that we create a superior experience for them and the superior content experience for the audiences that will see them. And so the yes rate is very, very high because they want more of that. They know if they work with us, not only when we treat them in a way like they’re our customer. Not someone who’s just doing something for us, but the outcome outputs are something that they can really be proud of.

Lee: Would you say that if you’re just starting a program like this, that your better strategy is going into it, know that you’re going to have to have a budget for it? And then over time you can look to build that reputation that kind of attracts then to you? Is that fair to say?

Renee: I think it’s fair to say you should have a budget no matter what, because whether it’s for headcount internally, as you grow momentum, you’re going to want to have someone that is credible, be the liaison between the brand and the influencers. That person is going to become a great influence for themselves. So as a result of the relationships they develop for the brand, with those influencers, budget also not only go to that. But influence marketing software, this stuff doesn’t scale with a spreadsheet. There’s influences, there’s ubiquitous in its value as content or social, to be honest. So I think there’s the software is very, very important. That’s another consideration in terms of budget and then paying the influencers. You can allocate budget for that just like you would for content marketing and that if you outsource content creation. And so, according to whatever forecast campaigns you have or programs or whatnot.

Lee: This might be kind of a weird question, but just super tactical. How much control does the brand have over what the influencer does? And is that just part of the negotiation process when you start a relationship like this? Or is it more that the influencer makes a commitment to the brand and then they’re going to talk about the brand, the way they see? Or how much they control in that relationship?

Renee: Companies that try to control are disappointed. And they create, more importantly, they create disappointment amongst the influencers. So, why pick a particular influencer? If you’re just picking them because you think of them as an ad channel, then yeah, you’re going to have a lot of control and they’re going to deliver to you a very mechanical product. And they’re probably not going to guarantee anything. If you want organic or true passion and value from all the equity the influencers have built up in their experience and the relationships they’ve developed, you’re going to pay attention to them in terms of what kind of content, what kind of message makes the most sense to effectively engage their audience. So when brands micromanaged influencers and don’t take full advantage of their capabilities, like I said, they end up becoming disappointed with the results. They create disappointment amongst the participating influencers.

It almost feel like, and I don’t know if this is accurate or not, but kind of like how we look at analysts, right? So we have relationships with analysts. We talk to them about what the brand is doing, it’s pivoting. Whatever changes they’re making in a company from a product standpoint. And then it’s really on the analyst to determine how they surmise it and how they present it to the market. And there’s very little you can do on the brand side around that. Would you say that’s kind of a fair comparison?

Lee: No, no, no. The brand has some input. I mean, I think there’s things you have to agree on and I know, I get what you’re saying. Analysts do, I mean, part of the value you get from an analyst is that they have this sort of objective perspective even though you’re paying them to output a reporter, whatever, do research. You do have some say with the influencers. Think of influencers as somewhere in the middle where it’s a collaboration. What I’m just trying to point out is that you’re going to create disappointment if you don’t take full advantage of their capabilities. In other words, brands that tend to be egocentric about how they view the world will say, “Well, we know best, so this is what we all need to do.” Versus, “Here’s what we have in mind, here’s the outcomes we’re interested in. What do you think?” An influencer can come and hit on runs for you. And because they have the freedom to do so.

Renee: Have you ever seen an influencer program like this, go horribly wrong?

Lee: No. Actually, have that experience. Nope. No, I’ve never had that experience not B2B. Nope. Once in a great while, there are influences who are discovered to have alliances with things that wouldn’t really fit well with the brand. And that’s just, those relationships are just continued and that must be number as well. But nothing ever is. No, nothing negative, really. I’ve never had that experience, nope. No.

Renee: That’s great to hear. And then the last chip for CMO’s around having a successful influencer campaign is measuring for effectiveness. So, inputs, outputs, outcomes. Can you speak to this? What’s most important to be measuring and how to measure it?

Lee: Well, whatever your goal is, just the metrics that tell you you’re on a track towards that goal. And the goal itself, are most important. As for inputs and outputs, outcomes, inputs of course is just participation. It’s the fact that you’ve got, been able to get ten influencers in there. These influencers or those influencers or whatever. Unlike other disciplines, this is something that’s actually worth measuring. Outputs is the stuff that they make with you. Outcomes, of course, there’s is the business impact that that has now and what I like, my world was influencer marketing is content centric. What I’m looking for is content as an outcome. Advocacy is great. But that’s not always the singular objective with content. Of course, I can then use that content to [inaudible 00:21:10] that leadership. I mean, what have you, and there’s all types of things I can do with that content.

And so, of course with that kind of influencer prospective, you measure the performance over content like you would in any other content marketing program. And we use a [inaudible 00:21:25] to convert metrics for that. You also want to measure the effectiveness of the influencer themselves. So obviously they’re sharing, they’re doing certain things that manifest as something that is measurable. You want to measure that. And you also want to measure the effect of their behavior on their first level network, second level network, maybe the third level network. And you want to make, because that’s where the reach and engagement stuff comes from. Is their audience reacting to what it is that they may have promoted?

Renee: Have you seen clients take this all the way through where they’re driving pipeline around these programs?

Lee: Yes, as a matter of fact. We did a pilot with a company called Sheryl Software last year and it was an integrated program, so it wasn’t just influencers, they were a part of it. So small B asset type of program under I.T.’s services management. Anyway, we’re able to tie 22 percent of all sales pipeline for the entire year. So that one campaign.

Renee: Wow.

Lee: Yeah. And so obviously they are doing another one in 2018. But it’s a cool, it’s unique to see that happen. So it’s not just about the influencers, it’s about thoughtfulness. Is any B marketer would do in their best practices, their true understanding of who the customer is and the development of if they do create personas. I mean, just the idea of what matters. When you create a persona around a target audience, when in an influencer program, you do all the things you normally do, but you also take a look at, “Well, what kind of influencers matter to that persona? What are some examples of actual influencers that matter to that persona?” And that is something that a lot of folks aren’t paying much attention to and, well, the net results are impressive.

Renee: Do you find that in some cases it’s actual peers that can be pretty influential? I know when we looked at who do I.T. buyers speak with? They really like to talk to their peers. I’m just curious. I mean, obviously would have a different platform and they would have more reach than just the guy sitting next to you, in the cube next door. But just wondering if you’ve had any success or have thoughts on that?

Lee: Well, most buyers want to see themselves in the marketing content, if you will. And so yes, of course. And there’s plenty of studies to show that peers are absolutely influential in the B2B and tech applying process. No doubt about it. Do peers belong in an influencer program? Yes. And We take, I guess you might say an ingredient approach or I’m sorry, a recipe approach to influencer programs. Where influencers are the ingredients, so to speak. I don’t mean to objectify them, but they are the ingredients. And so, when you make a recipe, you’ve got a couple of brand individuals, the big part of the meal and then you have the seasonings and you have this and that. And so there’s different types of influencers that make up a really, really effective programs. This is something that SAP is amazing at. They include employees, executives, current customers, industry influencers, members of the media. We do a really good job of integrating.

Renee: That’s excellent. One last question for you. So if a company is going to embark on a program like this, how do you set expectations with leadership around what the budget should be, what they can expect, what the timeframe is, what do you have any tips or best practices on that?

Lee: So obviously as a consultant, it has got the old, it depends answer because there are factors to consider like, do they already have relationships? How strong is the brand in term and from the perspective of the community or the industry at large? We need to know how warm the market is already, in general and specifically with different influencers. So also if they’re going to work with an agency, does the agency already have relationships with most or many of the right influencers already or not? Because the timeframe expectation, is very different when we’re starting from scratch. And we have no relationships, the agency doesn’t have experience in that particular industry and has not maintained an active community of influencers in that category. We want to have to start from scratch. That’s a very different scenario and they’ll probably be more likely to be more all about paid relationships to get started. And then one where the industry, or excuse me, the brand has fans and many of which are influencers. They already have casual relationships, different people in the organization might have relationships with different influencers. And as well as the agency they might work with that already has relationships with relevant influencers. That can go to market and hit effectiveness in a couple months, let alone six months, nine months or something that.

Renee: And a Top Rank is there to help our clients, I would imagine, right?

Lee: Well we do manage a community of influencers in healthcare and technology and then also marketing.

Renee: Well, Lee, I can’t thank you enough. This was really insightful and you’re definitely an expert in the area and I thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. To all of our listeners, please follow Lee on social media. You should also follow Top Rank. They put out excellent content, definitely worth checking out. And also, Lee wrote a book a few years back called ‘Optimize, How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing.’ And you can get that on Amazon. So, I hope you’ll do that. And thanks again, Lee. Really appreciate you being on the podcast.

Lee: Thank you, Renee. It was great.

Renee: Okay, until next time. Thanks everybody. Have a great day.