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  • Writer's pictureKate Talbot

IBM CMO Michelle Peluso Shares Her Top 3 Trends In B2B Influencer Marketing

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

YouTube stars and the Kardashians are not what you'd typically expect to discuss with one of the most sought-after marketers, who spends her days thinking about how to help people better understand how technology will shape our lives.

However, if from my interview with IBM’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle Peluso, reinforced one core theme, it is that sometimes your most powerful influencers come from unexpected places.

Influencer marketing has become commonplace within B2C marketing. Now, more than ever B2B companies are racing to do to the same. The fact is that influencers are pivotal to brand success and remain a growth lever to promote products and inspire community. B2B influencers might just look different than a stereotypical fashion influencer posing in front of the Coachella Ferris wheel or the fitness trainer promoting protein powder.

Peluso has the task of marketing a legacy brand within a world of digital content and consumption. This new wave of consumerism leans heavily on influencer marketing; especially as the next generation of millennial and Gen Z buyers and consumers look at technology through a more digitally savvy lens:

“When you have a company that has reinvented itself over 100 years many, many times, there’s a legacy that’s quite attractive. But we have to tell our story in the right way – we’re always  working on the latest, most cutting-edge technology, and helping clients make a difference in their companies and in the world.”

Peluso and I talked at length about a topic that is integral to the future of B2B marketing. Here are three takeaways about the current state of B2B influencer marketing gleaned from IBM’s strategy.

It’s all about authenticity.

Similarly to B2C trends of using nano influencers over macro influencers, Peluso encourages quality over volume, “It’s not necessarily about how many followers someone has, but rather what makes them valuable and interesting to their audience. It’s crucial that B2B companies commit to preserving an influencer’s authenticity as credibility is paramount.”

IBM’s ad campaign, “Dear Tech, Let’s Talk,” features an array of celebrities, influencers, and IBM employees and advocates. This includes IBMer, Lisa Deluca -- a Distinguished Engineer and mother of four. She wants the world to know that STEM isn’t just a boys club. Peluso is determined to show that, “Whoever you choose to associate with your brand – they have to have that authentic connection. It simply can’t be manufactured or bought.”

Enterprise marketers must remain focused on finding influencers that relate to their products and values, and in turn, whose personal communities and followers will do the same.

B2B influencers differ than B2C influencers, and that’s awesome.

B2B influencers engage and thrive across a variety of offline and online channels – both inside the workforce and online through communities like LinkedIn or Reddit. These influencers are able to on their unique ability to convert non-physical concepts like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing into consumable and exciting ideas for the masses…not just techies.

This is extremely important as content creation has a huge effect on the sales cycle as 80% of B2B buyers consume at least three pieces of content before talking to a salesperson.

“Employees are often an untapped influencer base for enterprise companies. Companies must find a way to identify these people, learn about their audience, and then support them to expand their mission and goals,” Peluso shared.

“In regards to external brand advocates, IBM works with this one developer, for example, Tanmay, who started learning how to use IBM’s AI platform (Watson) when he was a little kid. He has this uncanny ability to break down the technology in ways that people can understand. He does Facebook Live, YouTube, attends our events, and is becoming incredibly influential in his sphere.”

B2B influencers have a different audience than their consumer counterparts, which requires a different approach to content creation. Luckily, their audiences are passionate and drive results that can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

Give life to the intangible.

With sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and blockchain in their technology stack, IBM brings abstract products to life through creative content. “What I think is really interesting is that, even now, a lot of what we do, you can’t see and touch. There are so many ways that AI and Cloud are touching people’s lives that you can start to make real,” Peluso explained.

One of the most famous examples of this is when IBM Watson won Jeopardy in 2011, defeating super champion Ken Jennings. This event brought the topic of artificial intelligence into mainstream conversation. And more recently with Project Debater, which showcased how AI could effectively debate a world-class human debater.

Another includes IBM engineer, Benin Saffo, who used machine learning and cognitive computing when she built a custom model to define different hair types through Watson Visual Recognition. By taking photos of hair, she could classify the unique characteristics associated with different hair types and further demonstrate the power of Watson.

By illustrating complex technologies in a digestible way for the modern audience, B2B influencers can share product vision and capabilities in an entertaining manner.

In the end, storytelling delivers.

Through understanding the importance of authentic storytelling and humanizing complex technologies, B2B companies can use influencer marketing for brand affinity and sales. The companies that get influencer marketing and social media right are those that consistently create engaging stories and compelling visual content, all with genuine intent for the audiences and stakeholders they serve.

Fortunately, B2B companies of all sizes have more opportunities than ever to connect with like-minded people through the power of influencer marketing.

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