How Influential Is Influence?

By Linda Forrest 

Whenever the concept of influence comes up, I’m immediately confronted with a mental image of Will Farrell positing that he’s “kind of a big deal,” a memorable and oft-quoted line from the raunchy comedy Anchorman. The irony is that in the film, he is, as stated, kind of a big deal. The same is true of influencers, tastemakers, trendsetters or whatever term best describes people whose opinions and actions hold weight amongst your target market.

There is an entire discipline of marketing devoted to this concept called “influencer marketing.”Wikipedia describes it as:

a form of marketing that has emerged from a variety of recent practices and studies, in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individual) rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.

Influencers may be potential buyers themselves, or they may be third parties. These third parties exist either in the supply chain (retailers, manufacturers, etc.) or may be so-called value-added influencers (such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, professional advisers, and so on.)

A key takeaway is that influence is most effective when it’s not overtly used to deliver a specific result. Rather, influencers affect their markets without necessarily using certain tactics or well-defined parameters to do so. This distinction is what makes the concept of influence measurement so compelling.

In recent years, influence in the marketing realm has been a richly debated topic as our channels for communicating using social media expand into geolocation, microblogging and mobile. The degree to which one is influential online can be calculated using well recognised tools like Klout, which purports to consider 35 variables to determine reach, likelihood of amplification of one’s activities and a network score.

I would posit that those truly influential in their marketplaces are rarely, if ever, consciously working to up their Klout scores and those that do are probably trying too hard and therefore, by definition, not truly influential in their markets.

There are lesser known sites that use engines to determine a significantly less scientific figure to represent one’s influence online. Influnc, for example, is a joke site that uses random number generation to spit out a phoney influence figure, I’m assuming to demonstrate how silly its creators think this whole influence calculation business is.

The role influence plays in marketing technology

As marketers of technology,  how do we recognise what role influencers play in our industry? We’re blessed with the fact that our wares attract “early adopters,” which identifies where in the sales cycle these tastemakers play the most crucial role.

Traditionally, early adopters of technology exhibit the following traits: they are eager to try out new technology (check out the lineup outside the Apple Store on iPad/iPhone launch day), they are not afraid to take risks (the first pancake is always a little misshapen, just ask owners of any first generation technology), they are only too happy to spread the word about what is good and what is bad about their newly acquired technology, they conduct extensive research (both before purchasing and once it’s in their possession) and they are status seekers. Many of these traits were highlighted in an Advertising Age article from last year.

Influencer relations is becoming a discipline in its own right as organisations determine who they need to reach and how. Before your technology company hires out the process, let’s determine what management of influence – and influencers – really means for your marketing.

The four main activities relating to influencer marketing are described by Wikipedia as follows:

  • Identifying influencers and ranking them in order of importance
  • Marketing to influencers to increase awareness of the firm within the influencer community

  • Marketing through influencers using influencers to increase market awareness of the firm amongst target markets
  • Marketing with influencers turning influencers into advocates of the firm

If your technology company has not yet identified and levered the marketing benefits of those people most influential in your marketplace, it’s time to do so. The most successful B2B companies are already onboard. 

Just this morning I came across a recent survey (thanks to Olivier Riviere) that highlights the budget differences between average B2B companies and exceptional B2B companies:


In this instance, influencer refers to those within the organisation not directly responsible for purchasing decisions but whose opinions impact the decision making process. As you can see, the budget distribution is quite different between the two and in the “optimal” scenario the largest piece of the budget is devoted to influencers. What is your budget breakdown?

 Chart: MarketingProfs