Demand generation vs inbound marketing – is there actually any difference between them or are we dealing with classic marketing over-complication?
This time around, it’s not just fluffy jargon.

It’s easy to conflate the two; there’s a lot of operational overlap and they complement each other very well to achieve goals. But they’re distinctly unique – and we’ll explore why below.

Read on to get to grips with:

What is demand generation?

Demand generation is a marketing strategy that focuses on bringing awareness to your company and working up a market appetite for your product/service. Content forms the foundation of this approach – it’s used to generate leads and nurture them through the buyer journey.

By serving prospects relevant content at each stage of their journey, you can nudge them toward a purchasing decision that goes in your favor. To do this, research your target audience and your ideal customer profile (ICP) in depth so, at every point, you know what problem they have that you can position your company as a solution to.

But while content is the basis of your demand generation strategy, it’s also bolstered by other tactics. Taking it offline – with networking events or speaking engagements –  boosts your company’s recognition and desirability, as do outbound marketing methods like cold emailing or advertising.

Compared to other approaches, demand generation takes more time to see ROI, but its lasting impact on brand awareness, customer relationships, and ultimately business revenue is worth the wait.

Benefits of demand generation

Demand generation brings your company into the limelight and fills your funnel with leads. A well-executed demand generation strategy delivers many benefits such as:

Breaking into new markets

A data-backed, innovative demand generation strategy will help you to draw attention away from your competitors and build your standing as a new key player in the industry. Every company in every sector can benefit from demand generation, but it’s particularly successful for early-stage businesses entering industries with a smaller pool of prospects.

Aligning marketing and sales 

Cohesion between marketing and sales teams is another benefit of demand generation. With this model, marketing and sales share the responsibility for converting prospects. These teams collaborate to make sure that prospects are handed off at the perfect time – boosting the chances of turning leads into customers.

High long-term ROI

A demand generation strategy needs substantial investment in its early stages to get it off the ground – but the long-term returns bring success across your business. Because organic traffic from creative content and campaigns plays a pivotal role, marketing spend (a big contributor to ROI) is reduced, while leads and growth are increasing.

High-intent leads

Demand generation involves not only attracting but also nurturing leads – giving you the opportunity to use engagement tactics like content personalization. You’ll reel the right leads towards you, helping them move through the funnel, and much more likely to convert. They’ve seen what you’re offering and have stuck around to find out more.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a technique used in many types of marketing strategies, such as lead generation, account-based marketing, and demand generation. This approach attracts prospects with compelling content and brand interactions. Through these channels, it provides value to ICP-aligned prospects – and acquaints them with your brand. Conversions come much easier when trust and relationships are built in this way.

To win at inbound marketing, there are three requirements:

  1. Deeply understand your prospects’ wants, wishes, and worries at each stage of the buyer journey
  2. Create a high-quality content journey that directly responds to these
  3. Consult data and content analytics to improve your prospect knowledge and optimize content

The best types of content and brand interactions for inbound marketing feature thought leadership. Popular thought leadership lead gen content includes

  • Reports
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Whitepapers

Use these to establish authority and shape industry conversations. Leads will follow the leader.

Benefits of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is all about reciprocity – by giving something (great content), you’ll get something (customers). But other than increased customer acquisition, what are the benefits of inbound marketing? Let’s take a look.

Cost efficiency

Doing away with expensive outbound marketing methods, like PPC or advertising, spells serious marketing strategy savings. Inbound marketing puts organic channels to work to bring in prospects – resulting in a higher ROI for inbound lead generation.

Permission-based approach

In contrast to interruptive outbound marketing, inbound methods allow prospects to engage with your company on their own terms. And when they do, you’ve got permission to feed them more information. Because they’ve shown they want to listen, they’ll be more engaged, responsive, and persuadable when you reach out again.

Highly relevant leads

As a wise man called Kevin Costner once said, “If you build it, they will come”. That’s the idea with inbound marketing. Build a knowledge base of ICP-centric blogs, webinars, whitepapers –  and the right kind of prospects will come all by themselves. And the more relevant the lead, the higher the probability of conversion.

Differences between demand generation and inbound marketing

Many marketers use the terms interchangeably but demand generation and inbound marketing have some important differences.

The fundamental difference can be summed up in a single sentence: inbound marketing is a strategic tool and demand generation is the strategy itself.

Think of inbound marketing as the apple, and demand generation as the whole apple pie. Apples are just one of its ingredients – just like inbound marketing is only one part of a demand generation strategy.

Building on from that, here are other key differences between the two:

Active vs. passive pursuit of leads

Demand generation involves a mix of active and passive ways of bringing prospects through the buyer journey, whereas inbound marketing relies on leads getting from the top to the bottom of the funnel more or less on their own. In a demand generation strategy, outbound methods are usually reserved for coaxing leads that are in the consideration and decision stages to the next step.

Cross-functional collaboration

While insights from other teams are vital for inbound marketing, these teams have minimal influence on activities and output. By contrast, demand generation relies on several teams synchronizing – namely marketing and sales, and, at times, customer success – to triumph. By joining forces, these teams can pique prospects’ interest, build strong relationships, and then close them at the perfect moment.

Responsibility for lead conversion

Inbound marketing is responsible for attracting leads, and in many strategies, when that’s achieved, its job is done. Demand generation is a more robust view of marketing’s role in lead conversion – drumming up interest and awareness is just the start. Once the top of the funnel is filled with a large pool of potential leads, a demand generation strategy needs tools and tactics in place to nurture them, and finally nudge them in the right direction.

Where do demand generation and inbound marketing overlap?

Demand generation and inbound marketing, while distinctly different, overlap in key areas. Here are the most notable of them:

Content creation

High-quality, engaging content is central to both inbound marketing and demand generation. Inbound marketing content is specifically tailored to speak to the ICP, whereas demand generation content appeals to a wider audience – and uses personalization as leads progress. The best content format for both is interactive and visual, like Turtl’s format.

SEO and keywords

For inbound marketing and demand generation, search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword research underpin all content efforts. With inbound marketing, SEO and keyword-focused content help it rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). Demand generation benefits from SEO and keywords in content too, but also in outbound methods like advertising or PPC.  For both, good SEO and keyword practice boosts visibility and ensures you’re reaching the right audience.

Data and analytics

Using data to drive decisions is common practice for both camps. Track performance, measure engagement, and report the results for recognition-rocketing content. Data findings inform optimization efforts, like A/B testing, landing page design, and messaging improvements. Turtl Analytics gives high-level insights about your content’s performance – so you figure out what’s grabbing attention and what’s glossed over.

Buyer journey alignment

With both approaches, relevancy powers performance. At each touchpoint on the prospect’s path to purchase, make sure the relevant question is being answered or the relevant problem is being solved. Responsive content and outreach at every step build the lead’s trust and buy-in – priming them to pick your company when decision time rolls around.

How to use demand gen and inbound marketing together in a unified strategy

With 91% of marketers saying that lead generation is their most important goal, competition to attract prospects is tough.

Any marketing strategy you choose needs to include lead-generating tactics to outperform the rest – and demand generation is no exception. For best results, don’t think of it as demand generation vs inbound marketing, think of it as demand generation and inbound marketing.

By integrating inbound marketing into a demand generation strategy, you’ll attract, engage, and convert leads much more effectively. This union maximizes your marketing efforts and fosters long-term loyalty.

To get started, you’ll first need to familiarize yourself deeply with your target audience. Use intent data, internal teams’ insight, and a customer feedback strategy to develop this knowledge.

When you’re confident you know them better than your own family (just kidding…or are we?), you’re ready to create content to guide them through the funnel. Think educational, industry-leading, SEO-optimized content to grab attention and generate demand.

Don’t forget to promote your content in the right places. Use the channels where your target audience is most active (e.g. LinkedIn), as well as outbound tactics to increase your influence.

Catch leads by including lead capture forms and landing pages within your inbound content. Then, make the most of the demand you generate by nurturing leads with personalized nurture campaigns. Methods such as email marketing, paid social, and retargeting will help to cultivate them into customers.

Finally, close the loop by using data and insights from your inbound marketing and wider demand generation efforts to innovate and iterate.

Turtl takeaway

Despite what many marketers believe, demand generation and inbound marketing are not exactly the same side of the coin. Inbound marketing is a powerful lead-gen tool that, when used with other techniques, will make sure your demand-generation strategy gets all eyes on your company – and leaves them wanting in on the action.

Want to learn more about how marketing can dominate demand generation?

We’ve got just the guide for you.

Click to read Modern Demand Marketing for your company | Turtl Guide

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