Has Product Marketing ever seemed less fashionable?

I’ve had two particular conversations with big, big B2B tech brands in recent weeks where I’ve heard the same thing. That their social media budget is now greater than their product marketing budget, both in people and resources. And in one of those companies their social media budget was next to zero just two years ago.

Is it that they’re now seeing the early benefit of their social outreach and so investing more? Are they mapping their customer’s buying behavior and seeing those customers’ migration to social channels? Or is it that they’re just following the current trend towards social, regardless of the RoI? After all, the recent Mckinsey report stressed the prevalence of the ‘herd mentality’ in many marketing depts. these days.

The agency approach to their clients’ Influencer Programs

I’ve been harboring this view in recent months about the kind of B2B Influencer Programs that are really going on right now. Because it’s significantly changed in the past nine months. That view was crystalized when I was listening a few days back to audience feedback from a presentation I’d given. And it’s not something I’d thought six months ago.

1. The vast majority of so-called Influencer Programs – aren’t. They’re exactly the same programs – to the same people – that have traditionally been going on, i.e. PR & AR (with the addition of bloggers) but they’re now just being termed Influencer Outreach. They’re the obvious names – what we call the low-hanging fruit. Nothing wrong with them – they can be very important – but they demonstrate the shallowest understanding of the term ‘influencer’.

2. Until approx. a year ago organisations were looking to conduct their Influencer Outreach in-house. Today those programs are almost entirely being handled by their traditional marketing agencies. The in-house managers aren’t hands-on enough to be gaining any expertise in the subject but they can now tick the box saying their company is reaching out to Influencers. “Can we incorporate Influencers into our database?” is a very easy question for an agency to answer. And none are declining the opportunity.

3. It’s this agency-led approach which is largely behind the rise of ‘social influence‘. Because what in effect it’s doing is creating yet another mass database to which the agencies can address. More names to target equals more work to be done equals greater justification for increasing budgets. But these are largely not influencers – they’re noisemakers. And there’s no-one in a position to correct them.

4. And it’s this adoption by the marketing agencies of the Influencer Marketing remit – with the increased focus on social database trawling – that has led to the subsequent decreased focus on real-world sales influencers. Understanding the sales process has never been a strength for marketing agencies: creating mass-marketing campaigns has been. And that’s what they’re now doing with their clients’ Influencer Programs.

What many marketing depts. need are better, and more insightful, leadership.

Marketers are just guessing how their customers’ buying decisions are made

DigitalDistressCover-1024x575I’ve never understood why marketing depts. don’t put far more effort into understanding their company’s prospects and customers. I say ‘far more effort’, but in fact, most don’t put any effort into it. Many marketing depts. aren’t even allowed to go anywhere near their customers and prospects – the sales team like to very carefully control who goes near them. The gulf between most sales and marketing functions within any organization means that there’s very little knowledge transfer going on there. Where do marketing depts. get their steer from? The truth is it’s mostly from other marketers – whether in-house co-workers, hired contractors or industry competitors. No wonder there’s so little insight going on.

So marketers are left to pretty much guess how their customers’ buying decisions are made. And let’s face it – all too often that shows.

Do marketers not believe that they need to understand how buyers’ decisions are being made, or what trends there are in how companies make those decisions? I assumed not, no matter how bizarre that seems. It now appears many are well aware of this shortcoming – they’re just not doing anything about it.

Take a look at Adobe’s extremely interesting recent survey of 1000 U.S. marketers. Called ‘Digital Distress – What Keeps Marketers Up At Night?’, the headline finding was that the number one concern for marketers was reaching their customers! Or rather their apparent awareness that they’re failing to reach their customers (82% rated this No.1 concern).

Only 40% thought their company’s marketing was being effective – a terrible indictment but none too surprising.

Perhaps a greater admission came when questioned about from where Marketing Decision-Makers choose to get their marketing advice. At 23% the top response was from their in-house marketing colleagues (who by default would be junior to them), then their Agencies (19%), Industry Associations (17%), External Peers (17%) and Industry Publications (15%).

I think we can paraphrase these findings. Marketers could do a whole lot worse than talking directly to their prospects and customers. What are they looking for?, When do they know they have a problem?, How do they set about resolving it?, What do they want to see from their suppliers?, How do they make their choices?, etc. etc. That would be a great starting point – and it’s clearly a thousand miles from what’s happening now.

For the (highly recommended) Adobe report go to: http://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2013/09/digital-distress-what-keeps-marketers-up-at-night.html

A recent prospect conversation. No deal was done.

True life. A recent incoming call from a prospect. Needless to say, no deal was done.

“So can you identify our influencers for us?”

– “Yes, I’m sure we can. Tell me more.”

“We don’t want to know the journalists and analysts – we already know them. And we don’t want industry consultants – because they just want to be paid. And it’s not the people already inside our industry – because we know those too. It’s the others we want …”

– “The others? ..”

“Yeah, you know, those on Facebook and Twitter and that kind of thing ..”

– “Do you think your clients are listening to what’s going on on Twitter?”

“No idea. Probably not. I don’t really care. I’ve some research budget to spend and I need to present some results quickly … like yesterday.”

The Charisma Myth

The CharismaMyth.cover, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, Buyer-side Journey

My good friend Olivia Fox-Cabane wrote her first book last year, ‘The Charisma Myth’. In it she argues that ‘charisma’, to an extent, can be taught and learnt. Having read the book several times I think it goes a long way to minimizing the ‘rookie errors’ that we all make that routinely stop us being charismatic ourselves, but I still think charisma is too mystical an attribute to deliberately seek out. Maybe I’m just coming from a low base.

I often think that charisma and influence are similar. Everyone wants to have both, we think our world would be easier if we possessed them and we view them as highly aspirational. We admire those traits in others. But we can never be the ones to decide if we have them – they’re solely in the eyes of the beholder – and there’s no personal measurement of them. That’s why, in a social setting, we can all argue about which of our friends we find charismatic.

You can neither be charismatic nor influential alone on a desert island, so both can only be viewed by the effect they have on another person or body. They’re all about the result not the action.

That’s why in my own company we can identify real-world market influencers because we focus very specifically on the result of their influence (on a particular marketplace), not on a woolly generic opinion of the influence we think they possess.

The book’s a really interesting read, but I think both charisma and influence are still all about their application not their innate existence.

How did the world of Influencer Marketing come to this?

When we started our company, and then wrote one of the original books on Influencer Marketing, our intention was to identify the real-world sales influencers – whether they made a noise about it or not. We wanted to better understand how sales were being made – and better understand what was standing in the way when sales weren’t made.

Today when we read discussions about Influencer Marketing they’re most commonly nothing to do with those subjects. They’re invariably about social scoring, about how brands can create databases of those who are most active online on a particular subject. Want to know who tweets most often, to the widest number of people, on the subject of say Android? Or who the most prolific pay-for-play bloggers on the subject of consumer goods are? How did we get so far from real-world sales?

Klout certainly affected the perception of influencer marketing by saying they were something they were not. They said they were ‘the standard for influence’ and because of their notoriety, and the level of funding behind them, people listened. Then everyone realised they weren’t – but by then all kinds of newcomers had entered the fray. Most criticized Klout for just how speculative its evaluation system was, just how easy it was to game their score, and then tried to make their own company’s scoring a little more robust. But Klout established the concept that identifying influencers meant identifying social influencers, that influence meant activity on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the like. And that’s the connection I think has been most damaging to the real world of influencer marketing.

Over the past eight years we’ve identified the market influencers for hundreds of organizations across more than forty countries – from the U.S. to Australia, from Vietnam to Sweden. And in almost every market sector the number of ‘social influencers’ – those influencing a real-world market primarily through their social media activity – amongst our top influencers has been less than 30%. Way less. Sometimes it’s almost unmeasurably low. And that’s because we’re measuring ‘purchasing influencers’ – those who have a direct effect on the sales of a company’s products & services. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally, the number of ‘social’ names within the top influencers can be significant. But only in very specific and very ‘online’ markets.

Most companies operate in a mix of the offline, online and social worlds. That’s where their existing customers, and prospects, live. What I’m most interested in are those who are really influencing sales. It seems a very different path to the 2013 version of Influencer Marketing. And I’d like to help it back on track.