Lee Odden Of TopRank Marketing Influences Through Influencers

As content marketing reaches a certain level of maturity, a sense of disillusionment is starting to emerge. So it’s no surprise that the challenge of next-level content is top of mind for many senior marketers.

It is this topic that keeps author, consultant, and digital marketing and PR strategist Lee Odden on the road across Europe and the U.S. CMO.com caught up with him recently to find out more about content challenges, and the role that influencer marketing can play. We began by asking him why some marketers are feeling discouraged by content…

Odden: Over time people have oversimplified the definition of content so that it simply means making more content than you did before. But simply making more content isn’t the answer. There’s an expression, “money only makes you more of what you already are,” and it follows that more of the same content only makes your brand or product more of what it is already. Brands focusing on more content, without getting at the heart of “why” content matters to their customers, will drop off.

Another issue is that many brands are having a big problem with ROI. A common reason for this is because they’re not using data to inform their approach to content and they’re not necessarily being customer-centric. With self-interest driving marketing messaging, an egocentric approach means brands are just making a lot more content about themselves.

Good content marketing is about creating not only really useful information, but an “info-taining” and satisfying experience, one that provides utility and empathises with the buyer’s need for information as they go through awareness, interest, consideration, and purchase cycles.

CMO.com: What do you see as the solution to this challenge?
To bring credibility, quality, and the voice of the customer into brand content marketing, I am very keen on the role of working with influencers. Companies have many reasons to create content and engage with the public, and I don’t know of a more effective way than an integrated approach, where working with influencers plays an important part.

In some cases, it means using an influencer marketplace and engaging creators with active communities to create and promote content. In other situations, influencer content means not paying those influencers anything, it’s simply being able to identify people who are enthusiasts and passionate about the topic that you, as a brand, care about and that your customers care about as well.

An organic approach to influencer-content relationships means finding individuals who are credible, authoritative, and have active networks—meaning they have people who anticipate and listen to what they’re going to say next and act on it. That influencer may not even think of themselves as an influencer, perhaps they’re simply effective at following their own area of expertise and attracting a community.

Whether it’s for the purpose of PR, marketing, customer acquisition, customer service, recruiting, or even corporate social responsibility, there are many opportunities to work with industry influencers to co-create content in a way that satisfies mutual goals.

Many brands are tempted to define influencers as the most famous people in their industry. That can be a mistake. As a general rule, micro or niche influencers are far more effective and that means you can often find them inside your own company or amongst your customers. They might also be amongst marketing partners or your broader social community.

CMO.com: What impact does this have on the traditional PR function?
Traditionally, PR and communications function independently of marketing and customer acquisition. But the expectations of PR people to deliver on marketing outcomes have increased significantly over the last few years.

Some of the convergence of marketing and PR is driven by the fact that publications just don’t have the need for PR to be pitching them stories like they used to. There are fewer people in the newsroom, and more brands are creating their own publications, just like Adobe has created CMO.com.

As a result, progressive organisations that have integrated or converged marketing and PR have found a tremendous amount of value when these work together.

Brand-driven storytelling, together with accountability to customer acquisition, satisfies some pretty important needs within any organisation. Working together in a converged way actually creates an amplifying effect for content visibility and engagement.

From a campaign standpoint, tactically, integrating owned media and earned media is very powerful compared to situations where we have to rely on advertising alone to attract an audience to brand content.

CMO.com: What examples have you seen of companies doing this well?
I was recently at a Traackr event in Paris and learnt how L'Oréal had become very sophisticated in its integration of working with influencers and content with an unbranded site called “Fab-Beauty.” Most brands are still trying to understand the difference between advocacy and celebrity endorsement, but at L'Oréal it’s really a democratisation of content creation. There is an intersection with influencers in pretty much all communication facets of the business, not just PR and influencer relations. There is a maturity with their influencer and content efforts that really makes them stand out.

LinkedIn is a client of our agency that is incorporating content, social, PR, and influencers. For example, one of the key problems LinkedIn has faced is that people know it as a place to put their online resume, but, of course, it has amazing advertising opportunities because of how the platform has developed through acquisitions. To solve this, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions wanted to create some affinity between the notion of advertising and marketing, and the LinkedIn platform.

Jason Miller, the senior manager of global content marketing for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, came up with a multi-year effort around the idea of “The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide.” The role of our agency was to incorporate influencers into the guide that evolved with the assistance of an agency called Scorch into a sequence of content pieces, including eBooks, webinars, infographics, a printed book, social content, interviews, blog posts, and so forth. Different language versions of the guide were created and they were customised to appeal to marketers in specific verticals such as finance and initiatives like thought leadership.

It’s a very interesting theme that incorporates content, but there is obviously a social and an influencer component to it that contributed to the co-creation and promotion of the content.

CMO.com: What do CMOs have to do to enable this next step in content and influencer marketing?
Beyond engaging influencers for campaigns, brands need to allocate resources for influencer relations and influencer management. If hiring new employees for this function isn’t feasible, you might be able to draw among your social media community management people and have them move into this role. But for some companies, making the most out of influencer content and developing long-lasting relationships with influencers will mean dedicated resources and people for the influencer function. In many cases, the easiest crossover is from social media or from PR.

Influencer relationships are a valuable resource for a brand. Those relationships are an asset and, from a marketing standpoint, you can tap those relationships to help create content for campaigns, projects, or even on-going advocacy programmes. At the same time, if you’re a PR person, you can tap those very same influencers as subject matter experts to contribute articles for a respected industry publication. There are multiple ways to integrate influencers across functions, but they must be managed properly.

I think allocation of resources for an integrated influencer content effort has got to be part of the overall marketing and communications strategy. To get full value, it’s something that should be integrated across functions in the organisation, and it’s something that warrants dedicated resources internally and, in some cases, even externally with agency partners and influencer marketing software.

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