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Looking for Industry Influencers? How a B2B Brand Built Its Own

When you think influencer marketing, what brands come to mind? Travel, fashion, and technology top my list.

What about welding? Woodworking? Blacksmithing? No? Read on because what Craig Coffey and the Lincoln Electric team have created is nothing short of phenomenal.

No influencers? No problem

It started with a challenge. Craig, director of marketing communications at Lincoln Electric, wanted to create and nurture an influencer marketing program for his company, a global manufacturer of welding products.

But the pool of talent who knew how to weld and produced good content was small. “Think about this,” he says. “Only .01% of the world’s population knows how to weld. .01%. Now the pessimist would say that’s pretty daunting, but I as an optimist think, ‘That (means) 99.9% of the world’s population is my target market. So, if I can move some small needle and slightly increase that .01%, that would be huge.’”

Craig conceived Spring Make, an event to bring together current influencers and speakers in Lincoln Electric’s industry space with makers – woodworkers, welders and blacksmiths, and other disciplines – who either are or want to be professional content creators. He specifically targeted content creators who could be potential influencers for his brand by offering classes that would help meet their business goals, like setting up and growing their online presence, creating a media kit to market themselves as influencers, and nurturing their maker skills so they’d be skilled enough to attract brands looking for influencers, including Lincoln.

The two-day event this spring started with crash courses in woodworking, welding, and blacksmithing. Sponsors and educators helped the paid attendees hone their skills in their craft or venture into another area.

Jess Crow, owner of Crow Creek Designs, traveled from Alaska to Cleveland to attend the Spring Make event. She has a strong presence on Instagram and Facebook, and recently built a following on TikTok, a short-form mobile video creation and sharing platform.

TikTok … said, ‘We like what you’re doing here on Instagram, so we’d like you join our DIY campaign.’ It is challenging … trying to fit a project or some valuable information into 12 seconds. But it’s pretty cool now that I’ve gotten the hang of it.”

For Jess, the benefit of Spring Make was twofold:

  • To connect with brands looking for influencers.
  • To get hands-on training from experts and try new tools and equipment. (She learned skills that will let her bring currently outsourced specialty work in-house.)

Jess was one of Spring Make’s 135 paid attendees – makers-turned-influencers, with a dozen brands looking for influencers.

Focus on your industry, not your brand

Looking around Spring Make, Lincoln Electric had a strong presence. The swag bags, equipment in the welding workshops, and a display of welders for purchase all displayed the Lincoln logo. But Lincoln Electric wasn’t the only brand represented. Ridgid Tools, Jet Tools, PFERD, and other sponsors donated materials, equipment, time, and talent. Sponsor booths were set up outside of the work areas.

It wasn’t two days of a Lincoln Electric sales pitch. Spring Make was about growing talent, building relationships, making connections, and learning something new.

The quality of support from big names in the industry provided clout and legitimacy to the event. As Jess says, “I have a soft spot for these brands that want to help us grow. Seeing their name attached – Lincoln Electric’s and others’ – made me feel that this event is exclusive, more high-end, more specialized.

“You know the companies that are here are prestigious. They’re vested in the people that are here and working, and seeing the companies sponsoring and speaking made it clear that this event is going to be a cool one. You see companies that have been around for a long time.”

Bring in reinforcements

Expanding the focus beyond welding (Lincoln Electric’s industry) to other trades provided an opportunity to build a growing audience, to attract welders who want to learn another craft to help their projects, and to find new speakers and talent.

“I also want to show that welding is not a mutually exclusive craft,” Craig says. “Welding works well with a lot of other things. Whether it’s textiles – think about a welded metal chair with a leather sling seat – or woodworking – a table with a wood top and a metal base – the list goes on and on. But people compartmentalize that stuff instead of thinking about it as ‘We can start showing how these things can work together.’

“Even the proximity of the woodshop to the metal shop (at Spring Make) was on purpose. We want to show our attendees, ‘OK, take your wood project over there. Now put a metal strap around this and see how this can work out for you.’”

Craig reached out to speakers and influencers he met through his travels and work, including Jimmy DiResta, a designer, builder, maker – who some might say is the glue that holds this maker community together. Other speakers and thought leaders were brought in to share their success stories and advice on how to grow business:

  • Johnny Brooke from Crafted Workshop talked about how to attract and retain sponsors. He shared ideas on how influencers could build a media kit, track referral traffic and watch analytics, and how to approach potential sponsors.
  • Sarah Fogle of Ugly Duckling House helped attendees understand the don’t-build-your-house-on-borrowed-land concept, an idea often mentioned by CMI founder Joe Pulizzi. Sarah talked about increasing email subscribers and website visitors vs. focusing on social channels where you are at the mercy of algorithms.
  • Brad Rodriguez from Fix This Build That broke down attendees’ social presence: what is working well and what could be improved, and shared best practices both for the attendee’s channel as well as for the industry.

Get dirty

Understanding the business side of influencer marketing is important, but this group of makers likes doing. Craig, the event team, sponsors, and experts created workshops. In true maker fashion, they were open-ended, self-guided instruction opportunities, facilitated by some of the biggest names in their respective areas. The experts took time to explain procedures, tools, and more. Learning through doing was a key factor to engage this audience.

Have fun and be exciting

Spring Make was experiential. Aside from the programming and workshops, the event included:

  • A store with T-shirts and swag to extend the Spring Make and sponsor brands.
  • Free stickers, postcards, pens, etc., for attendees to use, take photos to share on social media, and more.
  • Photography “studio” with a dedicated photographer to help with headshots or other photo needs for free.
  • Networking opportunities to connect attendees to each other, sponsors, and speakers.

A turnkey experience, attendees left with new:

Nurture the relationship

After that post-event high wears off, now what? Spring Make has evolved into a content brand, separate from Lincoln Electric. Photos are posted on Instagram and Twitter. Content generated by makers and influencers will be shared from Spring Make social channels: Twitter and Instagram. The Spring Make event team has a year’s worth of content that can be repurposed to keep conversations going and used to promote registration for Spring Make 2020.

Will it work?

Craig says he will call the event a success if he sells 100 more machines (equaling what he paid for the event) in the following month.

“I never really wanted to make money from this event, that’s not what it’s intended to do,” he says. “If we can see that measured difference in sales between all our efforts prior to today and post-today, then I could say with confidence that it’s directly related to this event.”

Craig explains another benefit. “I’ve been really heartened by the number of people who have come up to me and said, ‘You at Lincoln are so far ahead of your competitors from a social influence standpoint, that it’s not even on their radar screens.’

“So, I want to keep the gap now, and keep the pedal to the metal so that our competitors can never catch up – or that when you think about makers and content creators in the digital space that Lincoln is synonymous with welding. I’m going to focus on the biggest possible market, which is increasing that .01%. And events like this when we’re enabling our influencers will help us get there.”

See the results in action

A great thing about influencer marketing is seeing the influencers in action. Within days of Spring Make, many influencers were sharing content on Lincoln Electric in authentic, tangible ways.

Jimmy DiResta used Instagram stories to show his Lincoln Electric welder in action, while promoting his name and business:

Jess Crow started a conversation with her 24,000-plus Instagram followers asking which tools or equipment they’d love to buy, while mentioning Lincoln Electric’s POWER MIG 140MP. At time of publication, “likes” had climbed to 1,542, with over 114 comments.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Jess Crow (@crowcreekdesigns) on

Brands must care about social influence

While Lincoln Electric is focused on growing the .01% of people who know how to weld, most B2C and B2B brands should be looking at the numbers for their industry. After all, influencer marketing is not a trend, it’s a must-have in this new era. At Spring Make, Craig shared these seven stats to illustrate the need – and value – of social influence for brands in all industries:

  • 40% of customers are using ad blockers. (Marketing Land)
  • 70% of millennials prefer products endorsed by non-celebrity bloggers. (Collective Bias)
  • Influencer marketing delivers 11x higher ROI than traditional forms of marketing. (Invesp)
  • 94% of elite marketers are investing in social influence. (Invesp)
  • 48% of marketers plan to increase their budgets for influence-focused campaigns. (Invesp)
  • By 2020, 50% of content will be made outside of marketing. (CMO Kathleen Shaub)
  • 71% of marketers think that ongoing ambassador programs are the most effective form of influencer marketing. (Marketing Land)

How do you handle influencer marketing? Got a creative or fresh way like Lincoln Electric’s Spring Make? Please share in the comments and we may use in an upcoming article.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute