2018 has been a big year for demand gen: From the increasing importance of influencer marketing, content marketing, and email automation, to new laws that change the way businesses are allowed to interact with leads (a ‘little’ thing called GDPR), this year has brought major changes that will either feel like obstacles or opportunities—depending on how prepared you are to deal with them.

The numbers echo this sentiment:

  • As of 2017, data shows content marketing has grown to the point where nearly a third of all business spend more $500,000 per year on it—and half of all businesses in the same study have a separate content marketing department.
  • Email is still the king of marketing ROI, but it’s also changing as automation and targeting become more important.

To not keep up with these changing trends can be expensive and even lead to legal fallout as the FTC and EU laws catch up with trends in internet communications. Additionally, like most marketing tactics, demand generation is constantly changing to keep up with consumer demand and buying patterns.

In order to crush demand gen this year and stay out of trouble in the process, here are some thing you should know about and integrate into your strategy.

Cultural Shifts in Sales and Marketing Approaches

Changes in marketing trends means changes in marketing culture—and visa versa (as it’s kind of the chicken and egg thing.)

An automated, targeted, multichannel approach requires everyone in your organization be on the same page. Marketing no longer just follows the sales team’s lead. Content creation is no longer just for the creatives; The siloed approach doesn’t work anymore. Instead, you need fluid, cross-channel consistency—because that’s how people use the internet today.

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Customers no longer form an orderly queue at the top of your funnel. As such, your sales and marketing strategy needs to reflect this, taking into account the new “funnel” where customers can enter at any stage. It’s like Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of ANNUITAS, told Invenio Marketing:

“We have to change the way we do B2B marketing, because buyers are light-years ahead of us in terms of sophistication. They want conversations; they don’t want campaigns. They want dialogue; they don’t want one-off contact. They don’t want to be ‘handed off’ to sales; they want continuity with an organization.”

GDPR Compliance

As of May 2018, companies have to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR.) The law calls for some radical and rapid changes for B2B marketers, and while some sources make it sound like a disaster—it isn’t. With the right approach, GDPR compliance is actually an opportunity disguised as a big bureaucratic mess.

GDPR requires some changes in the language surrounding your lead capture process. The wording needs to be less vague so you make it clear people are opting in to your emails. You also have to make it clear that people can unsubscribe at any time.

From a UX point of view, pre-ticked boxes are out. Opt-in options should be granular, meaning that different lists have different boxes to tick for those who want to opt in. It’s also important your consent options are unbundled. This means someone who’s ticked the box agreeing to your terms and conditions hasn’t also subscribed without knowing.

So how is this good news?

While GDPR is going to mean fewer leads, it also means fewer low quality leads. Fewer leads who don’t want to hear from you. Fewer leads who don’t even realize they’ve opted-in. You’ll be trading lead quantity for lead quality.

Thanks to that improved clarity, you can be sure that anyone who opts in really does want to hear from you. Because you’ll have to do more targeting to capture leads in the first place, you’ll be able to reach a niche audience. An easier opt-out process will get rid of the leads who don’t want to be there in the first place and will build trust through transparency.

GDPR will pinch the top of your funnel, but you will see higher conversions farther down the funnel.

Want more on this topic? Separate fact from fiction with our GDPR quiz.

Influencer Partnerships

Influencer marketing has been huge in 2018. According to DemandGen’s report, it topped the effectiveness ratings—right up there with content marketing—among brands and agencies. 33% of marketers are dedicating $500K+ a year to influencer marketing.

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It makes sense as to why: High profile partnerships with influencers help you reach new audiences through channels that can be tough to navigate as a brand.

Consumers expressed equally positive or even more positive feelings towards influencer marketing vs. other forms of advertising in the same media. They rated credibility, expertise, and product experience as top message drivers. People want contextual influencer marketing that feels authentic and comes from a trusted source. As in just about every form of marketing, nobody wants to be “sold to.”

A word of caution: it’s illegal to ask influencers and content creators not to disclose that they were compensated for their partnership with your brand. An alarming 25% of content creators report having received such a request.


Automation is another trend that’s already big and only getting bigger in 2018.

CMO Editor Giselle Abramovich recently reported that:

  • 55% of B2B brands are using automation technologies to nurture leads, perform progressive profiling on leads, and present personalized content.
  • 91% of the most successful B2B marketers rate their Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) as “very important” to the overall success of their initiatives.
  • Automation improves operational efficiency and reduce overhead (to the tune of around 12%.) It’s one of the best things you can do to adapt your marketing strategy to a multi-channel world.

And marketing experts like Ann Handley of MarketingProfs also see major changes on the horizon for automation. She told us there are three things she’ll be watching for in the rest of 2018:

  • User experience. Marketers will focus less on the automation and more on the customer: Is the automation delivering the best possible experience for the customer ? (This could be wishful thinking on my part.)
  • Quality content. Less becomes more. (I say this every year. I hope it’s finally true.) Marketers become increasingly sophisticated with their marketing automation programs.
  • This is the year of “How can we get more excellent with our use of automation to enhance customer loyalty?”

So why is automation so large in marketers’ minds these days?

Because it does wonders for efficiency. Automation streamlines data collection, analysis, and sharing. The data you collect through automation and segmentation can have benefits across your organization. When automated data is shared company-wide, it helps build appreciation for your marketing team and helps further break down silos.

Email marketing vs. Content marketing

As you can see in the chart below, email is still the most effective marketing channel. Content marketing is close behind, trailing by just one percentage point. But the trouble with content marketing is it’s much harder to execute—as you can see from the orange line (and as you might know from your own experience.)

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The reason? Content evolves quickly and is hard to keep up with. Specialized work like SEO puts a lot of the distribution and exposure out of your hands. Open rates are a challenge, for sure, but it’s hard to beat the inbox for reaching your customers directly and personally.

But that’s not to say this is an either/or situation.

For best results, your content and email strategies should be mutually supportive and work toward the same goals. Content drives email conversion, and email marketing drives people to your content and can even boost SEO.

Demand Gen: Always Evolving

There’s a lot to be excited about this year if you have the right information and are ready to adapt to some changing trends in demand gen.

The future is bright for efficiency, lead quality, conversion rates, and ROI. Even new regulations are something to be excited about as GDPR presents a win-win with less spam and unwanted emails for customers and higher quality leads for businesses.