I see a common challenge in B2B marketing – teams seeking more budget and resources for demand-generation programs.
“Now, wait a minute,” you might say. “It seems like demand gen for leads is the only thing we do.”
To be clear, I mean true demand generation, not mid-funnel, inbound lead gen, nurturing, or sales enablement. Those are “demand identification” tactics where marketing teams promote content to buyers already researching solutions. You try attracting prospects who realize change is needed but have not determined the best options.
Demand generation is different. It happens when prospects don’t yet realize they have a need or want. You try to manufacture demand where little or none exists. When you talk about the “customer’s journey,” you must ask how you involve people in your desire for them to take the journey in the first place.
I frequently run into B2B organizations where teams can get plenty of resources or budget from senior leadership for nurturing leads, getting them to salespeople, and developing content that speaks to solving X, Y, or Z challenges. But they also get frustrated in their ability to develop the content and programs to generate awareness and demand for understanding what solving X, Y, or Z even means.
As one marketer at a B2B technology firm tells me, “We can’t get the resources/budget to create programs to teach businesses why the challenge that our solution solves even exists. They only want to spend money on people who are already Googling for products to solve it.”
A phone, a game, a car, and an album walk into the marketplace
Pop quiz: What do these products have in common? iPhone, Rubik’s Cube, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Toyota Corolla?
You are correct if you guessed they were among the top-selling products of all time. That success came because of another commonality – they had marketing programs that generated demand.
Let me explain the secret. As much as people like to believe the most brilliant new products come from deep, contemplative thought and research through ascertaining what potential customers need and want, the simple truth is that most don’t. They are either new-and-improved versions of something in the marketplace – something for which demand already exists. Or they are new and innovative but have zero relationship with what customers have identified as missing in their lives.
For example, Toyota built the Corolla as an incremental improvement on its Publica model, which received a lukewarm reception from Japanese buyers. On the other hand, Rubik’s Cube was something new and novel invented by Hungarian design teacher Ernő Rubik. A premier Apple software engineer Jean-Marie Hullot had an exploratory idea for an iPhone, which did not initially have Steve Jobs’ support.
In other words, no person needed or asked for a Rubik’s Cube, an iPhone, or a Toyota Corolla. No one was asked what they wanted in their next mobile phone or what kind of three-dimensional puzzle would be most compelling. No one was asked what Michael Jackson’s next album should be about.
The secret to success for these four bestselling products – and so many others – occurs first when someone sees something that’s not there or envisions a customer experience that will be better or more compelling. Then, the marketers for that “new” product spend a significant amount of their resources creating experiences to propel customer interest in exploring the journey they might take.
Generate demand like a Thriller
Now, most of you market things or create content for products already in the marketplace. You most definitely must have true demand generation in your marketing mix. Independent of how or where your product or service got to where it is, you must keep creating demand for it. You must involve your audiences in experiences that generate demand.
If you continue to hold up your product, service, or content and say, “Here is the answer for your known need,” people either won’t recognize it, or you’ll run out of people who do. In both scenarios, you end up in the worst marketing place – people don’t care about your brand or product. You must consistently work to attract prospective customers who don’t know your brand, products, or services – and inspire them to want to know.
For years, this earliest part of the customer’s journey stood at the heart of great content marketing. Pause for a moment and think about the bestsellers I mentioned. Perhaps the Michael Jackson album seemed different. It is the highest-selling album of all time (70 million copies to date).
Surely, Jackson didn’t start his creative process thinking about “who are all the people who don’t know they need my new album” before he started writing songs for Thriller.
No, of course not. But I guarantee CBS Records (Jackson’s record company at the time) did. They put big resources into the then innovative marketing idea of the highly produced music, making the most expensive and longest video of its time. It’s how the marketing team generated huge new demand in the marketplace that would be filled with the music of Thriller.
The CBS Records marketing team didn’t start with a finished new album, bank on Jackson’s current audience base, and sell it like every other album with a “differentiator” tagline like, “It’s the newest from Michael Jackson.” No. They started with the marketing experience to reach new customers – ones who weren’t aware they wanted a new Michael Jackson record – and worked backward to see what kind of content could be created to generate that kind of demand for the product.
Demand generation lies at marketing’s core
Some say true demand generation programs are underfunded because senior leadership worries about “leaving money on the table” if they don’t completely fund existing lead generation and sales enablement programs. They don’t want to risk siphoning money to do awareness building when marketing doesn’t produce enough leads to fuel sales enablement.
In the short term, they may have a point. But in the long term, that thinking poses a big risk. Senior leadership needs to know fueling sales enablement with enough leads isn’t just a matter of converting known prospects into interested prospects. It also involves converting unknown prospects to known prospects.
Marketers also fall into this short-term thinking challenge. Think about it. Your team goes to produce an awesome new content marketing project to serve the business. You do it in alignment with the company’s current mission and objectives. You get so wrapped up in your brand or product and what you’re selling that you limit the ideas to the thing you’re trying to sell.
Is it any wonder that most companies’ blogs, social media channels, and online resource centers are just glorified brochures, talking about the product and how it solves everything you might need? It’s like being on a date with someone who stops talking incessantly for a moment and says, “Enough about me. What do you think about me?”
Generating demand serves as a core and vitally important part of your ongoing marketing strategy. But you must understand it goes beyond the short-term efforts of simply nurturing existing leads or targeting “buyers” who understand they have a need that your solution will solve.
That’s where content marketing (through education and thought leadership) and brand marketing come into play. Remember: If you tell someone something, they’ll probably forget it. If you teach someone something, they may remember it. But if you inspire someone, they will learn with you.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute