Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Finding the Influencers

First of all, sorry for the lapse in posts. I've been swamped by actual client work.

I figured I'd do a post on something I run into more and more often these days... marketing to influencers. In B2B Marketing, the "business decision maker" is the most sought after quantity. Marketers campaigns targeting the BDM are typically a combination of golf sponsorships, ads in Business Week or the Economist, and are followed up by good integrated touches from the sales force. However, there is another type of person out there who is as or more valuable than the decision maker--the elusive influencer. Influencers are BDMs who other BDMs listen to. In theory, by winning over the influencer, you can reach tens or hundreds of BDMs. So how do you actually find them? And once identified, how do you communicate with them? And will they care? These are pretty interesting topics that have been dealt with in different ways by different people.

Finding Influencers. An obvious way to look for influencers is online. Blogs such as this one generally are concentrating points for influencers. Eric Kintz over at HP has probably driven a lot of business Siebel's way for example. So marketers looking for influencers should first do a thorough blog search. However, this is really just scratching the surface. There are documented approaches for mapping social networks. Social network theory was around before MySpace and Linkedin. By accurately mapping out social networks, it's possible to find the nodes with the most connections (influencers). There are survey techniques for doing this--and they've been put in place successfully in pharmaceuticals (Merck comes to mind with its influencer MDs.) Another approach is to identify some influencers using market research and then attempt to find them with a look-alike scoring model--I've seen this work pretty well.

Communicating with Influencers. Influencers are different from everyone else. They take more care and feeding. They also delete their emails faster than other people and have a pretty high bar for interest. On the other hand, they are interested in value and content. I guess the point here is that you can't communicate with influencers the way you communicate with everyone else. What does this mean for B2B marketers? Forget direct mail letters. Try sending them a book. Sure it's expensive, but if you actually can gain access to 10 or 100 others BDMs, then it's worth it. I'd encourage people to test high-cost marketing approaches, rigorously targeted towards influencers.

What Do You Do with Them? Once you've got an influencer ID'd and engaged in a conversation, what do you do with them? Or, in other words, how do you make them an evangelist for your product / service? First, stay away from turning them into a blatant pitchman. One thing that works is getting influencers speaking at events about topics relevant to your offering. Do not ask for specific recommendations or endorsements--if anything, go out of your way to avoid asking for anything. Give them the opportunity to pitch your product / service. This brings up an important point--it's key to actually have a good product / offering with good product marketing or this won't work. Once you've got them speaking at an event or online, invite all the other BDMs you've already identified and be there with lots of info on your product.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Great post. I completely agree that you need to work a very different angle with influencers and they are more interested in the product and value.

Sociable