It seems that everywhere I go these days — client meetings, prospect meetings, networking groups — there is talk, but also confusion, about demand generation, lead generation, and content marketing and how they fit together. To be fair, it’s easy to be confused, because many folks are using each of these terms a bit differently (a quick Google search even bears this out) and, well, marketers sure do love jargon. But it’s important to get this stuff straight. Research shows that 80 percent of B2B marketers rate “generating quality leads” as the technique with the highest profit potential. But how do you generate those leads? Content marketing? Lead generation? Demand generation? Or some combination of those three?
So, I thought it might make some sense to try to clear that up a bit. You can take it as one man’s opinion, but I offer the following rundown of how I view each of these approaches and where they fit together.
Let’s start with content marketing. Easily the most frequently addressed topic on this blog and until just a few years ago, probably the most misunderstood of the three, content marketing’s recent step into the spotlight has led to a better definition of what it is and what it isn’t. Our good friend Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
High-quality content should be a part of EVERY piece of marketing that you do, so that makes content marketing, by nature, a part of demand generation and lead generation. In short, good luck trying to generate demand or leads without high-quality content.
“You can’t have a prospect if you don’t know their name.” While that seems like an obvious statement, I like to use it when speaking with groups about how content marketing can be effective, because for most B2B marketers, the “…ultimately drive profitable customer action…” portion of the content marketing definition above requires that you know who your prospect or customer is. In order to do that, you need that person to first raise his or her hand — even if only a little bit. Lead generation can be very effective, but typically requires a prospect to know they have a defined problem, seek out a solution, and step forward as an interested party when your product or service is presented. That’s when you get them to fill out a form so you can learn a bit more about them.
In classic lead generation, it’s at this point that sales usually takes over, following up with those leads — whether they are ready to talk to a salesperson or not— until they ultimately become buyers (or shut you out). Obviously, this plan can have some flaws.
At its core, lead generation is a database-building activity, capturing prospect information and connecting that prospect with sales. As such, it is heavily reliant on keeping your content and information behind things like lead capture forms. And that’s OK if your prospects already know they have a problem and look to you to help solve it.
Here’s where things get tricky in terms of definitions. Some will have you believe that demand generation is new, or only started when companies started licensing marketing automation software, or that you absolutely must have marketing automation in place to DO demand generation. And there are various disagreements on the definition of demand generation, how far through the buying funnel demand generation programs go, and what the exact roles of the different players may be.
So, let’s try to make this easy. I’m going to outline how successful companies address the components of demand gen, and put the whole thing in the broad bucket of a comprehensive approach. We can fight about the words later if we need to (although I’ll warn you that I’m unlikely to change my opinion).
Simply put, demand generation is all about influencing a market. It’s about creating an interest in and a market for your products or services through marketing, with the goal to make buyers more likely to buy them. Because of this, marketing programs focused on demand generation tend to have much more content “freely available” rather than locked up behind gated forms. It’s critical to influence and shape the market while they are in the research, evaluation, and opinion forming stages, before trying to convert them to a “lead.”
Demand generation is often most prevalent when your prospects don’t know they have a problem (yet), the problem isn’t important enough to merit attention (did you wake up thinking that today is the day to switch your CRM software?), or you are creating an entirely new market or entering into an undefined one.
In cases like these, you need to make the market aware that it has a problem (oh no, my CRM and all of my customer data runs on servers in a hot phone closet and that’s a bad thing?) and there are solutions to the problem. Because your buyer’s problem may be multifaceted, the more they know, the more they will become engaged in the market and industry. They then become solutions oriented, and will look to your company to provide that solution (assuming you are providing information and answers with your content). Then they fill out some type of form so we get to know something about them… and now it sounds like the lead generation step above.
Phew, that was a lot, but in my eyes we still aren’t done with our demand generation program.
Comprehensive demand generation programs also tend to treat “leads” differently than lead generation. Rather than kicking any lead over to sales, with a comprehensive demand generation program, the less qualified leads are nurtured by marketing via lead nurturing until an agreed upon time, state, or lead score on which marketing and sales have aligned. These lead nurturing programs and touch points can be varied and multifaceted, but ultimately the key is that sales and marketing are on the same page with what the programs are and when the leads are qualified and handed off. From there, leads that don’t convert are often kicked back to marketing, and in what I would view as a truly comprehensive program, those that do become customers are also put into marketing programs to create demand for renewal, upsell, cross sell, and referrals. So the way we approach demand generation is really more “full-funnel” and includes lead generation as sitting inside one step of a demand generation program.
How the three work together
At this point, it may seem overly simple, but content marketing is a key piece of both lead generation and demand generation programs. Just like Rod Stewart said Every Picture Tells a Story, every piece of content should have a purpose. Before jumping into content creation, your planning process should involve identifying your objectives and outlining the content you will use to achieve those objectives. Companies that focus on demand generation will ultimately be measured by leads and closed-won opportunities, but need very different volumes and types of content to get there compared to those focused on lead generation.
Want more information on how content marketing, demand generation, and lead generation work together? Attend our upcoming free webinar with our partner, Pardot, on Thursday, June 18 at 2pm EDT. Register today.