Inside B2B Influence is a show that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and showcases conversations with insiders from the world of influencer marketing. We connect with influential practitioners at B2B brands of all kinds and sizes to answer the rising number of questions about working with influencers in a business context.
In this first episode of the second season of Inside B2B Influence, I was able to catch up with the incredibly popular, talented and beloved Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, Ann Handley. I’ve known Ann for well over 10 years and she’s been a great friend, client and source of inspiration to me about more meaningful content marketing.
Ann talks with me about a variety of topics ranging from the nature of influence in B2B, demand for B2B influencers during the pandemic and our mutually favorite “dogfluencer”, August – the most dashing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel you may ever meet.
Highlights of this episode of Inside B2B Influence with Ann Handley include:
Does everybody have influence? Yes and no
How the change to digital first B2B marketing has affected demand for influencers
The importance of a relationship driven approach
Trends in B2B influencer content collaboration
Growing emphasis on executive thought leadership and influence
Worst practices influencer engagement
How to integrate influencers with your newsletter
What B2B marketers should do to improve their influencer marketing
Some of Ann’s favorite B2B industry influencers
Listen to episode 14 (Confluence: The B2B Content and Influence Connection) of the Inside B2B Influence podcast here:
You wrote the best selling book, Everybody Writes. Do you think everybody has influence?
Ann: That’s such an interesting question because at first pass it’s like, well of course. But then on the other hand it’s kind of an existential question, isn’t it? I really had to think about that for a second. I mean, yes, I do think that everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility, right? Yes, we all have influence, but not in all topics. Like for example, I really like sushi, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a fish influencer. Is that a thing fishfluencer? I think we all have our spheres of expertise and we are influential within those spheres of expertise. But I don’t think that people are influencers across all things.
Everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility. @annhandley
I also think that, especially in B2B, that the notion of influencers is even more narrowly defined than it is in, in B2C. Because the expertise that I have in marketing is, you know, it’s content, it’s writing. It’s very specific. I don’t think you would come to me if you were looking for somebody to talk about analytics. Like you would go to Chris Penn for that. He’s an influencer in marketing analytics. So I think, especially in B2B, that that it is absolutely true that the credibility I have as an influencer is very specific and narrow. And I think that’s true of any, any B2B influencer.
The pandemic accelerated digital transformation in B2B impacting all aspects of doing business including marketing. What impact has an emphasis on digital first in B2B marketing had on the demand for influencers like yourself?
Ann: I have definitely seen more of those opportunities come my way because I think, just to your point, all of the traditional B2B tactics of field marketing and in person trade shows and other moments to experience the brands face to face, all of that went away in the past 15 months or so since the pandemic. So what takes its place? That’s been what’s fueling a lot of that digital transformation happening at B2B companies.
Influencer marketing is very much part of that because, how do you build that sort of trust with your audience if you don’t have the ability to meet them in person, to sit down, to have a conversation with them? So I think influencers have become a proxy and a conduit for that.
We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus straight up transactional. @annhandley
What’s interesting and what I see straight up from an influencer standpoint, is that more of those companies seek to have those relationships with me. They’re seeking to build those relationships with me in much less of a transactional way. You and I have talked about this Lee, I remember saying to you that this is like the future of B2B influencer marketing. We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus, you know, straight up transactional – make it less of an advertising / transactional play. Like here, I’ll pay you X amount of dollars if you share my thing, you know? That’s more of a B2C model.
I think in B2B what we’re seeing, and this has been fueled by the pandemic, is that we are seeing those relationships start to happen between brands and influencers like me where they’re reaching out to me proactively and saying, “Hey, we don’t have a thing right now, but we want to work with you. Can we sort of get to know each other?”
And so I think we’re seeing an increasing impetus toward an approach that I feel, has more sustainability long-term and it’s the way that I like to work personally. So yeah, I think we’re seeing a whole lot more of that.
What are some of the content collaboration opportunities between B2B brands and influencers that you’re seeing more of in 2021?
Ann: There are yeah. I want to caveat this by saying that I’m speaking from my personal experience versus, you know, I haven’t necessarily polled B2B marketers. So you probably have a better perspective on this too and whether what I’m talking about is actually reflected in the broader B2B community.
What I see is more brands looking to have a longterm relationship. Not just, come speak at our webinar, but, can we actually think about this over like a fiscal year? What can we do together in Q1 and Q2 and Q3, so that it becomes much more of a, not quite ambassador, but at least more of a brand alignment, right? So that I’m saying, “I believe in what you do” and and you’re saying that you trust me as well.
More long-term engagements and less transactional is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program. @annhandley
I think longer-term engagement with a trust foundation to it is definitely something that I’m seeing. I’m also seeing these situations where even if it is about providing a quote for this, or for example, I’ll put something in my newsletter that’s sort of sponsored but for me, it’s not anything that you can buy. It’s something where I read the paper and I believe in it. I have a relationship with the company and so therefore I will share it with my audience. So yes, it’s sponsored, but it’s like, it’s sponsored with my whole self. I guess I’m a little bit goofy, but you know what I mean, with integrity, I should say.
That is a situation where it’ll be over several months, so it’s not just like a one and done. But can you help us promote this and here’s what’s in it for you and here’s what we want to give to you and your audience, that kind of thing. I guess to sum up, much more long-term engagements and less transactional, which I think is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program anyway. But you probably have more perspective on that than I do.
It’s been really interesting what’s happened not just in terms of content creation and the thought leadership through partnerships between executives and external influencers, but also the relationships that are being facilitated.
Ann: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I think it makes total sense, right? Because in the past 15 months of the pandemic, I think that the brands who have really demonstrated that we’re all in this together, have actually had to show up in a real human genuine way and to be there for their audiences. I think that’s in part what’s driving the kind of collaboration that you’re talking about.
Brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? @annhandley
Because I do think brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? I think that cascades throughout B2B marketing as well as influencer marketing. I think that’s clearly one area where we are seeing where that comes to life,
Along with best practices there are also bad practices. I’m curious if there are any bad behaviors in terms of how people reach out or engage with you?
Ann: I think there’s been a few situations where I just, I tend not to engage basically. That’s a situation where a big agency will reach out and it’s clear that I’m one of many. Like I’m like part of a stable of influencers that they’re looking to. And they ask me to respond and fill out this Google form about the size of my audience. I’m not going to do any of that. That’s not what I want and that’s not who I am. It’s not what my brand is all about. That’s just not what I’m going to do.
It doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. @annhandley
So it doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. That’s a situation where I just wouldn’t engage. I can’t even say that it’s a bad practice but it’s de-motivating. When those come in we just sort of delete it immediately.
Or they come at it from a tactic standpoint. I get this a lot. For example, my email newsletter. I’ve talked a lot about it the past couple of years, it’s grown pretty significantly and it has really healthy, open rates. The list is just over 50,000 now. So it’s a good, robust list. I get a lot of people who say, will you share this in your newsletter? And I don’t know them. I don’t have a relationship with you. So if the onus is on me to do the legwork and figure out who you are, what your solution is all about or what your piece of content is all about, then I’m not going to do it.
Also, that’s not the role of the newsletter. If you know me, and if you’re on the list, then you know that, right? So, if you want to get something in my newsletter, then that’s not the first step. The first step is engaging me on social, get to know me. All the things that, you know, you do to start a relationship. All the best practices around that. Not. “Will you share this in your newsletter?” That’s all the stuff that just ends up being deleted immediately.
What are some ways you can imagine someone incorporating influencer content in a newsletter?
Ann: If you’re a marketer and you’re publishing your own newsletter and you want to work with influencers, trying to figure out a way to highlight them in that environment could be something simple, like highlighting some of their content or highlighting them as an individual. Or it could be something more like inviting them to be like a guest editor depending on the relationship.
I think there’s lots of opportunity there to influence the influencer as part of your brand and not just thinking that your relationship with the influencer is only in the social space. Because I think an email newsletter is just such a rich opportunity to communicate directly with your audience. The degree to which you can invite influencers into that relationship is going to solidify your relationship with the influencer as well.
Who are some of your favorite influencers, you know, that would, you know, that operate in the B2B world in some way, whether it’s marketing or tech or somewhere else?
Ann: Avinash Kaushik at Google. I don’t even know if he would consider himself an influencer, but he is. I think mostly because his brain functions so differently. I’m on his newsletter list. I love to read his perspective and his point of view, and follow him on social for the same reasons.
Chris Penn is somebody else who you know, again, has a very different approach. But if you took Chris Penn’s brain and took my brain and sort of put them together, you’d get like this whole body marketer, you know? I think I come at it very much from the art and high touch perspective and he comes at it very much from a science and analytics standpoint. I appreciate his message so much because he helps me elevate in what I do just by paying attention to what he’s doing.
I love what April Dunford talks about around positioning. I think she offers some really valuable advice and I always love seeing what she has to say and hearing her point of view on things.
You certainly. I think you, and I know it’s like your show so I probably shouldn’t, but like the work you’ve done around influencer marketing, I think you absolutely are helping to push the industry forward in terms of like how to do it right. And, and how to create programs that actually do sustain themselves long-term and deliver value for your organization.
Thanks Ann! You are a great source of inspiration to B2B marketers all over the world and a wonderful human being!
You can also watch the full video interview with Ann Handley here:
For more B2B marketing insights, you can subscribe to Ann’s amazing Total ANNARCHY newsletter here and connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. Also, don’t miss out on the MarketingPros B2B Forum coming up October 13-14 this year.
Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business marketing.
You can also download The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report featuring insights from a survey of hundreds of B2B marketers plus case studies and contributions from marketing executives at brands including Adobe, LinkedIn, IBM, Dell, SAP and many more.