It’s time to fight the ‘lead gen lie’ in B2B marketing


Many marketers ended 2023 hopeful that budgets were bouncing back. But now, as 2024 begins, she warns against being swept into optimism when so little is still being spent on brand.

A fist raised to the air, presumably in protest

Marketers have a new myth to fight: the ‘lead gen lie’ / Clay Banks via Unsplash

Recent Deloitte survey data revealed an increased optimism among marketers as they neared the end of 2023. B2B marketers, it seemed, had plenty of reason to be so optimistic: budgets were back on the rise, with brand awareness activities receiving 30%, compared with 36% spent on lead generation.

Digging into those numbers, however, paints a different picture. While 30% appears dedicated to brand awareness, 20% targets demand generation, and another 15% goes to account-based marketing – effectively more lead generation. Realistically, 70% is invested in lead generation, leaving only 30% for brand initiatives.

I’m not angry, I’m disappointed (okay, maybe a little angry). The field of lead generation has positioned marketing as an exact science, where data eliminates waste and all outcomes can be tied to a dollar. But for B2B marketers, it’s leading to a lot of wasted money; that 70% is targeting the meager 5% of the total addressable market who are actively buying at any given time.

B2B brands would be wiser to spend more on brand awareness campaigns that are memorable due to emotive, risk-taking creative, and allocating more marketing budget to the customer success team.

Be brave and make it more memorable than that Sarah McLachlan ad

If you’re based in the US, you know the one I’m talking about – the sad dogs asking “Will you remember me?” That ad was effective because it was depressing. Recent studies show that our memory of information is enhanced when it has emotional associations.

And we’ve already addressed that 95% of your buyers are not currently poised to buy. So clearly, B2B brands need awareness campaigns that work on an emotional level to foster long-term memories and recall. To do this, you’re going to have to be brave.

At Skona, when we tell our clients we want to help them build a brave brand, they assume we mean ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘irreverent’. This is not the case. But if you want to get noticed, you’ve got to take a risk. If there isn’t a chance that someone might hate it, it’s probably too safe.

MailChimp recently had a brilliantly brave campaign. Entitled “Email is Dead,” the email platform created an immersive exhibition in London’s Design Museum. This was risky! Everybody hates email, which MailChimp acknowledged while authentically leaning into what they know to be true: it is, nonetheless, an effective way to connect. Maybe some hated it, but it was definitely memorable.

The lesson? Your B2B customers may be years away from purchase. Take a risk if you want to be remembered.

Brand gen: Two budgets, one campaign

The worst part about the lead gen lie is that it has falsely pit brand awareness and lead gen activities against one another. That’s like saying offense and defense aren’t the same team. Instead, I like to focus on a hybrid that I call ‘brand gen’.

Brand gen acknowledges that though these marketing activities serve different functions, they support the same goal: getting your product in the hands of more people. Brand awareness campaigns create lasting memories and prime future customers for recall, long after an ad ends. Without this kind of long-term strategy and foundation building, you risk fizzling out after early adopters get on board.

Meanwhile, newly in-market customers, triggered by memories of prior campaigns, start doing their research, which is where lead-gen activities pull them further down the funnel. In both instances, the brand remains consistent, adding to memorability.

Looked at in this way, brand building is the main driver of long-term growth and profit. It also reduces price sensitivity and increases margins. When you’ve built a desirable brand, you can charge a premium, freeing yourself from competing on price alone.

Collaborate with sales and success teams for life(cycle) marketing

Brand gen isn’t just a marketing journey philosophy; it needs to be applied across your organization, especially if your product is costly. Marketing doesn’t stop when a demo is scheduled. The journey should continue seamlessly.

This requires the sales team to buy into the messaging and creative – so be sure to get their feedback and input early and often. Ensure the handover from marketing to sales is smooth through (over)communication and equip sales teams with a talk track that aligns with marketing. Misalignment here risks losing a potential customer, whereas an easy onboarding journey can generate leads through resulting recommendations.

If you’re not already convinced you should be investing less in lead gen, consider the higher-than-usual churn rates the economic downturn brought to the B2B world. This could be rectified by empowering customer success teams with a marketing budget that allows for tackling churn and retention from multiple (and parallel) angles.

Regardless of what 2024 brings, one thing that should keep marketing teams optimistic is the power of brand to retain and win over customers both old and new.

Share post

Your B2B Navigator in the World of Market Intelligence - Contact Us

Tailored B2B information solutions. We collect and integrate vital intelligence, empowering your growth strategies and competitive edge. Accelerate your pathway to success.