By Eric Wittlake published January 24, 2014

Lead or Demand Generation? Your Content Marketing Plan Can’t Focus on Both

fork in road-two green signsLead generation and demand generation, often used interchangeably, are essentially at odds with each other. When many B2B marketers say demand generation, they mean lead generation — which is to say they will measure success based on the number and value of the leads their efforts bring in.

The problem is this: Demand generation is focused on shaping the audience’s perspective, while lead generation is focused on capturing their information

What’s the Difference? 

Lead generation: Collecting registration information, often in exchange for content, in order to build a marketing database for email or telemarketing follow up. The direct outcome of lead generation is new contacts available for sales or marketing.

Demand generation: The practice of creating demand for an organization’s products or services through marketing. The direct outcome is that your audience is more likely to purchase your products or services.

The result is often a single content marketing plan that is expected to do a kick-ass job of both delivering leads and driving demand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. To understand why, consider the characteristics of a plan for each objective:

Case 1: A content marketing plan for lead generation

Your messaging, promotions, and navigation paths are focused on the content offered and are designed to funnel individuals into a registration page to access the content. Yet, your content, secured behind a registration form, will only be seen by a small percentage of the individuals who view your campaign, respond, or visit your site.

Essentially, the content you labored to create — content that positions your company, makes the case for your category, and creates demand for your products and services — only reaches a handful of the people it could potentially reach.

Stated another way, this lead generation plan is focused on creating demand for your content, not your offerings.

Case 2: A content marketing plan for demand generation

Demand generation focuses on changing or shaping your audience’s perspective in order to create demand for your category or your specific products or services. Of course, your content accomplishes this. However, for content to create sufficient volume of demand for most businesses, it must be broadly distributed. To affect the largest possible share of your audience, barriers to discovering, consuming, and sharing your content must be removed.

In other words, maximizing demand generation requires removing registration capture (and, therefore, lead generation) from the primary flow.

Combining demand generation and lead generation 

Lead generation and demand generation are both important, and they can be made to work together. However, every interaction you want an individual to have with your content must be focused either on lead generation or on demand generation. Driving both goals effectively requires weaving each type of interaction together over time — not trying to make one interaction accomplish both.

For comparison, consider two alternative approaches:

Lead generation first

Lead generation programs focus on promoting the value of content and building up your marketing database with new registrants. Email, telemarketing, and other one-to-one marketing activities create demand from among this smaller audience with carefully honed messages and relevant content (including the first piece of content offered).

Drip-based email nurture programs and marketing automation, both having very low costs-per-incremental contact, have made lead generation the primary approach among B2B marketers — as well as for other markets that have an extended, complex sales funnel.

Some content, such as certain analyst or industry pieces with limited branding or references of your company or solutions, lends itself to focusing on capturing a lead before switching to demand creation. This content is often of high value to the audience, making it an excellent offer; but distribution without lead capture is relatively low-value to a marketer.

Demand generation first

Demand generation creates interest in your product first, through open distribution of information or content. Individuals who are now interested in your offering (not your content) can provide their information, expecting (and even wanting) to hear from you.

Marketers who embrace demand generation often capture leads through a contact-us or learn-more form. Instead of contact info from people who just want access to an individual piece of content, these are individuals who want to hear more from you. They actually want the follow-up communications that many people who simply register for content actively avoid.

Some types of content are particularly well suited for creating demand. For example, third-party content that positions your solution favorably in comparison to your competition and original content that shares your perspective on the market can both work to create demand for your solutions within the category.

It’s your turn now

Whatever you do, consider how lead generation and demand generation are distinct activities that can be woven together in your overall content marketing plan. In many markets, the dominant approach has become lead generation first. Is there an opportunity in your market to go against the tide and focus on creating demand first, rather than just capturing leads? Where is the opportunity for you to optimize how your lead generation and demand generation efforts work in concert as part of your overall plans?

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine. 

Author: Eric Wittlake

Eric Wittlake is the Director of Media at Babcock & Jenkins. He regularly shares his views on B2B marketing at B2B Digital Marketing. Follow Eric on Twitter @wittlake.

Other posts by Eric Wittlake

  • Bill King™

    Glad you wrote this Eric. I find clients assimilating these two all the time.

    • Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Bill. I’ve been seeing this problem for years as well, all too often the result is a lead generation focus that delivers contacts but falls well short of its overall business objective. Glad to hear I’m not the only one seeing this!

  • Alexandra Petean-Nicola

    I still don’t understand why the acquiring contact information can’t be the first step in determining them to have a demand for the product ? I consider email campaigns use content just as much as any other strategy. That content can focus on building up the probability of your leads to buy your product.

    • Eric Wittlake

      Here is how I see it: Focusing on capturing contact information doesn’t create demand as much as it helps you identify some individuals with existing demand. If you want to create significant net new demand for your offerings, you have to focus on what will change the perception of your potential prospects, not just getting them to self-identify.

      Once someone is in your email program, content is generally focused on increasing demand, getting them in though is a lead gen effort. This fits with the lead gen first example above.

      • Alexandra Petean-Nicola

        Thanks Eric. Now I get why there couldn’t be a midway of appealing to both parties. The self-identifying bit was missing from my flow of understanding.

  • Astrid Bidanec

    Totally agree!

    • Eric Wittlake


  • Sarah Garnsey

    I see what you did there. You got me to read the article because I disagreed with your headline assertion. Which was a red herring you then went on to contradict by explaining what we all should know: a smart content marketing plan can incorporate both types of content if it’s done thoughtfully and strategically. And you even got me to engage by commenting. Well played.

    • Eric Wittlake

      LOL. This originally ran under the title “No, Lead Generation is Not Demand Generation” which is a bit less misleading, but we would have completely missed you with that title!! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

    • Tim

      Sarah, I’ll second your comments. Totally misleading and inaccurate article title, but it got me to read and comment….

  • esta h. singer

    GR8 post! Provided clarity between *lead* and *demand* ~ very helpful. #Gratitude 🙂

    • Eric Wittlake

      Glad to hear it!

      • esta h. singer

        Looking forward to next! Have a great weekend Eric :))

  • Ric Riddle

    Provocative marketing at its finest, Eric. If one is simply “looking around” for information, trying to “sell” them is both annoying and unproductive. Good marketers are good lead generators in that they deliver prospects to the sales team as if each is expecting the other. I like how you took a prospect that was looking around (me) and sold me on your content. Well done!
    Incidentally, should there indeed be an over-arching term for a tightly woven demand gen and lead gen effort?

    • Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Ric.

      Is there an over-arching term? Sure. It may seem like a cop out answer, but in all seriousness I’d call it “marketing.” Some of the folks here might prefer something like “holistic content marketing strategy.” 😉

  • Aftab Khan

    I see the possibility of a broadly defined grouping here for demand gen with advertising, outbound marketing and hard sell, while lead gen goes along with nurturing, inbound and soft sell. Comments?

    • Eric Wittlake

      Aftab, while some tactics may have a natural bias, many tactics can be used for either a demand-first or lead-first approach.

      I did a search for IT Service Management as an example, here are the two top paid search landing pages:

      The first is definitely a lead-first approach. The entire focus of the page is pitching the value of the content behind the form. Just fill out the form!

      The second is much closer to a demand-first approach. They leave full navigation in place, attempt to establish the case for an “integrated approach” and then only if you are still interested, way below the fold, do you have a call to action to click away to their offers.

      I’m sure you have seen advertising, particularly in the B2B space, that simply promotes content (the enterprise IT sites are often blanketed with it). This is a lead-first approach to advertising. The ad does nothing to create demand for the product, it simply promotes the value of content behind a registration form. Of course, it is also easy to see examples of advertising used to educate or attempt to make us want something we don’t need (demand).

      In the end, the split will generally come down to how you use each tactic more than a list of bucketed tactics.

      Hope this helps and thanks for the provocative comment!

  • Anoop Srivastava

    Eric, Thanks for your post. I am agree that we should focus on demand generation first. But if we are promoting product then it is easy but in Service Sector, it very hard. Eric, will you please share few content marketing tips that help in demand generation.

    • Eric Wittlake

      Anoop, a service still fulfills a need. In your case, the best tip I can give you without more information is probably to start by asking a few different ‘why’ questions:

      1. Why aren’t people considering your service category today? Your marketing may need to educate them about the range of ways to address the challenge or opportunity they are facing.
      2. Why aren’t people considering you as their service provider today? You may need to be more visible as a solution in your category or you there may be perceptions about your offerings that aren’t true.
      3. Why are people switching to you today? What is it they know that others with similar challenges don’t know about you?

      As you dig into why questions (and keep asking why of every answer, until you can’t go any further) you will probably have a much better understanding of the issues marketing can address that stand between you and increased demand for your offerings.

  • James Perrin

    Nice one Eric, I totally agree. There are so many different objectives and goals when it comes to content creation, so much so there are even subtle (well not so subtle in this case) differences between terms such as lead and demand generation. Clearly define your goals first i.e. what do you want the content to do, and then create an objective of how you’re going to do it. Thanks again, great post.

    • Eric Wittlake

      Thanks James, glad you liked it!

  • Jason HJH

    Wow, there is some great insights for us to rethink our funnel. Thanks!

  • Jason HJH

    On 2nd thought, I find this dissimilar to what was mentioned here – Isn’t lead generation a subset of demand generation?

    • Eric Wittlake

      Jason, if you look overall at how you create demand and realize the benefit of that demand in your organization, most organizations need to have BOTH lead and demand activities, and they need to be coordinated. This is why I outlined both a lead first and a demand first approach.

      I think Marketo’s view here is a bit limiting. They refer to lead generation as a top of funnel activity. Essentially getting people into the database so you can create demand (and historically, enabling sophisticated marketing to create demand from a database is what Marketo is good at).

      To their credit, Marketo does a good job of noting the role content plays in creating demand, both in and out of nurture. And Marketo is a great marketing machine, they fully get the potential of the demand-first approach (and they practice it in part for themselves), but the view they often put out is more of a lead-first view that relies more heavily on their product offerings for the demand side. Hopefully things like the recent acquisition of Insightera will start to shift that.

  • Jerry

    Very Nice.. Awesome Post.. Great Post

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  • Aquademica

    mögel Excellent entry! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!

  • Nick Miller

    Great reference! I’ve been working with a client that is attempting to do both demand and lead generation. He’s full of knowledge and ideas, but he doesn’t have an actual product or service.

    Understanding where your business is and what it needs plays a big role in any content marketing plan.

    Will be sharing this post!