Last updated 01 October, 2020.
“Demand generation is a complex term that makes people who use it sound smarter and people who don't understand it feel bad.”
☝️ That’s literally how Louis Grenier started his definition (which you can read in full if you scroll down a bit).
And it’s true. Demand gen happens to be one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot, even though everyone seems to have a slightly different idea of what it means, how it’s measured, and what’s included in the process.
So in order to put an end to the crippling uncertainty that keeps me awake at night (just kidding — I sleep like a baby 👼🏻) we asked 21 seasoned marketers to explain what they mean by it.
So here it is, 21 different views on what demand gen actually means, grouped into five categories — followed by our very own working definition.
1. Demand generation = creating awareness and interest 👀 ➕ 😍
According to our first group of experts, demand generation boils down to two things: awareness and interest.
Marketing Director, Quuu
“Demand generation is about building brand awareness and getting people excited about your product, but it's very much a long term strategy — not just making sure you're on your target audience's radar, but nurturing relationships with new and existing customers.”
Sales Executive, SEB Kort Bank
“Activities you or your company does to increase awareness and interest (=demand) for your products/services.”
Founder, Wunderkind Agency
“I'm going to answer this from the perspective of the companies I work with, which is mostly B2B software businesses that are looking at scaling up.
Any Google search will tell you that demand generation is a bunch of strategies and tactics that drive interest and awareness in product and services. Most will focus on things like: paid media, events, webinars, content marketing. And they're all correct. However, for businesses that are looking to break the mould and don't necessarily fit in a category, have an abundance of latent demand or, conversely, operate in a crowded market without much product differentiation, there's a growing trend in focussing on mission led messaging over product led messaging.
The most famous of these are HubSpot, who set out on a mission to make businesses attract rather than interrupt their target market, Salesforce who set out on a mission to end software with their No Software campaigns, or Drift who are looking to make conversations the way we interact with our market.
One of the biggest problems with demand generation for businesses that don't have a large market with no current solution is that they're restricted in what they can do. If a better funded competitor is outbidding you on paid search, or if there just isn't any search volume you're stuck, if your product does the same thing, there's not much you can explain that will change people's minds. But by segueing your solution into a wider problem your market faces (paying for software updates, cold marketing everyone hates and done-to-death spammy marketing techniques) you can bring attention to your business whilst riding on a wave that's bigger or less competitive than the demand that already exists for it.”
Founder & Growth Strategist
“Demand generation is the process of driving targeted awareness and demand for a new product or offering. It typically combines a number of different disciplines—PR, content marketing, guerrilla marketing, paid media, etc.—with the end goal of creating a feeding frenzy of excited customers.”
Marketer, Everyone Hates Marketers
“It's a complex term that makes people who use it sound smarter and people who don't understand it feel bad. In simple terms, demand generation is a set of marketing activities to make people aware of your product/service and make them want to buy it.
As a marketer, you typically work on demand generation once you have a good understanding of your market (you know, the people who are likely to buy your product/service), who they are, why they buy, where they buy, what prevents them from buying, etc.”
TL;DR: According to these guys, demand generation is all about creating a) awareness and b) interest in whatever it is that you’re selling.
2. Demand generation = targeted lead gen campaigns 📈
The second group consists of definitions of a more tactical persuasion.
Founder, Landing Feet First
“Super specific targeted campaigns that aim to generate high-quality leads.”
Global Head of Marketing, Brella
“I think it's running targeted marketing campaigns or programs with the main goal/end result being new lead creation (product or service awareness).”
TL;DR: these folks treat demand generation as synonymous to hyper targeted campaigns that result in (quality) leads.
3. Demand generation = building pipeline 🌪
Now, grab your popcorn, because here’s where it gets interesting. 🍿
This expert group believes that demand generation comes down to building measurable pipeline. This clearly goes against Group 1, where the experts considered awareness building as an integral part of demand generation.
Head of Marketing, Sievo
“Measurable and relevant interest that can be converted into predictable revenue.”
Demand Generation Manager, Unity Technologies
“Our GTM is vertical focused so for me, the definition at Unity would be: To enable revenue growth across all verticals through an integrated and measurable approach to revenue marketing focusing on the entire lead to opportunity lifecycle.”
Director of Marketing, The Good
“Demand generation is aligning sales and marketing to the point that marketing can use a variety of tactics to fill the sales pipeline with high-quality leads.”
CEO, Ambient Strategy
“Demand Generation describes activities and programs where the measurable outcome is prospects entering into a sales process. In my opinion this is different from Awareness activities (which aid demand generation but may not be directly measurable with sales metrics) or Retention/Success activities (which are more geared toward keeping customers happy, engaged and loyal).”
General Manager, 42 Agency
“Demand Generation is a combination of people, process & technology to drive predictable pipeline.
People because you need to support demand with content, programs & campaigns.
Process because without process, you can't measure what works, make sure data/leads where they need to go and you can't create a predictable pipeline without process.
Technology because technology is the underlying foundation that enables, tracks and makes everything possible (and to a high degree automate the process & measure results). Why pipeline and not revenue? To get someone to sign on the dotted line on a contract — they probably need to talk to someone (sales).”
VP Marketing, HubSpot
“To generate demand for a company’s product or service :)”
Editor’s note: Actually, we’re not quite sure how Kieran would define “demand” — but for now, let's assume that he means measurable demand.
TL;DR: When it comes to this group, it seems that the ability to get measurable pipeline is key.
4. Demand generation = creating value for your target customers 💑
And if you thought that I was done throwing you curveballs, well… Let’s just say you might want to keep reading.
Because Camp 4 over here has quite literally turned old school demand generation onto its head, and treats it as an exercise in creating value to target customers.
B2B SaaS Consultant
“My interpretation of demand generation — which isn't a phrase I use often, so I imagine other experts might disagree with me — means getting in front of your ideal customers / market (people who are ready, willing, and able to pay to try your solution) and forming genuine relationships with them. These relationships are formed in the channels where they spend their time, which could be online, offline, or both.
In the process of participating in these channels, you provide value rather than just elbowing your way to the front of a crowded concert and taking the stage to interrupt the music. Instead you just hang out in the crowd and have authentic conversations with others around you and they approach you. Through your participation, your market will learn that your solution will help them reach their desired outcomes by addressing their most severe pain points.”
CMO & Strategist, KB Consulting
“Instead of the typical definition of demand generation, I like to think of it as finding new ways to connect with your target customer, and share the value of what you do with them. It's not about forcing demand, but about finding the right people, at the right time, with the right message.”
“Demand generation is knowing your customers so well that everything you produce and is a perfect fit for their needs, and the way you market it is exactly how they want to be marketed to. Essentially, it's being so close to your customers that you are the trusted source to meet their need for one specific issue or problem.”
The Content Habit
“To me, demand generation entails identifying the people who could benefit from the product/service the most and providing them with helpful and relevant content and experiences that support them in solving their specific problem(s).”
TL;DR: These experts have a point: demand generation has nothing to do with tricking people into wanting things they don't actually need. Like Kasey said, it's all about being in the right place at the right time with the right information.
5. Demand generation = Marketing operations 🎯
Finally, we’ve got our fifth and final group, a foursome that pretty much considers demand generation as a synonym to marketing (or at least the operations part).
Head of Growth, Baremetrics
“The reality is that demand generation is essentially another fancy word for marketing. The real differentiating factor in my mind is the emphasis on moving prospective customers from unaware, to problem aware, then solution aware, product aware, and finally to fully aware.
A marketer may have to generate demand from a very new market whose prospective customers are unaware, an educated market who’s solution aware, or even from a highly competitive market who’s fully aware. It's from the demand generation perspective of marketing that a marketer understands how to develop a market’s prospective customers and the strategies and tactics best fit for the awareness level of those prospective customers.”
Demand Generation Marketer, New Breed
“Demand generation is a strategy that encompasses every component of the customer lifecycle; all the way from anonymous visitor to delighted customer. Within the greater demand generation strategy are different tactics and methods.
First and foremost, brand awareness is at the foundation of any successful demand gen strategy. Brand awareness tactics help you generate demand for your product or service through every stage of growth.
Once you have ensured that there is sufficient demand for your product or service, you can begin to deploy other demand generation tactics like inbound marketing, account-based marketing, and sales enablement.
Finally, a successful demand generation strategy not only generates customers, but retains, delights, and evangelizes them as well. After all, it's easier to sell to a happy client than a brand new prospect.
Especially considering that the cost of acquiring new customers is significantly higher than retaining and upselling your existing customer base, client retention is a necessary element of a successful demand generation strategy. It's important to keep in mind that each tactic within a demand generation strategy should be informed by data and consistently optimized for conversion.”
Marketing Director, Supermetrics
“In its simplest form, demand gen is all about taking your marketing strategy and turning it into action. If your marketing strategy answers the who and why (i.e. who your ideal customer is and why they would buy your product or service) then demand gen answers the how and what (i.e. how we’ll reach them and what we’ll actually create).
As demand gen is the manifestation of your marketing strategy, your ideal customer profile, go-to-market strategy, and positioning are the inputs needed for developing successful demand gen initiatives. From strategic brand campaigns and full-funnel content marketing programs to lead nurturing workflows and sales enablement assets, demand gen is about creating a systematic set of customer-centric marketing & sales initiatives that will impact your most important metric: Revenue.”
Daniel J. Murphy
Director of Product Marketing, Drift
“Demand generation is any activity that brings attention to your product or service. It’s a company activity, and not just the job of a marketing team or single marketer. The best marketing teams in the world “do” demand generation by enabling their entire company, building a brand, testing and optimizing channels after finding product/market fit.”
TL;DR: these folks would argue that demand generation basically is marketing. And spoiler alert: I can’t say that I disagree.
Redefining demand generation ✏️
After reading the answers of these 21 brilliant minds, I feel slightly better equipped for what I’m about to do: Redefining demand generation.
But first, let’s get a list going of all the decisions the definition should include:
🎯 Is demand generation a strategy or a set of tactics?
👀 Is demand generation about building awareness and interest, or only the latter?
💑 Whats the role of the target audience? Are they simply the receiving end of your messages or an input to activities?
⏰ When can you “do” demand generation: Post product/market fit or whenever?
Drumroll, please 🥁 As from now on, if you ask me what demand generation is, I’ll promise to come back with:
Demand generation refers to any activity that makes your ideal customers aware and interested in your product or service.
With that in mind, I would argue that demand generation is:
🎯 A set of tactics and/or a synonym to marketing operations ➡️ because you'll definitely need a marketing strategy, but demand generation is only the manifestation of it.
👀 About building awareness and interest ➡️ because you can't have interest without awareness, duh.
💑 Strictly intended for your ideal customers ➡️ because who wants to reach bad-fit customers that will churn anyway?
⏰ A post product/market fit activity ➡️ because you can't know how to best serve your ideal future customers until you're already serving people like them.
And psst! If you need help with generating demand for your SaaS or tech product, we’d be more than happy to lend a hand. 🙋🏻♀️