Hey, I get it. Demand generation is hot. It’s the marketing movement of the moment. It’s why demand generation managers are suddenly as common as, well, marcom directors. It’s why systems consultants are reinventing themselves as “demand generation agencies.” No problem. I understand.
As a demand generation marketer, however, I have an issue when brand marketers start to muscle in our turf. I’ve confessed previously in this space to being a branding cynic, but if you want to argue that branding (however you define it) and building awareness for that brand are necessary foundations for effective demand gen, that’s OK. (I don’t agree, but we can still be friends.)
Just don’t start pretending that awareness-building and demand generation are the same thing. They’re not, and here’s the simple reason why: Demand generation, by definition, generates measurable demand for your product. It doesn’t simply remind people you exist, or give potential buyers warm, fuzzy feelings about your brand. Well, OK, it might do those things, but that’s not its purpose. In fact, to the extent branding is even a minor goal of your demand gen strategy, you’re likely to fail at both.
Over at TechCrunch, writer Josh Constine recently penned an intriguing article about the potential for social media platforms eating into Google’s near monopoly on search advertising. Josh’s argument is that search engines are no longer the only channels to offer keyword advertising, and that Twitter and Facebook in particular are now enabling advertisers to reach buyers in the act of expressing interest in a particular topic, trend or product. It’s a compelling case, but then Josh goes further:
“A solid model for understanding Web advertising is the purchase intent funnel. At the wide top of the funnel is demand generation – raising awareness about a product and engendering the brand to a customer. Demand generation is more about ad views and changing your perceptions than clicks and driving immediate action.”
Wait, what? He continues:
“At the narrow bottom of the funnel is demand fulfillment – convincing someone ready to make a purchase of what specifically they should buy.”
OK, I confess: “demand fulfillment” is news to me. And as a buzzword, it’s kind of catchy. It’s also complete rubbish.
All demand generation is about measurable response. Demand generation is about getting someone to do something. Otherwise, it’s not demand generation, it’s just brand-building.
So, why does this matter? Can one man’s demand generation be another’s awareness advertising? Can’t we all just get along?
Sure. But I’d argue that it’s confusing at best, and misleading at worst, to pretend that demand generation is something it’s not, and never has been. Because I work for a demand generation agency (a real one), I don’t have to explain to clients that we don’t do branding. Everything we do for our clients is measurable, period. (Remember, branding is what your agency calls your marketing program when they can’t measure it.)
And it’s ludicrous (in my view) to suggest that “engendering a brand” is a necessary part of the demand generation funnel, let alone the foundation for a demand generation strategy. There are plenty of things you can do to build a relationship with prospective buyers when they’re not quite ready to buy. You can engage in thought leadership through social media, or propagate early stage content into the marketplace. However, when we create such programs for our clients, we don’t do it to generate awareness. Our aim is to capture those early stage buyers, to harness their interest in the topic/issue/challenge/problem that our client’s product or service addresses, to get them to take action (download, click, subscribe) and then to engage them in an ongoing dialogue until they’re ready to buy.
Call it lead nurturing. Call it content marketing. Call it demand generation. Just don’t call it branding.