You've seen the stats: 60 to 80 percent of the buying process is done before anyone wants to chat with your chomping-at-the-bit sales reps. To make matters worse, more people than ever are now involved in the process of buying complex products. So where does that leave you?
Most likely trying to craft a never-ending stream of content marketing to influence this very process. And that helps, for sure.
But let’s be honest. You need to do more than turn your brand into a publisher … especially as most publishers are having their own issues these days. With that in mind, there’s another approach to influencing the buying process while also supporting your could-be-better content marketing efforts.
Start engaging the influencers.
As you’ve probably heard by now, we trust the recommendations of people over brands. So start with folks that already like what your company is doing. From there, you can move on to others that influence your target buyers in a big way.
1. Brand Advocates
Who better to recommend your brand than those already delighted with it? And you don’t need to be Apple, Harley-Davidson or TiVo to have customers inclined to say positive things. All companies have advocates, even those that sell to other brands (or they wouldn’t be in business).
But how do you identify your brand advocates?
It’s simple. Just email a Net Promoter survey to your customer database. Those that identify themselves as “highly likely to recommend” your company are brand advocates. And within 48 to 72 hours you’ll have identified hundreds or maybe even thousands of advocates. Easy, right?
Now comes the harder part. You need to flag these customers as brand advocates in your CRM database, develop dedicated marketing campaigns to get them sharing branded content, and acknowledge and recognize them along the way. But these efforts will be worth it … since we all know how powerful positive word of mouth can be!
And for mid- to enterprise-sized companies, vendors such as Zuberance and Influitive can give you a leg up with launching and managing your brand advocacy programs.
2. Employee Advocates
Most employees are active on social media and already make recommendations to their personal networks. Plus, many believe in what your company is up to. Sound like a recipe for success? It is.
Imagine if you could get 10 percent of your company’s employees to share, tweet or “like” your latest content marketing offers, and to do so on a regular basis. Think of the impact. Technology providers like Dynamic Signal and SocialChorus think so. They say that employee advocacy results in much higher engagement with branded content and can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in equivalent paid media value.
Whether you decide to bring on specialized technology or not, don’t let that stop you from getting started with employee advocacy.
Just ask your employees to follow your company’s Twitter handle and LinkedIn page. Next, let them know when you’ve tweeted, put up a new blog post or LinkedIn status update, and then ask them to share. The result: vastly amplified reach and engagement for your brand content.
3. The Media
Next up are the online publications and blogs most influential with your target audience. Don’t rely on your PR firm to build media relationships by pitching the occasional customer win, executive hire, product launch or “momentum” release.
Develop your own relationships with the editors, writers and bloggers most relevant to your buyers. Reach out and ask what they like to cover and which story angles resonate most with their audience. This is not as hard as it sounds since many make their email address and/or social media handles public.
Keep in mind that as with all busy professionals, it may take a moment to get their attention. Having said that, once you move beyond the most popular publications, many editors and writers are surprisingly easy to engage in conversations -- especially since they’re looking to expand their content sources, too!
4. Industry Analysts
If you’re a B2B marketer you know how anxious everyone gets when a new Gartner, IDC or Forrester Research report comes out about your industry. That shows how influential these analysts are to your buyers no matter which market sector you compete in.
Do you know who specifically covers your industry at not only the big research firms but also the smaller research and consulting firms? Are you listening to them on social media to keep a pulse on what content they’re sharing, and which products, technologies and companies they’re talking about?
By plugging into these social insights, you’ll discover many opportunities to engage industry analysts and share your brand’s story in the context of the big thoughts they’re working on.
5. Thought Leaders
Speaking of big thoughts, there are also many “thought leaders” that write about, discuss at conferences and share on social media their views on topics relevant to your target buyers. Many write for mainstream publications like Forbes and Huffington Post, while others are driving conversations from their perch high up on the executive ladder at a leading industry vendor.
Thought leaders are typically prodigious content creators around specific themes or topics. And they have huge social media audiences that actively amplify every word posted, tweeted, or updated.
For example, when B2B marketers need some fresh ideas on their content marketing, many turn to thought leaders such as Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael) of SAP and Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs) of MarketingProfs. Learning the ropes around “social selling”? Tap into what Jill Rowley (@Jill_Rowley) has to say. Want to go deep on the role of one-to-one relationships in a social world? Connect with Ted Rubin (@TedRubin), Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer), and Bryan Kramer (@BryanKramer). Interested in how social media is impacting HR? Consider following Meghan M. Biro (@MeghanMBiro).
Take the time to discover the thought leaders for your industry and follow, share and engage them on social media. A retweet or mention from one of these influencers can be huge when it comes to driving the influence of your brand messages.
Now it’s your turn.
Which influencer types do you need to focus more of your efforts on? Feel free to share in the comments section below.