Philip Sheldrake, author of The Business of Influence: Reframing Marketing and PR for the Digital Age, gave the opening keynote for ESOMAR 3D 2011 in Miami.

“The business of influence is broken,” Philip argues. What does he mean by influence? “You have been influenced when you think in a way you wouldn’t otherwise have thought, or do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done. If you do neither of those, you’ve had no influence.” Influence often has symmetry: influencing and being influenced, empathizing with your stakeholders. “If you’re in business, indeed any type of organization, then you’re in the business of influence.”

Three things affect this and have changed beyond recognition in the past decade:

  • The rise of social media – Social media restores us to the days when a market was defined by “people gathering and talking among themselves about buyer and seller reputation, product quality and prices”. This is in contrast to the “lean-back media” of the 20th century. Social media drives us to “brutal transparency”. Yet, according to an IBM study, most CMOs invest more resources in understanding markets than individuals. Social media requires organizations to be sensitive to communication coming from all constituencies.
  • The info tech explosion – “Phones are the most personal of consumer electronic devices. They do everything: we only call them phones for atavistic reasons.” Mobile phones are part of the Internet of Things, providing the largest sensory network on the planet, foreshadowing when everything from washing machines and air conditioners to clothes and packaging communicate over the Internet. The info tech explosion is moving us from an era of data scarcity to an era of data abundance, with almost “dystopian” ramifications when “the body corporate” owns this data. Imagine “stream banks” where people store their lifestreams of data and decide who to share them with; CIOs are realizing great data stores are an asset and also a legal liability and could benefit from a new privacy framework. Despire the info tech explosion, most CMOs have not shifted their spending to take advantage of new technologies.
  • The way we contemplate, design, communicate and execute strategy – The Balanced Scorecard is the most popular framework within the Global 2000 companies of assessing nonfinancial perspectives. ROI on intangible assets requires understanding them in the context of the company’s strategy as a whole, and this applies to “return on influence” as well. CMOs, again, lag here, believing ROI on marketing expenses in isolation is sufficient.

The social enterprise, the way in which organizations adapt to these three changes, requires leadership from the CEO to redesign the organization. All C-level roles have influence flows that affect their jobs. The six influence flows:

  1. How we influence stakeholders
  2. How stakeholders influence themselves about us
  3. How we enable stakeholders to influence us
  4. How our competitors influence stakeholders
  5. How stakeholders influence themselves about competitors
  6. How our competitors enable stakeholders to influence themselves

Market research is in contrast to the continuous engagement of influence flows. MR is ad hoc, one way, unemotional, where continous engagement is ongoing, two way and emotional.

Influence should not be about identifying stakeholders with the most influence (“influencer-centric approaches”) but should focus on the influenced and on tracing how influence happens, especially though digital media. Today COOs focus on quality, efficiency and agility, yet they have a primary role affecting influence. An “influence scorecard” will track how organizations systematically learn from and manage influence flows, how they create strategy and prioritize initiatives. In conclusion, “the ease and effectiveness with which we manage and learn from influence flows is integral to the ways all stakeholders interact with prganizations to broker mutually valuable, beneficial relationships”.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.