Semantics: Lead Gen vs. Demand Gen


One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use the terms ‘demand gen’ and ‘lead gen’ interchangeably. A few years ago I was speaking with my VP of Corporate Communications about finding a vendor that could support content development for demand generation across the funnel. She started talking about a vendor she’d worked with that created great lead gen content, and I said “that’s great – we need that too, but I’m talking about demand gen” and she shrugged and said “Eh same thing – it’s all just semantics.”

I remember in that moment wanting to stop her and say “No…it’s not ‘just semantics’ the semantics are important because lead gen and demand gen are not the same thing.” I let it go, but that moment has stuck with me and any time I’m speaking about lead gen and demand gen I be sure to define what I mean and differentiate the two.

So what’s the difference?

The Content Marketing Institute does a great job of defining these two very important marketing concepts, so why reinvent the wheel? Here’s what they say:

Lead Generation
Collecting registration information, often in exchange for content, in order to build a marketing database for email or telemarketing follow-up. The direct outcome of lead generation is new contacts available for sales or marketing.

Demand Generation
The practice of creating demand for an organization’s products or services through marketing. The direct outcome is that your audience is more likely to purchase your products or services.

Bottom line:
Lead Generation is about generating new leads (duh!) Getting names of new people who have expressed some level of early interest in your company. And to be clear, buying prospect names doesn’t count (we’ll talk about leads vs. prospects in another post). You have to earn these leads. Generally they’re in the ‘awareness’ stage of the buyer journey and your content talks more about key issues/challenges/benchmarks, etc. than about your company. It’s meaty and valuable enough that people are willing to fill out a form. Of course, content isn’t the only way to generate leads. A compelling offer, a well-positioned brand message, or a booth at an industry event can also generate leads.

Demand Generation is different. Demand gen is about (gasp!) generating demand for your company’s products/services and moving your leads through the buyer journey. Depending on the nature of your business and your sales cycle, lead gen and demand can can happen simultaneously (in highly transactional situations), or they can happen over a long period of time. In longer sales cycles, demand gen requires a lot of content and a thoughtful approach to presenting that content to your audience. The what, when, who and how of your content positioning matters…a lot. 

Is lead gen important? Yes, of course! But be careful that you don’t rob Peter to pay Paul, and by that I mean: Don’t invest all of your resources into lead gen and shortchange your demand gen investment (here’s a great article on the topic). If you’re not in a highly transactional sales environment, demand gen will require more resources than lead gen. Yes, you need to feed the beast with leads, but they won’t do you any good if you can’t nurture and convert them.

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