At the end of 2021, major marketing companies like Ogilvy started to talk about B2B influence as a “sleeping giant”. They said it was shaping up to be the biggest growth segment of marketing, both in terms of content development and marketing spend for B2B businesses. It was even indicated that PR budgets may need to be cut in order for more resources to be allocated to B2B influencers.
- Until this year, B2B influence has predominantly been characterised by blog posts on LinkedIn
- PR budgets are now shifting to B2B influencers
- Employees humanising business services; becoming influencers in enterprises
- New opportunities in B2B influence around creative content — video, podcasts, blogs with infographics
- Greater professionalisation of the sector
- Movement from engagement to outcome metrics means that B2B influence will be part of qualified leads and conversion metrics
When traditional PR and marketing firms start saying things like that, we should all sit up and take notice. Because if they are talking about PR budgets being cut, then they are firing a warning shot across some of their own bread and butter activities.
But why is B2B influence so powerful? And what is driving its growth?
We know that a sleeping giant is anything that has emerging or as yet unrealised power. For B2B influence, that power comes in the shape three emerging trends in business purchasing behaviour:
- Reputation-based procurement
- Shifts in content consumption
- Professionalisation of B2B influence
Each of these trends will have an impact on real sales and conversions.
So B2B influence is specifically a sleeping giant because there is a time lag between adoption of the behaviours and the measurable impact on sales. But this means there is early mover advantage for those businesses already engaging B2B influence activities.
So, the power comes from the efficiency of B2B influence when compared with traditional public relations and marketing activities, as well as the glaring chasm emerging between traditional engagement metrics and conversion metrics.
To understand why this is happening, let’s have a look at each of these trends in detail.
Procurement has traditionally been guided by-product or service fit, accompanied by an exercise in ticking boxes around compliance. It’s been very clinical, and rather cold-blooded.
While digital business means that compliance is more important than ever, one key aspect of compliance is character checking. To help ensure that companies have a history of trustworthy behaviour, it helps to track the record of how they communicate with the market.
For procurement officers, this means not just checking the brochures that describe a supplier’s products and services, but also looking at the interactions between influencers and buyers of those products and services.
Putting a human face on a supplying business, showing passion and sympathy, and being trustworthy are all key to communicating a company’s value to these procurement officers. And that is possible through content created by employees of supplier businesses, as well as content mentioning products and services on other sites and platforms.
This is reputation-based procurement. It’s not enough to just have the goods and the capability to deliver. Suppliers also need a track record of interactions to show what kind of values they have, how they learn and respond to feedback and how well they understand the industry in which they work.
For suppliers this means engaging either employee-influencers or commentator-influencers to create content that discusses their products and the industries they serve, and to do so with spirit and personality, demonstrating company values.
Business buyers have also changed the way they consume content. Where once executives relied on industry journals and mainstream media for their understanding of suppliers and market trends, they now seek out sources that attract a large following and substantive engagement.
This may end up being a single business influencer on LinkedIn or some other social platform, or it may be earned content in the form of a video or podcast series.
What’s been interesting about this shift in content consumption, is that long-form content — interviews or longer pieces — tend to have a much stronger impact on buyer behaviours and conversions than short-form content — although there’s clearly a need for a blend of both long and short content forms to capture the broadest possible attention.
B2B influences are switched on to the change, and they are varying content sources and styles in order to meet the variance in consumption habits. And while business buyer selection of content might initially be based on engagement and audience, over time the actual conversion metrics are influencing choices around consumable content.
This is a massive shift from traditional PR and marketing which was always measured in column inches and eyeballs. In the B2B influence sector, content that is demonstrably generating qualified leads, sales or reputation perception is preferable to the scattergun approach of traditional marketing and advertising.
The final trend contributing to the power of B2B influence is the professionalisation of the sector itself.
Influencers have established processes for engaging with companies and they are beginning to establish success and failure criteria for their work. Even among influencers who are employees inside a company, there is a gradual adoption of performance tracking and a commitment to learning.
Increasingly, influencers are generating presences on aggregator sites and adopting Codes of Practice that are designed to further showcase their commitment to accuracy and quality of their content.
There are even influencer industry membership organisations designed to support the continuing development of professionals in the sector, with B2B influencing the fastest-growing group within these networks.
From a business perspective, this professionalisation of B2B influence means that there are changes in how content is measured in terms of desired impact, and the calculation of B2B influencer value becomes simpler. The power is in content productivity.
It’s pretty clear that B2B influence has got traditional PR and advertising agencies nervous.
But when you understand what is driving the change, you understand why there’s so much power in the phenomenon. And you can see why marketing budgets are shifting to B2B influence.
And then you see why it’s been called a “sleeping giant”. But the giant is certainly waking up. And pretty soon it’s going to roar.