In the past ten years of my career, I have been asked this question many times. If you’re a marketer, you probably have, too.
How do you answer it?
I’ll let you know how I answer it at the end of this article. But first, I want to talk about the tectonic shifts in marketing that I’ve observed in my career that may have led us to this place where marketers are being asked this question.
The MarTec Revolution
I landed my first marketing job when I was still in college, and I’m old enough to remember what marketing was like before marketing technology and automation changed the emphasis from creative and subjective evaluation to data-driven, needle-moving assessment.
It was an exciting evolution, and long overdue. Finally, marketers could objectively demonstrate their value. Data would separate the wheat from the chaff, the hacks from the pros, and there would be a new laser focus on results. Debates over taglines and whether we should make the logo bigger would be replaced with settled decisions based on A/B tests efficiently and quickly executed. Demand generation marketing became synonymous with left-brained, analytic and tech-savvy marketers who were on top of the latest digital advertising platforms and marketing automation tools.
I wanted to learn all of this – so in 2010, I left the ad agency business where I cut my teeth and joined a tech company’s marketing department just as this new era was experiencing its meteoric rise. I built a demand generation machine at a company that had never generated a single marketing-attributed lead before. I counted leads with a sharpie on a white board for the first two months until we got Salesforce and Eloqua live. I loved being able to see the fruit of my marketing efforts quantified in a funnel view, tracking CPLs and CAC, and celebrating shared wins and successful quarters with the sales team.
One of the unintended consequences of this revolution was a loss of clear understanding around the definition of the word “brand.”
A lot of the early demand generation marketers would foil the future of marketing against its past, creating a dichotomy between brand-focused marketers and the new wave of demand generation experts. “Gone are the days of brand marketing,” the articles and blogs would read. “The future is demand generation marketing.” The companies creating this content and perpetuating were often marketing automation companies vying for marketing budget dollars and competing against agencies for limited resources. They had a vested interest in pushing this narrative, and it was highly effective. Demand generation could be measured; brand equity was harder to pin down. So the ROI on marketing software or tech tools or digital spend was just easier to evaluate. Sometime during this decade is when I noticed that this question of “are you brand or are you demand gen” started to become a standard question.
The Social Media Revolution
MarTec wasn’t the only revolution that changed marketing materially. Social media elevated the voice of the customer, and their influence in the communication and perception of brand. The megaphone days of marketer were over. Marketing was influenced heavily by the customer, and informed by the experience that the customer had in every interaction with the company. The ability for any person to amplify their opinions about a brand to a massive audience changed the game. And no, the solution as not as simple as, “hire a Social Media Manager and buy some new tech tools to manage social media.” The brand, at its core, needed to deliver on its promise from end to end. The pressure increased for companies to deliver consistent, memorable and meaningful experiences that consumers wanted to buy, to over deliver on quality and service, and to display transparency and authenticity.
Simply put – the brand was no longer owned solely by a marketing department. It belonged to the customer, and their voice was now part of every company’s marketing campaign whether they liked it or not.
The New Brand World
In this new world, to build a brand that stands out, companies need to take time to uncover their brand promise: what is unique, compelling and true about their organization. They then need to communicate it and deliver it on it, consistently. I recommend leading your organization through a customer research process to arrive at this insight. Since your customers are now the owners of your brand and the amplifiers of your message, you want to make sure that whatever you’re communicating aligns with their desires, motivations and emotions. How does your product make them feel? What prompted them to purchase it? What do they say about it when they’re referring it to someone else? Which words do they use to describe your company and brand? What do they wish you would do differently?
Let their input – and indeed, their very words – drive your messaging. As a marketer, you will be most effective when you hold up a mirror to your customer and they see themselves when they see your brand. People connect emotionally to brands that they relate to.
How I Answer the Question
When people ask me if I’m a brand marketer or a demand generation marketer, I answer: “Yes.” A great brand will build demand, and the best marketers know that. You can achieve some level of success without a strong brand, but you won’t be a unicorn without one. Additionally, you’ll find it more cost effective to generate demand if your brand is strong. Your cost per lead will go down. Your magic number will improve. All of your business fundamentals and metrics will move in the right direction.
Once you understand that brand is more than just your logo or what you say about yourself, you’ve arrived at perhaps the most critical insight. Uncover your unique brand promise and then deliver it at every interaction that people have with your product and company. Align your organization, your processes and your product around the promise you are communicating via marketing. Remember that it’s not just about what you can do for them. It’s about how they feel. And while those feelings begin with the marketing, they don’t end there. If people have negative feelings when they’re using your product or interacting with your customer service team, your brand will suffer no matter how good the marketing is.
I’d like to suggest that maybe it’s time to stop accepting that brand and demand generation are separate skill sets. Marketers never used to think this way. What was true about marketing in the days of Madison Avenue is still true today: the brand that connects emotionally with people, wins. And we have more tech tools, more data and more resources than ever before to do this effectively.
There is no reason any marketer worth their weight should fail to make it rain.