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Whisper or Shout? How Lead and Demand Generation Differ

When you’ve got a secret to tell someone, do you shout? No, you whisper. But when you’ve got a group announcement to make, you know a whisper won’t cut it.

Whispering is intimate. If lead generation — the process of creating, maintaining, and monitoring prospect interest — were a spoken conversation, it would be a quiet, one-on-one chat. Shouting, on the other hand, gets attention. It’s the verbal equivalent of demand generation, which is how marketers develop and manage buying interest across a broad body of consumers.

Although any message can be shouted or whispered, there’s a reason you use one in certain situations and not the other.

Generating Demand

Most B2C — and some B2B — companies talk not to specific buyers, but to large groups. To showcase an audience’s need for a certain product, they turn to demand generation.

How is demand generation done? Marketers can certainly use outbound tactics like billboards and telemarketing, but inbound tactics like social media and influencer marketing tend to be more successful. Word-of-mouth marketing is particularly effective, according to Hawke Media CEO Erik Huberman, because it essentially leverages customers as unpaid marketers. Word-of-mouth marketers often lean on content like podcasts and blogs, but it’s possible to get the ball rolling with minimal paid media.

The biggest challenge with a demand generation strategy tends to be a low conversion rate. By going broad, demand generators often struggle to reach individual buyers. To increase their conversion rate, they aim for the furthest reach possible. Lead generators, as you might expect, do exactly the opposite.

Generating Leads

Unlike demand generation, lead generation attempts to optimize conversion rates by shrinking the scale of the conversation. By limiting themselves to a small audience, marketers hope to attract people who are easy for salespeople to close. The reasoning is that someone who gave up his personal data must have seen value in the company’s “bait.”


How, exactly, do lead generators put customers in a sharing mood? Marketing consultant Shane Barker suggests using social media, influencers, newsletters, contests, and more to drive users to an on-site contact form. Those assets should speak directly to the target user, who’s defined as someone with the particular pain point or opportunity that the company’s services can solve.

What about products? Well, lead generation can work for niche audiences, like yacht buyers, but it’s typically used in the context of business services. Why? Because B2B buyers are sold on the basis of need and trust. When McKinsey looked at the future of B2B sales growth, it noted that 76 percent of buyers prefer to speak with a salesperson before making their first purchase. That’s why lead generators like to hop on the phone, while demand generators avoid it at all costs.

Can You Do Both?

In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t have to choose between lead and demand generation. Every business wants both to generate buzz and to speak straight to their target customers. In the real world, budget constraints force marketers to select a main strategy.

Start with your product. What are you offering, and who’s your ideal buyer? If it’s something like dish soap — an inexpensive commodity with many options on the market — demand generation is your best bet. If you’ve got an HR consulting company — a niche service that few people understand on first encounter — lead generation is the way to go. A company like Blue Apron, which offers a somewhat-understood service to a consumer audience, could probably go either way.

What about tactics? Think about your buyer’s journey. The “right” channels depend on where they buy: Are they looking at magazines while waiting at the doctor’s office? Are they reading recipes on their phone at the grocery store? Demand generators do best when their product is top of mind at the point of sale.

There’s a time to whisper, and there’s a time to shout. The key to getting the word out is to know when — and with whom — to do each.

                                                                                                          

Demand and lead generation play key roles in marketing, but the next step involves lead management. How can you properly score your leads based on their level of interest and how do you nurture them and bring them across the finish line to make a conversion? Find out how to “Do More with Lead Management.”

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