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5 Questions to Dr. Sandra Gärtner
CEO Mediaresearch42

“Experts or talented employees in particular can act as influencers”

Author: Gabriela Hein
Date: 02.03.2022

The digital transformation of social media usage behavior is having a massive impact on content marketing. The area is now one of the most important distribution channels. In an interview, Dr. Sandra Gärtner, co-founder of the market research and technology service provider GreendAdz and CEO of mediaresearch42, explains the importance of influencer marketing in the B2B sector and how it has changed in recent years.

1. What role does influencer marketing play in the B2B sector?

An underestimated one! We regularly publish study compendiums, and the €1 billion market in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland that rejoices at the mere notion of influencer marketing usually refers to B2C campaigns. This means that we generally envision the classic Instagram posts in which micro- to mega-influencers enthusiastically talk about new products from the fields of food, interior design, fashion and beauty. This campaign is actually much more effective than traditional online advertising, but that is another topic altogether.

In the B2B sector, influencer marketing works from a psychological standpoint in the exact same way but in terms of implementation, the campaigns are of course designed differently. In the Statista Content Marketing Compass 2021, it was already shown that influencer marketing is primarily used as an instrument for content distribution marketing. That means that influencer marketing in B2B is at a similar level as print mailings and can be used to complement PR strategies — with a trajectory that is clearly on the upswing. And when I look at the success arc of influencer marketing in B2C, it can be assumed that the role will become even larger in B2B, for the challenges are in fact identical: 1. the effect of traditional advertising is dwindling on account of the information explosion; 2. online and social media are overtaking print media; and 3. the specialists who fill these channels are becoming scarce or tend to decide in favor of B2C brands as employers.

2. Which specific challenges exist for B2B influencer marketing campaigns?

Aside from the the ones just mentioned: fresh insights from the now 12th wave of the benchmark study from the Content Marketing Institute for B2B reveal that the greatest challenge for B2B decision makers currently consists of finding suitable experts.  In the end, influencers in B2B are after all experts of highly specialized subject areas with a broad sphere of activity (to speak of reach would be incorrect here). The paucity of experts who could for example serve as guest authors is currently creating major headaches for B2B marketers.

In our current Statista Content Marketing Compass with the focus on social media, I consider this to be the most pressing challenge of all: “The budget does not appear to be the problem. The percentage of those who said that budget problems presented a challenge in the search for personnel and employees sank to 40%, compared to 51% in the previous year.” The major hurdle for contract awarding B2B marketers entails finding partners with sufficient topical expertise (65%). This topical expertise involves not only an adequate understanding of the target groups and personas but also a knowledge of how the content marketing ROI is distributed. Precisely in the B2B area, the topic areas are decidedly varied, and established expertise is scarce.

3. Who qualifies as an influencer for B2B companies and why? 

Particularly in the B2B area, the selection criteria for suitable influencers differs from that in B2C. Neither range nor the so-called brand fit come first. Rather, it is all about experts or talented employees who can serve as influencers: an industry insider, a prominent user, or a renowned (specialized) journalist.  A B2B influencer is a person who possesses a high level of authority and authenticity or who has a specific and impressive level of industry expertise. When a television or movie celebrity likes a B2B product and talks about it on social media channels, this is fantastic, but it is not particularly relevant for B2B customers. More suitable for this are staunch and long-term customers.

In the B2B world, the extent of an influencer’s fame is not so much at the fore as the level of that person’s expertise, savvy, and of course a certain affinity for and enjoyment of social media, e.g., LinkedIn and XING. For example, as a XING insider for the topics content marketing and social media. I am also a B2B influencer for this industry — only in terms of reach, it comes down to quality over quantity.

4. How has influencer marketing changed in recent years?

Here too, it is worth taking a look at B2C: influencer marketing has developed from an occasional use of testimonials via the meteoric rise of the significance of social media platforms into a strategic marketing instrument. No longer is it a matter of “trying things out” for individual campaigns. Rather, great value is placed on a qualitative selection of suitable partners and long-term collaboration on an equal footing is sought.  From this, meaningful synergies are generated (as is the case in B2C) in the area of content production: When an influencer produces content for the brand and the collaboration is fruitful, it is not only possible to significantly reduce production costs of complex advertising material, but the result is also much more successful.  When the collaboration also boosts the influencer’s reputation, that individual really goes into overdrive. In short: it’s a win-win situation.

Whereas in earlier times, guest articles appeared in specialist media, digital media is now of course also accelerating the impetus of influencer marketing in B2B. What Instagram and TikTok are to B2C, XING and LinkedIn are to B2B. And as a distribution channel of social media campaigns, Facebook is still not to be underestimated for B2C and B2B.

5. Which experiences have you already had with influencer marketing campaigns in the B2B sector and which trends have you observed?

Indeed, I can point first and foremost to my rich repertoire from the B2C realm. Here I have witnessed the same developments as the ones from 20 years ago in online marketing or traditional online advertising. As the market and/or reach expands, so does the relevance of justifying the allocated budgets and demonstrating success. I have been doing this for display campaigns for 20 years and for influencer marketing campaigns for the past few years.

However, such traditional campaign-accompanying advertising efficacy studies are only relevant for B2C because reach and target group fit apply here.  In B2B, the targets and metrics are different. A campaign with a media budget of a million is a frequent occurrence. To prove how many of the “right” people from the target group have seen the campaign and whether the message has arrived is the objective of success measurement here. In B2B, the case is such that a single guest article or post on LinkedIn has to reach only one potential customer at the right time to then secure a million-dollar deal. In order to demonstrate this, other tools and evaluation systems are used.

 

To sum up, I anticipate the following trends:

  • Influencer marketing is becoming increasingly significant as LinkedIn and XING increase their reach and relevance.
  • The selection of the right influencer will be the sticking point but on the positive side: The market is still young and that means that there are advantages to being the first one to implement these measures.
  • The level of professionalism will continue to grow: In the way that experts and agents for influencer marketing exist in the B2C realm, additional individuals will be added to B2B and, similarly, internal resources for the topic will be added. Demonstrating that social media and influencer marketing in B2B allows a lot of room for creativity might attract a few specialists from B2C companies or encourage internal resources/talents to develop further in this direction. The pandemic has shown how B2Bers are capable of action and pragmatic where digitalization is concerned. By the way, this is an additional finding from the current studies that we have presented in detail in the new Compass.

All in all: the future looks bright for influencer marketing in B2B!

Dr. Sandra Gärtner
Dr. Sandra Gärtner, CEO mediaresearch42
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