I'm going to start today's piece off with a bit of revelation (though hopefully it'll be old news to at least a few of you): lead generation and demand generation are not interchangeable terms. Although the two are doubtless closely related, they're anything but identical - in spite of what many inbound marketing gurus might try to tell you. It's a matter of focus.
"Lead generation and demand generation, often used interchangeably, are essentially at odds with each other," explains Eric Wittlake of the Content Marketing Institute. "The problem is that demand generation is focused on shaping the audience's perspective, while lead generation is focused on capturing their information."
The two, Wittlake continues, cannot comfortably exist side by side in a content marketing plan.
The reason for this is simple - with demand generation, you're looking to create content that reaches as many people as possible. You're looking to create demand for your brand's products or services; to raise awareness of your business with the larger market. In order to achieve this, you cannot gate your content - barriers to consumption run counter to what you're actually trying to do.
Lead generation, meanwhile, isn't about your brand - it's about the content itself. When you set out to capture leads, you're setting out to design content that will itself be in high demand - white papers, thought leader pieces, and eBooks that you can gate behind registration forms; forms which people will be willing to fill out in order to gain access. Allowing free access to that content makes it significantly more difficult to generate leads from it.
In short, your business needs to choose one or the other for each piece of content. While Wittlake does cede that the two can exist in tandem, they're nevertheless distinct activities. To see any real success, your business needs to put either one or the other first.
But how can you decide which content strategy to run with? How can you determine whether your business should focus on raising awareness or generating leads? It's not as easy a decision as you'd think, after all.
First, Look At Your Audience
My first word of advice is to look at the people you're targeting with your content marketing strategy. Are you a small business that primarily sells consumer electronics? You're probably better off sticking with a demand-oriented approach; chances are fairly high that your audience isn't really interested in signing up for any sort of newsletter, and you don't really need to gather leads in order to make sales.
If, on the other hand, you primarily deal with marketing and analytics professionals, it may be worth considering that they'd be interested in signing up for a newsletter or registering for advice on their industry - provided, of course, you offer something to make that registration worthwhile. Speaking of which...
Next, Look At Your Content
Another question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the content you're creating is worth putting behind a gate. Highly shareable content isn't always worth putting behind a registration form (more often than not, that defeats the purpose of making it shareable). By that same vein, high value content isn't always suited for discussion on Facebook or Twitter.
For that reason, I'd advise you to look at the kind of content you generally create. Do you regularly upload white papers and ebooks? Gating that stuff might not be a bad idea. Are you more concerned with infographics and "how-to" pieces? You might be able to capture a few leads with it, but from experience, most people simply aren't going to bother.
Finally, Look At What You Want To Do
I've saved the most important question for last. After looking at both your content and the target audience, the next thing you need to determine is what you want to achieve with your content marketing efforts. Are you looking to improve people's opinion of your brand? Do you want people to talk about your business? Do you want to pull in new customers and turn them into loyal brand advocates?
Demand generation's probably the right route, then.
On the other hand, maybe you're looking to create a marketing database. Rather than spreading the word about your business far and wide, you want to build up a camp of loyal sales leads and prospective customers. Having your content widely read and accessed isn't as important as gathering marketing data.
Lead generation's the best choice, in that case.
Now, before we wrap things up, there's one last thing worth mentioning: even if you're primarily focused on lead generation, you're still going to need to generate at least a bit of demand for your brand and the content it produces. For all their differences, the two do very often go hand in hand. It's just, as Lead For Mix's Tim Duranleau puts it, a matter of finding the right balance.
Image credit: Toshiyuki IMAI