Last evening, I saw an interesting poster at a fitness center I frequent. The poster was advertising an “instant package”, promising a 4-inch trimmer waistline with little or no exercise in two weeks. While I stood and wondered, “Who in their right minds would want this?” I was told it was sold out.

What really hooked people was that it came with a “no exercise and instant results” tagline, aided by some hi-tech machines of course. Not only that, it cost three times more than what a regular exercise program costs. After all who wants to sweat it out month after month when quick results are in sight?

Much like demand generation today – short-term goals and priorities have taken precedence over strategic and long-term priorities.

Dubious demand

Attend an industry event, run a few web and email campaigns, get some referrals, throw in a webinar on the way and show an impressive Rolodex of ‘interested’ prospects. That sums up demand gen for a lot of people. Big budgets, lots of activity, and not much to show for it, leading to the million dollar question: What is all this activity for?

The correct measure of demand generation is a relevant pipe, not just for immediate selling, but long-term nurturing. If sales and marketing teams got out of the “survive this quarter” game, and thought about how to deliver compelling value to the end customer in the long run, demand generation activity would look very different from the “shoot and scoot” tactics outlined above.

Rise of the robots

Content strategy 101: Create a zillion landing pages with the right keywords and optimize them for SEO with link-backs from authority sites. This will result in content robots creating content for search index robots. Voila! Your search engine ranking just shot up.

Reality check: The buying decision makers are still humans who are interested in an engaging and relevant story, and your content is the story telling mechanism. Engaging content takes time and effort to build, and is the cornerstone of any demand gen activity. This includes blog posts your customers will like, a website which engages and compels action, social media interactions that are genuine, and case studies which show the value you are delivering.

None of these elements will give a quick and easy boost to your sales pipeline, but they will lead to a gradual increase in inbound traffic and build interest in your offering.

Know thyself

A lot of demand gen activity tends to be “me too.” The most compelling reason that an industry event has to be attended is because competition is doing so. The latest tool, fad, or buzz is often not really driven by what your end goals are but by what others in the space are doing.

While it helps to know what competition is up to, and also adopt best practices, you need to chart your own course. And once you have a plan in mind, persevere. New campaigns and initiatives go through a learning and stabilizing phase where things might not go according to your expectations. Give these a reasonable time to show results.

Finally, to go back to the fitness center story, this is what the fine print mentioned: “We are only responsible for your waistline staying 4 inches trimmer for the next two weeks. Post that, we recommend trying a healthy eating plan and a regular workout routine to maintain results.” Q.E.D.

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a previous post, which was published on 5 August 2014.