How To Make Big Demand Gen Bets That Beat the House (and Deliver ROI)

Mark Huber

“When am I getting my budget back, and how can I get the most out of it right now?” said every B2B marketer in 2023. Let’s turn that around. 

The pressure-packed question for you: How can I generate ROI with certainty and let the C-suite know I’m helping them weather the economic storm? 

Let’s look at some strategic shifts you can make to push through 2023 and set yourself up for success moving forward. 

The problem with B2B marketing right now

According to The Economist, the economy is headed for a downturn, not a crisis, but don’t tell that to Silicon Valley Bank. Dumpster fire aside, you’re likely sitting between a rock and a leadership team with budget cuts on their mind. 

We’re in the era of efficiency. Mark Zuckerberg even called 2023 the “year of efficiency.” As efficiency takes center stage, companies are shifting from a grow-at-all-costs mindset to one that involves growth with…very few resources. I’m not the biggest fan of the “do more with less” talk, but it’s the reality. 

You have fewer resources than you did before. In fact, nearly 30% of major advertisers said they’re cutting their ad budgets in 2023. Tech stacks and other nice-to-haves are getting the pink slip. 

But despite the intentional kink in the hose, most leadership teams are shouting the same marching orders: Do what you did last year, but with less money and a smaller team. That’s a big problem that you must address ASAP. 

Here’s how. 

Get your story straight with leadership

Most chief marketing officers (CMO) don’t last long. If they can’t drive a return, the rest of the leadership team will find someone who can. While the down economy doesn’t allow you to relax, it does open the door for the realignment of expectations. 

When we asked Logan Neveau, our VP of Enablement & Strategy, about the challenges marketers are facing, he said: “We’re seeing marketers struggling with a lack of resourcing. Everyone’s feeling it, but it hits marketers and their budgets a little harder.” The biggest quest now, Logan shared, is “How do they continue to have the same output with half the budget and two-thirds of the headcount?”

Budgets and resources are down. Expectations should be as well. What can your team reasonably expect to squeeze out of your budget in 2023? That’s your North Star. The leadership team should stare at it, too. 

With clear expectations, you can dive into your books, see what’s working, and double down on those tactics. 

Where the axe comes down will vary based on factors like company maturity, but more than likely, “hot channels” feel it. Communities and podcasts are good examples.

Ad spending on podcasts is booming as B2B marketers find new ways to connect with audiences and build their brand.

Demand gen marketers are just getting started with podcast ads.

At the same time, they’re sprinting to convention centers after nearly three years of canceled conferences. Almost half of the marketers said they planned to return to conferences this year.

These tactics are in the spotlight, and most leadership teams are eager to jump on what’s trending. In normal times, that mindset is fine, but when budgets are tight, avoid investing in strategies with harder-to-measure ROI. 

Instead, focus on what you can measure and optimize—think paid social and search

Demand over brand, at least for now

Airbnb made waves in 2022 when it announced that its pivot away from performance marketing paid off. 

The pivot itself wasn’t surprising. Marketers move things around all the time. What was surprising is where that pivot took the company: brand marketing. 

Airbnb’s chief financial officer (CFO), Dave Stephenson, said, “Our brand marketing results are delivering excellent results overall with a strong rate of return, and it’s been so successful that we’re actually expanding to more countries.” 

This strategy goes against every page of the modern marketing playbook. But it may be working for Airbnb because its marketing team has a monster budget and a ton of brand equity. If you can’t check both of those boxes, consider cutting back on brand marketing and other high-lift, longer-term plays, like videos, podcasts, and events. 

These tactics are great, but they often lack immediate impact; you can’t write your brand’s entire story in one night. Instead, focus on short-term (demand) gains. Logan suggests a 75-25 mix of demand and brand tactics, respectively. 

The best demand gen marketers know how to balance demand with brand.

I’m not just saying this, either. I’m doing this right now with my budget. In the past, we’ve invested heavily in the brand (let’s say around 60%). Now, we’re at around 40%. We’ll reallocate as the market corrects, but right now, demand is more important than the story. 

Become a budget snob to deliver (and prove) ROI

In a sentence: You can generate and prove ROI by being ruthlessly effective and efficient with your demand generation budget

That sentence alone won’t get you the results you need, so let’s look at a few strategies that’ll help you maximize short-term gains without sacrificing the big picture.  

Don’t hold back on laser-focused targeting 

Smart targeting should always be top of mind, but in 2023, it should be all you think about. 

Using Metadata helps you get laser-focused so you only spend money on the right people.

Ask yourself: Does everyone in my audience align with my ideal customer profile (ICP)? If not, put them on the back burner—even if they’re driving a return.

Say you’re expanding into a new market and have a campaign that’s driving a 3:1 return on ad spend (ROAS). Normally, that’s fantastic and music to your leadership team’s ears. The campaign would stay on. It may even get more budget. 

But let’s say you also have a campaign targeting your core market, and those ads are driving a 10:1 return. Despite both campaigns generating a return, you’d be wise to pump the brakes on the first one and pour everything into what’s driving your go-to-market strategy. 

At the same time, narrow your sights on internal champions. While chief financial officers and procurement teams play a role in the purchase decision, you’ll never get to them if you can’t convince the internal champions first. 

Plus, the leadership team doesn’t want your pitch. They want to feel confident about things like cost savings and revenue projections. That’s how they’ll frame their thinking. 

Double down on measuring demand generation 

Measuring the impact of your demand generation engine likely comes in one of two ways: 

  • Account lift: You know X account clicked on Y ad, which you can tie to an opportunity that closed on Z date. This multi-touch attribution model, which assigns a fraction of the credit to your campaigns, is common, but it has holes.

    Did the actual buyer click the ad, or was it someone who had no influence? Was the click intentional, or was it the result of a stumble on the subway? 

As accepted as the account-lift model is in some circles, it comes with a set of assumptions you can’t make—and your leadership team won’t accept.

  • Direct response: X person raised their hand, and the opportunity closed on Y date. With this model, the ad is often the final touchpoint before the sale but likely comes in the wake of a combination of nurtures, cold calls, and so on.

    There are still quite a few moving parts, but it paints a clearer picture—a picture your leadership team will actually be able to interpret. Is it harder to set up? Absolutely. Is it worth it? You bet. 

When a CFO or other high-level stakeholders are involved in the conversation, that extra work is worth every penny and minute.  

But what if you don’t have the ops team or technical know-how to truly track the entire buyer journey? No problem. Set your sights on conversions… 

Make sure the C-suite believes in your campaigns 

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is failing to optimize toward the outcomes the C-suite actually cares about. This is the kind of hiccup that can be the difference between landing a promotion or finding a new gig. 

If your objective is demos, shift your budgets to campaigns with related offer types.

I’m going to type this in all caps, so you don’t miss it: DON’T CHASE THE COST PER LEAD (CPL). I know it’s counterintuitive, but let me explain.    

Suppose you have two campaigns: 

  1. CPL of Campaign A: $100
  2. CPL of Campaign B: $200

Conventional wisdom would have it that you’d optimize toward campaign A, right? It depends on what Campaigns A and B are trying to accomplish. If Campaign A is pushing an ebook and Campaign B is driving demo requests, the latter should get your budget. 

Again, we’re going back to the conversation about brand vs. demand. If I asked 100 CEOs what was more important to them in 2023, I’d bet 99 would say demand. (There’s always that one outlier.) Spend your ad dollars with this in mind and put CPL in the backseat until the economy gets back on track. 

Note: If you have multiple campaigns driving demo requests, you should still optimize for CPL. It’s when you have campaigns with competing offer types that you want to lessen your focus on them. 

Make smart, confident paid bets with Metadata

I’ll round out this article with a metaphor. Metadata is the king of the roulette table. 

The average person strolling up to a table at the Bellagio has a handful of chips. They throw some chips, watch the ball, and hope for the best. Then, they do it again. There’s not much in the way of strategy, and the results are left almost entirely to chance. 

Enter Metadata

Metadata puts a chip on every color and always wins. Metadata never leaves the table, sees which numbers are coming up the most, and consolidates the chips accordingly.

Think of this as experimentation and optimization.

Metadata takes experimentation to the next level so you can double down on winning combos.

Metadata sees what’s working, eliminates what’s not, and ensures your budget is going to what’s driving the best return—even if the budget (bet) is small. 

This level of control is a pipedream for even the most seasoned B2B marketer. Not because they’re not invested in driving the most ROI, but because they don’t have enough time to take the necessary steps to get there.

They can only analyze and optimize so much. Opportunities for performance, efficiency, and budget maximization will always be left on the table. Metadata ensures that doesn’t happen. 

This is one feature that Evan Dunn, Director of Growth Marketing at Syncari, brought up when I asked him about his favorite parts of Metadata during our customer AMA webinar. He said, “The budget maximization capabilities [in Metadata] based on MQLs and opportunities. You can’t do that manually.” 

As the economy regains its footing, budgets and leadership buy-in will rebound. It’s going to take time, though. In the meantime, focus on short-term gains and steps you can take to make the leadership team smile today.

Obsess over these small wins, earn the trust of leaders, and secure the right to ask for more in 2024. Sweeps as Leader in G2’s Account-Based Advertising Category
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