How HubSpot Leverages a Relationship-Driven Approach to Influencer Marketing

When most people think of influencer marketing, the image that comes to mind is a social media personality holding up a product in a glossy Instagram post. While this transactional, pay-for-play model has become prevalent, it‘s not the only way for brands to harness the power of influencers.

HubSpot has pioneered a unique approach based on building genuine relationships with influencers who share the company‘s mission and values. By activating these authentic connections, HubSpot is tapping into influencer marketing in a way that provides real value to audiences.

Why Influencer Marketing Works

To understand why influencer marketing has surged in popularity among brands, it‘s helpful to look at the underlying psychology. At its core, influencer marketing leverages two powerful principles:

  1. Word-of-mouth – 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know over any other type of advertising. By partnering with trusted influencers, brands can tap into the power of peer-to-peer endorsement.

  2. Social proof – When we see someone else using a product or service, it provides an implicit endorsement and makes us more likely to consider it ourselves. Influencers act as social proof for the brands they promote.

Together, these factors help influencer campaigns drive impressive results. Nearly 50% of consumers say they follow influencers‘ product recommendations, and over 70% of marketers say influencer partnerships yield traffic and leads that are higher quality than other sources.

The impact is especially pronounced in the B2B space, where influencer marketing is rapidly gaining traction. One study found that 91% of B2B purchases are influenced by word-of-mouth, and 84% of B2B buyers start the purchasing process with a referral. For business-focused brands like HubSpot, tapping expert influencers as trusted voices can be a powerful strategy.

The HubSpot Approach to Influencer Relationships

With influencer marketing becoming increasingly mainstream, HubSpot has sought to differentiate itself through a relationship-driven approach. "Influencer work isn‘t about identifying someone who‘s popular or famous," says Carolyn Kim, HubSpot‘s Partnerships Manager. "It‘s about building real relationships."

This focus on authentic connection is a natural extension of HubSpot‘s core values, which emphasize transparency, empathy, and delivering exceptional customer experiences. Rather than simply paying high-profile names for promotion, HubSpot looks to build partnerships with influencers who share its mission of helping businesses grow.

So what does that look like in practice? For HubSpot, it starts with proactive outreach to influencers who are already talking about topics relevant to its audience of sales, marketing and customer service professionals. The team looks for signs of audience overlap and alignment through analyzing influencers‘ content and engagement.

"We‘re not just looking at follower counts," says Kim. "We want to understand who this person is, what they care about, and how they‘re providing value to their audience. Influence isn‘t just popularity—it‘s trust and credibility."

Once HubSpot identifies potential influencer partners, the focus shifts to building organic connections. That could mean engaging with their content, inviting them to events, or even hosting intimate dinners to get to know them on a personal level.

"Relationships have to be a two-way street," Kim notes. "We look for opportunities to add value to influencers‘ careers and businesses too. It could be connecting them with other partners, offering our expertise, or amplifying their work."

One key way HubSpot activates these influencer relationships is by publishing thought leadership content. The company regularly features articles and insights from entrepreneurs and executives at leading firms, positioning them as expert voices. Recent examples include:

  • A blog post on social media trends co-authored with a strategist from Talkwalker
  • An ebook on customer success in partnership with ChurnZero‘s CEO
  • A webinar on sales enablement co-hosted with leaders from SalesLoft, Vidyard, and Gong

By collaborating on content, HubSpot taps influencers‘ expertise while providing them a platform to expand their own influence and authority. It‘s a win-win.

HubSpot also looks for opportunities to connect its own leaders with other influencers for conversations and collaborations. "Conversations are what really matter," says Kim. "The ability to speak honestly and transparently to the world around you."

One example is HubSpot‘s "Fireside Chat" video series on LinkedIn, where CEO Yamini Rangan has candid conversations with other executives about leadership, career lessons, and the future of business. By fostering these peer-to-peer dialogues, HubSpot‘s leaders become influencers in their own right.

The Results: Why HubSpot‘s Influencer Model Works

While HubSpot‘s relationship-centric approach to influencer marketing may be less transactional than the norm, it delivers significant results for the brand and its audience.

Partnering with trusted influencers helps HubSpot:

  • Expand reach and credibility – By tapping influencers‘ audiences, HubSpot gets exposed to new potential customers who may not be familiar with the brand. And the implied endorsement of the influencer lends instant credibility and trustworthiness.

  • Strengthen thought leadership – Influencers act as an extension of HubSpot‘s brand voice, reinforcing key messages and providing third-party validation. This is especially impactful in the B2B space, where buyers seek out expert opinions.

  • Deliver audience value – Rather than just promoting products, HubSpot‘s influencer partnerships focus on delivering tangible value to audiences through education, inspiration, and entertainment. This helps drive deeper engagement and loyalty.

The impact shows up in the metrics that matter most. HubSpot‘s influencer-driven content consistently sees higher than average engagement rates and inbound links. Brand searches increase as much as 60% after influencer campaigns. And influencer referral traffic converts to sales at 2-3x the rate of other channels.

But beyond the numbers, HubSpot‘s approach helps foster a sense of community and values-alignment between the brand, influencers, and audience. "When you lead with empathy and a focus on relationships, you build real brand affinity," says Kim. "Customers can feel that authenticity."

Redefining Influencer Marketing

For Kim, HubSpot‘s relationship-centered influencer strategy is about redefining what it means to be an influencer—and what influencer marketing can be. Rather than focusing solely on an influencer‘s reach or follower count, HubSpot looks at who they are as people and how they align with its brand.

"The word ‘influencer‘ needs to be redefined and better used, like networking," Kim suggests. "No one became popular because they had relationships with nobody. They were loved and understood by many, and that‘s what gives them influence."

She contrasts this with the transactional model common in influencer campaigns today. "Traditional influencers tend to ask, ‘What do I get out of this?‘" says Kim. "They don‘t add value; they take it away."

Instead, HubSpot believes brands should focus on supporting each other and cross-promoting to their respective audiences out of mutual interest, not financial incentives alone. "Partnership is simply the mindset that we have things in common and stand to gain from supporting one another," Kim explains.

This approach requires a foundation of trust and shared goals between brand and influencer. Customers are savvy and can sense when an endorsement is inauthentic. "Customers can smell that stuff," says Kim. "It‘s insincere and only picked up as authentic by those who are inauthentic."

The data backs this up. One survey found that over 90% of customers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support, and 61% say they would boycott a brand if they felt its influencer partnerships were inauthentic.

On the flip side, genuine influencer partnerships yield 10x the ROI of traditional advertising. One case study found that a B2B brand generated 11 sales opportunities worth $1.2M in pipeline from a single influencer video—a 12,000% ROI.

The takeaway is clear: in an era of increasing skepticism and noise, brands that approach influencer partnerships with radical honesty and audience empathy will win.

How to Adopt a Relationship-Based Influencer Strategy

For companies looking to move toward HubSpot‘s influencer model, Kim offers a few key pieces of advice:

  1. Know yourself first. Have clarity on your brand identity, mission, and the goals you want to achieve through influencer partnerships. This will guide you in identifying the right people to build relationships with.

  2. Make genuine connections. Reach out one-on-one and look for opportunities to connect in-person, such as events or dinners. Focus on getting to know influencers as people and understanding their goals and interests. Build trust gradually.

  3. Align on customer value. As you build influencer relationships, keep the focus on how you can support each other in delivering value to your respective customer bases. Strive to promote each other‘s work in a way that educates and inspires audiences.

  4. Measure what matters. While vanity metrics like follower counts and likes can be alluring, focus on tracking the true impact of influencer partnerships. That could include brand lift, lead quality, conversions, and real ROI.

Some actionable steps to get started:

  • Document your brand‘s core values, mission, and target audience. Use this as a rubric for identifying aligned influencers.
  • Set specific goals and KPIs for influencer partnerships. What needles are you trying to move?
  • Build a target list of 10-20 influencers to start building relationships with. Focus on fit over follower count.
  • Audit your existing content and campaigns. How could you integrate influencer voices to add credibility and reach new audiences?
  • Allocate a test budget and timeline for influencer partnerships. Start small and iterate based on results.

By leading with authenticity and a mission to serve customers above all else, brands can unlock the full potential of influencer partnerships. "When you make a genuine effort, you learn to trust each other and build toward the same goals," says Kim. "That provides real value to customers."

The State of Influencer Marketing in 2023

Looking at the latest influencer marketing statistics and trends, it‘s clear that HubSpot‘s approach positions it well for where the industry is heading:

  • The influencer marketing industry is forecast to grow to $16.4 billion in 2023. More brands are investing in influencer partnerships as a key strategy.

  • Short-form video is now the top content format for influencer campaigns, overtaking static posts. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels have made video the new center of gravity.

  • Consumers‘ trust in influencers is holding steady, with 46% of U.S. adults saying they have made a purchase based on an influencer recommendation. However, trust varies significantly based on vertical.

  • Brands are looking to measure the impact of influencer spend, with 35% using product sales to gauge ROI. Demonstrating real business results is more important than vanity metrics.

Against that backdrop, HubSpot‘s emphasis on authentic relationships and delivering tangible customer value becomes even more relevant. By partnering with influencers who have real expertise and audience trust, the company can maximize the impact of campaigns.

The key is to stay focused on the fundamentals. "Influencer marketing isn‘t about gaming algorithms or leveraging hacks," says Kim. "It‘s about building real relationships and delivering real value. That‘s always been true, and it always will be."

Key Takeaways

As influencer marketing matures, authenticity and audience alignment are emerging as the true keys to success. The HubSpot approach provides a model for how brands can unlock the full potential of influencer relationships:

  • Focus on building genuine connections with influencers who share your brand values and mission. Look beyond vanity metrics to who they are as people.

  • Activate influencer partnerships through authentic conversations, thought leadership, and cross-promotion that delivers tangible value to your respective audiences.

  • Take a long-term view of influencer relationships centered on trust and serving customers, rather than short-term transactional deals.

  • Measure the true business impact of influencer campaigns, not just superficial engagement metrics.

By keeping it human and leading with empathy and transparency, brands can harness the power of influencer marketing to build awareness, earn trust, and drive real results. As Kim puts it: "Influencer marketing is really just relationship marketing. And relationships are built on authenticity above all else."