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Episode #173: How to Build an Influencer Relations Program, with Marshall Kirkpatrick

Grad Conn

January 25, 202222 min read

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Authentic, genuine relationships between brands and influencers can benefit everyone involved. The brand learns about the market, and the market learns about the brand. Win, win. In today’s episode I talk with influencer relations expert Marshall Kirkpatrick about the three stages of building an influencer relations program.

Marshall Kirkpatrick is a social data innovator, and VP of Market Research at Sprinklr. Follow him on Twitter.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad 
You dig it, right Marshall? It’s good, eh? The power of marketing. Godzilla rises from the waves. You can do anything with this music. It’s so fantastic. All right, welcome to the Unified CXM Experience. And as always, I’m your host, Grad Conn. And I’m the CXO, or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr. And we’ve been doing a series on how to build a marketing plan, we’re building an all-based on the zero moment of truth or ZMOT principle that Google has. And we’ve all currently debriefed on what the zero moment of truth is. And we debriefed on what the first moment of truth is, tomorrow we’re going to talk about the second moment of truth. But today, we’re going to start to deep dive into each of those sections. So as we build up this series, we’re going to do a quick overview on each section, which I’ve been doing. And then we’re going to start to double click and drill in a little bit deeper on individual elements of each section.

Grad 
So when I talked about zero moment of truth, as a quick recap, this is the research that people do before they buy a product. And in some categories, like B2B, financial services, and other places, the majority of people do the majority of their research in this zero moment of truth zone long before they go and visit the website of the company they’re thinking of buying from. And this will include things like analyst reviews, that would be Gartner, Forrester, Constellation; it would include reviews, review sites like G2 Crowd; for consumer products, you know, anything on walmart.com, or amazon.com, or all the other review sites out there, Yelp is obviously huge; things like Capterra and Trust Radius are also big in B2B. And then also influencers and that is what we’re going to talk about today.

Grad 
I’m going to introduce my special guest today, Marshall Kirkpatrick, who’s one of my favorite humans on the planet. Marshall is the VP of Market Research at Sprinklr. And Marshall’s very kindly given us his time today, we’ll probably spend maybe a bit longer than usual on this one. So this will probably be a slightly longer say half hour podcast today. And Marshall is going to give us his experiences in the world of influencer marketing. And I’m going to let Marshall talk a little bit about his background. But I’ll give you three key points about Marshall that are useful to understand. One, Marshall’s background is that of a journalist, and he actually very much brings a journalistic mindset to almost everything that he does. So what’s a great thing about Marshall is that he’s always very balanced. He does a lot of deep research; he knows how to find stuff. He knows how to use Google, but he is really great at really understanding and digging in; he’s got a very strong journalistic stripe down his back. The second thing about Marshall is that he’s also an entrepreneur. So Marshall came to Sprinklr via the acquisition of his company; he was CEO of an influencer company called Little Bird. And it was a Portland based company that Sprinklr acquired in 2016. And Marshall has been here ever since. So his entrepreneurial skills were applied to the influencer space. So Marshall has been working in the influencer space, working in social media and all the things that we talk about on a regular basis on this show for at least 20 years. So he’s very practiced, very well known, he is considered an influencer himself, and has many great relationships with many significant influencers out there, and he could probably pepper some of his own background in a little bit more as we go into it. The last thing I’ll say about Marshall is he’s a really, really, really nice guy. Just a really great person to have in your corner, a lot of fun to be around. Super-duper interesting. I don’t ever have a conversation with Marshall, where I don’t learn something. Sometimes I’ll just ask Marshall just to start talking. And then I just get good ideas from just listening to him go. So he’s just a wonderful person, all around great human being. Welcome to the show. Marshall.

Marshall 
Oh, Grad, thank you so much.

Grad 
You paid me twenty bucks to say that. So I mean, I figured I had to do that to get the money, right?

Marshall 
What a deal. What a deal.

Grad 
I mean, fifty bucks. Did I say twenty? I meant to say fifty.

Marshall A deal at any price. Amazing.

Grad
Oh, man. So you were on Unified CXM Experience before or was it CXM Experience when you were on the show before?

Marshall 
I think it was early days.

Grad 
Early days. Okay. Well, we’ve come a long way since then. We’re up to, like 32,000 listeners now. So that was back in the hundreds of listeners days. So making a lot of progress, a lot of great marketers out there who’ve been grabbing insights. And so let’s lay it on them. So first of all, in terms of your intro, I hope I did a reasonable job of giving your background. Is there anything else that you’d want to fill in there? I think you’ve got some stuff in your background which is pretty interesting in terms of being the first journal in certain places and stuff like that, you want to just add a few bits of color just to fill that in. Because I do think that your background is an important part of understanding your perspective on influencer marketing and the way that you’ve been able to leverage it and make it happen. I think your background has led to an understanding and a deep competence in this area. But anyway, why don’t you fill that in a little bit? And then we’ll, we’ll kind of go into a bit of a Q&A on what is influencer marketing? And how does it work? And we’ll go from there.

Marshall 
Sure, sure. Yeah, I would say that two other parts of my background that have served me really well and are helpful in understanding where I’m coming from, are, first my appreciation of different thinking models, mental models. Strategic Framework. That’s something that I learned about a lot when I was in high school on the debate team and use those to great success. And then the second is my love for finding things out first, for being a competitive news breaking journalist, or otherwise, you know, I was the first journalist to break news stories, watching Twitter, for example, and then went on to be the first writer hired over at TechCrunch, in the early days of that blog, so I’m always looking for ways to win in a race to find the best information first. And it served me really, really well. And so based on that, that positive feedback loop, I realized, those are some of my strengths. And I want to just encourage anybody to ground themselves in their strengths when they go into doing influencer marketing and influencer relations,

Grad 
Do you have a particularly like stunning win in that sort of race to be first, like the time that I knew that, you know, whatever happened before anyone else did?

Marshall 
It was really a day-by-day battle, where, when working as the co-editor at ReadWriteWeb, in particular, where we had our articles syndicated in the New York Times, we would write 10 or 15 articles a day, and try to beat the competition on every one of them. But I will say that a lot of tech-enabled system-driven victories built up some social capital and connections and credibility that we were then able to use in other more traditional reporting approaches. So like shoe leather, and face-to-face conversation, are the ways that most journalism has been done throughout history. Now. It’s so computer assisted but I’d say that when I broke the news story of Google Plus and Google building a social network, six months before they launched a social network, they got so mad at me, their PR team in particular. But that was all as a result of face-to-face conversations built on the reputation I had built using data and then, sure enough, six months later, out came the social network from Google. And it’s all water under the bridge, and everyone is friends again now.

Grad
Can you actually use Google or do always get zero results?

Marshall 
Right, that’s a fair question. I found myself, when preparing to launch Little Bird, in a kind of Chatham House Rules, top secret, ‘what get said here, stays here, kind of conversation’ at one of Tim O’Reilly’s conferences, at boot camp, showing Little Bird for the first time to people asking everyone, we’re not ready to launch this yet, please don’t say anything to anyone about it. And I looked up from the table and across the table from me there were some of the founders of the Google Plus social network. And they grimaced a little bit and of course didn’t say anything about my little startup after I had broken the news story of Google Plus.

Grad 
We all become friends. Well, good for you. Well, you’re a friendly guy. Well, that’s great. That’s very interesting. Okay, so let’s talk about influencers, you touched on it already a little bit. So, you know, I want to let you sort of run with this a little bit. But maybe give me some models about how you think about influencer marketing, I do think that it’s not a particularly well-defined term. There are a number of terms in the marketing world that are reasonably well defined. You say mass media, people know what you’re talking about. But influencer marketing feels, I think, a bit foggy for most people. So maybe part those clouds a little bit for us, give us a little bit insight on what you think of it as, that’d be super helpful. Second thing would be, “Hey, I’m thinking of doing some influencer marketing, or I want to go down that path” and I’m seeing this increasingly, from second, third and fourth brands in the market, where they see the dominant brand attracting a lot of influencers, and then generating a lot of very effective and very efficient free media as a result. And they kind of go, I want that, too. So let’s talk about that a little bit. And how do you think about that structure and what does that process look like? So lay some definitions on us, get us centered on what this thing is. What are we actually talking about here? I might add a comment at the end on how that attaches to zero moment of truth and how to think about it from that structure, because this is how to build a marketing plan. So this will go into that content but define it for us and then we’re going to go into some of the how-tos.

Marshall 
Sure, I think that ‘influencer marketing’ or the phrase I feel best about is ‘influencer relations’ are both such broad topics, that the way your organization defines it for your ‘go to market’ strategy is going to have a big influence on the strategy that you adopt. But for me, I like to advocate for a two-way relationship between brands and influencers, where each party in that relationship gets to know the work of the other party, an authentic genuine relationship is developed, collaboration occurs, there may be a formal business relationship or there may not. And the brand gets to learn from the influencer about all the things that the influencer is seeing in the eye of the storm out in the market. And the market gets to learn from the influencer about the work of the brand. So hopefully, that will, as a part of a broader mix will lead to demand generation and brand benefits.

Grad 
Great. And I think that influencers tend to fall in that ‘I’m doing research on something’ zone, because influencers are not typically attached to any single brand. I think that’s what makes them influencers. They’re influential because I can maybe trust their point of view, because they tend to be brand agnostic. And so when an influencer lands on something, it’s powerful because I trust them. And that’s, I think the reason the zero moment of truth exists, is that a), it’s a little complicated to parse all the information from individual vendors or companies. But secondarily, people are overwhelmed by information generally, and don’t know who to trust. So they go to these other sources, like analysts, influencers, review sites, and they think what is definitive in this space? Who would I trust? Who do I go to? So I think zero truth is becoming not just powerful, but maybe the most powerful part of the overall marketing mix and probably the most ignored part of the mix because most companies do not have anything akin to an influencer relations program. Okay, so let’s talk about what that looks like. What is an influencer relations program? How do you structure it? Give us some guidance on this.

Marshall 
Well, I believe that the first step is just to get yourself oriented with who the influencers are in your market. And the ultimate strategy and the way that you organize your campaigns will depend on the addressable surface area out in the market. I love the OODA Loop model. If folks are unfamiliar, it’s a model from the US Air Force. That is an acronym, stands for observe, orient, decide, act. And it’s a loop. So after you act, then you turn around and observe again the consequences of your actions and the changed landscape. And so if you get yourself in that mindset to start with observing, and then moving on to orienting yourself to think, “What are our brands strengths? What are the strengths of the individuals that we have already in the company, or that we’re going to bring into the company to do influencer relations?” That’s where a whole lot of the heavy lifting needs to be done before deciding on a framework or a strategy or a model going forward. So spending time figuring out who the influencers are in your market, and then paying attention to their work is Step One.

Grad 
Do you have an example there? Or do you want to …?

Marshall 
Sure, yeah. So we’ve been talking a lot about the children’s toy market, for example.

Grad 
Let’s not get into the specific brands, but we’ve got an interesting pitch going on there, for sure.

Marshall 
I think we’re thinking about that in a way that is a good model. There are two steps that I would recommend that brands take in determining who the influencers are in their market. The first is just to ask around; to ask knowledgeable people; to ask us experts; to ask customers who do they listen to and who they pay attention to. The second is to use data and figure out who’s got credibility reach in a particular audience. So in the children’s toy market, for example. And we spoke to a knowledgeable expert in that field. And we found people like Laurie Schacht that reviews children’s toys, and Chris Byrne and Richard Gottlieb have a wonderful B2B toy podcast, where they analyze trends in the industry. And then we opened up Sprinklr and used the influencer marketing capabilities in there to take a different data driven approach to figure out who the data said has the most credibility and sway in that market. We put both of those together, and then take a ‘land and expand’ type of approach to mapping out the influencer landscape. So we can start with those people and listen to their podcasts and read their articles, follow them on Twitter and see who they are talking about, whose content they share, who’s talking with them, and build out a map of the influencer landscape as the first step. And I would say that the transition from that observation over into the orientation stage is a good time to ask yourself, which of these people do I like the best? Because if you find yourself personally enjoying the personality, and the work and the persona of a given influencer, you’re going to have so much more success in connecting with them genuinely and collaborating with them.

Grad 
Have you seen Toy Galaxy on YouTube?

Marshall 
I have seen that in the dataset. Yeah. Is that one that you liked?

Grad 
Yeah, that’s really, really good. They’ve got some really great classic stories and I’m just watching one right now on Shogun warriors, which was a line of toys, I think, from Mattel. And Marvel did a comic series on it. And it just preceded the Transformers. It was part of the origin of giant robots in Japan. And they’re kind of half transformers and kind of half robots, but not. They’re not fully committed one way or the other. And they’re so close to the transformer model, but not quite right. And didn’t quite make it. This is a great story of ‘Oh, that was close, like almost made that’. But yeah, Shogun warriors, Toy Galaxy is a big deal, it looks like. This is an aside because we’re working on this project, so everybody in the audience, just close your ears for a second. So Marshall, is that close? Like, can I play with that?

Marshall 
With the data?

Grad 
What you were just talking about a second ago?

Marshall
Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Grad
Can you send me a link in Slack?

Marshall 
Yeah, you bet.

Grad
Thank you. Well, I’ll be playing with that tonight actually, yeah. That’d be super fun.

Marshall
Your playful attitude, your domain knowledge, your genuine enthusiasm that comes up with that is exactly the kind of thing that people need to bring to an effective influencer marketing endeavor. If you can find someone inside of your organization that has that kind of enthusiasm, you’re going to be able to reach out and connect with the most influential people in the world in that industry in a way that someone without the domain knowledge or without the genuine interest is never going to be able to do.

Grad 
Yeah, you’re right. I’ll make an assumption here; you correct me if you disagree with me. But what I observe is that classically, influencers are people who are really into something, and would maybe even do it for free, or maybe are doing it for free. It’s like their hobby/job and love it so much and so when you talk to them, there’s this kind of funny balance, which is, if you go at them with, I know more than you know, it probably doesn’t end in a good spot. If you go at them with like, I know nothing, I haven’t even bothered to even watch one of your podcasts, and I get that a lot, then it’s also a bit dismissive. It’s like, what are you wasting my time for me to educate you? There’s some kind of beautiful middle ground, which is, I’ve absorbed a fair amount of your content, I see these kind of core themes coming out, am I right? Very interesting. I love where you’re going with this. And maybe you see something that sometimes they don’t see because you’re observing. And then you can have a real conversation. But you know, coach me up a little bit there and take me through that.

Marshall 
I think that that is true, and a great way to do it. I think that if you can show a demonstrated history of engagement with the industry, even beyond their content, then that outreach will be even more effective. I often recommend that people engage as individuals flying the flag of a brand. But as a one-to-one peer-based engagement at the beginning. And before reaching out and engaging, you want to make sure that you’ve got your house in order, you want to make sure that your social profiles are clear and show a history of interest in a topic that’s relevant. Ideally, you’ve been sharing really interesting content from other people and other influencers, perhaps some that the influencer you’re reaching out to is unfamiliar with, because when you reach out to them, they’re going to, just like in B2B sales, the prospect is going to spend a whole lot of time reading your website and reading your social media before they talk to a salesperson. So too in influencer relations, an influencer is going to spend some time looking through what you’ve already published online, in order to discern whether this outreach is the one out of a hundred that they’ve received today that they want to respond to. So if you’re a known entity to them because you’ve been engaging as peers on social media, because you’ve brought interesting things to their attention already, then it’s just friends reaching out to talk and get on the phone and see if there’s an opportunity to collaborate. And that’s going to work so much better. I will say that another option for brands that want to accelerate that perhaps don’t have anyone in house with those skills is to work with an agency. There are certainly good PR and marketing agencies that have relationships cultivated over time. But you want to ask who in that organization would be doing the outreach, who they’ve got existing relationships with. And you want to make sure that they have a track record of bringing relevant opportunities to those influencers in the past, so that their outreach will not be a cold call, but just the next in a long story of a relationship that’s been built.


Grad 
Right, that makes a ton of sense. Okay, great. So I kind of got in your way on this structure thing, but that was great. I really enjoyed that conversation. So let’s go back to like, “Okay, I’m interested in influencer marketing campaign”, might want to talk a little bit about why that might have occurred in someone’s mind. And then what do I do? How do I think about structuring? You kind of covered Step One, which is identify.

Marshall 
Identify the people in the field and then spend some time reading their content, watching what they’ve published. There is a higher bar than you might expect around that and outreach because lots of people will say, “Oh, I’ve read your article recently,” or because you wrote this one thing, I thought you might be interested in another thing. But as you had said, if you can reach out with a thesis or with something interesting, or some sort of value add, that that goes a long way, I would say that even in more general terms, that grounding yourself in your strength, whatever it may be, is the key to effectively engaging with another strong voice out in the market. So for you, seeing themes over time and seeing a story unfold, and knowing a compelling way to tell that story is one of your great strengths. And is the kind of thing that that when you bring that to a conversation, an influencer will say, “Wow, I’m not capable of that. That’s a really significant value add to my understanding of this market, and it’s fun, and it’s cool. Yeah, let’s talk”. Now, for me, my strength is largely in data analysis. And so I will analyze data about an influencer, about their content, about their market, about something that they’re working on, in ways that speed their time to insight, or are surprising or useful. And that’s how I opened doors. For example, Little Bird was most famously funded by Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and I was able to get on his radar. First, because he had written he had read blog posts that I read years ago. And so he famously likes to read people’s blog posts, and then he sends emails out to them. So I had spoken to him seven or eight years prior, but then when it was fundraising time, I sent him an email full of data about the Dallas Mavericks and I said, “I don’t know anything about basketball, to be honest, but here’s a bunch of data about your market.” And he took great interest in it and wrote me back in ten minutes and said, “What are you doing for fundraising?” So ask yourself what you are strongest in and lead with that

Grad 
What a great story. That’s fascinating. That’s awesome. What’s he like? Did you get to meet him personally?

Marshall 
Oh, yeah. He is really smart and has a mix of kindness, generosity, bravado, and cynicism.

Grad 
Ah, that sounds like a good formula. Well, I thought we were going to talk for 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, but we’re going a little long. So I’m actually going to break this interview with Marshall right now. We’ll come back tomorrow with Part Two. But that is the end of part one. So thanks for listening to the unified CXM Experience. For the unified CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, your host, CXO or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr and we will see you … tomorrow.

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