“Influence will lead marketing efforts by 2020. It’s the most effective form of advertising there is, and when coupled with a solid content strategy, no TV or FB ad can even compare.”
- Ted Coine
With the rise of influencer marketing and the profound success the B2C world has gained through it, B2B remains behind in the race to utilize it to its highest potential. There is minimal research on how B2B businesses use influencers in their marketing activities or the successes and challenges experienced. Hence, Ogilvy decided to launch one of the first and largest global research projects in B2B influence. The firm surveyed marketing leaders across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and the Americas. It shared a global evaluation and highlighted the similarities and comparisons of how business influence operates in different cultures and regions around the world.
Communicate sat down with Bana Shennak, MENA Influence Hub Lead at Ogilvy MENA, where she dissected the world of B2B influencer marketing through the findings in the report, sharing insights on its current state, the data collected, and where it is headed.
Image above: Bana Shennak, MENA Influence Hub Lead at Ogilvy MENA
1. What sets apart B2C and B2B influencer marketing? Is there an increasing adoption of influencer marketing in the B2B sector, and if so, how has this evolved?
Although partnering with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is certainly not new, the evolution of the B2B influencer marketing landscape has been slower than its more developed big brother in B2C. B2B influencer marketing happens when brands partner with influential individuals, key industry figures, or subject matter experts with a focus on creating content that has a beneficial impact on their audiences’ brand perception and engagement decisions by providing credible information through similarly credible sources.
Businesses partner with influencers for a multitude of reasons, including articulating their business benefits from an authentic perspective – or to a new audience. Behavioral change and perception drive do trigger these types of engagements and programs. Whereas B2C more often demands trendsetters and tastemakers, B2B requires subject matter expertise rooted in proven capability that contributes to professional and technical opinion. We are also witnessing a significant increase in the adoption of B2B influence in our region.
In fact, our recent whitepaper, 'Influencing Business: The Global Rise of B2B Influence Marketing,' highlights a substantial opportunity in the adoption of B2B influence in the overall marketing mix across different global markets. This trend is particularly prominent in KSA and the UAE, where a substantial opportunity exists.
2. Understanding the value of cultivating genuine partnerships with influencers is important for businesses. How can organizations recognize and leverage this value effectively?
Brands are increasingly moving beyond one-off collaborations to establish lasting relationships with influencers and, ultimately the communities that they engage with. These partnerships foster genuine advocacy, allowing influencers to become an integral part of the brand's narrative and customer journey. The Middle East's influencer ecosystem thrives on these lasting connections, where influencers evolve into trusted advisors who contribute to strategic decisions and marketing initiatives.
3. Could you provide insights into the research conducted by Ogilvy and highlight key conclusions?
Utilizing the power of our global network, we’ve surveyed over 550 marketing leaders from around the world and across industries like Tech, Retail, Banking, FMCG, and more, 100 of which are from the region, to gain their perspective on winning with influence in B2B through a global disseminated survey and one-on-one interviews.
Our research revealed not only the dominance of highly active markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE but also the untapped opportunities that await businesses daring to leverage the power of influence - particularly B2B influence. The report's revelation that 100 percent of Saudi businesses utilize a form of B2B Influence, closely followed by the UAE at 96%, underscores the dominance of these markets in the MENA influencer landscape. These nations have not only embraced but mastered the art of influencer engagement, setting a benchmark for the region and beyond, across borders.
We are seeing influencers being utilized to support initiatives like Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia, demonstrating the potential of influencer partnerships to drive not only business and sales objectives but also societal transformation.
4. The report emphasizes influencers as a "versatile full-funnel tool in B2B marketing" — could you elaborate on this?
There is no one best way to utilize influencers. Some businesses use them to build upper funnel relationships (50%), others to close the deal (50%). The Middle East, in particular, exhibits unique trends in B2B influence. In Saudi Arabia, 72% of the market leverages B2B influence to clarify misconceptions and engage stakeholders. The UAE, on the other hand, views B2B influence as impactful on market health and open dialogues. Both countries recognize the effectiveness of B2B influence in showcasing successful business cases.
5. The report mentions "employees as a valuable resource in influencer marketing". For those unfamiliar with the findings, why are employees considered such a valuable asset in this context?
89% of C-Suite marketers recognize that using employees as influencers holds immense value for their businesses when integrating them into marketing strategies as an informed and impassioned influencer. According to LinkedIn, the collective network size of your employees is, on average, 10 times larger than your company network itself. This is huge!
Aside from the access to larger audience pools, employees can also communicate with the industry in ways the brand or independent thought leaders just can’t - from a position of authentic advocacy for what goes into developing the business, and the intentions to support their community through explanation and vision. Not tapping into these organic advocates would represent a loss of market presence and significant opportunity cost.
6. Is the impact of influencers limited to the early stages of the marketing funnel, or do they prove beneficial throughout? Based on the collected data, where do influencers seem to yield the most significant impact within the funnel?
Absolutely not. CMOs around the world are divided and significant numbers suggest that across other global markets, there are little to no brands utilizing after-sales influence to its full potential. On the contrary, markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are much more defined with influence long-term strategies in place. In fact, 40% of B2B marketers stated warmer leads or increased leads were the success factors they experienced when implementing an influencer marketing strategy.
7. Comparatively, is B2B influencer marketing perceived as easier than its B2C counterpart due to the availability of influencers in the business realm (e.g., business leaders, journalists, policymakers, thought leaders)? If so, why does the B2B industry show more hesitation despite the potential lack of recognition for B2C influencers as industry experts?
While both disciplines are incredibly successful with similar principles, B2B had been slower to accept how influencers could drive impact on business operations. Yet brands seeking to penetrate specific sectors, recognize the power of collaborating with influencers who possess a deep understanding of the market - leading to more impactful campaigns and a stronger resonance with niche audiences. Businesses may need time to adapt their strategies and fully appreciate the potential benefits of B2B influence marketing, but it will happen, and those who aren’t ready will be late to the party.