RETURN ON INFLUENCE

What is the ROI of me? We’re about to find out.

Last week I participated in an “influencer outreach program” sponsored by Dell. I have dabbled in stuff like this before but have never been immersed in a two-day event. Was there a payoff for Dell? Let’s dissect this as a case study and find out.

I am vitally interested in the emerging channel of influence marketing because I genuinely believe this is an untapped goldmine for most companies and brands. With a declining ability to reach our target customers through newspapers, TV advertising and even some forms of Internet advertising, we must take a serious look at developing alternative competencies like connecting and nurturing powerful online advocates.

Many companies are attempting to enter this space and almost all of them are doing it wrong. They are simply sending awkward or even inappropriate emails to bloggers hoping beyond hope to get a placement or mention online. Some are paying content producers for mentions of their products.

This has created a feeding frenzy as brands desperately try to connect with influencers.

But one company got through.

What did it take to get me to stop what I was doing and take two unpaid days out of an insanely busy schedule to learn about Dell? Let’s look at the one effort that worked as a model of how to cut through the noise and make a meaningful connection with a targeted “influencer.”

The courtship

I normally don’t respond to strangers asking for something out of the blue. But if it is somebody I know –either online or in real life — I will go to the ends of the earth to help them. Dell started connecting with me two years ago and invited me to several events that I chose not to attend for various reasons.

But they kept after me and several people from their marketing or social media group connected to me through Twitter. After several communications over a period of years, I knew they were trying to make an authentic connection with me so I started to pay attention. They were doing more than simply sending me an email and asking for a favor. After two years, I was hearing from people who I was beginning to know.

Current state

Before I participated in this event, I had a mildly negative view of Dell. I admired Michael Dell and the company’s heritage but felt they were wedded to an obsolete business plan centered on PCs. I was aware that they have state-of-the-art social media efforts but who really cares when the stock price is slipping? I have never owned a Dell product. To the best of my knowledge I have not created any Dell-centered content before.

An offer of real value

Each year, Dell hosts a gathering for customers, partners and fans called Dell World. They wanted me to be their guest but I was hesitant — this was a huge (unpaid) commitment that would mean three days away from my home and business.

Dell eliminated as many barriers as they could by 1) offering to pay for my travel expenses; 2) providing a very educational and relevant program with great speakers; and 3) offering unique opportunities to meet with executives that would result in some good content for all of you.

And then I saw that Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk was on the schedule. I was in!

The total package was attractive enough to convince me to go. This is a key point. Most influencers are not going to pay attention to you because you will increase their “awareness.” You have got to offer something truly GREAT to cut through the clutter and have them connect with you and your products.

Paying attention to the details

Once I arrived at the site, Dell was helpful but not overbearing. They requested that I attend a couple of special media events but other than that, I was on my own to explore.

They provided a comfortable hotel room, unique content, friendly help, and access to some key leaders. The educational sessions were excellent and the demonstration area was lively and interesting. I even got to meet Michael Dell.

Dell just let the event unfold for me. They did not push me to do anything and asked nothing in return.

The results

Here is the hard part about influence marketing. There are no guarantees … and if there are benefits that occur, it could be far in the future. It’s a patient investment. Still I think the event had an impact on me, and a benefit for Dell.

1) I tweeted and posted consistently throughout the event, not because I had too but because I was interested by what I was seeing and wanted to share it with my audience. So this provided small, positive, organic exposure for Dell and its event. I also created several other pieces of content from the event I will be sharing over the coming weeks.

2) I changed my mind about Dell. The company has a palpable new energy and direction since the company returned to being a private company this year. In fact, they may be uniquely positioned to succeed in the end-to-end enterprise tech market.

They are making bold moves into long-term R&D projects and announced a new $300 mm venture capital fund that they probably could never have pulled off as a public company. I heard some inspirational stories about the customers and markets they serve and I walked away with a much more positive opinion about their direction.

3) When you meet people in person, it always makes a strong impact. By getting to know some of the Dell people, I am more likely to respond to them in the future. We moved the relationship ahead.

4) I have never owned a Dell device of any kind. I will definitely consider one in the future.

What’s the ROI of me?

That’s really the big question isn’t it? Dell worked hard to get me to Austin. I spent two days there. Is that going to sell any computers, servers or security systems?

That may or not happen. If it does, it’s unlikely Dell will ever be able to connect the dots to determine the genesis of the sale was me. Will somebody buy something because of this blog post? Who knows?

But sales aren’t everything. Business success comes from many complex interactions. Sometimes “trajectory” is more important than the “target.” For example …

  • Dell has had some PR problems over the years. I gave them some good PR and probably will continue to do so because I am interested in the company now. In fact, they had their social monitoring software on display for all to see and I was the number one non-Dell influencer putting out content during the entire conference (which is kind of hard to believe).
  • I met with Dell people and others who I will probably collaborate with far into the future. People at Dell can leverage their relationship with me because I like them and I have a favorable view of their company. It’s hard to put a number value on relationships, but there is undeniable value nonetheless.
  • Dell needs to increase the market’s awareness of their range of products and services. The message at Dell World was very clear and it was repeated often enough that even a non-techie like me can articulate their strategy. So I understand the company now and can explain it to others.
  • Based on the number of messages I got about the conference, I definitely piqued the interest of others in attending Dell World. I think many people enjoyed following along with me.

Business is developed through relationships. And now, Dell has one more relationship it didn’t have two weeks ago. And that can’t be a bad thing, right?

What do you think? Would you consider this a successful investment for Dell and why? Would it still be a successful investment if I never personally bought a Dell product?

Disclosure: I have not received any pay or merchandise from Dell other than a coffee mug. The company paid for my travel expenses to Dell World. 

Illustration courtesy of BigStock,com

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