It is good to hear senior marketing people beginning to talk turkey about online demand generation now that some of the luster and magic has worn off of social media. And while both customer behavior and online tactics have evolved, the essence of good online demand generation has stayed the same for the past decade; and really its boils down to 5 key factors to sustainable success online.
Before we get into the 5 keys, let’s first reach an understanding on what online demand generation really is.
First, this is well beyond generating a “lead” through a form or SEO/SEM tactics, although these may form a piece of the overall process. The way I like to describe it is this…
From the point of first contact to the last time they (the customer) touches your online presence, you have created a defensible brand position in their mind for your product or service that leads directly or indirectly to self-qualified prospects for long term customer relationships and near term revenue.
The art of generating demand, particularly in an ever increasing complex and noisy digital marketplace, requires an increasingly simple and targeted approach.
1. Create a Consistently Positive Customer-centric Experience
Nothing will kill demand faster than a negative or roller coaster customer experience. As human beings, we love positive experiences; even Goth kids like to feel good by pretending to feel depressed – and acceptance within the experience is part of that positive experience.
A positive customer experience is actually quite easy to design once we understand and align with what customers need.
- Be customer-centric by removing all the brand ego from your site and replace it with a deep understanding of your customer. This is far more impressive and memorable than your hype.
- Let others praise you, don’t praise yourself. The absolute most trusted opinion on you comes from your customers. Put them at the fore front of your marketing and ensure the praise/testimonials align with what your prospective customers are looking for. And don’t fabricate it, someone will eventually find out.
- Help them feel good about their decision to use you. This is the vital acceptance part of the experience where you prove not only that you are on of them, but also that by aligning with you they will gain acceptance of their peers and seniors.
2. Keep it Simple – Keep it Focused
Simplicity is an enabler and focus ensures you only reach the right people with the right message. But simplicity and focus need to go well beyond this for demand generation to work effectively and efficiently.
Simplify your experience and the corporate website. The greatest results my clients have eve had happened when they simplified their website and focused on a few specific target markets.
- Strip out the content and sections that don’t add value
- Don’t say it in ten words when 5 will do.
- Convert content for key ideas and solutions into visuals; a large portion of the population relies on visualization as their key internal processing factor.
- Focus the website on the target market only; leave doorways for others to find their way (partners, investors, current customers) to their own portals.
3. Embed a Custom Demand Generation Process
I can’t express how much of a difference this can make to a demand generation program and it has two critical elements.
- The overall demand generation process needs to be designed to target specific groups of prospects. This means aligning with how they will experience your brand, not how you want them to experience it. So many times, the approach is so generic it fails to stand out or resonate with anyone.
- Embed a custom demand generation process on your corporate website. This is probably the #1 failing of most large companies online and represents the biggest opportunity to turn traffic into revenue. A website demand gen process has these critical elements:
- It aligns with the customer decision making process
- It engages and enables progressive decision-making on every page
- It appeals to a target prospect regardless of where they are in their decision-making process.
- It enables options for follow-up immediately and down the road.
- It feels natural and builds confidence/trust as they go through it.
4. Play the Long Game
So many companies are driven by short term goals that they forget about the huge potential of the long game. In my experience only a fraction of prospects actually buy on our terms, i.e. immediately or within a quarter, the majority however, buy on their own terms which can be anywhere from 3-24 months. It amazes me how many companies do not focus on long term nurturing especially now that social media has made it so damn easy.
Playing the long game is easy, but it takes patience and the right strategy. To do this, you need to create a program that is easily sustainable while treating everyone equally. Social media plays a critical role at this point for “on demand” brand fulfillment as does your integration with more traditional marketing tactics such as events which allow prospects to meet and build real life relationships.
I have always though of this is the art of business romance. Treat it like you are wooing a potential mate or a thousand as the case may be Pay them enough attention to keep their interest but not enough that you will be perceived to be needy or inefficient with your resources.
5. Integrate Seamlessly Within the Greater Customer Experience
Nothing stands alone anymore, not even the much ballyhooed social media channel. Online is only one part of the greater customer experience. The greater customer experience covers every customer touch point and includes indirect touches such as referrals or social media conversations not controlled or influenced by your company.
I have always looked at the integration of online demand generation with the greater experience like Swiss cheese. You need to perforate your demand generation experience model to allow prospects to pop in and out of different channels easily and without diminishing the experience.
Here are a couple simple guidelines to follow to more easily integrate your online demand generation program with other channels:
- Make the website the hub of your communications; everything leads to it and it leads to everything.
- Cross promote content and channels. Most ad agencies fall down on this big time but tying your online and social elements to tv, radio and print campaigns (and vice versa) is critical.
- Tracking and measurement needs to be adapted to look at the whole picture, not just web.
- Adapt the program regularly to adjust for change in customer need or preferences.
Applying this Approach to Your Company
I am fond of a crawl-walk-run approach on new things. Get one aspect right, then move on to the next element and keep integrating them together. The rewards of this approach can materialize quite quickly, especially if you have a wide net pulling traffic into your website.
A recent client success of mine used just two pieces of this approach (number 1 and 3) and experienced a significant increase in all key metrics as well as a substantial increase in online revenue. They have now begun to work on rule number 2 and expanding the program to other divisions of their business.
If you have become frustrated with the results of your current approach or are looking for something to help you stand out from the crowd, give a couple of these rules a try. Just remember to keep whatever you do simple and manageable.
I enjoy hearing your thoughts on this and look forward to your comments.