Few people have as much experience in driving B2B influence marketing than Lee Odden. His company, TopRank Marketing, not only drives programs for some of the top tech companies in the world, but conducts an annual survey to report on the B2B space. TopRank’s latest research into B2B influencer marketing is out and very interesting.
Lee joins the show to dive into the survey responses and better quantify and qualify how business-to-business companies are using influencers and how other businesses can adjust to the state of the industry.
Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast is a companion piece to my forthcoming influencer marketing book, Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, set to publish in early 2021 from Entrepreneur Press. I interview the Who’s Who of Influencer Marketing weekly — from brand managers to software creators, and from agency strategists to influencers themselves. If you know someone who should be a guest on the show, shoot me an email at jason – at – jasonfalls – dot – com.
Winfluence Podcast – Lee Odden Transcript
Jason Falls 0:34
Hello again friends thanks for listening to Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast. When you start ticking off b2b influencer marketing expert, it won’t take you long to get to Lee Odden. The founder and CEO of TopRank Marketing in Minneapolis, Odden’s team has built incredible programs with the likes of SAP and LinkedIn among other clients. His agency’s annual State of the Industry B2B Influencer Marketing Report is one of the dependable resources to understand how businesses are leveraging influencer marketing. So that puts Lee at or near the top of the list of those in the space to really have a finger on the pulse of business to business influence work. I talked to Lee about the report, some surprising metrics that came out of the 2020 version, his path through PR and SEO to land at leading b2b influencer marketing efforts, and how all that actually ties in together on an enlightening episode of Winfluence. Lee Odden and B2B influencer marketing insights come your way next.
Jason Falls 1:38
I’m old school PR I remember when Lee Odden was a PR guy and and then Lee Odden became a PR SEO guy. And and now I see that you know, Lee Odden is is you know, not maybe not becoming something different but adding influence marketing from a b2b perspective. Or has added b2b influence marketing perspective to what you’re doing. So take me through that journey from you know, I the first time I ever you know ran into your content online you were it was before top rank and you were at a PR firm and I was like wow, this guy’s really smart. I’m gonna follow him and I’m glad I did but take me through that journey for you over the last 12 years or so.
Lee Odden 2:19
Sure. Well, I think one thing that’s a constant is that always been a marketing guy. And my roots are actually with SEO and I started in marketing, building websites and people wanted to know how they were going to get traffic to these websites that I sold and built them for them. And that’s where I started to learn about SEO. And after a couple of years of that I joined with Susan Misukanis to start a PR agency. And I came in as a search slash digital marketing guy, she was the PR person. And through working with her I learned a lot about PR and I ended up talking at PRSA International Conference, lots of other public relations conferences, not so much about PR explicitly, but about how PR people could use marketing tactics to move the needle for themselves, to justify their existence a little more effectively with some metrics that would be appealing upstream in the organization. And that sort of thing. And as time went on the common thread between sort of the evolution of my skills and areas of focus has just been content and experience and you know, ultimately arriving in around 2012 13 on an emphasis on three things. content that is obviously relevant high quality but findable, credible, content, right verifiable, incredible content, and we help people be the best answer for whatever it is their customers are looking for. And the way we define ability is marketing stuff, right? It’s SEO attract based marketing earned media. Obviously advertising a little bit email and so forth. But the credibility also intersects with earned media as well as influence. And he found that being able to recruit people that have the trust and attention of the audience or trying to sell to, to co create content that we would then use to market to that audience was a highly efficient, highly effective 360 degree win sort of situation. And that’s really where I’ve been focused, especially, as you say, in the b2b sense, over the last seven years, eight years or so.
Jason Falls 4:36
So in in, in my book, I talk about Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin’s book “Talk Triggers” and the research that they did that kind of spurred that book. And one of the, you know, sort of charts and graphs that appealed to me in that book so much that I actually got permission to use in mine was the most valued sources of information when making a substantial purchase and in the b2b space, most of your purchases are substantial. A lot of b2b companies selling you know, two dollar items, right? These are big software packages or construction equipment, things that required significant investment. And so their most valuable, most valued sources of information where, you know, besides personal experience and familiarity with the brand, and then certainly recommendations from families and friends, family and friends, the next two on that list of the most trusted, you know, sources are online reviews, certainly, and then expert reviews. And so if I read between the lines a little bit, I think what you’re saying is b2b influencers are your experts. And if you can partner with your experts to co create content for that brand. Now, all of a sudden, you know, entities like Google say, Hey, here’s an expert in this field, and they are pointing to this company and so that lifts the company that fair.
Lee Odden 5:48
That’s part of it, for sure, absolutely. There’s some, you know, obviously b2b purchases are a journey and there is a long cycle of education and content consumption that occurs as brands or buyers, educate themselves about possible solutions and how that might work for their company and making comparisons with others and then ultimately making that decision. So when you do talk about end of funnel types of activities where you’re looking for increasing purchase intent, increasing order volumes, acceleration through sale cycle, things like that, an explicit advocacy of a subject matter expert that’s an industry influencer can definitely facilitate that. There’s There’s no doubt about that. At the same time, there’s a role for these folks these credible voices to play throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
Jason Falls 6:43
So I’m curious because I you know, I work mostly in the b2c space for Cornett and our clients. I’ve done a little bit of b2b here and there, since you’ve got such a steep experience in b2b, the one thing that that that I’ve run into issues with is most Have the influencer marketing tools and algorithms and you know, services out there that you can use to identify influencers are very b2c focused. And there’s the concept that I’d love to talk more with you about today of the fact that just because someone is online and has an audience doesn’t necessarily make them influential to that audience. And there’s plenty of people offline, who are incredibly influential in especially I would think in the b2b space, there’s a lot of offline influencers that you need to tap into as well. So I’m curious how do you surface influencers for your clients in a b2b vertical when the tools out there are b2c focused, and there’s so much influence to be had that’s not captured on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter or any of the other places online.
Lee Odden 7:52
So it’s about the identifying the topics of influence that you know Representative of how the brain wants to be known of topics that customers actually care about. And then finding the people that can represent those ideas represent those values. And obviously, these ability to influence your right it doesn’t just exist in a digital world, but that the pandemic and everything, it’s for b2b, it’s more digital now than it ever was before. And so there’s opportunities certainly to connect with people that are maybe quote unquote, offline influencers, but the bulk of digital marketing that’s occurring in the b2b space is online. And it the signals of credibility are that people are using to determine whether someone is relevant or interesting to them do tend to be digital. So I am a believer in the holistic approach though, and we do use tools and those tools. The BTC centricity of these tools is by the design Have the application or the platform not have the data that they’re collecting necessarily. I mean, they, what I’m saying is there are platforms like we use a couple of platforms. In particular, there’s Traackr, which is b2c and b2b. A tool is only as effective as the expertise of the person using it really. And we’ve been using tracker for many, many years and it’s very, very effective. We use Traackr for the influencer programs. We run for LinkedIn, the company and LinkedIn Marketing, Sales Solutions and other groups for SAP and other companies of that size and nature as well. There’s a specially influencer marketing platform that is very dedicated towards b2b and that is Onalytica. And they work a little bit differently than some of the others. But like I said, it is up to the expertise of the users as much as it is about the platform because the data is agnostic in terms of b2c or b2b people are either public or they’re not they are the content they’re publishing is either topically relevant or it’s not the topics they are publishing is either are either resonating and resulting in resonance amongst the community of people you know, which can be identified by engagement activities by propagation of messages sharing and so forth or not right. So, we can identify these core characteristics of what makes a person influential around a topic of influence and use the appropriate software to do that. But there are lots of other steps manual inspection of the content that they publish the values alignment, the cadence and even background information that would be taken into consideration before recommending them to a client.
Jason Falls 10:46
When you talk about you know, things like you know, the the content alignment and propagation of messaging, obviously, you know, influence rituals like Onalytica certainly are built to sort of you know, find that but are you also Then following up after, you know, an influencer, you know, is involved with a client of yours and looking at sort of those deep dive, what I would call social listening metrics of, you know, where where did the messages hit? Did this did this message resonate? How did it multiply across networks? I mean, that sounds like some pretty deep conversation analysis that has to happen to show that, that those types of goals or objectives were accomplished,
Lee Odden 11:28
Responsible marketers have to be doing what you’re talking about to determine whether people are working or not, are they effective or not? So influence is not permanent, it’s temporal. And so while at the moment of identification, a person is very influential about topic XYZ, will they always be influential about that thing? Maybe, maybe not. And so on top of understanding KPIs being delivered on for the campaign or for the influencer engagement activity, you’ve also mean that we’ve got to be able to report on the effectiveness of what it is that we’re doing, are we moving the needle or not? are we reaching those business outcomes that we’re after? At the same time, we have to identify through tracking URLs and other metrics available via influencer marketing platforms and our web analytics, whether or not or the degree to which an individual is effective for a purpose. Right? And so yes, of course we’re looking at and it could be social media monitoring tells me he is Brandwatch, Agorapulse, whatever. And be listening to topics and hashtags and keyholes a fun tool Actually, I’ve been playing around with for many years for hashtag tracking and and handle tracking. And and it’s it’s a way to on demand, understand the conversations being driven by those influencers as they share social messages, as they share content they help to make and then at the same time, you have to be accountable like any campaign and A campaign situation where you’ve got a report upstream to the stakeholders in the organization. Okay, here’s what we here’s our goal, here’s what we achieved. So there’s real time metrics and things that help you optimize ongoing. And then there are of course, their campaign level metrics that determine the effectiveness of the program. And that may decide whether you keep someone or sunset them and replace them with somebody else.
Jason Falls 13:22
Right. So you’ve mentioned a couple of clients, you know, LinkedIn, you know, SAP, etc. A few minutes ago, I think a lot of people when they hear b2b, especially those who are outside of the the marketing, you know, conversation bubble that we sometimes find ourselves in with other marketing people. But I think outside that bubble, when people hear b2b they think of of software as a service, and they think of b2b influencers, as probably people who are hosting webinars. It’s a much bigger world than that though. Am I correct?
Lee Odden 13:52
Yes, I believe everyone is influential about something. And it all of us influence other people in our influence. by other people on a daily basis. So when we do take that view, that holistic view, we are like we’re a chef in a kitchen, and we have a recipe and we have ingredients. And there are different types of influencers that make a really effective campaign. You know, if I’m making a, oh, beef stew, you know, my chuck roast, that’s one ingredient, right? And that’s my brandividual. That’s my famous person that I’m going to use to attract others. But I’m going to go after niche influencers, I’m going to go after internal subject matter experts at the brand, maybe some of their customers, other niche experts that are out there in the field, that are practicing the thing that their friends would go to if they needed help or if they needed advice. I’m going to bring all those different voices into a campaign and architect or build my recipe appropriately to what the audience will find delicious. Okay. And so, I think you’re right, it’s more than just, you know, the fans, friends, follow Famous that other there are different types of influence. And that’s something to be considered as you get more sophisticated. Right?
Jason Falls 15:07
All right, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about this b2b influencer marketing report that top rank published a while back. I was really I mean certainly it’s it’s it’s, uh, it’s always good to see what the temperature and the pulse of the marketplace is. And you, you know talk to a lot of brand marketers, a lot of b2b marketers who are, are using influencers, some of them maybe we’re not using influencers, but I think the top line, a couple of top line metrics that surprised me I wanted to ask you about see get your perspective on them. I think 84% believe influencers are good for brand awareness. 69% agree that it’s effective for attracting customers, but then the number drops to 20% when they say they see sales and revenue benefits. Why do you think there’s such a gap between influencers are good for getting customers in the door, but influencers aren’t as good or I don’t see them being as good at actually converting into sales revenue.
Lee Odden 16:05
I think that’s a really good point. I think it’s more about what are they? How are they using influencers, as opposed to only what they’re good for? So a lot of b2b marketing investment is not I mean, it’s not while the, you know, you think most b2b marketers are overwhelmingly investing in a sales cycle type of activities. They’re not because they’ll never get there. If they don’t achieve affinity if they don’t achieve, you know, connection and engagement before that, like if they’re not considered, they’ll never make it to the sales conversation. So, a lot of the top and middle of funnel activity is where a lot of demand-gen activities are happening. And that’s where a lot of at the moment that’s where a lot of b2b marketers are investing in influencer marketing is to elevate brand perception, warm the market, increased consideration and ultimately They will get to that point of sales conversation as well. The thing is, is, in b2b, it’s a bit different than b2c. In b2c, you can have a person explicitly advocating for a product and it’s cool like it’s that’s what people do they hold up a bottle of soda or face cream or whatever and buy this. Now look how beautiful I am. Look out, oh, my thirst is quenched. And by now, but would be to be if you have someone explicitly endorsing a product like that. It’s for something that takes you know, six months to two years as a sales cycle and have someone explicitly endorsing a thing. It can come across as not believable, much and so I think there’s some degree, that’s not the only explanation. But I think to some degree, that’s why there aren’t more b2b marketers using influencers, industry influencers, at least, specifically for sales generation. We actually have many, we have quite a few interesting anomaly types of case studies where we’re generating Millions of revenue by working with influencers, but it’s not the norm.
Jason Falls 18:04
So would you say then that the reflection of the data is just to kind of rephrase it and make sure that I’m hearing you right. The reflection of that survey and that data is is not the attribution of the of the b2b sale is not necessarily being attached to the influencer or not being attached to the influencer. It’s just we’re using influencers to fill the funnel, not necessarily push them to the bottom.
Lee Odden 18:28
Jason Falls 18:29
Very good. So tell us a little bit more what were some of the insights that you saw in the data in your b2b influencer marketing report that surprised you? What were what were some points that you when you saw the raw data, you were like, wow, that that didn’t that doesn’t seem like what I would expect. Was there anything that stood out?
Lee Odden 18:49
Yeah, well, the confidence and then the so much confidence and so little at the same time. So 96% of our marketers believe that engaging influencers they do engage influencers, they consider their programs to be successful right on that we have that on the one hand and on the other hand 60% say they don’t feel like they have the knowledge to execute or have the right skills in house to implement ongoing influencer marketing programs. Those are that’s not exactly apples to apples, right because one is just broadly about influencer marketing however you might do it and the other is to do more specifically with ongoing efforts which tend to be more successful. But that that I thought was was kind of interesting. The other was is that only 19% of companies are implementing ongoing influencer marketing programs. And, you know, what is the other 160 percent of those who are so not only 19% are implementing ongoing programs. 60% of marketers who use always on influencer marketing programs consider themselves very successful versus only 5% who do periodic campaigns. So 12 times more margin. actors who use always on say they’re very successful than those who just do periodic campaigns. And that seems to be a bit of an interesting.
Jason Falls 20:09
Yeah, that that is interesting. And that certainly I know you probably advocate this and I know I advocate this and we advocate this at cornet. I’ve tried to tell several clients for a couple years now, influencer marketing is not something that is highly transactional, where you just turn it on for a month and throw money at it, and then you turn it off, and you come back to it when you’re ready to, you know, fill the funnel again, let’s say it’s actually works harder for you and your dollars work harder for you. If you build relationships over time, much like a, you know, a public relations effort, building relationships with media, you’re building relationships with new media members, and you’re going to get a lot of benefit out of that expenditure over time because they are going to rely on you for content. They’re going to rely on you for insider information about your company or whatever. And certainly they’re going to rely on you maybe for funding as well, but at the same time, it’s that long term relationship thing. pays off. I would assume that’s probably your take as well.
Lee Odden 21:04
That is the yeah, absolutely influencer marketing is a relationship business. And that means developing genuine relationships where, through the exchange and the experience of brand is creating for the influencer, that influencer is getting value, they’re getting exposure. Sometimes they get paid. All the while they’re learning more about the brand, and they’re getting closer to the brand you know, I’m on. Adobe has an influencer program called Adobe insiders. And seeing that program from the inside as one of those influencers, it’s incredible the relationships that they have invested in and developed amongst that community of influencers and these are people who, without even being asked or publishing to business publications like Forbes and Inc, and, and other publications about Adobe, just because they have this love for the brand and granted it’s a very beloved brand anyway, but the fact that Rani Mani the head of global influencer enablement is such a charismatic personality and pays so much close attention to personalized communications as the people that are part of this community and creates a platform for them to connect with each other. It’s unbelievable how powerful that community is. It’s a it’s it’s interesting have
Jason Falls 22:16
I’ve seen similar ones with IBM Watson and a couple of other things that I’ve seen or and or been involved with over the years and it seems like that’s the good ones are always like that they have some sort of community element where the influencers are feeding off of one another. And there’s certainly a lot of just residual organic lift for the brand because of that leave if people want to know more about you top rank if they weren’t know more about you or they want to find this b2b influencer marketing report, where should they go?
Jason Falls 22:57
Excellent. Lee, thank you so much for the time today.
Lee Odden 23:00
You bet Jason.
Transcribed by otter.ai