Cyril has worked, since 2018, as Digital Transformation Director and Principal Consultant, helping clients to deliver business objectives through digitalisation. He was ranked #1 on UK's Most Influential Independent Digital Transformation Experts Power List (2PS) and named in the Global Top 100 Digital Transformation Influencers.
His power? Developing and presenting added value-driven solutions and financial models to senior stakeholders. He translates digital strategies into executable programmes that maximise the business benefits of information technology-enabled innovation.
Hi guys. Welcome to this new episode of our influencer talk series. Today, I'm glad to introduce Cyril Coste. How are you Cyril?
I am very good, thank you Frédéric. Thanks for having me
Cyril, can you introduce yourself just in a few words?
Yes, at heart,I am a digital practitioner and Transformer. I've been doing this for 25 years in different capacities, as a developer, architect and analyst manager.
And recently, I've been coaching executives into more new ways of working and how to excel at digital transformation. In the past few years also, I’ve been investing some of my time into creating content and as such I’ve been recognized as a B2B influencer. But this has been more like a consequence of my work and not a strong desire for me at the first instance.
You mean that you don't want to become an influencer but you are recognized as an influencer.
Yes. And for the past two years now, I've spent more time collaborating with brands, meeting other influencers, creating different content types, developing my speaking skills, and developing keynote content. So this is very different from, you know, your usual consulting and coaching skills, and it has been a great journey so far, really enjoying it.
And about topics, what topics are you more passionate about?
So, you know, I've been very lucky and unlucky at the same time, all my career has been about digital in a sense, you know. I discovered the internet in 1995 when I was studying mechanical engineering in France and I've never, I've never been a mechanical engineer. I mean, even if I graduated but it has always been about digital. So at the beginning, it was more about building e-commerce platforms. I've been trying systems, content Management Systems so it was very technical.
And then basically I said okay if I really want to change things, I need to go into more marketing functions, more business functions.
And this is where basically, I have double time and what really passionate me since 2010, is digital transformation. At that time, we called it digital business transformation. It is how you put your customer at the heart of the organization, and you build services, products, and support functions around your customer needs. And not the old-fashioned way which was we create a service, we develop a product and we try to sell it to the customer.
This has been possible, because of cloud, Big Data, Mobility, tablets and because of high-speed broadband internet. So, all this technology is converging at the same time.
I've made it possible, you know, from mostly, the end of the 2000s until now we are still in this revolution in this trend.
And this is basically what I've been doing is putting the customer at the heart of the organization and building products and services, for the customer.
And what I mean by this is not just creating just the IT services but how you service, as a company, you say, in terms of how to train your employee, how to support your customer in onboarding, how you need to support and maintain products you are selling to your customer, how you are going to measure the experience, the quality of service, what are their future needs basically to build this kind of infinite loop of loyalties everybody is dreaming.
This point, it's really interesting because in fact, if I could say your vision about the way to to work on digital transformation is also connected to your mechanical studies. Because you completely change the traditional way people are doing digital transformation. And if I understand your approach, we can say that your studies as a mechanical engineer have a real impact on your vision of digital transformation, no ?
Mechanical engineering is about systems. You know, it's about stability and instability of systems and vibrations. And a quite interesting thing is you will see that a lot of developers, people in Silicon Valley are at the beginning mechanical engineer. I don’t know if it’s just an accident, but I hope it is. But someone like Mark Zuckerberg was studying mechanical engineering before he dropped out but I think it's more an accident.
I think Mechanical engineering, It's thinking in systems on different parts, moving together. I never thought about using my studies in that way to be honest.
More generally, what's for you the main important skills for an influencer?
So just to go back, I started creating content on social media back in 2015. I was doing a project for a British fashion retailer and we were talking with social media and I said well, you know, I need to understand more about social media and I started basically at that time to create some content. At the end of 2017, Telco brand contacted me and they invited me to one of their conference because it noticed me, you know, online. And I got my first paid engagement in 2018.
Si this is mostly my timeline and for the past two years, so from 2018 early 2019, that's when I got more paid engagement.
And the most important skills, I don’t know any influencer who is not passionate about this topic. You must be not just passionate, you must be a practitioner, you need to understand what you're talking about. Otherwise if it's BS is going to be spotted very quickly and you know, tech topics such as AI or blockchain, you know.
I maintain a decent level of understanding in this area because they are connected to many things.
But I'm not definitely not an influencer in these topics because they are so complex, so technical that basically, you can end up in endless discussions about the smallest possible details. So if you want to become an influencer, the first thing you need to find is what is unique about you? What is your passion about a topic that you will invest a lot of time and energy to understand. If you don't already have this knowledge, experience - it doesn't need to be, you know, a big Market, it can be a very small niche market. When I started, I think digital transformation was still something very small that wasn't a mainstream topic.
So the first thing is to be passionate about it. Don't be shy, you're going to make some mistakes, it's okay to be wrong from time to time. It's okay to make some mistakes. But just find your tone. You said, you know, it's a specific skill but it's not really a skill.
You are not going to be in front of your colleagues, in front of your clientor in front of your family. You're going to be in front of the world so absolutely, yeah, don't be shy.
Find your tone, you know, you can be very serious, you can be very friendly, you can be amicable and avoid being ironic. This usually doesn't last very long, but find the tone where you're comfortable, topics you know and you love to share.
Influencing is about sharing. So basically you're going to give a lot a lot, a lot and you're not going to receive a lot. So it's very asynchronous. You give 100 you receive 100? No, it doesn't work this way.
So sometimes you're going to spend a lot of time writing an article and you're going to see the number of views, you're going to be disappointed. It's okay, it's just one, you know. The most important thing is to keep the momentum.
You know, don't be only data-driven, don't be analytics driven. These are important indicators that don't tell you how good you are. But tell you how well you are doing in terms of, you know, comparatively to other influencers to have more views, more retweet, more engagement. It doesn't exactly tell you the quality of the content and it's usually, you know, It's usually
better to focus on quality than quantity or trying to find the balance between the two. You don't want to be someone who just publishes something once a month because you are going to be completely invisible.
So it's important to have something depending on the platform you're going to engage with, to be regular.
You can now, you know with Clubhouse, twitter spaces, you can have and make some regular life events. So find your medium, are you comfortable talking on video, writing, sharing. Find your tone, find your niche and go ahead, don't be shy, it's just the world in front of you, no one else.
Could you share with us previous collaboration examples with a brand?
It can take any shape like it’s not like a standard engagement with the brand. So with a U.S. brand, we did engagement around, it was customer experience engagement around the content management system. What we did was basically a series of interviews, an ebook and then a live webinar. So we did that in three different steps and the idea of course was to collect some leads behind but it was a very engaging conversation, so different profile. So I was driving the digital transformation. We had an expert in customer experience, another expert in customer experience and an expert in content management systems.
Some collaborations are more focused, social amplification but you know it's basically like repeating the message, I don't do it. What I do is you have a message, okay, let me hear the message, let me phrase it with my words with my audience, let me shape it. And if I agree with your message, I can make you share it. I don't copy and paste, if I don't agree with the content or the message, I don't want to do that.
So I try to avoid pure social implication. Social implication is important but it needs to be done in a way that when it's done it’s only with influencers that I know and known for the quality for that integrity.
So If they ask me, for example, to amplify the message, I know that it's important for them and that there is a value also in the message. Some influencers are more focused about the business rather than the influence. Some are more focused about achieving some kpis for the clients and being driven by their audience.
So, you know, you have everything. But just to go back to your questions regarding type of engagements with Brands. I've done some speaking engagements.
So about different topics, it can be smart cities, organizational talk, how to fight silos. I've done some engagement more recently to promote some events. So, you know, in 2020 as we were all moving online, there were quite a lot of webinars. And the last part of the year was very competitive in terms of events.
So I was contacted by brands basically to help them to promote their events, quite a lot also of articles in different topics.
What I like you know when a brand usually contacts me and sometimes it's completely unrelated to digital transformation. For example ACCA which is a chartered accountants in England and it wasn't specifically about digital transformation but it was to cover from the digital transformation perspective about how it is impacting their industry. You can talk about regulations, accounting standards etc. What does it mean to have customer engagement and employee engagement in the topic of chartered accountants? So you see it brings a lot of questions and this is why your brand's outside the Tech sphere.
But by the way, what's your definition of influencers and more specifically on the B2B side?
You have different terms used, thought leaders, B2B influencers or key opinion leaders. There are usually the three that we can hear that tend to also mean a different thing. So, for example, KOL is a term that comes from sociology, it comes from the research in the 50s. If I remember, it was from a US researcher who was commissioned by the US government to understand the propaganda mechanism used during World War II.
So this is a sociology term and the panning term is influencer which is a marketing term, so it means the same thing that just from a different domain. Thought leader that's one step closer to God. I think, when I speak with other B2B influencers, what they don't like with this terminology is that it aligns all practices with B2C influencers. And we are not the Kim Kardashian's of B2B influencers, it's different. I wish I was paid the same but tools are not the same, engagement is not the same, purpose is not the same. For example, when you engage a B2C influencer, they usually work on return on a short cycle, so we are talking about hours, days, maybe a couple of weeks. B2B influencer you start on a 6 to 9 month cycle. So already you are on two different timelines. You engage and it comes back to your question about what is influencing.
In a B2B transaction you usually have six to nine people to convince to buy your products or services. Whereas B2C is only one. So, you need to find the right approach. So let's take an ecommerce replatforming project, you will have to work with tech guys, which are basically applications, network, infrastructure, security, marketing, operations, customer service or finance.
So you see a lot of diverse people that all have different interests in the project and basically influencing is looking to each of these people and finding the right information to push, to “convince” them that basically, this is the right product or service for them. Sometimes influence is also, you know, convince & convert.
We don't really see as a between phone so you don't see the conversion part, except if you are talking about signing up people for a webinar or attending an event where you can see this conversion part but usually you know if you're talking about reperforming an e-commerce platform, re-engineering a car manufacturer. And these are basically things that you don't see. So you don't see the conversation happening. You just see basically pushing the message, sharing information, sharing knowledge with your colleagues with the ecosystem in which an influencer evolved, which is basically other influencers, and all the other brands. And when I say the brands it’s not necessarily the brands in Europe but brands in South America, Asia. The engagement is global. It's not also geographically Limited. So influence is a long-term project, you can't start saying I'm going to start with a 3 month B2B influencer program, that doesn't make any sense. Keep your money, save your money.
What do we want to achieve with a B2B program? Is it, is it awareness? Is it loyalty? Is it attracting new talents to our company? Is it promotionals tool for us for products or services? Or is it in addition to what we already offer as a kind of loyalty?
For example, Microsoft or Cisco, are really good at sharing what they do in the nonprofit areas, in explaining how the technologies are used in these areas and they do it very well. Influencer program, you know the cost usually but it's difficult to measure the return because the transaction, the conversion one may not be monetary and may happen a long time after the program is finished.
According to that point, what's your perception of influencer marketing development in the next few years?
If we have a look of what is happening in the U.S, B2B influencer marketing is booming. Why? Because it's efficient, especially in the U.S. because they have one regulation in place, one language. In Europe, it's slightly more complex because we have local regulations regarding influencer marketing, and we may also have local languages if you don't want to use English all the time. So is that maybe two, three years ahead of us? What you can see is all the major companies have influencer programs, even if you don't know them. That also in R&D, for example, you know, products are the things that will never reach market-ready stage. But you know, it's always good to promote things.
And now, what I can see is a lot of medium-sized companies in the US are contacting me and also my other B2B influencers. So, when I say medium size is, you know, in the 2,000 to 10,000 employees. Because they need to enter a new market and they have identified B2B influencer marketing as an effective way to enter a market.
There is this research that they claim that for every dollar invested in influencer marketing, you have a 6.5 Dollar in return, it gives at least a scale about how effective it can be when you do it properly.
So based on that in the next few years I hope European companies are going to wake up and embrace more B2B influencer marketing less in the transactional way because right now is still very transactional.
They don't have some kind of “let's work on a one-year two-year contract and see how we can develop content across two years.” So they need to make a shift. Look, if you are chief marketing officer, if you are a marketing director and you don't know what to do, look at the U.S. and how they evolved in the past years and see how you can apply it in Europe.
I don't think Europe is going to bring something necessarily very different, other than the language flavors or cultural aspect, that sometimes can be important and relevant, you don't really speak to Scandinavian companies the same way you speak to Latin countries. So, we need to catch up, because it's an industry that we need to develop in Europe because right now, it's really an industry where North America B2B influencers dominate the market.
We are not that many to exist globally in Europe because it doesn't exist up at the same level as in the U.S, in terms of investment it's still difficult to run a business purely based on B2B influencer marketing. Hopefully, the switch will happen and we will be able to catch up quickly.
I fully agree with you about the difference between the US market and the rest of the world market. For instance, as Foxy Nerds, we've got a lot of American influencers we work with, because they are in number. And sometimes we have some difficulty finding European B2B influencers. So I fully agree with you on that part. And a more personal question, how do you see yourself in 10 years?
So you know at one point during the conversation I said in order to be successful between influencers, you need to be true, to be authentic and to be close to your market and what you're talking about.
So I would say to be a 100% full time, B2B influencer it could become more of an analyst or a journalist, but you start to become disconnected from what it is in reality and what's happening in your industry. So my hope is that in 10 years I will still be able to do some Consulting and coaching projects.
I don't think it will be the majority of my time but I should be able to still run on the projects to understand what we are trying to solve with new products and new services, what new startup is bringing to the market. You still need to have this experience and not just intellectual experience, you need to see how it works, it's like a coder, everyone evolves in their career.
So in 10 years, I would say, probably a third of my activity will be around consulting on coaching, still in digital transformation, customer experience and e-commerce. And probably almost the rest will be on B2B influencer marketing activities. Probably more around the audio video productions. So, this is something I am developing right now. And also some custom-made content and I hope it will be simpler, in 10 years where we will have more long-term relationships with brands and more focusing on content creations and building the relationship.
If you have any last advice for people, for brands who want to work with influencers, what is it? And we speak about inference and you are an influencer but who influences you?
So to answer your first question, how should a brand start. I would say the most important is to start. Find some leftover budgets from a marketing campaign, speak with companies such as Foxy Nerds. And try to understand how you shape your marketing influencer campaign. Just to go back to quickly with what we said earlier, is what do you want to test, start with testing, experimenting. Do you want to test your capacity to produce content to reach potential customers and clients, do you want to produce content to attract, talents etc, so try to set up to 3 different goals you can internally or with your connections, create relevant content.
There's a chance, YouTube is different from LinkedIn is different from Twitter. You don't have the same audiences, they are not going to react the same way on your content. Test and learn, don't outsource everything.
You can outsource some things, but don't outsource everything because a marketing agency will never really understand and know you fully. Because one of the conditions that B2B influencers will ask when they work for a brand is access to leadership.
They want to understand what the brand values really are. What you are working on, where you are going, why your clients love you, you know? When you work with a brand it's not just transactional, you want to understand who they are and what they do, why they do what they do? And why do their clients work with them?
And I can tell you, it's never about the cost, so it's important to know that. So find some budgets. Work with Foxy Nerds to find relevant influencers in your area, set up some experiments, test channels, get ideas. You start from here, with your 3 experiments, it fails or it succeeds and you know, you just repeat until basically internally you are comfortable in creating content running marketing campaigns and you know what to track.
Second question, about who influences me. So there are two big guys. One is Walt Disney. Disney is someone who transformed not one industry but I think three so, so cartoon. So he was the first one to make a movie based on cartoons. He revolutionized the concept of amusement parks, to make it a destination. And wanted to completely reinvent the city with something called celebration also in Florida. I don't think he ever woke up every morning and say, oh I'm going to change the industry today. He just did it. And this is what really what gets me about him, he just naturally did it without fortune on his side.
And the second one is probably less surprising is Bill Gates. Because everybody loves to hate Bill Gates. You have to go back to all the stories back in the 80s, when he was fighting, Microsoft wasn't as dominant as today. You know, at that time it was IBM, that was ultra dominant. And how 3 guys decided to go after the biggest company, one of the biggest companies in the world. It's quite a funny story and maybe that's what I like, trying to change an industry and thinking about it first.
In more recent people who influence me, I don't have a name, you know, because I follow so many people that I just absorb everything. I'm really impressed with, for example, someone like Annie Hoffman, she works with startups in Denmark and she's knows everything about Innovation and how to bring Innovation to life. It's really it's natural and such a nice person too.
So it's how you use technology in health care in hospitals, in how to use technology to bring us together rather than dividing us. There is this screen culture that we have developed now with humans we need to go the other way and it's a lot of futurism, how do you bring back the human conversations between humans and not via screen? So I don't have a name that pop up in my head right now. So yeah!
Okay, thanks a lot Cyril, it was fantastic to share this moment with you and thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot guys, stay connected for another episode of our Influencer Talk series. Take care. Bye!
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