The Sophistication of B2B Influence Marketing | Marketer Intel

The Sophistication of B2B Influence Marketing

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There’s been an evolution in business-to-business (B2B) influence marketing lately. Both software companies and agencies are pushing the idea of brands creating influencers out of company executives. Mel Carson was an early company-based influencer, long before we were talking about all this. He was a digital evangelist at Microsoft in the mid-2000s whose whole job was to become known in the marketing and technology circles as a company spokesperson of sorts.

Carson moved on from Microsoft to create his own agency that builds influence for its clients in a variety of ways, including executive thought leadership and personal branding. But it’s more than just the CEO, it’s building influencers within a company throughout leadership and management positions.

He is creating this newly defined category of company-based influencer after having been one of the first of that kind.

Carson joined Winfluence recently to talk about his journey from that evangelist role at one of the world’s largest companies to creating positions of influence for other leaders in the B2B space.  We also talked about the perspective that B2B influence marketing is more sophisticated than most B2C approaches. Mel even explains he doesn’t typically pay influencers for the programs he develops, either, thanks to the long-term relationship building with value exchange at the core.

Lots of great ideas and inspiration in today’s episode. Do give it a listen and share it with someone you know who might find it useful as well.

Mel Carson can be found online on LinkedIn. His Delightful Communications can be found at delightfulcommunications.com.

Winfluence Transcript – Mel Carson – Delightful Communications

Jason Falls
Hello again friends. Thanks for listening to Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast. We’ve spent time lately talking a lot about B2b influence marketing. There’s been an evolution of sorts lately in both software companies and agencies, pushing the idea of brands creating influencers out of company executives. Onalytica recategorized how it frames influencers altogether a few months ago, calling out influencers at companies as a distinctive subtype.

Jason Falls
You may recall, we talked to Carter Hostelley recently about how his firm looks to build personal brands, if you will, out of the executives from its clientele.

Jason Falls
Mel Carson was an early company based influencer long before we were talking about all this. He was a digital evangelist at Microsoft in the mid 2000s, whose whole job was to become known in the marketing and technology circles, as a company spokesperson of sorts. He moved on from Microsoft to create his own agency that builds influence for its clients in a variety of ways, including executive thought leadership and personal branding. But it’s more than just the CEO. Its building influencers within a company throughout leadership and management positions.

Jason Falls
Mel is creating this newly defined category of company based influencer after having been one of the first of that kind. He and I sat down recently to talk about his journey from that evangelist role at one of the world’s largest companies to creating positions of influence for other leaders in the B2B space. We also talked about the perspective that B2B influence marketing is more sophisticated than most B2C approaches. Mel even explains he doesn’t typically pay influencers for the programs he develops, either, thanks to the long term relationship building with value exchange at the core. Lots of great ideas and inspiration in today’s episode, The Sophistication of B2B Influence Marketing. Mel Carson is up next on Winfluence.

Jason Falls
So Mel, if memory serves you were at Microsoft for quite some time, right? Remind me of your role there.

Mel Carson
Yeah, I was at Microsoft between 2005 and 2012. I helped launch Ad Center, which was, you know, their paid search platform and got into social media to help them promote what Microsoft was doing in the digital marketing space. And I had the, the very lofty title of digital marketing evangelist. So I would have come across you on the scene. back then when I was blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and all that good stuff.

Jason Falls
Old school, old school. Exactly. And when did you branch out and start Delightful again, give us the give us the elevator pitch and background on Delightful. How do you define what you guys do?

Mel Carson
Yeah. Well, in 2012, I and 5000 other people across Microsoft ended up getting laid off. Steve Ballmer … very, very soon before Satya Nadella joined but there was a wholesale layoffs. It was nothing personal, I got laid off. And I thought to myself, “What am I going to do?” And I could have, you know, gone to Google or Facebook gone any number of places, but I just thought that I wanted to do something for myself and, and really, you know, do something that would, you know, have impact on the world that, you know, I could control and I could help other people, you know, with some of the ideas that I’d built up over, you know, whatever it was — 12 years in digital marketing up until then. So, over the last eight years Delightful has grown to, I think we’re about 21 people across the world. We have an office in the UK as well. And we’re a B2B, technology marketing agency. We focus on enterprise technology companies, we work with Microsoft and other big companies helping them and their leaders be more discoverable, shareable and memorable.

Jason Falls
That’s great. So so to kind of dive a little further into that the influence marketing piece of it I know you’ve got a bit of a unique spin on influencer marketing, because you as you said, you create influencers, from your clients, leadership teams, take me through the thinking behind that and why that’s so effective.

Mel Carson
Sure. Well, I mean, my role as an evangelist at Microsoft was to be an influencer on behalf of Microsoft in the digital marketing industry. And so when I left, I wanted to reverse engineer the success that I had seen, to help other people in other industries do similar things. And so we hang our hat on this whole notion of personal branding. So we came up with this, this process, this program called the Personal Brand Lab, where, you know, we look at people, you know, what’s their message, who’s their audience who they’re trying to reach, what’s the value that they bring. And we have people from all over the world coming to us through the website, because they’re interested from a personal perspective. You know, they want career growth, they, you know, feel that they need to be more of a thought leader in an industry, or they want to start their own business, or they want to jump from one industry to another and want some help around that. And after working with people, needing those kind of those kind of pointers help and, and direction, we realized that suddenly, we were actually not just helping people with their personal or leadership brands, but actually creating influencers through the work that they start putting together and pushing out there to the world. And, you know, lots of examples of work with influencers at Microsoft, but also externally other companies where we’ve helped individuals, you know, in renewable energy company, just give them more confidence on what they should be posting how they should be thinking about their audience, how they should be thinking about different social media platforms. And, you know, one example was a guy that worked at this renewable energy company who ended up getting a climate keynote speech at the client Global Climate Change Summit, a couple of years back, and that was all based on the work that we’ve done reverse engineering, essentially creating an influencer out of his wisdom and experience.

Jason Falls
So you know, you’ve used reverse engineering a couple times, and I like that, that spin on it, but it almost seems to me to like you could describe it as, instead of, you know, an individual going off and building a personal brand and thought leadership, we’re building internal personal brands within companies. Is that fair to say?

Mel Carson
Yeah, yeah. So I mean, we, we kind of spun it personal to leadership, because we work with a lot of leadership leaders at big tech companies, running their social media, helping them with their leadership brands, figuring out, you know, what, what should be their message externally, but also how that should ladder back up to, you know, the company messages and priorities. And so, you know, it’s creating evangelists from inside the company, all of which have different audiences. Some might be more technical. Some might be more business focus. Some might be more partner focused. Some might be, you know, more customer focused. But, you know, really thinking carefully about how those, those personalities, and those those leadership styles can be used externally, to, you know, shed more light on, on what they’re about, but what the company’s about. But also, what we found is really helps with employer branding, as well. So a lot of people see these, these executives and these leaders out there and then think, “Well, you know, I want to work for that guy, I want to work for that woman, because they seem really inspiring, and that, you know, they seem relatable,” and, and that kind of thing really does help as well.

Jason Falls
So it amazes me that more businesses don’t do this, that they don’t think, Hey, you know, we’re going to engage influencers, and they never think, wait a minute, why don’t we instead of or in addition to I guess, engaging influencers, why don’t we build influence for ourselves? Why do you think it is that even big tech companies who are sort of bleeding edge haven’t really thought this through and haven’t haven’t walked down that path yet?

Mel Carson
No, that’s a great question. And I tell you, when we first started doing it eight years ago, you know, we get doors shut in our faces, especially from, you know, the CEOs of some of these companies, because they were like, “Well, I don’t want my team to have great personal brands externally, because then you know, that they’re going to get poached, and they’re going to, you know, get go somewhere else to a different company, if they’re, if they’re too externally focused.” But what’s happened since then, and what’s so interesting is that more and more companies have realized that internal culture is really important when it comes to retention of people. And so that, that that whole emphasis on company culture and employer branding, has helped chip away at those naysayers who kind of had a bit of a negative reaction to what we were suggesting that they would, that they should do. And what we found is that over the years, we’ve picked up more clients because people have become more and more open minded about it, which is great. But also the onset of COVID. Saw our business really, really explode. You know, we work with a handful of high profile people across the business and across the world, before COVID hit. And then a couple of months later, once these executives and leaders realized that they couldn’t get out to the conferences and you know, go to the CSS and the Cannes-Lions Advertising Festivals and all the cool Advertising Week in New York, their only platform was online, and it was on on LinkedIn and Twitter and other platforms like that. So we’ve, you know, we just, we’re just in the right place at the right time, and it built up enough experience, and enough know how to help some of these folks really hit the ground running. And they’re really reaping rewards now big because of the work that we’re helping them with. Because they had nowhere to go on COVID other than online.

Jason Falls
Yeah. Well, and and and good work you’ve done certainly because that it makes a ton of sense. I want to step back a little bit from the sort of the leadership branding element for a moment and talk more broadly about B2B influence marketing the low hanging fruit, I think when you say that term B2B influence marketing, the low hanging fruit seems to be webinars and white papers engaging, you know, subject matter experts or industry thought leaders to, you know, collaborate with your brand, or your company or your clients on lead generation types of things. I wonder, though, I call it low hanging fruit, because it’s kind of that automatic. Okay, well, here’s what B2B influencer marketing might mean. But in calling it low hanging fruit, am I almost underlining the fact that that might be kind of a simple, lazy approach? Do we constantly have to keep raising the bar to be effective? Or does it still work, so it’s part of the plan?

Mel Carson
Well, we’ve always had a philosophy of not running too far away from traditional way of doing things towards the shiny things, because, you know, us as an agency, trying to change, you know, took eight years to persuade people that leadership branding was a good thing to do. So, you know, the, the white papers, the videos, the, you know, getting experts in a room to create, you know, co create content, that kind of thing does, you know, it does work from a visibility perspective. What we like to do is to try and make sure that the ROI is there, in the, you know, the content is chopped up and, and used in different areas. I think I saw on LinkedIn a few months ago of a stat that I think it’s, somebody will see a piece of B2B content seven times before they’ll even click on it. And so, although we want engagement, you know, we want engagement rates, and we want people to click on things and view things and everything, sometimes people are just seeing stuff, and it takes a long time before it sinks in. So I think that kind of thing works, but also, you know, part of maybe 10-15% of our, of our kind of R&D time is looking at other areas and other possibilities. And one thing that we found is, is really involving, especially in B2B is really involving influencers or influential people in the process of building our client’s technologies and products. So it’s not a case of just calling them up and saying let’s do this white paper together or let’s do this webinar together. But you know, let’s get you to sit down with some of the engineers let’s get you to sit down with some of our executives so you know, they can do a listening tour and really listen and understand you know, what, what are your business problems? What what do you hear out there in the industry and make it very much a two way street and not kind of transactional at all but more of a two way street and a give-get that’s one of the things that we do struggle with sometimes with clients is is really trying to get them to understand that they can’t just turn on an influencer and say, I’ve got an event promote me retweet this, you know, without building a long-term fruitful for relationship for both parties.

Jason Falls
You know, it’s it’s funny as you were saying that I remember a friend of mine who is really a B2B marketer. He was listening to this podcast, you know for a few weeks ago and heard me talking to Michael Brito at the Zeno Group. And he actually texted me and said, I didn’t even really think of that there could even be influencer marketing in the B2B space he thinks of influencer marketing is, I guess, beauty, style, fashion influencers and didn’t really think of it that way. And as you were saying that the thing that hit my head was B2B influence marketing is probably far more advanced than even B2C. And yet, it doesn’t really get any of the sort of, you know, love from the industry. Maybe because it’s, it’s, it’s so inside baseball, as it were, why do you think it is that B2B marketers are a more advanced and yet, conversely, you know, not as recognized for that innovation?

Mel Carson
Firstly, I don’t really care whether it’s recognized or not a bit bit, because I see, I had to put a caveat on our contact page on the website, because we would get bombarded by you know, your luxury brand handbag, holiday travel influencers, that didn’t even look at our website and see that we were B2B in technology. And I had to put a caveat on there saying that, if you are truly influential, please don’t contact us. Because if you’re truly influential, we will find you, you know, through all the tools and whatever that there are out there. I think it’s sophisticated, though, because in B2B, we don’t, we don’t pay any of our influences anything, you know, it’s you know, that there’s no money changes hands, we build long term relationships with them, that have a give-get where they’re involved in, stuff that we do, and we’re involved in, in work that they do, and that we pick and choose that wisely, between us. And, you know, for the client, they get, you know, a long term relationship with influential people who appreciate the fact that they’re being listened to and heard, and that’s almost all you need to do is to actually provide, you know, a platform for them to feedback. And yeah, we know that secretly behind closed doors with maybe some of their clients or people that they work with, they’re telling them, “Oh, I’ve got secret inroads to such and such company,” and, and whatnot. But you know, at the end of the day, it’s, it’s so well established, but as as being in it for the long haul, and not being, you know, fly by night, one off, I’ve got this handbag to sell, let’s send it out to 200,000 people to just stick it on their Instagram, and off they go. I’m not interested in that, because, you know, I’ve built my company around us having truly huge impact through technology globally on people, companies, organizations, the planet, the universe, and all that kind of thing. So, you know, that that’s why I enjoy what we do, from a B2B perspective. And that’s, you know, why I continue to infuse our team in, in understanding the impact that we have through through these relationships we have with the people out there, you know, talking about the companies that are clients to us.

Jason Falls
So you did a thing with Microsoft and the internet of things not long ago, I think it was really event oriented, right? Take take us through that and underline maybe some of the influence elements of it.

Mel Carson
Yeah, um, and this is one thing that I don’t know whether you’ve heard this with some of your other speakers or on your podcast or the guests, but, you know, we take influencer, really as part and parcel of an integrated approach. I’m very reluctant. In fact, I’m just turning down a very big RFI for a company that everybody listening to this will know, simply because they just want influencer marketing and we can’t use it as as part of an integrated plan with them. Right now.

Mel Carson
Microsoft in the IoT space, about three years ago, we work with them with a bunch of other partners on the IoT in Action global event series, which turned out to be you know, 30-40, some in-person some webinar events all over the world, which included a lot of demand gen, a lot of paid social media, video, and then on the ground, you know, live Tweeting of the event, live sharing of content. And it was really a, an event trying to help create more awareness about the Internet of Things, IoT, Azure, but also the possibilities that companies and organizations have across the world to harness the power of technology right from the edge. So you know, your devices, your, your, your little chips and whatnot in, in, in a device in a field that can relay back to the cloud and say, Hey, you know, CenturyLink Field, you need to, you know, water, your, your football field, more so that you stop, you know, injuries happening to players, and all this kind of stuff. So it’s all very, very cool stuff. And so we actually want a Content Marketing Institute award for you know, helping stand up this global event series around the world. And it did include an influence or element where, you know, in those particular cities, or those particular industries or areas of the world, you know, we’d reach out to a few people and invite them along, and build up relationships with them, but, and sometimes they would share stuff, sometimes they wouldn’t, but we would try and get them in front of some of the leaders in the space for myself. But again, it was part and parcel of a long term play, to bring people in the fold and bring them bring them some awareness of what Microsoft was doing in the space. But always always part of an integrated plan that included you know, leadership branding, played social blogging video, but but also on the ground event, activator activation as well.

Jason Falls
Yeah, that’s a that’s definitely a smart way to go about it. And I know, the better campaigns that you see have a better influencer marketing campaigns that you see almost always have some sort of integration within a greater good, because I mean, you know, why would you judge influencer marketing in a vacuum? Why wouldn’t it be part of a bigger marketing plan? Now, one other case study that I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that I read a little bit about on your website, and I’m very curious about it. I’m not sure if it has a big influence component. But I can’t let you out of here without learning more about the Majestic Space Project. This is a big data company. And somehow you guys made big data pretty sexy and appealing. How so?

Jason Falls
Well, Majestic, formerly Majestic SEO is a big SEO tool. It’s a backlink data analysts tool that SEOs use to figure out who links to who. And I was working with them, and Dixon Jones, who was their marketing director at the time. And he’s like, “You know, how can we do something really big and cool, getting our message up and out to the world.” And at the time, I just been to a space convention in in now, it wasn’t a space convention. It was a 3d printing convention, a few years back and saw this guy talk about this company called Made In Space. And what they were doing was putting the first 3D printer on the International Space Station. This was a few years ago. And at the same time, Dixon was working with a data visualization expert who we were able to 3D print these data visualizations of different websites. And so I said to majestic, wouldn’t it be cool if we could 3D print one of these on the International Space Station in space? And so they said, right, go go and figure out how to do it. So we approached made in space, and we signed on the line and we paid not, not a very big amount of money, at the time, when I look back at how much it costs to get a slot. And I can’t remember there’s 2017 the rocket took off and dumped this 3D printer on the International Space Station. It took us three or four months before our slots showed up. But they 3D printed a data visualization of Majestic’s data of the entire internet in space. And we have pictures if you go to the website and look under the the case study. We have pictures of this thing flying around the the pergola the pergola something on the International Space Station, and then it came back down to earth in a package on a SpaceX pod that landed and splashed down somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. And then this tiny little piece of plastic that’s probably four inches by four inches was delivered in a package from the Johnson Space Center Center delivered to my house in West Seattle. And my wife told me to run back out and tell the UPS guy what it was. And he looked at me like I was nuts.

Mel Carson
And then we took the little piece of plastic on a road tour. So what we did was truly integrated. We, you know, we made a big splash about it on social media, and the thing got printed, and we got, you know, tons and tons of earned media. Then it’s splash landed. And then we took it physically on a road tour. So Majestic was sponsoring a whole bunch of events, all over the world — digital summits, you know, search engine, SMX, ClickZ, you know, those kinds of conferences and whatever. And so we took it on a road tour, and my friend, Bill Hartzer, who’s a quite well known SEO, took on the challenge to buy us a spacesuit spaceman suit from, from Amazon, and then it was his job to walk around the event, the Expo, and people are like, what, why? Why are you wearing a spacesuit? And they would point over to the Majestic booth. And the foot fall went off the charts, as all these people were taking pictures with this thing, and literally touching and holding something in their hand that had been made in space. It was a two year campaign and is one of the absolute joys of my life to have been involved in.

Jason Falls
Now. The one other question I have, we have seen, you know, the the visualization, the 3D visualization of the internet? Could you explain what the axes are there because it looks like this unfinished sculpture of some sort, I couldn’t quite figure out how it came to be that shape.

Mel Carson
Yep. So Majestic looks at data from two points of view, they have a trust flow, and citation flow. Citation flow is the amount of links that are coming into a website and trust flow, they do reverse engineer to figure out the most trustworthy links. So, on one angle is the trustworthiness of the links and then the other axis is the amount of links and so you know, right at the top, where there’s a lot of there’s a lot of citation flow and a lot of trust flow. Those are gonna be you know, the BBC, Amazon, The New York Times, Google, Facebook, all that kind of stuff, you know, of links coming through to there. And then there’s a whole wall of spam underneath, which is kind of the dark web where, you know, where there are a lot of links, but no one’s ever going there. Because, you know, they’ve been set up by blackhat, nefarious SEOs.

Jason Falls
Very nice. Well, it’s, I’ll pull, I’ll get an image from your website or from you and I’ll put it on the show notes for this episode, so that people can see what this thing looks like. I looked at it and I thought, it looks like an unfinished bookend or something. But

Note: Here’s a link to the Majestic Case study: blog.majestic.com/marketing/majestic-in-space/3d-printer-international-space-station/ And here’s the visualization:

3D printed visualization of the Internet in space

Photo by John Biehler – 3D Printing World Expo.

Mel Carson
Well, what was funny was we pitched the BBC and I had Rory Cellan Jones is the BBC global BBC, BBC technology guy and he put me onto one of his … Zoey Kleinman is her name, she’s one of their technology correspondents. And she said, “You know, I don’t understand what this thing is.” And I explained and, you know, trust flow, data analytics, you know what, whatever. She said, “It just looks like a piece of chewing gum that stuck to the window of the International Space Station.” And she said, “And another thing Mel, I just think, you know, I don’t think this is news. I just think that you’re trying to create some news for your client.” And I was like, “Yes, that is a … ”

Jason Falls
Yeah.

Mel Carson
“But we’re not going to run a story on it.” So I was like, “Oh, okay.” But it’s a great story that she just literally thought it looked like a splat on the window. But um,

Jason Falls
That is funny. So that That’s funny. And then Bill Hartzer are walking around in spacesuit that that’s enough to make me laugh. That’s That’s good. Right there.

Mel Carson
It was fantastic.

Jason Falls
That’s great. So Mel, where can people find you? online? Where can they connect with you?

Mel Carson
Well, just search for my name. DelightfulCommunications.com, MelCarson.com. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, all the usual places. Luckily, I’ve got quite a unique name so you can find me pretty easily.

Jason Falls
Very good. Mel, thank you so much for the time and the insights today. Good good to learn from you,

Mel Carson
Jason. It’s been a pleasure and an honor my friend. Have a good rest of your day.

Transcribed by otter.ai

The Winfluence theme music is “One More Look” featuring Jacquire King and Stephan Sharp by The K Club found on Facebook Sound Collection.



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