The demanding generation

Lead-generation campaigns are being replaced by demand-generation strategies to meet the needs of online consumers

Shoppers are no longer swayed by email campaigns or mainstream advertising. Instead, they expect personalised experiences which feel authentic. 

This shift in consumer expectations has led to brands changing their marketing approach. 

“Everything we do is about awareness – making sure our brand is top of mind to people in market, or they click on our links in searches,” explains Victoria Clarke, director of marketing services with Specsavers. 

Beyond mass-market campaigns

For decades, marketing strategies have focused on lead generation. These outbound marketing activities target large numbers of potential customers intending to convert them into qualified leads, then sales. 

But the Covid-19 pandemic and changes to online privacy regulations have driven a shift towards demand generation. This marketing strategy builds customer awareness and brand reputation. Unlike lead generation, it targets a smaller group of potential customers long before they might be looking to purchase. 

Both B2B and B2C are moving from lead gen to demand gen, according to Julie Lock, UK and Ireland marketing director at HubSpot. “Today’s buyers are savvier and won’t necessarily respond to mass-market campaigns. That means we’ve seen a swing towards campaigns which engage people and create positive feelings around brands,” she says. 

In the online era, demand generation makes people aware of your product and brand and how it could be relevant for them

Demonstrate core values and expertise

For Specsavers, this means marketing activity over different channels and using relevant content, says Clarke. “Our channel mix has changed considerably. We used to be broadcast-led but now we do a lot more social, PR and industry engagement that helps us to be seen as experts in our sector. We’re also showing how we live our core values,” she says. 

One of the Specsavers core values is patient advocacy, which can mean working with charities to provide optometry services to homeless people. It can also mean running a free ‘ask an optician’ service on the company’s Facebook page, says Clarke. “We started both services during the pandemic and have continued them because we’re passionate about improving access to services. This helps us to do that and to live those values, not just talk about them.” 

Adventure travel company WeRoad has moved to demand generation by focusing on social media content that inspires its customer base of 20-something adventure-seekers. “I think many marketers became obsessed with the number of leads and blasted people with emails until the potential customer purchased or asked to be removed from the list,” says Fabio Bin, WeRoad’s CMO. “Over the years, lead gen became an easy way to be in touch with potential customers. But in the online era, demand generation makes people aware of your product and brand and it shows how it could at some point be relevant for them.”

The point about demand generation is that it understands that today’s consumers are well-informed. They will have done their research and have a shortlist of suppliers before they make a purchase decision. Demand marketing helps companies to get on those shortlists by making potential customers aware of a brand’s values and relevance when they are ready to make a purchase. 

“If demand generation is putting up signs and giving samples to drive buzz that gets people to come to your market stand, lead generation is asking everyone at the market for information so you can sell them cake,” explains Lock. 

Use communities to engage consumers

WeRoad has thrown its marketing efforts behind Instagram, gaining 1.9 million followers since 2017. The company’s Instagram page is filled with inspiring travel photography that doesn’t usually include a sales pitch, says Bin. “We aren’t selling trips on our Instagram page. We’re providing content that people value, which they find interesting, speaking to them in their language about things they care about,” he says. “Once you attract people, when they are considering a trip, you are there.” 

WeRoad’s social media followers are treated as a community, and the company sets up groups and chats that help followers to connect and advise one another. “People ask for tips on what to see or do in particular places, or who is going to be at an event,” he says. “Our view is that travel is, for our customers, a way to meet new people, and our marketing is an extension of that.”  

This type of marketing might work well, but it isn’t easy to measure. WeRoad uses engagement metrics to evaluate its demand generation results, while many companies use a combination of these metrics with traditional conversion rates, says Lock. “You might run a social media campaign that gives everyone a fuzzy feeling about your brand, but you’ll use lead generation to nurture those interested customers through the process. It’s not lead gen or demand gen, it’s using both together.” 

Changing the narrative: storytelling for quality leads

A focus on quality over quantity has made way for a new, holistic approach to demand gen, where storytelling is the key to building meaningful relationships

Finding prospects for sales to sell to used to be so easy. All marketers had to do was find a way to capture a prospect’s email address and simply pass it over. 

But while that might have made the marketer’s job easy, it was a terrible experience for the people they were trying to sell to. Andrew Wray, chief revenue officer at software firm Toggl, recalls a time when reading, for example, an educational ebook online led to a barrage of unwanted sales calls and emails. “It was a disheartening and brand-damaging experience for all involved,” he says.

Not only is this approach damaging, it’s incredibly ineffective. According to the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute: 95% of B2B buyers are not in the market to make a purchase at any one time and can’t be persuaded to do so until they are ready. 

So how do you go about making them ready? The key, says Wray, is to focus on brand building. “The goal is to offer these ‘out-of-market’ buyers value-adding experiences so that when they are ready to make a purchase, your brand is both front of mind and front of the queue.”

Tell stories to keep people listening 

Brand storytelling is central to this strategy; use engaging content to build compelling user journeys. Adam Camm is customer experience program director at Software AG. He stresses the importance of brand storytelling. “Marketing’s role is to nurture the customer journey from prospect to advocate through the appropriate channels that have content which is relevant to each stage of that journey.”

This approach addresses the ‘customer lifecycle’. In his book Fanatical Prospecting, sales performance leader Jeb Blount says that converting a cold prospect can involve up to 50 touchpoints, while a ‘warm’ inbound lead might need 12 touches and even motivating an inactive customer can take three.

“You stay relevant by telling a compelling story throughout the funnel and balancing demand with the brand,” says Lisa Vecchio, marketing vice-president at Aircall.

To be successful, B2B brands need to have something to say that’s different, provocative, and uplifting.

Have you got something to say?

Andy Davis is director of growth at web analytics firm Hotjar and says that relying on generic email nurture flows is a common mistake that B2B brands make in demand gen. “You should avoid extended automated email sequences and focus on sharing valuable content when you have it ready. That could be a new report or an event series.”

As well as making sure your storytelling is high quality, it’s important that those stories are relevant to your customer. Saying the same thing to everyone will have less impact than tailoring the message to the recipient. This is where segmentation is useful and understanding who you’re talking to and where they are on the customer journey. 

“The ‘spray and pray’ approach isn’t meaningful and can even end up backfiring,” says Aircall’s Vecchio.

Going beyond email

Email is just one part of a B2B demand generation campaign. Encountering a brand in different settings builds familiarity and trust, and is one of the reasons why storytelling spans multiple channels.

“Since the B2B buying journey isn’t linear, it needs touchpoints across the channels – the array of web, SEO, email, organic and paid ads, and content partnerships helps to precisely measure and steer,” says Konstanze Just, who focuses on growth and lifestyle marketing at LinkedIn. “And this makes the budget go further.”

One final important shift in mindset for marketers who want to build successful demand gen engines is to expand who they want on the journey; nurturing a solitary account contact is not enough. 

Software AG’s Camm neatly sums it up: “Enterprise sales aren’t decided by one person. Intent is indicated when multiple account contacts engage with you.”

Why companies need new ingredients in the marketing mix

As privacy concerns push third-party cookies out of favour, how should marketing teams replace that data?

For years, marketing professionals have made cookies a key ingredient in their strategies. The ability to track website visitors, collect their data and then target ads as they browse the internet has proved invaluable in attracting potential customers and getting sales over the line. 

But there are concerns. For customers, ads that follow them round the web are annoying at best, creepy at worst. Plus, privacy experts have long raised concerns about how much information they gather and how that is used. The recent example of a UK police force inadvertently using a third-party tracking pixel that allowed Facebook to deliver targeted ads to victims of crime perfectly highlights the problems.

No more third-party cookies by 2024

But cookies do have potential downsides. Most notably, they can track consumer actions in ways that invade privacy in unexpected ways. One UK police force was recently criticised for inadvertently using a third-party tracking pixel that allowed Facebook to deliver targeted ads to victims of crime

But times are changing. Google has said it will phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2024, and privacy regulations such as GDPR now require companies to ask users for permission before using cookies. At the same time, there is growing concern about data privacy – in one recent study, 86% of adults said data privacy is a growing concern for them. 

For many companies, these changes mean looking fresh at how they track customers online. “The evolving changes around cookie collection and data tracking are more significant because those are more prevalent,” says Phillipa Hamilton marketing lead at Specsavers. “We have relied on those data signals to serve content that people are interested in. That said, the changes around GDPR were less significant because we don’t do a lot of email marketing lead gen, and we made those changes a while ago.” 

This is a typical experience for most UK companies, says Annabel Kaye, director of consulting firm KoffeeKlatch. “If you have been transparent, and have consent, then you can keep doing what you’re doing. People focus on legislation, but the regulations only stop you from doing things secretly.”  

With 83% of marketers regularly using third-party cookies, it’s clear that marketers need to consider how they will respond if and when these cookies are no longer available. For many marketing teams, the alternative to third-party cookie data will be a combination of first-party cookies (those placed and tracked by your own website, on your own website) and third-party intent data. 

If you want to be a trusted brand, the solution is to be transparent, to work with partners who are transparent, and ensure that users understand what data is collected

Detailed insights from intent data

Intent data can be created internally, using your own website data. But it is more often bought in from an expert third party such as publishers who work with intent data specialists to create targeted content on behalf of brands, or the intent data specialists themselves. 

Unlike website analytics, intent data is a broad set of data about user interactions with your website, social media campaigns and email marketing. This data can be collected, analysed and structured to provide useful insights into what customers want – what challenges are they facing, what language do they use, and what products and pages are most interesting to them? 

What’s the difference between website data and intent data? Kaye thinks it is about scale and depth. Rather than just knowing your customer added a sweater to their shopping cart, intent data means that you’ll know they also watched a YouTube video about a trend or downloaded an eBook guide about a project they’re planning. 

Specialist intent data agencies like G2 or Bombora use natural language and deep learning models to analyse online consumer behaviour and engagement data to build sophisticated models that will predict buying habits. 

The industry has always had intent data, argues Kaye. “If you were networking in the 1980s and someone said they were thinking of changing their car, you’d ask questions. What model are they considering? What budget? When will they buy a new car?”  

What has changed with the rise of digital marketing and big data is that modern intent data can be gathered in vast quantities and analysed to reveal more detailed and accurate trends than ever before. This allows marketing campaigns to be both more efficient, and more targeted. “AI-driven algorithms might calculate that because you looked at information about golf balls, you’re more likely to buy a new boat,” says Kaye.  

For marketing teams, it is critical to ensure that any supplier of third-party intent data is compliant with GDPR and transparent in its data collection. “As a marketer, I want to work out where and when you might spend money with me. But as a consumer, I think my information is private and you should go away,” says Kaye. “If you want to be a trusted brand, the solution is to be transparent, to work with partners who are transparent, and ensure that users understand what data is collected and how to turn it on or off.” 

Stronger together: why it pays to have a partner to drive demand generation

With marketing budgets squeezed, it’s tempting to take a DIY approach to demand gen but there are drawbacks to going it alone

If your marketing team is trying to find ways to cut back, you’re not alone. A survey of US and European CMOs by Gartner found that 71% lack the budget to fully execute their strategy in 2023. 

As a result, many brands are ditching partnerships with external agencies and publishers and instead attempting to tackle demand generation themselves. While this might seem wise, it could also be a false economy. Jessica-Jane Winquist, marketing and communications manager at AML Hub, says it’s all too easy for things to go wrong when companies go DIY. 

“We've all heard that you can't do everything and do it well. But that doesn't stop businesses from trying to keep everything in-house to save money, despite often lacking the expertise. This leads to a split in focus which is detrimental to effective marketing efforts and leads to an overall reduction in results.” 

Because many marketing teams are under-resourced, Winquist thinks it’s common sense to team up with a publishing partner to drive demand gen efforts. The expertise and audience of a strong partner can greatly boost performance – at a time when you need it most. 


A dedicated publishing partner comes with the capability to reach an audience that you might not be able to alone.

Mark Choueke, author of B2B marketing bestseller Boring2Brave, agrees that working with a relevant media partner is a shortcut to getting in front of your target prospect. “Unless you’re among the 1% of B2B giants like Google, Slack or AWS, your target audience is near impossible to reach without an expertly crafted and paid-for media and distribution strategy.” 

The halo effect

People buy from brands they trust and another major benefit of working with a respected publishing partner is that it confers trust. Brand association can be especially valuable for younger brands, says Anna Tankel, senior growth manager at Collective Benefits.

“As a B2B brand, connecting with your audience requires strong partnerships, especially if you’re a new-ish brand or going into new markets. Building brand awareness from scratch is time-consuming and most brands are up against the clock. A trustworthy content partner with an established audience in your niche [area] can boost your brand's reputation immediately, helping you connect with new audiences and generate leads.” 

But how do brands select the right publishing partners to work with, and guarantee a decent return on investment? Relevance to your target market, a solid reputation, and an audience who will find value in your content are essential considerations. And it isn’t always about a large size; a small circulation newsletter which is read by your target buyer is likely to produce better results than an email going out to a huge database of disengaged people. 

“It all starts with your ideal customer profile,” says Chrissy Krampert, CMO at Jellyvision. “Picking the right publishing partner must begin with a deep understanding of your customer. Where do they go, what do they read and when do they consume it? The perfect insight on the most high-performing page on a well-trafficked website won’t convert unless it is the right page, on the right website for your potential customer.” 

Work on a powerful, meaningful campaign that speaks to the day-to-day concerns of your audience. And work with the media owner to construct

Building a genuine partnership

Once you have a clear understanding of who you’re targeting and which publishing partners can help you reach that audience, there’s still some work to be done. Success depends on both parties' commitment to going further than the base level of mediocre partnership products that are all too frequently seen.

Brands should consider what the publishing partner can bring to the table in terms of journalistic credibility, access to exclusive first-party data, and professional design capabilities. If they can help you hit upon a genuinely interesting news angle, provide expert commentary and statistics to back it up, and wrap it all in an attractive package, they’re providing value for money.  

As Choueke explains: “A brand paying £4k for the publisher to send a random 'email shot' to its database is the equivalent of flushing the money down the lavatory. Instead, spend your money dreaming up a blisteringly powerful, meaningful campaign that speaks to the day-to-day concerns of a publication's audience and work with the media owner to construct a genuine partnership. It'll cost you more but you stand the chance to be seen as a credible, authoritative and respected influencer with something key to say about your industry's agenda.”