I talked about the difference in demand generation vs. lead generation in my last post. This week I am focusing on developing a demand generation strategy.
First, let’s recap with an explanation of demand generation. It is a marketing system comprised of several integrated marketing programs designed to drive brand awareness and interest in your company’s products and/or services.
The keyword in this definition is brand awareness and interest, not sales leads.
Let me give you an example of Demand Generation in action. During September 2008, I was laid off as a Business Development Director for Eloqua, where I was responsible for recruiting and supporting agency partners in North America and Asia Pacific (thanks, Wall Street).
Keep in mind, I started my first company at the age of twenty-four, which I grew to thirty-two FTE’s, 600 active customers and over 2 million in sales, so I wasn’t too freaked out by being unemployed. As Stuart Smalley would say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” However, I had a family to feed, a limited time before going broke, and did not possess the energy I knew it would take to build another company from scratch (been there, done that). Either I needed a job, which would be difficult to find during the recession, or a demand generation strategy that would help me launch another company. I needed to connect with industry thought leaders, position my own brand (whatever that was going to be), and make money all at the same time.
Here was my Big Idea: launch an educational marketing event that helped marketers navigate the new marketing paradigms of the multi-channel, multi-device consumer, while simultaneously showcasing marketing technology (Martech) companies and building my personal brand. The eventual goal was to launch a marketing firm that would take advantage of the stage and contacts I made while producing these educational events.
So, I thought about what I needed to launch our first event (i.e. industry contacts, database of at least 5,000 contacts, sizeable social media presence, list of potential Martech partners or sponsors, list of potential data partners, and a list of potential speakers).
The summer of 2009, I launched the Integrated Marketing Summit (IMS), an educational marketing event that covered all aspects of integrated marketing, both B-to-B and B-to-C, as well as online and offline marketing. The original idea was to cast the widest marketing net conceivable to attract as many marketers to my events as possible. In 2009, the need to go niche wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, but I have to admit, I wish I had spent a little more time pondering the idea of whether to go wide with integrated marketing versus a narrower approach, like B2B Marketing. Granted, B2B marketing is still a rather widely focused topic, but it does focus my potential market and content better than integrated marketing. But, when you’re trying to feed your family, you tend to take the safest bet—which is to be as broad as possible.
At that time, I had served on the board of the Kansas City Business Marketing Association (BMA-KC) for over six years. I started out as program director and was eventually nominated for president a couple of years later. During my tenure, I had been programming our monthly luncheons and managing our annual awards banquet. I also managed the marketing of our events using our database of over 4,000 local marketers and an instance of Exacttarget’s email platform. Because of this experience and data, I knew I could pull off an Integrated Marketing Summit in Kansas City with no problem, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after that first event. I didn’t have any data to support an event outside of Kansas City, so I needed a data partner—and fast. That’s when I called on my dear friend, Garth Moulton, who was one of the original founders of Jigsaw (Now Data.com/Salesforce.com) a crowd-sourced data company. Garth loved the idea of IMS and gave me all of the Jigsaw points/contacts I needed to host an event anywhere in the U.S. in exchange for event sponsorship.
We hosted our first event in Kansas City in October 2009 and had 218 people attend (not bad). Since St. Louis was only four hours away from Kansas City by car, and because I had a few connections at the local BMA, it made sense to test our first remote event there. Garth supplied us with all of the marketing titles in STL and bang, we had 226 people show up.
Tip: If you are new to a region, industry, or job, look for relevant business associations to join and help by volunteering. Try to get the programming chair, because this gives you a great opportunity to meet and invite industry thought leaders to speak at your events. The knowledge you pick up from other industry veterans and the connections you make can change your life.
Anyway, IMS was a hit! The following year, we hosted events in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago and Dallas. The good news: the event business was working great. The bad news? The event business consumed me (and my time), so I never launched the marketing agency. We were doing so well with the event business financially that we really didn’t need to start yet another project/company. In hindsight, that was a bad decision. I should have gone ahead and partnered with an agency like Roger West to take further advantage of leads we generated at IMS.
Where I’m I gong with all of this?
Today I sell and manage all kinds of marketing campaigns for my clients. Because I have a great deal of marketing automation experience, lots of email data, and I’m pretty good at online advertising, most of the campaigns I work on are focused on lead generation. To my surprise, I’m not being asked to help develop demand generation strategies. Instead, I’m asked (more often than not) to help with lead generation strategies when the client really has a critical demand generation problem.
Most of my clients today create tons and tons of content, hoping people will continue to frequent their website and eventually buy something. Let me ask you, how often are people coming back to your website? Compare the number of times a prospect visits your website versus a website that supports the entire industry and I suspect you will have far fewer visits.
Ask yourself, where do you go to get news about your industry? I suspect most prospects only visit your website when they are evaluating vendors. They get the lay of the land i.e. what do you do, how you do it, why, do you work with companies like ours and perhaps visit the executive team page to see who’s behind the company. Once they find their answers, they’re gone.
My point is, as a prospect, you might visit a vendor’s site a few times while performing research on solving a particular pain, but once you have made a purchase decision, you rarely come back to the vendor’s website.
So, instead of focusing 100% of your time getting prospects to visit your company website, why not create an online community or publication outside of your main domain that supports the entire industry? It could be an entirely new brand altogether. You are far more likely to get repeat visitors, increased traffic, increased awareness, better search engine optimization results, and more leads, while positioning your company as a thought leader in the space. Remember, you control that community and determine who is allowed to participate in that community, as well as who is featured in that community. This is precisely why third party analyst reports or research work so well. Prospects don’t always believe what we put on our websites.
Let’s look at a couple of other examples:
Joe Pulizzi, author, speaker and content marketing professional created an online community for content marketers called the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Joe’s goal was to help companies grow profits by creating better content. CMI was a huge success generating close to 9 million in revenue which he recently sold to UBM for almost 18 million dollars with a bonus. That’s over a 2X of annual sales. Joe built a brand that supported the entire marketing community while generating revenue and establishing himself as a thought leader alongside many other industry experts and sold it all.
MentorMate, a mobile application development firm in Minneapolis, launched a mobile conference called MobCon, an educational event where mobile techies and thought leaders alike get together to discuss the latest industry trends in the mobile space. It was so successful, they rolled out a digital health event called MobCon Digital Health, attracting some of the industry’s most reputable thought leaders in the healthcare industry while positioning themselves as thought leaders.
Each of these examples did something remarkable. They flipped the cost-per-lead paradigm upside down. They are making money while generating demand and leads at the same time. This tactic does a great job of supporting an effective demand generation strategy, but an effective strategy doesn’t have to be an event. You can choose to create a media site or online community with forums where your prospects can ask for assistance with their most pressing questions or challenges.
I can hear some of you saying, “We don’t want to invest resources educating prospects, we just want reach decision makers ready to buy.” That’s shortsighted, in my opinion. The staff members of today will be the thought leaders and decision makers of tomorrow. Think of it as planting trees and supporting your industry ecosystem long term. Why not invest the resources? You’re most likely already investing in these resources, anyhow, just in the wrong place. Your ability to generate demand is greater when done offsite.
Keep in mind that you can own your demand generation strategy. You can control where, when, and who plays in the sandbox with you.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of demand generation tactics (i.e. educational emails, tradeshows, display ads, retargeting, print, etc.). However, I think marketers have a greater chance of being successful at demand generation when they have a strategy or platform that includes multiple perspectives, rather than just their own opinions.
Demand Gen is about casting as wide a net as possible, while lead gen is about landing the fish in the boat. An unbranded platform might be the best solution for your company.
Your messaging should support your company’s strategy and position in the marketplace while reinforcing a helpful thought leader attitude that professionals can trust. And, oh yeah, by the way, also happens to offer superior products and services.