Influencer marketing is not just for consumer brands. More b-to-b brands are finding ways to tap TikTok creators and celebrities to boost their ad campaigns and connect with new customers.
“There’s an old rule of thumb that consumer brands lead with entertainment, while b-to-b brands lead with education,” says Lauren Silverman, group strategy director at Doremus, Omnicom’s b-to-b marketing agency. “Usually, educating consumers can be a higher barrier to get them interested, but b-to-b brands are finding ways to make that education entertaining.”
While b-to-b marketing is not new, the past year has cemented influencer marketing as a pillar of b-to-b brands’ marketing strategies. The U.S. b-to-b digital ad market grew 32.5% in 2020 and is forecasted to grow 24.9% this year to nearly $11 billion in spending, according to a July 2021 report by eMarketer.
At the onset of the pandemic, QuickBooks, the accounting software company, created an informal team to support influencer efforts. That group became an official team of five in October 2020, tasked to leverage small business and accountant influencers to help QuickBooks tap into culturally relevant moments.
For its most recent campaign, "Journey to Success," QuickBooks partnered with small business micro-influencers, including Julissa Prado, founder and CEO of Rizo's Curls, a line of curly hair care products; Everette Taylor, chief marketing officer of Artsy, a marketplace for buying and selling art; and Katie Starino, a body-acceptance advocate and founder of beauty brand Megababe. The campaign highlights the ups and downs that small business owners experience while growing their business, and features baseball player Alex Rodriguez.
Finding success on TikTok
QuickBooks also rolled out a hashtag challenge on TikTok in July as part of the campaign. The TikToks feature big names like Gordon Ramsey and Jessica Alba, as well as small business micro-influencers. Even though the official QuickBooks TikTok has just 200 followers, #QuickBooksVictoryPose has over 6 billion views, and #quickbooks has almost 2 million views.
TikTok has become the go-to platform to find a mix of education and entertainment, especially through micro-influencers. The broad popularity of the platform allows b-to-b companies to find niche audiences, and the short-video format challenges them to explain their solutions quickly and concisely.
“The more we test platforms like TikTok, the more we are finding good fits,” says Jenni Buchbinder, director of strategic communications at QuickBooks. “These influencers are small business owners themselves, so they can speak about our product from personal experience.”
While QuickBooks also uses influencers on Facebook and Instagram, it found that YouTube and TikTok are stronger platforms because they are video-first. “Different channels can achieve different goals,” says Michelle Taite, VP of global marketing at QuickBooks. “YouTube is great for education, like tutorials, while TikTok can be great at showing the success small business owners can achieve.”
Yext, an enterprise artificial intelligence search company, is also in the process of creating its TikTok strategy and considering possible TikTok influencers for its newest search product, which helps clients who have customer support channels, says Chief Marketing Officer Josh Grau.
The company recently ran a 90s-themed brand campaign that personified the technologies of cell phones, storage, the internet, and keyword search, using actors. They even made the personalities their own LinkedIn pages. It wasn’t until after they finished shooting their video content that they learned that they had cast Rahul Rai, a popular TikTok personality with over 3 million followers, as “Storage.”
“Everyone can relate to a frustrating 1-800 call,” says Grau. “That’s an opportunity for us as a b-to-b company to use TikTok to have some fun tapping into the human or b-to-c aspect of broken support experiences on and offline.”
B-to-b vs b-to-c
There are nuances that brands have to keep in mind when thinking about b-to-b influencer marketing. First is that the b-to-b buyer is different from a b-to-c buyer: B-to-b buyers have a longer consideration cycle for purchasing a product. “It's a much more logical purchase, rather than emotional,” explains Tom Augenthaler, lead consultant at 551 Media, which specializes in b-to-b influencer marketing. “If a CTO [chief technology officer] buys the wrong software, that could be a detriment to their job.”
Another factor is that b-to-b brands may not need to tap influencers with massive followings in the way consumer brands often do. Augenthaler advises that b-to-b brands look for more impactful influencers who may have smaller followings, but resonate with the brand’s core audience.
B-to-b influencers are also typically employed by full-time jobs at major corporations, which means they may not be able to take traditional compensation, says Justin Moore, founder of Creator Wizard, which helps coach influencers.
“Sometimes that can mean finding a way to have the credibility of the brand boost the credibility of the influencer and vice versa,” Moore says. “So the brand gets a good video of, say, a conversation with the influencer and the CEO, and the company keeps that on their site long-term and lets the influencer showcase it on their social pages.”
B-to-b marketers should mind TikTok by searching for related hashtags, which can make it easier for marketers to see how their product is being used, and by whom. “Exploring hashtags and micro-communities can help inform marketing teams,” says Doremus’ Silverman. “They’re like live focus groups.”
Another b-to-b strategy is finding user-generated content that already showcases the product. Adobe, for example, often features or duets artists who have edited a video or digital art in one of Adobe’s programs, turning their TikToks into mini tutorials. While Adobe only has around 190,000 followers on TikTok, the hashtag #adobe has 574 million views and #adobetok has 1.4 million views.
“They’re not trying to force themselves onto popular TikTok,” says Silverman. “But they are focusing on people who already identify with the product.”