Bootstrapped startup Omnisend carved out a $19 million niche in an already saturated vertical.
How did they do it? With a tactical understanding of two different marketing strategies: demand generation and lead generation.
Now, should you pump out gated ebooks and “state of the industry” lead magnets that generate low-to-no intent MQLs, or tap into existing demand to build a pipeline of high-intent leads?
In this article, you’ll learn why each marketing strategy works and walk away with an armory of tactics to fuel your own growth marketing efforts.
Table of contents
- Demand generation vs. lead generation: what is the difference?
- Generate demand by solving crucial customer problems
- Offer unrivaled value to generate high-intent leads
Demand generation vs. lead generation: what is the difference?
The main difference between demand generation and lead generation is that demand generation uses marketing to create demand and interest in your product or brand. Lead generation, on the other hand, aims to capture that demand and capitalize on the interest that demand gen creates.
Demand generation marketers create and distribute strategic content (mostly for free) to build awareness and demand for their brand or product.
As said before, demand generation marketers capitalize on the interest created by demand generation. Typically, they use gated content to capture the prospect’s contact information so the sales team can nurture and convert them.
Demand generation paves the way for surgical lead generation
Without a focused, integrated demand generation strategy, lead generation delivers disinterested leads that frustrate sales reps and result in low conversion rates.
Demand generation is an umbrella term that covers any activity intended to create awareness for and interest in a product or service.
A demand generation manager’s responsibilities involve creating and distributing targeted content (blog posts, podcasts, and thought leadership) that educates potential customers on solving common challenges relevant to their product or industry.
Take Omnisend, an email marketing, SMS, and automation platform for ecommerce sellers.
Their podcast features interviews with industry experts (leveraging their guests’ audiences). It dives into highly relevant topics, like reducing cart abandonment rates through automated email sequences.
The podcast is just one part of their content marketing strategy.
The suite of resources helps spread awareness of the Omnisend brand and product. It positions them as an authoritative market leader that provides helpful, actionable advice, fueling future demand for their product.
When it comes time to involve lead generation and capture that interest, Omnisend appeals to an audience who already know and respect their brand.
Lead generation capitalizes on demand generation’s success
While demand generation is responsible for mustering excitement and interest around a product or service, on its own it doesn’t produce sufficient opportunities for sales engagement.
Demand generation campaigns must be supported by a robust lead generation strategy that captures qualified, high-intent leads to nurture and convert.
Lead generation strictly focuses on designing valuable offers that prospects would get in exchange for their contact details (typically an email address).
Leads then get scored (prioritized based on purchase intent indicators) and nurtured. Qualified leads pass to the sales team to encourage through the sales process.
More direct approaches, such as live events and direct mail, also fall under the lead generation umbrella, though marketers today often rely on types of content like:
- Webinar access;
- Free tools;
- Email newsletters;
Omnisend’s whitepaper discussing the benefits of choosing an ecommerce-first email provider is an example of one such lead magnet.
This lead generation tool is effective as it directly addresses Ominsend’s target audience (ecommerce businesses) and alludes to key information inside the whitepaper that their audience will find helpful (the most important features an email provider must offer).
Lead vs. demand generation: Use both to drive growth
While demand and lead generation occupy distinct domains, the strategies are not mutually exclusive ventures.
Without a robust demand generation strategy, marketing leads arrive with a lack of education and understanding of the industry and product and little intent to purchase.
Without intentional lead generation campaigns (and compelling offers for prospects to hand over details), demand generation builds hype, awareness, and interest in a product but doesn’t capitalize on it.
Coordination between the two disciplines is crucial for accelerating sales growth.
Lead generation teams, for example, must be familiar with how demand generation attracts new audiences (i.e. what kind of content they’re creating, where and how they’re distributing it, what pain points they’re speaking to, etc.).
Combining this knowledge with how well segments engage with types of content helps position higher-value content that generates worthy leads.
Take sales CRM Pipedrive.
A blog post covering the ins and outs of cold calling scripts (content that sits within the demand generation domain) is immediately backed up by lead generation content: a downloadable list of customizable cold calling scripts.
Because both teams are integrated and collaborative, lead gen can design compelling, relevant offers to capitalize on the interest demand gen creates.
Generate demand by solving crucial customer problems
The most effective and reliable way to build interest and trust in your brand (and therefore demand) is to solve your customers’ most pressing challenges.
Free tools and resources can provide instant value, registering an implicit association between your brand and trustworthiness.
Appearances on popular podcasts and thought leadership on social media can establish your brand as an industry expert.
SEO-focused content can drive new traffic to your site while providing prospects with a step-by-step guide to a persistent problem.
Focusing your demand generation efforts on solving customer problems takes advantage of the negativity bias, the concept that people tend to be more concerned with negative stimuli (problems) than positive.
It also primes your lead generation team to leverage the reciprocity principle, the notion that people are more likely to agree to your request if you’ve given or done something for them recently.
SEO should lead with intent
Organic search is a highly competitive domain for many SaaS verticals (email marketing, for example). Blog posts that simply rehash existing content already ranking for your chosen keyword aren’t going to cut it.
Worse, content that targets keywords pulled out of your SEO tool, without analyzing current SERP results, is a recipe for disaster. Consider the difference in search intent between these two seemingly similar search terms:
Google delivers content about building applications for the keyword above. But the keyword below shifts the focus entirely to AR rifles. An SEO play targeting augmented reality seekers would be amiss to disregard the intent behind these similar terms.
To make an impact, search-focused content needs to be deeply valuable to the reader and designed to serve their specific search intent.
Their article “Developing an effective work plan” is intended to target the search term “work plan,” a reasonably competitive phrase with a strong monthly search volume.
Their article currently ranks on page one for this search term for several reasons:
- Clear definitions. Terms that are important to understand when creating a work plan, such as “goal,” “strategy,” and “objectives,” are defined concisely. Each definition also discusses why the concept is important and includes a helpful example.
- Free template. The article provides a free resource that helps readers get started immediately.
- Guide on work plan creation. The article describes a clear approach to creating a work plan and helpful tips for designing strategic goals.
monday.com’s article satisfies search intent. Readers searching for “work plan” (including “what is a work plan” and “what is included in a work plan,” two other keywords for which this article holds a page one position) need to understand:
- What a work plan is and why it’s important;
- What components a work plan includes (and what they mean);
- How to go about creating one.
This piece of demand generation content also feeds neatly into the lead gen realm. The free work plan template is built on monday.com, so interested readers will need to create a free account on the platform.
Use thought leadership to spark conversation
Thought leadership is not a synonym for thinking out loud. Thought leadership content should be strategic (i.e. related to the company’s value proposition), and above all, useful to your audience.
Take Ross Simmonds, Founder and CEO of Foundation Marketing.
Simmonds is a powerhouse on Twitter and has developed a large following for his insightful and actionable thought leadership posts on content marketing.
Take this post on content creation lessons, for example.
Simmonds then breaks down each of the 11 lessons in separate comments underneath his post.
Each serves as a new conversation (where he can chat with his audience), and provides specific advice that readers can action immediately.
Social media posts such as this are deeply valuable to readers but also strategically aligned with the company’s service offering (content marketing).
Free tools provide a glimpse into your product’s capabilities
A powerful method for building interest in your product is to create a free, publicly accessible version of one of its most useful features.
Ahrefs’ free tool, Backlink Checker, gives users an insight into the capabilities of their extensive suite of SEO tools while providing a genuinely useful resource for identifying the top 100 sites that link to the user’s domain.
This demand generation example does a great job of solving a specific customer problem and also paves the way for effective lead generation.
After entering a domain and viewing the list of top 100 backlinks, a simple CTA banner directs users to Ahref’s pricing page for those who need access to the full list.
Cater to bottom-of-funnel prospects with product walkthrough videos
Tactics such as blog posts and social media content are great for creating top-of-funnel interest, but demand generation efforts should target all stages of the funnel.
Prospects toward the bottom end of the marketing funnel are less interested in understanding the consequences of the problem they face but more in learning how your product solves that problem.
Product walkthrough videos can be an effective way of communicating this.
Take monday.com once more. monday.com produced a series of YouTube videos that outline specific features of their work management system and show them in a real-life scenario.
This video on project management workflows addresses common customer pain points immediately: “Today, I’ll show you how to set priorities, align on goals, manage resources, and more.”
It then concisely demonstrates how monday.com can solve those challenges and hints at advanced features like cross-board automation.
Product demonstration videos are an effective way of communicating your product’s specific value without locking prospects into a demo meeting and a chain of sales follow-ups.
Seek out synergistic media appearances
While traditional media efforts (press releases, magazine write-ups, etc.) may still prove valuable for certain audiences, they continue to lose relevance as millennials and Gen Z make up an increasing size of the buying population.
Instead, concentrate on new media formats (podcasts, streaming platforms, and online publications like TechCrunch) with existing audiences relevant to your vertical.
Remember Omnisend’s podcast?
It serves as a powerful demand generation tactic for Omnisend itself but also represents an opportunity for leaders of relevant companies to contribute, tapping into Omnisend’s existing audience to build interest in their own product.
When using targeted media appearances as part of your demand gen strategy, hunt down highly synergistic opportunities such as this.
Walker’s experience (and his company’s offering) is directly relevant to Omnisend’s audience and vice versa.
This allows both organizations to benefit from reaching the existing audience of the other while ensuring the content of the conversation is highly suitable for and valuable to the listener.
Make guest posts about more than link-building
Guest posts are an easy place to go wrong, especially when treated exclusively as an exercise in building backlinks.
Your approach should be similar to publishing content on your own blog: serve the search intent, demonstrate expertise and authority, deliver exceptional value.
Guest post content should also be extremely targeted. While blog content can extend to cover topics that are adjacent to your product (e.g., CRM platforms regularly discuss sales tactics), guest post topics should be squarely in your domain.
This is a strong example of a demand gen-focused guest post because:
- The publisher, CIENCE, is industry-relevant (sits within the sales and marketing umbrella);
- The topic (how interactive content can boost your lead generation) is directly in Outgrow’s wheelhouse;
- It’s also highly relevant to CIENCE’s audience, being a lead generation company;
- The article provides strategic examples that readers can implement immediately.
Offer unrivaled value to generate high-intent leads
Lead generation operates two levers that contribute to growth:
- Number of new leads generated (measured as a monthly quantity);
- Quality of new leads generated (typically measured with a conversion metric).
To influence the first, lead generation efforts have to present a compelling offer. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and ask, “Would this be worth handing over my email address?”
To influence the second, lead gen content should be targeted toward bottom-of-funnel prospects. Step into those shoes again and ask, “How close am I to purchasing?”
Differentiate free and gated content
Gated content (ebook, guides, reports, and whitepapers) is the most common catalyst for lead generation. It’s easy to position within your demand generation content structure (offered as a content upgrade) and is easily scalable.
However, the line between free content offerings, like blog posts, and gated content forms, such as ebooks, is becoming increasingly blurry. Demand generation marketers continually step up their efforts to deliver more value in free resources.
To compete with the quality of free content available, trade “state of the industry” reports for content that guides readers through actionable, proven strategies for solving a crucial challenge.
Traction Complete is a lead routing solution for enterprise Salesforce users.
Their ebook “The 7 step strategy to supercharge your speed to lead” is an example of high-value gated content that delivers immediately actionable strategies for solving a relevant pain point.
The offer is compelling because it:
- Speaks directly to the intended results (dramatically increase rep response times);
- Leverages social proof by calling out well-known companies such as DocuSign, Zendesk, and Zoom;
- Tells you exactly what you’re getting (a seven-step strategy).
The content is also strategically designed to educate readers on the promised strategies while weaving in testimonials and case studies from their own clients, demonstrating Traction Complete’s expertise.
Target webinars toward bottom-of-funnel prospects
Webinars are a useful tactic for separating high and low-intent leads. Where downloadable content can only tell you when the content is downloaded, webinar platforms like Demio provide useful engagement metrics such as:
- Number of webinar attendees (as a quantity and as a percentage of signups);
- Percentage of webinar watched (with drop off points for each attendee);
- Engagement with polls, handouts, and Q&As.
Use this data to score leads in your marketing automation platform, and qualify high-intent leads (e.g., those who watched until the end) to distribute to sales reps.
Consider taking a product-focused approach, targeting potential buyers toward the bottom end of the sales funnel who are evaluating a purchase.
Intercom’s webinar series focuses specifically on helping prospects understand whether a product line suits their needs.
This webinar caters directly to bottom-of-funnel prospects, and because it’s hosted by two of Intercom’s sales engineers, it provides a context for their reps to follow up with leads post-webinar and open up the sales conversation.
Use direct marketing to continue the conversation
Avoid taking a “spray and pray” approach. Cater direct marketing to prospects who’ve already demonstrated interest and engaged with your demand generation content.
For example, use thought leadership content on social media to engage a conversation with your audience.
Those who engage with this content and meet your initial qualification criteria (e.g., they fit your buyer personas and demonstrate a need for your solution) become suitable candidates for direct marketing outreach.
This LinkedIn message from Dripify following a webinar I watched is a perfect example:
Make conversational marketing feel human
Chatbots are powerful tools, but many companies don’t invest enough effort into ensuring conversational sequences are helpful and relevant, so they don’t convert visitors into leads.
Drift gets it right.
First, their chatbot sequence makes it easy to connect with a real-life human. This is beneficial from a lead generation perspective but also solves a common frustration with chatbots.
Next, visitors are guided toward booking a demonstration with a sales rep but are also given a second option to continue the conversation.
This prevents the chat sequence from coming across as too aggressive and serves as a form of intent-screening.
Visitors who decline to book a meeting are likely to be lower intent, so they’re directed toward a helpful resource.
Follow Drift’s principles when developing chatbot conversation flows:
- Make it easy for visitors to connect with a human;
- Provide multiple options to continue;
- Try to pinpoint where visitors are in the buyer’s journey early;
- Include a lead generation opportunity at each step that matches visitor intent.
Reduce friction in free trial signups
Free trials are a powerful and reliable method for generating high-quality leads using an inbound marketing approach.
Where lead generation tactics like gated content run the risk of attracting prospects that are still at the top of the funnel, trial users indicate intent to purchase in that they’re actively evaluating potential solutions.
Reduce friction by minimizing the amount of work required to sign up.
Look at Pipedrive again. Their free trial offer requires just a work email to access, though visitors can sign up more quickly by connecting a Google or LinkedIn account.
Other relevant information is captured post-activation, serving the dual purpose of creating a customized onboarding experience (automated) and providing pertinent information to support sales’ approach to converting the lead into a paying customer.
Make it easy for prospective customers to register their interest in your product by removing the barriers in your free trial signups. Decide what’s necessary for signup and collect any extra information later.
Demand and lead generation marketers tend to stand in separate worlds. Demand generation focuses on creating interest in your product; lead generation capitalizes on that interest to produce high-intent sales leads.
Both strategies are the most impactful when they work together.
To ensure the efforts of each prove fruitful, draw a clear distinction (make responsibilities explicit) but encourage collaboration so demand generation efforts feed smoothly into lead gen tactics.
Learn from industry experts in CXL’s Growth Marketing Minidegree and get your lead generation and demand generation teams working in harmony.