Stop Selling Wedding Dresses to Singles (Why Traditional Demand Gen Doesn't Work)


Every couple months I receive a beautiful direct mailing from the same organization. It’s always stunning. Each piece is beautifully designed with full bleed photography and inspiring copy. It’s printed on premium card stock and must cost a fortune. And, it's completely wasted on me. The marketing team at this university can try as many A/B variations of their direct mailing as they want, but I will never respond. I’m simply not in-market for a degree.

You'd never try to sell a wedding dress to a single person who isn't in a relationship. After all, doing so is not only futile, it’s bad karma.

Seems obvious, right? Well, you are selling wedding dresses to single people. And so am I.

Here’s what we can do about it.

Why traditional demand generation doesn't work
The term "demand generation" is misleading. Very few companies have the resources to actually create demand for their products out of thin air. Coke and Apple are two obvious exceptions. Coke spends over $3B annually on advertising. They buy so many ads that they can actually create more demand for their beverages. Apple has such a strong customer community that it can introduce the Apple Watch and instantly spike demand for smartwatches. You and I don’t have Coke or Apple’s assets. So we should focus on identifying existing demand, not generating demand.

What is demand identification?
Demand identification is all about uncovering who is already in-market for your offering and then reaching them with a timely and relevant message. If you’re marketing wedding dresses, it's all about identifying who is getting married, and when. Great sales reps and marketers identify demand naturally by observing dynamic cues (e.g. behaviors and timing) rather than relying on static cues (e.g. demographics). A woman who is engaged to be married next year is a much better target for a wedding dress than is a 30-year old woman. Demand identifiers analyze behaviors in order to answer the question “who is in-market?"


Examples of demand identifiers
A software company servicing the corporate events market has built a database of every major event worldwide. They know exactly how many days prior to the event to reach out to the conference organizer to educate her on their offering.

A hardware company mines corporate real-estate data to know precisely when companies are moving into new offices. They time their outreach to the IT communications leader such that the person is almost certainly in-market for networking and communications hardware.

A marketer uses Pinterest to identify people who have pinned their products to project boards.

The buyer’s journey
In-market buyers go on a predictable “buyer’s journey” as they research and consider different solutions to their problem. If you can reach these buyers early in their buyer’s journey you will be much more likely to win their business. Whoever is "first to educate” will have the greatest influence on buyer's decision.

Here’s the problem with traditional demand generation: Buyers no longer tell you when they begin their buyer’s journey.

In the past, buyers would call your sales reps or visit your website to educate themselves on your offerings. Today, they self-educate elsewhere on the internet with reviews, blogs, analyst research, communities, etc. By the time they visit your site and fill out a lead form, they have already formulated a strong opinion about you and your competitors.

Savvy sales and marketing teams want to reach buyers earlier in the buyer's journey. Unfortunately, most of our tools only work after a prospect visits our site: Cookies, retargeting, landing pages, lead forms, nurture emails, in-app analytics are great tools for the end of the buyer's journey. We simply haven't had the tools to know who is in-market before they visit our site. As a result, we have adopted a "spray and pray" approach to demand generation which includes demographic-based ad buys, mass email marketing, and firmographic-based cold calling. 


Fortunately, there is a better way.

The next wave of demand identification technology
The explosion of digital data and compute power has set the stage for new predictive technologies that take the guesswork out of demand identification. Companies such as 6sense and Lattice-Engines use machine learning and predictive modeling to decipher in-market buying behaviors from ordinary internet activity. These companies give sales and marketing greater visibility into the early stages of the buyer’s journey. More demand identification tools are sure to follow.

Tips on identifying demand

  • Don’t rely on demographics - In most cases if you’re targeting people based on static attributes such as age, gender, title and socio-economic status, you’re being lazy.
  • Identify behavioral cues - Ask yourself what behaviors do people exhibit when they are in-market for your offering?
  • Pay attention to timing - When would buyers be most receptive to connecting with you? When would they want education vs. an offer? Draw a typical buyer’s journey on a whiteboard and look for specific times when the buyer would welcome your help.

How are you proactively identifying demand for your offerings? Any clever tools, techniques, or hacks?