I trust my friends more than I trust you. In fact, I probably trust my friends’ friends more than I trust you.
Don’t be offended. As they say—it’s not you, it’s me. To be fair, it’s actually all of us. If we need a plumber we don’t open the yellow pages or call 411. We ask our friends whom they’ve used and liked. If we’re heading to a new vacation spot, we start our planning by asking our well-traveled friends for their insider trips.
This is what the experts call “socially motivated decision-making,” and it’s a trend that is emerging with extreme clarity and with huge implications for the world of marketing.
A recent McKinsey study captured the importance of this impact, observing that word-of-mouth marketing more than doubles the return one can expect from traditional paid advertising. Even more impressive: word-of-mouth customers exhibit a nearly 40% higher retention rate.
What does all this mean? If you want your business to reach the masses, you must first reach the few. You must find the influencers who will take your idea, your product, your service and become authentic advocates for it. It’s what others call influencer marketing and what I call the model for modern business: B2I—“Business to Influencer.”
Most of us are very clear on the two standard models of going to market: B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer). I’m not making the case that those two models are irrelevant or outdated. I am simply making the case that another model actually might be the gas in the pipeline—or even the pipeline itself—for any and all other models. And that is what I call the B2I (Business to Influencer) model.
The B2I model is already the water we swim in. Read the back cover of any book and you’ll see three endorsements. Did they even read the book? Who cares! It must be good because they endorsed it! Or can anyone over-value the role that influential athletes have played in the building of Nike or Under Armor?
The “art” of networking is even built on B2I. I guarantee you’ll have more success in your next job hunt by talking to people you know than you will by reading the “want ads.” When one of my daughters moved to NYC I gave her the talk…i.e., it’s all about whom you know and getting help from that group of folks.
But what does this look like as a business model? I’ve identified four pillars upon which this model is built:
- Relationship Trumps Product: Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “When people are overwhelmed with information and develop immunity to traditional forms of communication, they turn instead for advice and information to the people in their lives whom they respect, admire and trust.” That’s our world. The glut of information at our fingertips leaves us even more dependent on the relationships immediately around us.
Put another way, in a cynical world where we long ago stopped believing that Tiger Woods drives a Buick or that Tina Fey uses our shampoo, relationships matter.
This means you and I must understand and embrace the rules of relationship. That is, our relationships must be mutually beneficial and enjoyable, they need to have some dimensionality (not just about one thing), they must be authentic, and we must be a relational giver, not a taker or trader.
- The Influencer Needs to Be an Expert: In this Forbes article Kyle Wong talks about Michelle Phan, whose series of YouTube makeup demonstrations earned her six million followers. She demonstrated that she knew what she was talking about, so people followed. And L’Oreal offered her a partnership.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to eat shrimp. My Mississippi Gulf Coast roots are showing up like Bubba Gump. Not too long ago, I told my wife that I wanted to start steaming shrimp (not to be confused with boiling), so I did what we all do: I called a couple of experts and I checked YouTube. I am now pretty good at it.
- Social Media Often Accelerates This Process: The Washington Post studied what happened when Taylor Swift tweeted about an unknown singer. You know, just casually mentioning it to her 54 million closest friends. The results? Swift’s one tweet had decent immediate impact and potentially huge long-term impact. As noisy as the social media world is, we still fuel it every day at rates that are staggering. In my book The Business of Generosity, I explored how a single gal with a story, a cell phone, a few friends, and a cause can be the catalyst for a global movement more powerful than a huge marketing budget could create—all because of social media.
- Non-Profits Uniquely Fit the B2I Model: Non-profits are often driven by a cause and not a product. Because of this, the influencers that advocate on their behalf are more likely to be in it for the long haul. It’s not about an endorsement paycheck; it’s about the cause. When Bono talks up the ONE campaign, people listen. When Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, recommends a charity, millions hear of it. When my daughter ran a local NFP called Cobblestone and needed to push some awareness to their new farm project, she embraced a pure B2I model.
So how do you succeed in a B2I world? Well, don’t do this:
Don’t find people who don’t use your product and are only in it for what you can offer them.
The business-to-influencer model doesn’t work because the influencer gets a ton out of the deal. It works because the influencer is excited about connecting the product or the cause with people. The influencer is the maven that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point.
The B2I model is here to stay. It’s why the words of the new economy are authenticity, empathy, trust, likes, followers, transparency, and such. Stop long enough to ponder those words and their opposite. There is no business model that I know of not heavily dependent on the B2I concept. Make sure you are tilted for the best ROI in the B2I economy.