Semantics: Demand Gen vs. Customer Marketing

Demand Gen vs Customer Marketing

In my last post I talked about the difference between Lead Generation and Demand Generation, and the fact that there is a difference. But what about customer marketing?

If lead gen is the process of generating new leads, and demand gen is the process of getting those leads to demand your products/services and ultimately buy (become a customer), then is customer marketing the third step? I say no…not really.

While it is important that you apply demand generation methodologies to nurture and convert the leads you generate, who says demand generation is exclusively a process for leads? You can (and should) apply demand gen techniques to your customers (we call that ‘cross sell/upsell’). After all, aren’t your customers some of your best potential buyers? You might even consider them low hanging fruit…yet somehow so many marketers wait for the fruit to fall off the tree instead of grabbing it when it’s ripe or, ever worse, they pick it too early. *sigh*

Now, I am not suggesting that you just swoop up your customer list and plop it into your latest and greatest demand gen campaign and call it a day. That would be easy, I’ll admit, but it won’t be nearly as effective (resist the urge….seriously). Think quality over quantity. You need to speak to your customers differently. Acknowledge them as the fantastic customers that they are and leverage your existing relationship to show how you can continue to help them.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s another layer to customer marketing that goes above and beyond good demand gen, and that is good customer satisfaction. I can tell you as a customer myself that when I get marketing messages from a company I’m not feeling the love for, I get cranky. I expect you to know that I’m not happy with you right now and that trying to sell me your newest widget is just going to piss me off more. As a marketer you might say ‘that’s not fair, I can’t control whether the customer is happy or not,” and to that I say two things:

  1. Stop making excuses. True, many elements of the customer experience are out of your hands, but some things are within your grasp of control and so you should be doing everything in your power to improve that experience. Don’t just chalk it up for what it is and add to the bad experience by doing your own thing in a vacuum.
  2. If you can’t change/influence reality, then you need to at least be aware of it. With all the technology out there today, you should be able to find a way to identify the happy customers from the not happy ones. Someone at your company knows who is happy and who isn’t – find out who those people are and find a systematic way to harness that information to inform on your marketing activities. It can be as simple as a field in your CRM that captures the NPS, or other satisfaction score, and passes that data to your marketing automation system.

I’m not under any delusion that tracking customer satisfaction is easy…it’s not. But it is important, and if you’re going to be marketing to your customers, you HAVE to figure it out. OncNutshelle you do, you will open yourself up to a rich pool of opportunities.

In a nutshell:

  • Demand gen applies to both leads and customers
  • Don’t market to your customers in the same way you market to leads
  • Only satisfied customers will accept being marketed to (and by the way make great advocates, which SiriusDecisions says will drive demand gen)
  • Satisfied customers can be your best ‘leads’ for new sales opportunities
  • There’s no excuse for bad customer marketing
  • There should be technology & processes in place to keep customer-touching groups in sync and customer data accessible so it can be leveraged appropriately

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.