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Demand generation strategy guide

What is demand generation?

Demand generation, or demand gen for short, is the field of digital marketing responsible for driving volume to a pipeline and revenue to a business. To achieve these goals, demand gen relies on a range of methods and tactics that pique curiosity, build trust and generally introduce audiences to your organization and its solutions. It is distinct from other marketing activities — such as brand and awareness campaigns — because its results and activities can be directly measured and traced to provable revenue.

As a marketing strategy, demand generation is all-encompassing and present at every stage of the marketing funnel. It is also felt at every touchpoint in the buyer’s journey. It seeks to unmask anonymous visitors and gradually nurture them into paying customers. To achieve this, demand generation programs draw on vast amounts of data and analysis, departmental cooperation throughout a company and a heavy reliance on content targeted for specific audiences.

Depending on its needs and requirements, demand generation programs are often made of different parts of the marketing apparatus. This is because demand generation operates at a higher strategic level and sets the cadence and approach different tactics will use to realize the program’s goals and generate leads.

For example, outbound marketing efforts like direct email, phone calls, trade shows and banner advertisements can be considered a part of a demand generation program. Likewise, inbound marketing, such as search engine marketing, organic social media campaigns and blog posts can also be a part of that same demand generation program. While inbound and outbound marketing are two distinct marketing methods, they both are trying to achieve a shared goal set by demand generation.

The leads demand generation creates will, ultimately, be sent to sales representatives, which means demand generation is as much a sales responsibility as it is a marketing function. An effective demand generation program is one where marketing and sales teams sit down to discuss and develop a campaign’s ideal customer profile as well as identifying any disqualifying criteria.

Why is demand generation important?

Demand generation is a popular marketing strategy and an almost essential ingredient in any business today. Such programs engage customers, connect with previously unknown prospects and nurture targeted accounts over the course of the buyer’s journey. Demand gen activities are also helpful in boosting brand awareness within targeted industries, fueling further opportunities as a business matures.

Essentially, demand generation is akin to a perpetual motion machine in marketing. It is constantly finding and acquiring new audiences, turning them into customers, partners and advocates, who, in turn, then go out and spread the word and bring in new audiences and prospects.

But the importance of demand generation goes beyond creating leads and opportunities. A real program provides businesses with the tools to holistically organize its internal operations. To run an effective program requires tight alignment between sales and marketing, a clean database (including the discipline and maintenance to keep the database clean), an integrated sales marketing technology stack, clearly defined personas, targeted accounts and audiences and a content program that can craft and organize content for the addressable market.

Because of its holistic, streamlined nature across the entire marketing funnel, B2B companies heavily invest in demand generation marketing initiatives. Few other programs are as thoroughly present throughout the buyer’s journey and can scale to grow with the company.

What is a demand generation specialist?

Marketing and sales both want quality leads and a program that generates them. But leads — and the ability to turn them into opportunities — don’t appear out of thin air. Instead, demand generation specialists step in to help accelerate the buyer’s journey and keep predictable pipeline moving.

Demand generation specialists are responsible for defining, organizing and leading the demand gen programs and strategies that turn unknown prospects into customer advocates. While there are a lot of data-driven marketers in the world today, successful demand generation specialists possess certain skills and qualities that set them apart. Here are a few to consider:

A scientific mind — Demand gen specialists should be eager to develop hypotheses and experiments and willing to try new techniques.

A trust in data — If the willingness to hypothesize and experiment are good qualities in a demand gen specialist, then the ability to accept what the data is telling them — and the ability to modify campaigns based on those data — is essential.

A clear communicator — Demand gen specialists often liaise between the marketing and sales departments, which means they need to be comfortable communicating with both sides of the business. Specialists ought to regularly meet with sales to discuss activities and reports in the field while also working with marketing peers to evaluate and present campaign successes or failures.

A spreadsheet warrior — Demand gen specialists will need to run reports and analysis of raw data. Meaning, any specialist considered has to be fluent in spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

Ability to measure website traffic — To assess performance, demand generation specialists ought to have a deep understanding of their organization’s website and how visitors find it, explore it and use it.

Beyond these skills, demand gen specialists must be able to create and update content for marketing campaigns, know how to clean and maintain marketing databases as well as define and segment audiences. They also ought to be comfortable with identifying and evaluating marketing strategies, such as account-based marketing, as they emerge.

How is demand generation different from lead generation?

Lead generation and demand generation share a lot of traits with one another, but they are very different in their intent. Demand generation is an umbrella term for marketing activities that drive awareness and interest in an organization’s products and services. Lead generation, by contrast, is the specific process of taking the interest and awareness demand generation creates and turning them into known names and leads.

Both lead gen and demand gen depend on targeted, relevant content to drive results, and often use similar tactics to engage with audiences. For example, both can make use of organic and paid social media, and advertisements. Both, even, can make use of company-created e-books, reports and infographics. But where demand generation freely promotes those assets — in an effort to promote brand and thought leadership — lead gen would place those assets behind a form-fill to capture lead information.

Some marketing tactics are lead-generating activities by nature. These activities include webinars, demos, educational courses, free trials, newsletters and email subscriptions, contests and in-person events. By contrast, demand generation activities typically include blogs, social media posts, videos, byline articles and any sort of asset not behind a gate or form-fill.

Where demand generation is an umbrella term that stretches across the marketing funnel — from the very top to the very bottom, where customer retention and upsell happen — lead generation activities are generally located at the top of the funnel. Because of this top-funnel focus, lead gen activities typically end once a name is known, analyzed and handed off to sales.

But before sales can accept a lead, it has to be qualified. To determine what a good lead looks like and, sometimes more importantly, to remove bad leads, demand generation and lead generation specialists need to sit down with sales and develop a set of ideal customer profiles. Using these profiles and criteria, both lead and demand gen specialists can gear activities towards personas more likely to become customers and, ultimately, contribute to revenue.

The role of data for demand generation

Like most digital marketing activities today, demand generation runs on data. The more data it is provided with and can analyze, the more it can refine its messaging and campaigns and the better it can target audiences that will actually either convert into new clients or stay with the company as it grows.

For demand generation, the use of data starts with developing buyer personas. This can be as basic as calling customers and prospects to learn more about how a brand and its products are perceived or as high-tech as using a business intelligence platform to drive insights into customer behavior.

With personas in hand, demand gen specialists can begin targeting audiences and begin measuring the content and messaging that actually connects and piques interest in a product or solution. From there, specialists can begin optimizing their activity and start driving leads to the sales team and pipeline to the company.

To assess the success of a program or overall performance, demand gen marketers typically gather data on the following metrics:

  • New and returning visitors
  • Content engagement and session duration
  • Meetings generated
  • Opportunities generated
  • Sales pipeline value
  • Cost per lead
  • Average time to close
  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Revenue generated

At a high level, these data often inform demand generation of what needs to be improved while hinting at possible solutions. For example, a lack of traffic to a website could indicate an underlying issue with brand identity, SEO presence or inbound marketing activities. In this way, data is a Northstar demand gen can follow towards improvement.

Nowhere is this more clear than in creating the content that fuels demand generation. Attracting and engaging audiences depends on developing relevant content for a specific audience. But it takes data to understand what your organization’s target audiences are looking for and to identify content opportunities that’ll actually engage them. After all, you’ll need to know whether your audience prefers the brevity of a blog post or the in-depth and interactive nature of a webinar. Data can do more than refine content ideas. It can also help demand generation reach audiences in the first place through search engine optimization and search engine marketing.

Demand generation strategies

Demand generation programs need strategies to drive the results businesses are looking for. Typically, these strategies fall into one of four key demand generation areas: brand awareness, inbound marketing, sales enablement and customer retention.

Brand awareness — Brand awareness is typically the first step in any demand generation strategy and it often starts by assessing and understanding the audiences you’re serving. This is the stage where demand generation specialists develop buyer personas, build brand identity, create thought leadership programs and craft a go-to-market strategy.

Inbound marketing — Inbound marketing is a marketing tactic that draws prospects and customers to a product through organic means. Like demand generation, it seeks to bring attention to a brand. But inbound marketing can also be used for lead generation programs and other marketing activities and is typically content-heavy, relying on blogs and SEO to draw traffic.

Sales enablement — All demand generation activities seek to empower sales with the information and content they need to close deals. Because of this relationship, demand generation marketers and sales team members must be fully aligned on lead qualification and marketing activities. Sales enablement tactics include case studies, customer testimonials, FAQs, product data sheets and internal material, like pitch decks.

Customer retention — When a prospect becomes a customer, demand generation enters a new stage: customer retention. Retaining customers is important for any business as it improves overall brand presence, proves customer loyalty and helps achieve steady growth. Typical customer retention methods include knowledge bases, ticketing systems, customer loyalty/advocacy programs and customer advisory boards.

Tools for demand generation

Demand generation depends on data for success, which means any program needs a range of marketing technology solutions to help analyze, measure and optimize a program. For demand generation, tool selection should boil down to immediate needs. Typically these necessary tools fall into one of four distinct areas.

Business intelligence — Business intelligence, or BI, provides demand generation specialists with the tools they need to make data manageable. BI platforms empower demand generation to assess historical data, report insights and identify opportunities in the future. Popular BI platforms include SAS Visual Analytics, Domo, Tableau, InsightSquared and others.

Content management systems — Content management systems are the backbone of the internet and allow you to create, edit, manage and track content performance on your domain. A good CMS will make the management of your website simple, allowing you to upload blog posts and more without investing in technical skills. Popular CMSs include WordPress, Drupal, Wix, Joomla and Squarespace, to name a few.

Customer Relationship Management — A customer relationship management platform acts as the central nervous system of any sales/marketing operation. CRMs centralize, organize and store information captured from lead gen activities, like webinars or any gated content. Popular CRM solutions include Salesforce, Insightly, HubSpot CRM, Zoho, SAP CRM, LeadSquared and more.

Marketing Automation Platform — For demand generation marketers, the marketing automation platform is the muscle behind many demand gen activities — especially email. MAPs will often help automate email sends based on a customer or prospect’s behavior and interactions with your brand. Popular MAPs include Marketo, HubSpot, Oracle Eloqua, ActiveCampaign and more.