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Integrating awareness and demand generation marketing

Last month, I explained how I help executives descend a common learning curve, to get them to buy into outside-in marketing. Most executives from traditional marketing backgrounds build branding campaigns and drive eyeballs to them through advertising. I explained how this model doesn’t work especially well in digital, where the target audience is more skeptical and proactive than in traditional media. Rather than being pushed passive messages, the digital audience needs to be pulled into active engagements.

The paradigm of digital marketing is organic search marketing, where you build experiences to capture a market of prospects who primarily search for solutions to their problems. These folks need a soft landing when they arrive on your site, and careful market conditioning before you can push them any messages about your brand.

Der Loyalitätskreislauf (Marketing, E-Marketing)
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The day the blog post first ran, I had yet another opportunity to practice what I preach with a new executive sponsor of one of the sites for which I consult. The executive not only wanted to do things the traditional push way, he wanted to dispense with the soft landing of an awareness experience and get right to demand generation. The resulting conversation, in which I helped convince him that the two goals are not mutually exclusive, is worth your attention.

The Awareness Site

The site in question has been around for some time. We recently redesigned the site the way I always advise:

  • Build personas of your target audience
  • Discover the keywords they query when searching for solutions to their problems
  • Build an architecture of pages based on those keywords
  • Measure the site’s effectiveness against key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Iteratively improve the site to increase site effectiveness over time

The site was in the early stages of iteration after the redesign. In most cases, it takes three to six months to start hitting your target KPIs for awareness sites, unless you augment organic traffic with advertising. With no advertising, we weren’t there yet. But we had seen three continuous months of growth towards all KPIs.

As important, we had honed our understanding of how the target audience preferred the information through a multivariate A/B/C test, and had several stories in our backlog to markedly improve the site based on those insights. In short, we were getting there.

New Demand Generation Goals

The executive’s first move on the job was to contact another agency and build a plan to drive more aggressively towards a new set of KPIs focused on demand. He wanted a site that would drive registrations for events and assets supporting his portfolio of products.

The agency wanted him to drive to the new KPI in a particular way, involving heavy ad spending and rich, flash-based experiences on a brand new domain. They wanted nothing short of a rip-and-replace job where they controlled all development and my team went away.

Over several meetings with them, we slowly convinced them to try to build the ad campaign around the existing site. Our argument was as follows:

  • The site had two years of customer insights built into its fabric
  • The site was on a development curve that would  succeed in meeting the executive’s KPI demand targets without advertising
  • Any advertising would then provide a bonus to our mutual executive

Having brokered a deal, we were prepared to take or collaborative solution to the executive.

The Unity of Awareness and Demand Generation

When we presented the brokered deal to the executive, we did have some trouble selling it. The main challenge was in defining the purpose of the site. Because the primary landing experience is an awareness page that does not push prospects into offers, it was seen as conflicting with the demand generation goals of the site.

It might seem counter-intuitive to “force” users to click down the site a level before they are presented with offers. After all, the goal is to get users to the information they need in the fewest possible clicks. On the other hand, if they are not ready for the offers, they’ll just bounce off the site and never come back. So how do you build a site that offers a soft landing for new customers and easy access to offers for those who are ready to pursue purchase?

As I often do, I explained that if we turned the first page into a demand generation engine, we would lose our ability to attract and nurture new prospects through search. After some discussion, we managed to convince the executive that the two goals are complementary. You just build a two-tier site: An awareness site that captures search demand and drives those interested in exploring offers to the demand generation site.

Meanwhile, you send all advertising clicks directly to the demand generation site. And you tune your paid search campaign to the words your target audience use when they’re ready for your offers. If users land on your demand generation site from paid events and they’re not ready to explore your offers, they can always jump up to the awareness site to become more aware of your value propositions. Otherwise, they get what they’re looking for with the fewest clicks.

This scenario might seem obvious to some of you. But it is not obvious to executives who are used to interruption marketing. Fortunately, marketing executives have an open mind and are willing to try interception marketing.

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