A balance of earned and paid influencer tactics supports scheduled campaigns while allowing for the unpredictable nature of influencer coverage
In b-to-b organizations, influencer relations and marketing campaigns teams have cultural differences that must be negotiated. Influencer relations is a long-term, continuous process focused on building relationships with key individuals and firms to influence their points of view and generate positive coverage over time. Campaigns teams, on the other hand, expect to execute a series of tightly integrated tactics on a predetermined schedule, and are hesitant to commit to activities that can’t be placed within a timeframe and tied to specific campaign goals. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we look at how influencer relations can effectively participate in each step of the campaign implementation process to bring the full range of influencer value into marketing campaigns.
In many companies, the influencer relations process occurs independently from campaign planning. Sometimes this is because influencer relations reports into a separate part of the organization and interlock between teams is lacking. In other cases, influencer relations has a negative view of campaigns and sees them as a collection of product-centric demand tactics rather than true integrated campaigns. In many cases, it is simply because influencer relations and campaigns teams are not sure how to work together.
SiriusDecisions recommends a seven-step process for developing and executing integrated campaigns that are aligned with business strategy and centered on buyer needs. To ensure that influencers are incorporated into campaigns, influencer relations teams should become familiar with this process. Not all influencer relations activities fall within campaigns (e.g. significant effort goes into supporting product marketing), but an understanding of the planning process naturally drives an increase in the percentage of influencer relations activity tied to specific campaign goals. Teams involved in campaign planning need to define exactly how the two functions will work together and come to agreement on the cadence of meetings, working processes, budgeting and measurement. The key areas of interlock throughout the campaign implementation process are:
Goal setting. The first step in campaign implementation is to synthesize cross-functional goals into a prioritized marketing plan. Communications should participate in this step, and the output of agreed-upon goals should inform influencer strategy – for both in-campaign and out-of-campaign activities. The second area of interlock in this phase is around budgeting. Some influencer relations costs are borne by the communications team, and others that are specific to campaigns may be allocated to a campaigns or field marketing budget. No matter how costs are apportioned, it must be absolutely clear who is paying for what and when the expense will hit the budget.
Needs assessment. The primary goal in this phase is to define the audience for the campaign as well as the audience’s business needs, which will drive the development of the campaign theme. This phase is often led by portfolio marketing and includes audience segmentation, persona development and buyer needs mapping. The influencer relations team can contribute by bringing in friendly influencers to validate perceptions of audience needs and provide an understanding of how these relate to larger industry trends. Influencer relations should begin the process of defining the influencer ecosystem and prioritizing influencers in relation to campaign goals.
Campaign definition. In this phase, the campaign hierarchy is defined and themes are developed. There may be an overarching “air cover” campaign focused on establishing reputation in connection with a theme that spans multiple lower-level, nested campaigns. Communications (including influencer relations) is often a key participant in the development of a campaign theme, the creative thread that runs through all campaign tactics. This process may involve bringing in agency partners to support creative development. Influencer relations should validate that the campaign theme will resonate with influencers as well as buyers. Another key deliverable is the development of key performance indicators (KPIs) for each campaign. Influencer relations should support this with a measurement plan/dashboard for tracking metrics that ladder up to campaign and program goals, based on the categories of the SiriusDecisions Metrics Spectrum: impact, output, activity and readiness.
Campaign targeting. Campaigns are refined during this phase to address geographies, industries, customers and channels. The number of campaigns may increase, and influencer relations must ensure that the identified influencers are relevant to all audiences. A content strategy is developed, and the influencer and content strategies have many areas of cross-pollination. The best approach for a flagship piece of content is often to co-develop it with an influencer who is respected by the targeted segment. The content inherits the influencer’s credibility and, as a result, has broader appeal than content developed solely by the vendor. Influencer relations should take the lead in researching potential content deals with influencers and make recommendations based on relevance, budget and timing. Content also can be licensed from third-party influencers. Through a combination of paid and earned tactics, messages can be delivered through influencers; in cases where the company has paid an influencer to publish a specific endorsement, this relationship must be disclosed clearly in close proximity to the published content.
Program planning. During this phase, program plans are created and tactics are assigned to the program families – reputation, demand creation, sales enablement and market intelligence. Influencer relations is one of the few areas that can contribute to all areas. This phase is also when tactics are timed and sequenced. Campaigns require consistent themes and carefully timed seeding activities, which may commence as long as six months in advance of demand creation programs. This advance work with influencers ensures that the market is conditioned to understand and accept the campaign theme and is ready to respond to offers. Execution according to an exact schedule is challenging, as influencer outputs are generally earned rather than paid (i.e. reinforcement of themes in media coverage, inclusion in analyst reports); it’s wise to include paid tactics in the mix (e.g. webinars featuring influencers speaking on relevant topics). The budget for paid campaign tactics that incorporate influencers (e.g. white papers, webinars, events) is usually allocated to regions or marketing rather than influencer relations.
Execution. During the execution phase, activities begin in all program families. There is often a kickoff with sales and channel partners, and influencers can be incorporated to validate the logic of campaign themes and build seller confidence. In the reputation area, influencer outputs (e.g. articles, reports, social media) that support campaign themes should begin flowing in, and campaigns teams should repurpose this content for additional value in demand creation or sales enablement. If influencers are not reinforcing campaign themes and earned coverage is not flowing as expected, then influencer relations should review why the campaign is not resonating and whether an adjustment to campaign strategy is needed. Influencer relations also must track and monitor interactions with influencers that may be initiated by different groups within marketing. This prevents conflicting efforts that may result in influencers becoming annoyed by redundant outreach efforts from the organization. Influencer relations also should ensure that influencers comply with requirements for disclosure of paid content.
Post-execution. When the campaign is drawing to a close, there may be deals in the pipeline that require an extra push to get them over the finish line. Influencers can be used to accelerate slow or stalled decision processes. This requires an understanding of which prospects and customers have relationships with specific influencers. When this is known, references can be seeded through influencers to make a major impact on late-stage decisions (e.g. short lists, final vendor selection). Measurement and reporting are also major activities during this phase, and the performance of tactics that included influencers should be compared to tactics that did not. Influencer-supported tactics may be expected to generate better performance (i.e. more leads, Web traffic), but the results should be evaluated to the investment needed. Conduct a post-mortem to understand which influencer tactics were most successful and should be repeated in future campaigns.
Campaigns take place over an extended period of time – usually 12 months or longer. To maximize the effectiveness of a campaign, seed awareness of its key messages and theme well in advance of the official kickoff. Some influencers may begin to write and talk about the topics, establishing a head start by raising the audience’s awareness of the issues being addressed. Engaging influencers and seeking their input on themes also helps to ensure their support, as it gives them some level of ownership. However, if an organization’s influencer outreach is meeting resistance or failing to generate any resonance, it may be necessary to reconsider the theme and the underlying assumptions about buyer needs.