How do you make inroads with potential buyers when they are holding your sales reps at bay until quite far into the purchase process – and instead, seeking the advice and guidance of trusted peers, colleagues and unbiased third parties online?

Many B2B marketers are calling upon those outside their four walls to influence their target markets. And they are engaging these outsiders through three types of marketing: influencer marketing, affiliate marketing and advocate marketing.

To fully harness the power of third parties in swaying your target market, it’s important to understand the differences between, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of, these three types of marketing strategies. Like so many tactics, it’s not necessarily one or the other, but a combination of two or even all three that may be most beneficial for your business.

Influencer marketing: Short-term buzz

Influencer marketing aims to tap into the clout of recognized thought leaders who are respected and followed by your target audience. These can include journalists, bloggers, consultants, authors, speakers, and industry analysts, to name a few. Because followers trust these influencers, they are open to their recommendations and religiously consume the content they promote. The key is to identify the influencers whose followers include those in your organization’s target audience.

An effective influencer-marketing program capitalizes on third-party influencers to promote your offerings, share your content, and build buzz for a key launch or campaign.

Expanding reach and raising brand awareness

By engaging the right influencers with content and outreach that speaks to both them and their followers, marketers expand their reach and get their offerings noticed by an impressive number of people. Marketers can often measure the immediate results of an influencer share or promotion through metrics such impressions, engagement, and clicks.

Though there is clear upside to be had by engaging influencers, it’s important to understand the challenges as well:

  • Competition for influencers’ attention is fierce. According to Technorati, most influencers are solicited an average of 10 times per week by brands. Another 27% of influencers receive between 10 and 99 requests per week.
  • Paid influencers can undermine an organization’s credibility. If followers suspect an influencer is being paid to endorse your organization, it could harm your credibility.
  • Influencers control what they say about you. Because influencers are focused on promoting and maintaining their own brand image, they may reference you or your product in ways you did not expect.
  • The payoff is unclear. It’s impossible to determine what percentage of an influencer’s followers are your potential customers, or how many followers will take action when an influencer speaks or writes about your organization.
  • The influence dissipates over time. Because influencers have their own brand to cultivate, it’s often best to tap into their reach to ratchet up the results of a specific launch or campaign.

Affiliate marketing: You get what you pay for

Affiliate marketing, which has been around the longest of these three types of marketing, is when a business recruits other organizations to market on its behalf. This type of marketing is often categorized as performance-based marketing that rewards affiliates for the site visitors or customers they generate. A major appeal of affiliate marketing is the ability for a company to promote its offerings via an affiliate’s established network relatively cheaply and easily.

While numerous businesses realize success through affiliate marketing, it may be best suited for high-volume transaction types of sales, versus value-based purchases.

The dark side of affiliate marketing

That said, the dark side of affiliate marketing includes fraudsters who display fake advertisements to generate a paycheck. Sometimes – in an attempt to drive lots of traffic and commissions – affiliates make promises about a product or service that the company can’t stand behind, ultimately causing brand damage.

Daniel Barnett, founder and CEO of WORK[etc], which provides a web-based tool that helps companies manage and organize their workflow, wrote about how he and his team were disappointed after trying their hand at affiliate marketing. To drum up interest in its offering, the company launched an affiliate program that rewarded “introducers” with a commission when they promoted and recommended WORK[etc]. They ended up with a thousand reviews that were “spammy” in nature, along with tweets displaying affiliate links. After six months, WORK[etc] ended the affiliate marketing program due to the lackluster results.

Advocate marketing: Drive long-term growth

After its disappointment with affiliate marketing, WORK[etc] launched an advocate-marketing program called the WORK[etc] Insiders. Advocate marketing – like influencer marketing – revolves around getting others to spread the word about your offerings and brand. However, influencer and advocate marketing differ in key ways:

  • Tap into authentic endorsements. With advocate marketing, it’s usually passionate customers – not unaffiliated third parties – who are raving on your behalf. Because they are so delighted with your product, service or company, advocates share their recommendations and excitement without expecting anything in return. In fact, advocates are motivated by the desire to share their experiences and recommendations with others because they truly believe it will help their network of peers and colleagues.
  • Reach the right audience. While they may not influence a large following, advocates’ opinions and advice are highly respected by those in their networks. Thanks to the high level of trust between advocates and their networks, their peers and colleagues are inspired to learn more about and engage with the brand being recommended. What’s more, since like-minded people tend to connect, an advocate’s network very likely includes other potential customers of your product or service.
  • Reap deeper and lasting benefits.Though advocates may not drive as much traffic your way as an influencer does, they have the power to generate a strong emotional connection between your brand and potential customers.Plus,as long as your advocates are happy with your offering and company, they will likely continue evangelizing on your behalf. This is in contrast to influencers who may very well move on after promoting your product or campaign once.

The contrast between advocate and affiliate marketing is quite stark. As Daniel wrote on the WORK[etc] blog, “The key difference between this approach and say an affiliate program is the focus is all about sharing real sentiment, from real champions of a product.”

Marketers can and should measure their advocate marketing efforts based on the number of testimonials, reviews and referrals as well as the traffic, leads, opportunities and revenue that their programs drive.

Though affiliate marketing is likely best reserved for certain types of businesses, any organization can take advantage of influencer and advocate marketing. In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive. Marketers can use an influencer marketing program to score big, measurable wins around short-term events and activities. You can complement those efforts with advocate marketing, which forms the foundation of a long-term business growth strategy that engages customers, partners and employees.

Related Reading: Customer Engagement: From Interactions to Relationships, Omer Minkara, March, 2015

jim-headshotAbout the Author: Jim Williams is the VP of Marketing at Influitive, the advocate marketing experts. He is a veteran marketer for early and growth stage tech companies and loves bringing transformative concepts to market. Before joining the Influitive team he held marketing leadership roles at Eloqua, Unveil Solutions, Lernout & Hauspie, and several PR agencies.

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