OPINION: Shifting from lead to demand generation as a marketing strategy

Jake Surrey

By Jake Surrey, Head of Digital at Fountain Partnership

There are several interesting shifts taking place in the world of B2B marketing that are relevant to the world of financial services marketing. Marketing within such a complex vertical has always posed challenges due to its technicality, robust regulatory landscape and market segmentation. This has been further exacerbated by rapid digitisation, the fast growth of the fintech landscape and decentralisation of traditional financial services (FS) models.

For marketers, these ongoing changes – combined with wider shifts in terms of B2B purchasing behaviours – mean it’s increasingly hard to keep pace. Over a third of FS marketing and comms leaders report that dealing with the constant shifting of priorities is their biggest hurdle, and nearly half report that they do not have enough time to think strategically.

This article will outline observations made from running digital campaigns for a wide variety of clients within the financial services space as well as comparative businesses with long buying cycles, complex products and regulatory environments and multiple decision-makers.


Time for collaborative tactics

Traditionally, B2B marketing campaigns have focused around established lead generation tactics such as leveraging gated content, content syndication suppliers or paid social lead ads to capture user contact details. These leads are then passed onto the sales team or pushed into an automation funnel as MQLs (marketing qualified leads). Due to the strong targeting abilities of platforms such as LinkedIn or Google Ads, when combined with compelling content and creative, these channels have provided solid results when measured by lead volume and cost per lead.

However, when measuring the success of these campaigns by their contribution to bottom-line revenue, a somewhat different picture starts to emerge. Their effectiveness is gradually diminishing simply due to overuse. This is not to say these tactics have become completely redundant – they absolutely do play a part in the tactical mix. But it’s important to incorporate them into a broader mix of demand generation activities as they become less effective.

The very first banner ads that were served on the internet, placed on WIRED for AT+T over 25 years ago, had a clickthrough rate of 44% – meaning that for every 100 people that saw the ad, nearly half of those would click on it. Nowadays, an unusually strong performing banner ad might have just one in every 100 viewers click. This isn’t surprising when we consider the sheer volume of ads we are exposed to every day – with estimates of up to 10,000 impressions every day. Everyone is banner blind.

In the same sense, many users have become immune to the tactic of being served up a white paper on LinkedIn and filling in a form to access it – people are aware this will trigger a chain of sales rep follow-ups and inbox-clogging emails. Even with the most effective targeting and best content a marketing team can possibly engineer, it’s becoming increasingly clear that downloading a piece of content doesn’t entail purchase intent. With that being said, we’ve seen clients in the last 12 months generate high-value deals using exactly these kinds of tactics as an initial touchpoint – so it’s clear they still can be effective when executed well.


Standing out from the crowd

The other factor that’s come into play over the last 24 months is the increasing crowdedness of all social platforms due to Covid. As marketers have been unable to use non-digital plays to capture demand, online ad platforms have become more and more saturated with ads – as well as becoming more and more expensive. This clearly makes it even harder to stand out.

So how can this be combatted? Here are four adjustments to consider:


1. Tracking through to revenue

Analytics and attribution should provide the foundation of any significant digital marketing endeavours. It’s a complex and technical conundrum that many businesses encounter real challenges with. Getting your web properties, ad platforms and CRM correctly configured and working in tandem takes time and investment. However, it pays dividends in terms of being able to understand the customer journey better, by being able to track every step from target audience through to closed deals. This enables marketers to identify which marketing channels and tactics are generating actual customers and bottom-line revenue. In a market as complex and with so many potential touch points as financial services, this becomes even more important.


2. Invest in creative & brand differentiation

Scrolling through your LinkedIn feed, you’ll see a lot of ads that are very similar – stock images, pictures of the white paper you need to download, etc.. Industry research, as well as  our own experience, shows that exceptional creative is one of the biggest drivers of campaign success.

Avoiding stock imagery and generic messaging is really important, alongside taking time to develop recognisable, distinctive and eye-catching brand assets. LinkedIn research shows that up to 50% of ads are mistaken for a competitor’s, therefore it is important to make sure that you’re not falling into the trap of producing bland and homogenous creative.

Similarly, brand strength is the number one factor in the commercial success of advertising campaigns. We already know that people are simply more drawn to brands that they recognise and towards which they feel an affinity.


3. Dark social

As more and more online communities and networks continue to be developed, prospects will turn more often to their peers and colleagues for advice around products and services. The best branding and advertising strategies simply can’t beat a referral from a trusted contact. Here’s where dark social comes in.

It refers to the “invisible” shares that take place within gatekept communities – and accounts for nearly 80% of social shares. This can be hard to cultivate – but key marketing factors (outside of product and brand strength) include creating and distributing a high velocity of useful content alongside measuring and improving customer and onboarding experience.

Dark social traction can also be measured using better UTM tracking and Google Analytics setup as well as simply asking customers how they heard about you.


4. Educate vs. sell

There’s been an ongoing debate around whether or not content should be gated. We usually recommend to gate higher value pieces (research papers, white papers etc) while keeping lower-value, lighter content ungated. In either case, approaching paid social strategies with the intent of building brand equity through being useful and educational, rather than simply trying to capture leads helps actual prospects to self-select and enter your sales funnel.


Old habits die hard

It’s never been more true that running successful marketing requires versatility and a broad range of skills – especially in a vertical as complex and fast-moving as Financial Services. While there are plenty of tactical changes taking place – especially in the ever-shifting world of digital – it’s important to remember that the underlying principles of marketing – the 4 Ps, the AIDA funnel etc – haven’t changed all that much. Instead, what’s changing is how and when we leverage which tactics in which scenarios.

The shift that we’re seeing to generate bottom-line revenue through focusing on demand through the full funnel (rather than to solely capture leads) is one of the biggest changes we’re currently witnessing. Yet this doesn’t change who your audience is, and what they are looking for.



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