I used to start new client conversations — particularly with technology companies — with a discussion of what we then called “the cascade of influence” — that set of influencers from tech gurus, industry analysts, conferences, trade shows, and journalists who influence corporate reputation and buying decisions for customers and prospects. Influence, we thought, would flow down a neat little staircase to the customer.
Today, it’s no longer a neat cascade (if it ever was), but more of a web of influence, one that connects to our sphere of professional life among friends, colleagues, professional media, bloggers, websites, experts and others.
Paul Gillin and David Strom of Media Blather — a weekly-ish podcast that’s worth a listen — spoke to Nick Hayes last week, the co-author of a book called Influencer Marketing, that offers a compelling and, perhaps, controversial take on how to move people toward buying decisions.
Hayes’s thesis is that the influence of the broad range of non-profits, management consultants, integrators, associations, regulators, user groups, etc. makes up 50% of the buying influence on any given purchase — or more. These new influencers aren’t necessarily publishing anything, they aren’t journalists or analysts, and often “prefer to be under the radar.”
Hayes advocates that PR people be deployed to go out to broader organizations beyond the journalists and analysts — moving PR from “press relations” back to “public” relations. It’s a practice that takes a whole new set of skills, but builds on the ones we have today — building one-to-one, personal relationships, personal relationships; the ability to identify the needs of an audience, and communicate a compelling story with them.
The answer to ‘influencing the influencer’ in this world, in other words, isn’t just a focus on media relations, analyst relations, or blogger relations. It’s understanding the environment in which customers make their decisions. It’s giving marketers and PR professionals the mandate and responsibility to build relationships with a wide range of people and organizations who are important to the company’s sales success.
Hayes’ advice: PR should go back to its roots — find out how customers make their decisions. From there, it’s relatively easy to discern the web of influence that will impact customer decisions.
Listen here and tell me what you think.