The rebirth of the influencer

Mar 26, 2018

Let’s try to tell our story so that we can go above and beyond the traditional marketing that AEC firms are known for.

Think about some of the most iconic advertisements of the past. Many of them used influencers – Coca-Cola and the much-loved Santa Claus, Marlboro and the “macho” Marlboro man, and Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad featuring supermodel Cindy Crawford. These ads were all about harnessing the influence of the celebrity.

Move the clock ahead several decades and now we have a different type of influencer marketing – a type where we are relying on seemingly ordinary people who have the ability to influence others through their social media networks. The goal of using these influencers is to drive more traffic to your website, increase the number of “likes,” “shares,” and “follows” on social media to get your brand’s message out to a broader audience. Historically, we have seen this influencer marketing used in the consumer industry where companies hire people such as well-established fashion vloggers and mommy bloggers to rave about products that have positively impacted their life with the goal that the endorsement will influence their large following to jump on the bandwagon.

In the past year, however, B2B influencer marketing has gained momentum with businesses of all sizes across the world. A recent study shows more than 80 percent of marketers report that influencer marketing campaigns drive engagement and awareness and 75 percent of marketers say that influencer marketing is great for generating leads. Should the AEC industry be more actively using this type of marketing? Yes! Our increasing pool of competitors is making it harder to achieve brand awareness, the world of social media is growing broader and more influential and, now, more than ever, our clients are seeking a more human-to-human experience. Influencer marketing addresses each of these challenges. The following are a few tips on how to get started with expanding your marketing game into the influencer spectrum:

  • Find your influencers. The key to start using influence marketing is to find your industry leaders. If you are willing to dedicate part of your marketing budget to this, there are a number of social influence monitoring tools that allow you to find people and businesses online that are influencing our industry. You can also use your social media platforms to directly find industry influencers – use the search function on Twitter and follow hashtags that are relevant to the industry. Start by identifying a short list of influencers that can serve as a test outreach campaign and let their built-in audiences, credibility, and industry presence help expand the reach of your content and marketing efforts.
  • Evaluate the need for a budget. There are two types of influencer marketing. Earned, which is free and looks much like the typical PR pitch that you would do with media outlets. This type of marketing banks on developing relationships with social media users in hopes of coverage based on the strength of your content. The downside to earned influencers is they don’t typically have the large amount of followers that paid influencers have (just keep in mind that quality of followers is more important than quantity). Paid influencers, on the other hand, can be costly. Given our industry, it’s not realistic to think that any of us will go the route of paid celebrity influencers. However, there are influencers such as well-known neuroscientists who support the topic of building wellness or influential technology companies that are determining the next wave of learning environments for students. These are possible influencers that may be worth investing in. Regardless, the key to success is developing personal relationships with your influencers.
  • Create content. As with all things social media, the more relevant, more frequently posted content you have, the better. Protocols you should consider are whether your organization will remain the primary generator of content, whether you want to co-produce content with your influencers, or whether you want to pay your influencers to generate the content on their own (pay close attention to authenticity if you go the route of having influencers create their own). Also, think about what form your content will take. While written content is the easiest, the future of social media is video.
  • Dedicate time. Finding the right influencers and building long-term relationships with them changes the marketing game. You shouldn’t expect successful influencer marketing to be a quick hit. Instead, view it as an asset you can leverage over and over that results in brand awareness and a more robust social media presence. If you build genuine relationships with your influencers, it can lead him or her to introduce you to additional influencers.

Some of you may suggest that influencer marketing is a bit too aggressive for the AEC industry. However, aren’t we all looking for opportunities to expand our brand and find ways to more personally connect with our clients? Influencer marketing is a cultural shift that will take some time to fully understand how we can exploit it, but as Malcolm Gladwell says, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.”

I say let’s start looking for these influencers to help tell our story so that we can go above and beyond the traditional marketing that AEC firms are known for.

Kelly Thompson is a senior associate and marketing communications manager at Little. Contact her at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.