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What will B2B influencer marketing look like in 2021, and where will it take B2B marketers and brands when a post-pandemic world eventually arrives?

To help answer these questions we’ve gathered top B2B influencer marketing insights from both industry experts and our own team, and present our look at their predictions for 2021.

Let’s jump right in and see how top B2B influencer marketing practitioners expect 2021 to change the way we do business, and why it will likely be a breakout year for building influence.

1 — Anti-Marketing and The Real vs. The Ideal

Ann Boyd
Ann Boyd
Vice President of Communications, Rubrik

My prediction is that we’re moving into an anti-marketing, influencer marketing world. No one has time for the deluge of commercial content coming their way these days on every platform. The pendulum has swung to where the obviously-solicited and carefully-curated feedback is flooding our inboxes and social feeds.

The trick is finding authentic advocates and keeping the content short, sweet, timely, and targeted! 2021 is going to be all about the real vs. the ideal.

“The trick is finding authentic advocates and keeping the content short, sweet, timely, and targeted! 2021 is going to be all about the real vs. the ideal.” — Ann Boyd @annb Click To Tweet

2 —Ethos, Relatability, Affinity and True Partnerships

Ann-Handley
Ann Handley
Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

I have 3 predictions for 2021:

1. A long-term approach to influencer marketing growth is the Miracle-Gro B2B brands need. Influencer relationships have increasingly been about building long-term partnerships — not short-term, one-off collaborations. This has been evolving for a while… but in 2021 it’s critical. One-offs are choked off so true partnerships can thrive.

2. Purpose-driven partnerships become a thing. It’s not the size of an influencer’s audience — it’s what they stand for. Brand, ethos, character, relatability, affinity… it all matters.

3. A B2B brand will create the first viral TikTok video in partnership with a TikTok creator. (Why not?)

3 1/2. Instagram stops updating its platform in annoying ways that repel users. (Wait. Now I’m just making a Christmas wish list…. Never mind.)

If the pandemic has taught B2B marketing anything, it’s that trust, relatability, and TikTok matter more than ever.

Just kidding on that last one.

Or am I?

“A long-term approach to influencer marketing growth is the Miracle-Gro B2B brands need.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Click To Tweet

3 — More B2B Influencer Marketing Professionals Will Move the Needle

Ryan Bares
Ryan Bares
Global Social Programs Lead: Social Influencers & Employee Advocacy, IBM Systems

2021 will be the year of focus for the influencer marketer. B2B brands should now see the fruits of their influencer marketing labor, but is that really moving the needle?

Influencer marketing professionals – a position that will have more headcount in 2021 – will be expected to show results and focus on the right influencers engaging with your target audience vs. trying everything and seeing what sticks.

“2021 will be the year of focus for the influencer marketer. Influencer marketing professionals will be expected to show results and focus on the right influencers engaging with your target audience.” – Ryan Bares @RyanBares Click To Tweet

4 — Virtual Events Become Stronger B2B Marketing Tools

Anton Shulke
Anton Shulke
Head of Influencer Marketing (SEO), SEMRush

Influencer marketing for me is about relationships.

Between you, as a part of your brand, and a person — an influencer. Sure, there is some kind of relationship between an influencer and the brand, but still, in the end, it comes down to personal relationships between particular people.

Many of us build it using real-life meetings, a cup of coffee or a beer. What could be better than face-to-face conversations?

It abruptly stopped in 2020 with COVID, and my guess is it won’t be back soon. I don’t want to use a cliche — the world won’t be the same again — but it might be partially true.

What could replace real-life conferences and personal meetings?

The obvious answer — online ones. I think in 2021 a lot of influencer marketers will look at online events as arguably the strongest influencer marketing tool. We will be arranging virtual conferences with the major goal to “steal the soul” of our influencers. Saying so, remember what is the best way to please your influencer/speaker: have a big, engaged audience.

“In 2021 influencer marketers will look at online events as arguably the strongest influencer marketing tool.” — Anton Shulke @anton_shulke Click To Tweet

5 — Better Mutual Long-Term Influencer Value

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
CEO, Onalytica

As an industry the early adoption phase is now over. B2B influencer marketing is now a more mainstream strategy integrated by marketers who are not specialists.

This in turn has caused a lot of brands and agencies to jump on the bandwagon and collaborate with the same top tier industry global influencers with mixed results.

The increased take up has shone a spotlight on the knowledge gaps and improvements that are required by marketers and influencers to collaborate better as the industry matures.

In 2021 there are 3 key areas for marketers to improve:

  1. Better design of initial brand/influencer partnerships to deliver mutual long-term value
  2. Help develop a community of internal & external influencers as content creators around thought leadership themes
  3. Improve onboarding and management of influencers, as poor processes can negatively affect the relationship

“As an industry the early adoption phase is now over. B2B influencer marketing is now a more mainstream strategy integrated by marketers who are not specialists.” — Tim Williams @WilliamsTim Click To Tweet

6 — A Blended and More Human Approach

Nic Michael
Nic Michael
Influencer Marketing Strategist, TopRank Marketing

What we see right now is a distinction between B2C and B2B influencer content creation — but why not blend the two?!

My prediction is that B2B content will begin to take on a more B2C approach, in that the way influencers develop content will be a bit scrappier and more human rather than buttoned up and polished.

“B2B content will begin to take on a more B2C approach, in that the way influencers develop content will be a bit scrappier and more human rather than buttoned up and polished.” — Nic Michael @TopRank Click To Tweet

7 — Deep Engagement and Finding a Value Sweet Spot

Rachel Douglas
Rachel Douglas
Senior Manager of Marketing and Brand, Prophix*

Influencers are becoming more savvy about brands they partner with and why.  Organizations and marketers have to work harder to nurture key relationships and ensure we aren’t just asking for content or activation, but rather find a value sweet spot where both parties benefit and win.  That means meaningful content, authentic voices and deep engagement.

“Influencers are becoming more savvy about brands they partner with and why. Organizations and marketers have to work harder to nurture key relationships and ensure we aren’t just asking for content or activation.” — Rachel Douglas Click To Tweet

8 — Seek Up-And-Coming Influencers who Align with Brand Values

Tom Treanor
Tom Treanor
CMO, Treasure Data*

With the pandemic, we’ve seen a massive rush online, and many of these new habits will continue in 2021 and even post-pandemic.

Because of this, the importance of online influencers has only increased. Expect to see brands increasingly working with influencers in B2C and B2B environments. The smart money will go after influencers on the rise, so look out for up-and-coming influencers who are seeing some success in the platforms your audience prefers, as well as who align with your brand’s values.

“The importance of online influencers has only increased. Expect to see brands increasingly working with influencers in B2C and B2B environments.” — Tom Treanor @RtMixMktg Click To Tweet

9 — Always-On Influence and Greater Sophistication

Debbie Friez
Debbie Friez
Influencer Marketing Strategist, TopRank Marketing

Brands often engaged influencers around events, and that is where they were able to get budget. With so many events going virtual, I see brands reassessing this tactic. More brands are striving to engage influencers throughout the year and look to have an always-on program. Thus, the budgets and alignments are changing.

Additionally, virtual events are not new, but their importance and sophistication is already radically improving. 2021 will continue to see more influencers upping their game around lighting, microphones and cameras to have the best experience for their audience. I’m excited to see how influencers will develop their video and audio presence to help companies share information.

“More brands are striving to engage influencers throughout the year and look to have an always-on influencer marketing program.” — Debbie Friez @dfriez Click To Tweet

10 — Network and Credential-Building Activities in a Maturing Influencer Industry

Paul Dobson
Paul Dobson
Senior Director of Social and Influencer Marketing, Citrix

Here’s what’s been on my mind while I have been thinking about planning for 2021. With the ongoing discussion about misinformation in the media, I think that B2B influencer teams are going to be looking for a solid balance between the influencer’s network and their credential building activities that continue to build on their reputations as a strong voice in the industry that they represent.

With the influencer industry maturing, and mindspace on social media shrinking, there is going to be increasing competition to find the right person to help promote B2B brands and brand messages.

“B2B influencer teams are going to be looking for a solid balance between the influencer’s network and their credential building activities.” — Paul Dobson @svengelsk Click To Tweet

11 — Long-Term Cooperation and Deepening Influencer Relationships

Michaela Underdahl
Michaela Underdahl
Senior Community Manager
Nimble

I predict two key trends happening in the B2B influencer marketing space in 2021. The first one will be the continuation of brands’ focus on nurturing existing relationships and building new long-term connections.

At Nimble, we believe in treating business relationships the same way we treat other important relationships in our lives. Long-term cooperation with influencers is our number one priority because it’s a win-win for everybody.

Both we and the influencers we work with invest time, energy, and resources into every campaign we run. We only reach out to people who we want to build a long-lasting relationship with. The end goal with our influencers is to eventually turn them into Nimble power-users and life-long brand advocates.

The other thing I think companies will be focusing on in 2021 is “fishing out” the micro-influencers from the deep waters of their existing base. It’s much easier to deepen the relationship with someone who already loves your product, turning them into an evangelist, than it is to teach an influencer the product after you’ve spent months — sometimes years — nurturing a new relationship.

“It’s much easier to deepen the relationship with someone who already loves your product, turning them into an evangelist, than it is to teach an influencer the product.” — Michaela Underdahl @Nimble Click To Tweet

12 — Experiences, the Business of Influence, Agency Influencer Networks and Brand Individuals

Lee Odden 2020 - 12 Expert B2B Influencer Marketing Predictions for 2021
Lee Odden
CEO, TopRank Marketing

In our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 80% of B2B marketers agree that influencer marketing will be more important in the coming year and 80% expect their influencer marketing budgets to increase or stay the same. As the pandemic has driven B2B marketing activities decidedly digital, influence will continue to play an increasingly important role in the B2B marketing mix and here’s how:

  • Experiences – 74% of marketers believe working with influencers improves the experience of prospects and customers with the brand. That trend will continue as more influencers are engaged creatively to partner with brands on messaging and trusted content. The definition of influencer will broaden enabling brands to activate more of the individuals internally and externally playing a role in delivering the best experiences for customers.
  • Business of Influence – More professional influencers will come on the scene in the B2B world to provide brands with everything from analyst level expertise to turn-key research and promotions projects, professional media and content creation that are accountable to more than just “potential social impressions.” Business influence in 2021 means accountability to the bottom line, not just superficial KPIs.
  • Agency Influencer Networks – As more B2B brands come on board the influencer marketing train, they’ll want to fast track the most difficult part: identifying, qualifying and recruiting influencer partners. Specialist agencies will maintain relationships with networks of industry specific influencers and be able to provide new clients with near-immediate connections with experts that might otherwise take months to nurture.
  • Brand Influencers – Employee advocacy can tip the scales in favor of the B2B brands that are able to activate their staff and this trend will continue. Additionally, more B2B brands will invest in the building of influence for their key executives. B2B brands that both harvest relationships with top industry influencers and build the influence of their key execs and subject matter experts could see a multiplier effect on warming the market, building trust, thought leadership, and credibility when it comes to the confidence needed to make purchasing decisions.

“The definition of influencer will broaden enabling brands to activate more of the individuals internally and externally playing a role in delivering the best experiences for customers.” — Lee Odden @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

Putting 2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Trends to the Test

2021 will see B2B marketers taking influencer marketing into not only a new year but a new more mainstream era of wider adoption among major brands, and the insightful predictions we’ve examined here are sure to play out in altogether new and sometimes unpredictable ways.

* Prophix and Treasure Data are TopRank Marketing clients.





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