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A (tenuous?) analogy between the English Premier League and B2B influencer marketing

Posted by Chris King on 28th May 2021

Watching the Premier League season come to a close last weekend, I was struck by certain similarities between the various trials and tribulations of the football clubs involved and those of B2B brands when it comes to B2B influencer programmes.

I’m not sure if it was the beer, Southampton losing (again), a rare glimpse of May sunshine or just fatigue after a long week, but I was compelled to share my madness.

If you hate, or know nothing about, football this may not be for you!

The pre-match build-up

While we’re doing our warm-up stretches, now is a good time to give a bit of a team-talk about what I actually mean by B2B influencer marketing.

Here at Wildfire, we take a two-pronged approach to influencer marketing. On one side we focus on helping our clients by creating influencer programmes that drive lasting organic and paid partnerships with established and up-and-coming B2B influencers. This is achieved through collaborations with relevant influencers to create and amplify content in support of awareness and perception, demand gen or account-based marketing goals.

On the flipside, we often combine influencer programmes with digital executive programmes that are designed to transform motivated employees and execs into credible brand influencers and thought leaders on key themes/topics.

In football, this same balancing act between buying-in and nurturing homegrown talent is a recipe for success — as the below analysis argues.

The table toppers

At the top of the table you’ve always got the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool challenging for silverware.

Those teams are in the enviable position of being rich enough to buy in the services of world-class talent like Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes, Kai Havertz and Virgil Van Dyke.

But they’re also able to blend this investment by developing their own homegrown talent like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Masons Greenwood and Mount, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford.

They’re the clubs that get the most fans, who get the most silverware and who cause everyone who isn’t a supporter to battle with inner torment of resentment and admiration.

In the B2B influencer world I’d put a brand like SAP on the equivalent pedestal. It has a dedicated team owning influencer marketing led by Ursula Ringham — the B2B influencer marketing equivalent of Pep Guardiola.

The company can afford the Bernard Marrs of this world but also carry out excellent homegrown executive comms. SAP is typically one of the go-to case studies for B2B brands doing influencer marketing really well.

What I particularly like about SAP’s approach is that they don’t just throw money at the established industry leaders who already have their own things to say. SAP instead looks for niche, non-standard industry influencers and influences the narrative to help make their voice heard above the noise.

Next up, the underachievers

When I think of underachievers Spurs immediately comes to mind.

They ‘kind of’ have all the right building blocks to succeed but can never quite pull it all together. In Harry Kane they have developed some world-class homegrown talent… but they’ve also made bad investments, arguably none more so than former manager José Mourinho.

Then you’ve got the likes of Newcastle — a big club, with a big following — undermining itself by years and years of under investment and under achievement.

There are a growing number of underachievers in the B2B influencer space. Brands that ‘get’ the value and have experimented with some activations, but that inability to pull everything together into a cohesive strategy and programme leaves them falling well short of a Champion’s League spot.

The also-rans

Ah there’s plenty of these… the Aston Villas, the Leeds Uniteds and my team, Southampton.

These clubs are hamstringed by a very modest budget that only allows them to make small investments in external up and coming talent.

They can’t afford or attract the global superstars, so they prioritise developing their own talent. Often this talent gets poached by the bigger clubs but still they keep on producing.

For the also-rans, mid-table is a solid foundation on which to build. They’d like to push on and secure regular European football appearances, but doing this will require trying something different, a few calculated gambles and investments, plus a bit of luck along the way.

I guess in B2B influencer marketing terms the also-rans are the conservative brands who are at that tipping point in terms of how much they invest and commit.

Maybe they lack ambition. Perhaps an obsession with controlling their own message makes them nervous about moving to an influencer-driven content model or they lack the skills to ‘scout’ the influencers that are a good fit with their goals.

Until these brands commit one way or another they’re destined for mediocrity.

Relegated to the Championship

Poor Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United. Yoyo clubs that are destined for eternal promotion and relegation until they’re able to build a more solid foundation.

In influencer terms, these are the traditionalists who don’t believe all this influencer nonsense. Long live the press release!

The surprise package

The Leicester team of 2016 were the ultimate surprise package. I guess this season it’s got to be West Ham. How they finished sixth I don’t know. They contradict most of what I’ve said above and ruin my analogy a bit. Ah balls! Moving swiftly on!

Who picks the team?

One of the complications in B2B influencer marketing that you don’t get in football is ownership. In football, the manager always picks the team.

In influencer marketing this ownership gets a bit murky. Some brands like SAP, as I mentioned above, have dedicated teams focused on this, but they are more the exception than the rule.

Because of this, B2B influencer marketing can fall between the cracks. Is it comms, is it marketing, is it content, is it social media?

For me, in the absence of a dedicated function, the ‘manager’ should be PR/Comms — but it’s a team effort. You need the support of your CMO/CCO — the Roman Abramovich ‘owner’ to bankroll the programme.

Then I like to think about the content lead as akin to a director of football and the social media manager as a fitness coach. Everyone has a role to play.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. It’s the off season now. Time to go and try to get my head around cricket before the Euros kick off.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get your B2B influencer marketing approach sorted ahead of the new pre-season then give me a bell.

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.