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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.