Why demand generation should not be confused with lead generation

It might happen before you know it, while presenting a new content strategy to the management board: you are outlining the objectives and a sudden shift takes place: lead generation becomes demand generation, and nobody notices. It might seem like an insignificant slip of the tongue, but this word choice is not so innocuous.

The starting point of any good content marketing strategy is the definition of clear goals. After a year, we want to improve our awareness by 10%, or after six months, we want to generate 5% more leads—to name just two examples. One often-repeated piece of advice is that it is important to define these goals as precisely as possible. Very often, this good advice focuses on the numbers: not saying ‘I want more leads’ but saying ‘I want 5% more leads’ instead. However, it is also important to properly define the rest of your objective. Do you want 10% more brand awareness or 10% more top-of-mind awareness? Establish precisely what you want and, above all, make sure not to confuse terms, even if they lend themselves to it well.

> Read also: 5 online lead generation pitfalls

What is demand generation?

In addition to the above, fairly clear, example of types of awareness, the description of lead generation is also particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding. The most common mistake is to lump lead generation in with demand generation. It is wrong to do so. The two objectives belong to different levels.

  • Lead generation occurs the moment someone in your audience decides to leave their details. This could be because, for example, the person wants to subscribe to your newsletter, download a white paper or follow a webinar. In other words, the moment when a lead is “generated” can be precisely pinpointed. Strikingly, recent years have shown that the way to generate leads is to create very compelling content. Only what is valuable earns a lead. In this article we explain which pitfalls to avoid.
  • Demand generation can be defined quite literally: it is the creation of demand in your audience. Or in other words: generating interest in your company, your stories or ultimately your offer (your products or services). The confusion with lead generation is obviously understandable. Sometimes, but only in a minority of cases, the creation of that demand will immediately result in the generation of a lead. More often than not, lead generation occurs later in the customer journey and the demand will have emerged a bit earlier. Some suggest that this occurs in the “attention” phase (of the well-known AIDA model), but that too is not a certainty. Someone who gets to know a brand of car through an interesting article about the total cost of ownership of electric cars may not necessarily want to know more about that car brand’s offer. Demand generation is most likely to occur in the second phase of the journey (the “interest” phase) in which the reader wonders whether they too are ready for an electric car. This is followed in phase three, the “desire” phase, by the gathering of information, which is often related to lead generation.

Content for demand generation

Those who properly identify the distinction between demand generation and lead generation also tend to go on make the distinction in content correctly. To begin with, lead generation is about content that is not freely available, because you exchange the content for data. In demand generation, that content is freely available. A blog, a video, a podcast or an infographic intended to generate demand is, by definition, available without any further action from the reader, viewer or listener.

Between hero and hygiene

This essential difference already makes it clear that you will have to use a different type of content for lead generation than for demand generation. To make the difference tangible, people often refer to the distinction between hero, hub and hygiene content; the so-called 3H model.

  • Hero content is content that focuses on what is crucial for your brand. These stories are very qualitative: they highlight specific, very important elements without really doing any self-promotion, as well as generating a lot of attention.
  • Hub content is used to continuously disseminate opinions, statistics and visions around a defined set of topics, presented within a series of recurring formats.
  • Hygiene content is the foundation layer, answering just about every question your audience might ask. Think of it as an almost permanent layer of content on your site, for example.

Not an exact science

Of course, you can use all three levels to generate demand, but in practice, we see that it is especially hygiene and hub content that is freely available. Hero content works best as exchange material for leads, but here too, expertise is indispensable. The choice of which of the three types to select for demand or lead generation will not always be black and white—it is not a 100%-exact science. 

After all, with hero content you can attract attention and build an audience, so arranging everything into form is not possible. With hub content you can similarly strengthen the bond and build a relationship through lead nurturing. And with hygiene content, you are providing answers to basic questions, but you can also trigger action. Just to note: this balancing act is a prime moment for good content strategists to prove their added value.

Content marketing foundation

However, this added value can only emerge if the first step—defining the final content goal very precisely and correctly—is performed well. Maintain a clear overview of the different phases in the customer journey, including the related goals and content types, in order to develop a workable foundation for your content marketing.

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