Now Is the Time to Plan Your 2021 Demand Marketing Transformation

To say that 2020 has caused us all to rethink our demand marketing approaches moving forward is an understatement.

We all started Q2 having to triage and rapidly iterate at every level of our marketing and sales motions. For many companies, the focus initially was on preserving business with existing customers and adjusting expectations and plans for new customer acquisition.

We also had our assumptions about content, channels and interactions with prospects and customers tested. What is the right combination of tactics? How quickly can we even push prospects? What is the right line between active engagement and ‘going over the line’?

So much has been tested. So much has changed.

Yet too many organizations are still responding to this environment by engaging in random acts of marketing. They are still duct taping their demand marketing together.

It’s time to wake up. Incremental change is not going to keep you in the game. So what are your objectives for 2021? It’s time to get ahead of them. It’s time to get your digital demand marketing game together.


While some of the pivots you’ve made to get back on course for 2020 are important, what’s more important is setting a foundation for longer-term success.

We must set a new charter for our demand marketing in an all-digital environment. We must move away from random acts of marketing and shift to strategic engagement with our customers throughout their buying journey.

It’s time that we:

  • Learn to engage with customers authentically via digital, which means moving well beyond email stalking, cookie cutter one-to-many webinars, and interruptive clickbait ads.
  • Orchestrate customer touch points across multiple mediums and platforms because there is no ‘one’ lead source anymore; buyers are in every channel, consuming every piece of content.
  • Translate field marketing and sales into a virtual environment given that live interactions will remain infeasible for an indeterminate amount of time.

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It’s important to assert a fundamental point: Demand marketing is strategic. Every company has a demand problem right now; every company needs to be finding a way to build demand in a more sustainable, repeatable, and optimizable way.

I cover in another post a new, ‘modern’ definition for demand marketing. “Demand marketing is the discipline through which companies orchestrate customer engagement and provide lift to pipelines.” You can read that post here.

Every company (right now) has a need to provide lift to pipelines through demand marketing. If you’re not sure how to do that, I recommend reading “How Do You Know Your Demand Marketing is Providing Real Lift to Sales”.

Clearly, demand marketing is strategic at this point.

Yet many companies fail to approach demand marketing strategically. In fact, according to ANNUITAS research, more than three-quarters of B2B organizations take a tactical approach to demand marketing – engaging in non-sustainable and non-outcome-oriented random acts. These organizations are activity-driven, not outcome-oriented.

And these organizations are significantly under-performing.

Thus, the focal point of transformation must be the shift to a strategic demand marketing state:

So how do we make the shift from this current state to strategic demand?

The core of tactical demand generation is optimizing a single sale. It can’t find a repeatable, sustainable model to generate demand and so tactical marketing continues to be a cost-center, often with negative ROI. It’s periodic, short-term, outbound oriented, and vendor pushed. When tactical campaigns end, demand ends.

Shifting to strategic demand opens a world of opportunity. Strategic demand is always on, repeatable, buyer-led, and inbound oriented. It engages the buyer continuously and offers a sale only when appropriate, thus increasing the quality of qualified leads to sales and pre-conditioning the buyer dialogue. Strategic demand puts the buyer at the center of everything and increases customer lifetime value in the process.

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The imperative is clear: Now is the time to plan your 2021 demand marketing transformation. It’s not an option to make this change. You must do it.

The variable is how long it will take you to get there, and what impact it will that have on your business.

Consider three scenarios:

  • Tackling planning in Q3 2020: Moving now – i.e., doing the planning and strategy work in Q3 – puts you and your company at a strategic advantage. That way you will attack 2021 with a plan, with momentum and with budget to drive demand marketing transformation heading into 2021.The core of demand marketing transformation is insight and strategy for operationalizing go-to-market around customer journey. That means you ‘first’ must work through your insights — looking at your customer journey, considering stakeholders, considering content consumption and analyzing frictions with your existing marketing and sales motions. Then you need to translate these insights into a Strategic Demand Marketing plan. It is these insights and this plan (which will likely take you 2-3 months, if you are going to do a good job) that are required as inputs to then work through the timeline and phasing for transformation, and ultimately to work through and set expectations for the budget required.Starting this work in Q3 means companies will start Q4 with a clear sense of budget requirements and then can adequately plan for and support transformation in 2021. Said differently, getting going now is the key to having your ducks in a row and to being ready to hit the ground running with transformation in 2021.
  • Waiting until Q4 2020: Waiting until the final quarter of the year is still ‘technically’ getting ahead of the curve. But something has got to give in this scenario – particularly the way annual budgeting and planning occurs for many companies.Either your insights and plan will be hurried and haphazard, or you will fail to make a timely business case. So, something will have to give – either your plan or your budget, or both. And that means you won’t be positioned optimally for success in 2021.
  • Starting in Q1 2021: You might as well plan to transform in 2022 if you can’t possibly start until next year, which means you’ve lost all competitive advantage and will spend most of 2021 behind the eight ball simply engaging in more random acts of marketing. You won’t have insights, a plan or budget; moreover, you’ll likely have the same, or severely-reduced, tactical budget you had in 2H 2020.


Once you get through your planning, you will likely find immediate opportunities for transformation you can tackle this year by taking a phased approach.

Speed is crucial. Clearly, there is a strong case for rapid, not gradual, transformation.


Here are some additional resources as you plan your 2021 Demand Marketing Transformation:

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