Demand Generation vs. Lead Generation (and When to Use Each) | Linkflow
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Demand Generation vs. Lead Generation (and When to Use Each)

October 24, 2023

Lead generation and demand generation are Marketing 101. If you’re in the industry, 100% chance you’ve used them. There’s also a 99% chance you’ve used them interchangeably.

There’s some overlap between the two. Lead generation tactics create demand and vice versa. It’s more about how you apply them.

Confusing, I know…

In this article, I’ll break down the differences between demand generation and lead generation. And I’ll give you my best tips for when and how to use each.

Here’s the TL;DR…

If you only want to learn the difference between demand generation vs. lead generation and not how to actually apply them, I’ll spare you the time.

  • Demand generation creates awareness.
  • Lead generation brings in actual leads.

What is demand generation?

Demand generation is about creating awareness, interest, and demand for your product or service. It’s a top-of-funnel strategy aimed at building brand recognition and educating as many people as possible about your product.

Think of it as casting a wide net to attract potential customers. You want to reach as many people as possible who may be interested in what you have to offer.

What is lead generation?

Lead generation encompasses all the marketing tactics you’ll use to bring qualified leads into your sales funnel. It’s a bottom-of-funnel strategy aimed at converting interested prospects into paying customers.

When you want to generate leads, you won’t cast a wide net because that would mean your sales team would have to sift through tons of bad leads. Instead, you’ll use targeted tactics to attract only the people who are most likely to become customers.

What Marketing Tactics Fall Under Demand Gen?

Since it’s all about brand awareness, your demand generation efforts will revolve around how your audience thinks and feels about your company and its product. It plays a huge role in perceived value, authority, and credibility.

SEO + Content Marketing

In the B2B world, SEO/content marketing double-whammy is the best way to generate demand. Basically, this is how it works:

  • Your audience wants information, so they search Google.
  • Your SEO-optimized content pops up based on keywords.
  • They read it (like you are right now), learn something, and remember your brand as the source of insights.

72% of B2B buyers start their research on a search engine. If you’re at the top, you’ll capture more demand than your competitors.

In some cases (like below), your top-of-funnel content will take up more than 1/3 of the screen. So, it’s a big deal.

Aside from visibility, technical optimization is a huge component of SEO. It directly correlates with your audience’s opinion of your website. If your site is slow, ugly, and hard to navigate, you’re going to lose people before they have a chance to even consider your product. And it won’t rank well.

As far as your content goes, you might add a CTA for your product, but your main goal is to help your reader. Your blog posts, infographics, data, etc., are there to add value. Not sell.

Top of Funnel Paid

Top-of-funnel paid is all the ads you see that don’t explicitly say “buy my product.” It works best for high-level business leaders — the ones who will sign the dotted line.

You might advertise a free podcast, webinar, eBook download, report, or whitepaper on LinkedIn or Twitter (X).

The goal is to get your audience to land on a gated landing page where you can collect their contact information in exchange for the content.

The idea here is your audience gets valuable information related to your industry, which they’ll eventually associate with your product. Or, they’ll start to see your brand as a leader in the space.

PR

When it comes to brand awareness and credibility, PR can be super effective. The idea is that if a reputable source mentions or links to your company, people will trust you more.

It includes:

  • Founder and employee interviews
  • Guest posts on industry publications
  • Bylines
  • Syndication
  • Press releases
  • Awards and accolades
  • Promotions for a webinar, eBook, or study

Brands seeking early-stage funding or growing their headcount often use PR because a solid media mention can make their company/product look that much more promising.

Considering consumers’ general desire to learn about their industry, weighing in on certain issues (like above) can also build brand awareness and interest.

Social Media

Social media can be used for both demand and lead generation. For demand gen, it’s mostly about being present.

Your audience gets to see you on a regular basis — they learn your brand name, become familiar with your logo/colors/messaging, ask questions, etc.

The most important thing you can do as a brand is reply to people who tag your brand. It’s the best way to humanize your company and make people feel like they’re a part of your mission.

Email Marketing

Email for demand generation marketing is pretty much the definition of “casting a wide net.” You’re reaching out to as many people as possible with the goal of driving them back to your site or a specific offer.

  • Buy email lists and use sales intelligence platforms like Apollo and Hunter.
  • Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator or Adapt to scrape emails.
  • Cold email prospects.
  • Start a conversation.
  • Create a funnel for them to either book a call or download a gated asset.

At this point, you don’t really know if these people are leads. But you do know they fit your target audience.

Email blasts are not going to get the same open rates as a smaller, targeted email list (that’s for lead gen). But if it’s interesting enough, people will click through.

What Marketing Tactics Fall Under Lead Gen?

Lead gen is about capturing interest. For your content to serve this purpose, it needs to guide your reader through a clear path. As a marketer, your main focus is to get people to put up their hands and say “I’m interested.” Once they do that, you’ll nurture them through the sales funnel.

SEO + Landing Pages

You probably shouldn’t optimize your landing pages for specific keywords. You want them to convert, so you can’t just put a bunch of text and keywords in there. You need to be creative and concise.

But SEO plays a critical role here because you’ll still need to rank for purchase intent keywords. If you’ve been running demand gen the right way…

  • your branded keywords (e.g., “DocuSign pricing”) should get enough search volume
  • the authority you’ve built from your content should pass onto your landing pages
  • some of the people reading your content will click on your pricing and service pages

You can also run ads to these pages (we’ll get into that next).

Bottom of Funnel Paid

Bottom-of-funnel paid is kind of a warzone sometimes. Just look at what comes up when we Google “monday.com project management.”

Monday.com (the actual product) doesn’t even show up before the first scroll!

And they’re spending ~$12 every time someone clicks on that link. They’re probably spending $30,000+ per month just to stay there for that one keyword.

If someone were to click on one of their advertisers (they probably will), they’re taken to a really simple (well-designed) conversion funnel. They can sign up right away for free or keep scrolling.

On the scroll, it basically tells the visitor why ClickUp is better than Monday.com.

So, the goal here is twofold:

  • Capture leads and get them to book a demo via social media or search engines.
  • Steal your competitors’ leads.

Event Marketing & Webinars

At events, you can get tons of leads at once. And webinars convert at an average rate of 55%. Generally, the pool of attendees is a lot smaller and more qualified.

You can use them as a lead gen tool by:

  • Partnering with thought leaders or influencers in your space to co-host
  • Having a specific call-to-action at the end (e.g., “Sign up for our product”)
  • Using webinar replays as gated assets afterward

Webinars can also generate “demand” by providing valuable information and showcasing your expertise or product. But, the main idea behind using them is to capture contact information and engage very few highly qualified buyers.

Email Marketing

For lead generation marketing campaigns, you want to target smaller lists.

  • Use a service like HubSpot or Marketo that lets you track everything at the user level and create smart lists.
  • Segment your email list so it doesn’t have people from your competition’s customer base.
  • Personalize your emails as much as possible.
  • Use a “less is more” strategy like account-based selling.

Lead gen email marketing includes email nurtures, drip campaigns, and personalized one-to-one emails. That’s how you want to approach the prospects who have already shown interest or given you their information.

When to Use Demand Gen vs. Lead Gen

Really, demand gen and lead gen are two sides of the same coin. You’ll need a healthy mix of both to be successful.

The main difference between demand generation campaigns and lead generation campaigns is targeting.

  • When you’re creating demand, you want to use more generalist content and tactics because that’s how you reach a larger audience. You should see tons of views and engagement.
  • If you want more leads in your pipeline, you need to zero in on your product’s use cases, customer pain points, and case studies. And you need to focus everything on specific buyer personas. You might not get much engagement on lead generation content, but a much larger percentage of people who do see it will actually book a call.

For B2B marketers, this is a critical distinction. When a company comes to us saying their content brings in bad leads or doesn’t get any engagement, 10/10 times it’s because their goal (i.e., creating interest or generating leads) is misaligned with what they’ve actually designed their content to do.

How to use them together in B2B marketing:

These days, “lead generation” strategies get a bad rap compared to demand generation because people associate “lead” with cold, unqualified prospects.

To use both demand generation and lead generation together, all you have to do is create a full-funnel marketing strategy that addresses buyers who are already in the funnel and those who are outside. It’s really that simple.

If I were starting from zero today, this is what I’d do:

1. Align content strategy with company goals.

For your lead generation efforts, this is pretty easy. Revenue.

  • Someone reads your content.
  • Over the next few days, weeks, or months, they read more of your content (and share it with their team).
  • They book a call or demo.
  • They move through the qualification process.
  • They sign.
  • Your company gets paid.
  • If a piece of content brings in tons of leads who convert, it’s solid. If it doesn’t, it flopped.

If you have GA4 and marketing software like ActiveCampaign or HubSpot (and integrate it with CRM), multi-touch attribution is practically automatic. So, you’ll know how all your content is doing from a revenue standpoint simply by looking at a dashboard.

For demand gen, you’ll have to consider metrics other than revenue. What if a sales rep repeatedly sees an ad for your product and pushes it on their boss until they switch to your software, resulting in a $50k contract? What if your glossary terms help your entire site rank well, which improves your lead gen content’s search visibility?

Multi-touch attribution will still play a huge role here because demand generation content significantly contributes to marketing-sourced pipeline. But, to gauge its success, you’ll want to look more closely at engagement metrics like views, shares, and brand sentiment.

2. Start with bottom-of-funnel content.

From a strategic standpoint, starting with bottom-of-funnel content is always a better idea because it’s closer to the money.

  • Product-led articles
  • Case studies and testimonials
  • Visual demos
  • Product documentation
  • How-tos

There are already people in your funnel. Before casting a wide net, you might as well go for what’s right in front of you. Not only will this moralize your content team by bringing in some quick wins, but it’ll also give you time to get more top-of-funnel pieces out the door.

3. Use bottom-of-funnel targeting for top-of-funnel content.

This is where things get interesting. You can use lead generation tactics (e.g., retargeting) on top-of-funnel content if you’re smart about it.

For example, let’s say someone reads “10 Ways to Use Product X” on your blog. They already use product Y (your competitor). You don’t want to spend money retargeting those people with bottom-of-funnel ads for a product they can’t buy.

Instead, hit them with a mid-funnel retargeting ad like “Case Study: How Company A Doubled Their Revenue by Switching to Product X” or “How Long Does it Take Customers to See ROI on Product X?”

These prospects are already aware of your product, they’re just not ready to buy yet. By hitting them with mid-funnel content, you can get their wheels spinning in the right direction without being too aggressive.

4. Don’t underestimate lead nurturing.

Lead nurturing is really just a focused way to get more value out of your existing content. It’s an opportunity to connect more deeply with prospects who are already interested and push them through the pipeline by personalizing their experience with your brand.

B2B buyers are as much as 70% of the way through their purchase journey before talking to sales.

What are they doing in the meantime? Reading your content.

5. Start with a few channels, then branch out.

Every company wants to launch a demand generation campaign across 12 different channels, from webinars to podcasts to Facebook ads.

Eventually, you can cover all those bases. What you should do first is get really good at a few.

Regardless of which channels you use, SEO has to be one of them. There’s no way around it.

Lucky for you, we’re already really good at it.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.