The History and Evolution of Demand Generation: Decentralization of Information

b2b marketing guest interviews Sep 10, 2021

In Conversation with David Fallarme, Asia Head of Marketing at HubSpot

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Generating demand has always been the main goal of marketing but the ways companies achieve that have gone through dramatic changes over the years. 

It used to just be this one-way communication where companies were the ones who had all the information and used brochures and flyers to promote about their products and services. Now, with the rise of micro-influencers, communities, podcasts to closed Slack groups, information has been decentralised. 

David Fallarme, Asia Head of Marketing at HubSpot shared his views and opinions on the history and evolution of demand generation across the years. Brands should identify the changes happening and adjust their marketing or demand generation strategy accordingly. Instead of sticking to the old ways of doing things which can be outdated already. 

Let’s see what major learnings and takeaways I got out of our conversation. 


Just in case some audience might not know who you are, can you share a little bit with us about your background? 

So the thing about me is I'm just one of those people who just loves marketing. I was very lucky to discover my passion in marketing early on when I finished university. I knew this is what I am going to be doing for a long time. 

The history of my career has really been this bingo card as I always just pursue marketing because I find it interesting. I started my career off in Toyota, Hershey's chocolate, Facebook games, then I tried B2B enterprise SaaS and now being the Head of Marketing for Asia at HubSpot. 

So really my background is somebody who's just obsessed with marketing. This is why you always see me on LinkedIn posting about marketing, trying to connect with different marketers, talk to people like you about marketing. I'm obsessed around the psychology of marketing, how it's changing. So that's kind of my background.


I see you on LinkedIn all the time and you always relate different approaches such as history, finance lessons with marketing. Can you share a little more about that? 

I think marketing is just one of those things where if you remove the lead gen, acquisition, funnels aspects of it, it's just like resource allocation problems over and over. If you take it from that first principal's perspective, there's resource allocation problems everywhere. 

One of the reasons that I found some success in marketing is because I take what I can find from other fields about similar problems that marketing has, and just apply it in a different domain. That's been a very interesting way for me to think about marketing on what can I learn from other fields like finance or product management and apply those types of solutions and frameworks into marketing.

I find that’s not something that a lot of people are doing and mainly because I think we're probably in an era where we're all hyper over specialized.

So it's been great for me as a generalist who has seen B2C and B2B to come in with a fresh approach to a lot of stuff. And that helped me a lot. 


Also we always hear about this T-shaped marketer approach for marketer to climb up the career ladder. What’s your thoughts about this? Is this something you look for when you hire people? 

Okay. So let’s think about why is there a T-shaped framework to begin with? I think that thing is really just forcing you to reflect upon what are you good at?  What are you innately above average at compared to the rest of your peers? And then invest in that disproportionately more so that you gain the domain expertise.

While everybody else is like inching along or getting better at a little bit of everything, which also means you don't get good at anything. So the T-shaped exercise is kind of just like the same problem you find in finance. What are the stocks in your portfolio that looked like they are going to grow faster or have the potential?  Invest in those stocks as opposed to trying to invest in everything across the board equally. 

You have a bit more momentum than everybody else. So just keep pouring the fuel on that until you really gain a huge competitive advantage. That's what T-shaped is. It's a reflection exercise for yourself to think about what are you already good at and just invest in those. So you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

Do I look for that when it comes to hiring? It depends on what I'm hiring for. If I am at a startup and I need a bunch of for generalists because I don't know what problem set is going to be in six to nine months. Then I might actually find people who are really good generalists and not specialists. Kind of just like hustlers, hackers and ops people.

If I just hire somebody who's good at SEO, but what I really need is somebody to hook up the marketing automation workflow or like performance marketing. Then I'd be better off hiring somebody who is a Jack of all trades, as opposed to somebody who's really good at one particular thing. So it depends on the situation.


Do you think joining a startup actually helps people accelerate their marketing experiences and skills? 

I have a pretty contrarian view on this. Because what people usually say is, yes, join a startup, take ownership. Especially early in your career, you should join a big company. I am not saying join a company only because it is big. If they are bad, don’t join them. 

Because joining a big company comes with a bunch of benefits. One is that you get a name on your resume as much as people hate the fact that we are judged on where we used to work. It's just a fact of life. You need that early in your career to give you more options. 

The other is that when you work at a big company, typically you have access to a lot of other smart people, whether they're in your team or other departments. You have a reason to reach out to them, learn from them and get to observe what they do in the company. So I think early in your career, you should have a slight bias towards working in a big company, because there's a lot more options available to you as opposed to a startup.

Especially if you joined the wrong startup and the leadership is crap, your career and the startup might not be going anywhere. So unless you really know what you're doing, you feel really confident, otherwise it's like a no-brainer to join a big company. 


Going back to demand generation, how has it evolved over the years and start becoming a buzz word or a separated department in companies? 

I think demand generation has always existed. It didn't just come out of nowhere, but I think it has definitely been broken apart into its own function and specialty in the last 20 years or so. Demand generation has been there as long as brands have been there. 

The first time we had the printing press I guess, there was a brand and then there was demand. But it's just been formalized and made into a process in the last 20, 30, 40 years. So let's talk about the brief history of demand gen and how I think it applies to people who are doing B2B marketing now. 

First of all, it's not a B2B or B2C thing. It's a marketing thing in general. So let's start from like the fifties and sixties where you're a B2B company and you're trying to get your products out into the market. Back then, all the information about the product and the influence was concentrated in the company. So this is the only way businesses can learn about new products. There's no other way for them to do so by themselves.

This can be sales team going door to door, bring in trade shows to educate the market. So demand gen in that sense is very brute forcing your way into the market and you're trying to get  your information out to the market manually.

What started happening after was the increase of TV and broadcast media in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Channels started becoming more and more important in that process of educating the customer. Then the rise of like trade magazines, industry conferences, and like advisory boards and all this kind of stuff. So demand gen starts to leverage these new channels in their form of communication. 

We started off with the parent information really just being kept in the company. Then through the rise of broadcast media. That's why you have like the rise of so many magazines and stuff from the eighties to two thousands. Whereas what's happening now is social media really has become part of everyday life. We are always online. 

What's happened is that buyers have now taken more of that information power.The center of gravity has now shifted to customers and buyers because we're all connected on social media with all these communities, micro newsletters and influencers. So if yo look at the history of demand, you have to be riding the right wave. 

Back in the fifties and sixties, you need to make sure that your salespeople have all the brochures or the perfect script in the world when they go door to door, cold calling or direct mailing. For the broadcast media, your PR and communication team need to be super good and your CEO needs to be able to speak well on CNBC or CNN. And now, your online social presence is starting to be an extremely big part of your demand gen strategy. 

For HubSpot, we realized the shift was happening. We have this big part of our strategy that we believe every tech company needs to have a media company inside of it . Because the power of the social media and the broadcast channels are winning. We recognize that the power has shift to the consumers who should have the options to opt in and out of information as they want. If you want to be able to influence them further, you need to have your own ways of communicating to them and helping them connect with each other. 

So that’s why we acquired The Hustle. Continue to make investments in media and communities. And that’s what demand gen today has to look like. 


How should companies be generating demand in 2021? 

A lot of people are still executing those previous demand gen tactics which is just creating whitepapers. Sometimes print them out or mail them to you. Or we are super reliant on trade shows and events. 

You can still do those and they can still be important. But the primary way that most people learn about new products is through communities, through virtual connections, through social media to podcasts. They are opting into media that they want to consume on their own, as opposed to waiting for a magazine to land in their physical mailbox. 

So that's the evolution of my interpretation of how demand gen has shifted over time. Good demand gen marketers see which era they're in and optimize the tactics based on the current wave that they're in. Not the one that was the previous one. 

Another very saturated way is that we tend to think we need to have a blog and we need to be good at SEO which was the tactic 10 years ago. But a lot of B2B companies are still thinking that's the thing. When they think of content, in their mind, it means we need to have a blog, good SEO, rank for stuff, etc. 

But recognizing that everything is decentralized and fragmented. Content could just mean the YouTube channel, podcast, LinkedIn organic. Wherever your customers are hanging out.


Since you mentioned whitepaper downloads is like the old way to generate demand, is this playbook still working? 

Yeah. So whenever I talk about like old generation vs new generation, just because we're in a quote on quote new generation, it doesn't mean the old way is obsolete and it doesn't work. 

This is why at HubSpot, we still do all that stuff about releasing an ebook and we'll have a form and a squeeze page, you will get an email nurture and stuff then our sales reps call you. So that formula still works. If you just look at HubSpot stock price and you read our earnings reports, like it's clearly working. 

So whenever I hear people say that this way is dead. It's like, okay, look at our stock price and explained to me how it's dead and look at all our customers growth. 

However, there are new ways that are emerging which people need to be aware of because how customers are buying is changing.  How people prefer to consume content is changing. So to answer your question directly, yes, it's the working, we have evidence that it's working, just look at our earnings transcripts.

But we also recognize internally that the way people choose to consume content is fragmented. This is why we invested in a podcast network. So it's not just us producing our own podcasts, but we've tied up with really popular marketing, business and entrepreneur podcasts around the world. We've put them in something called the HubSpot podcast network, recognizing that media is such an important way to reach people in 2021. 

So we're trying to do both. I think the people listening to this podcast might not be in the same place asHubSpot. You probably don't have the same resources as we do. But I think the insight here is recognize what your target customer is doing in terms of content consumption, figure out what is most important to them and work backwards to make sure you're investing in the right places.


What are other outdated things that you think marketers are still too hung up on? 

If you agree with my premise that things are decentralizing and moving more and more towards people to people, as opposed to going through your own or paid channels. Like people to people, community, organic, hard to measure stuff. Currently, I think something that people are too hung up on is trying to make sure that everything is showing up in Google analytics. 

This is a problem of being hypnotized by the importance of attribution and thinking that I need to make sure everything is UTM tagged and it needs to be showing up in a Google analytics report. Otherwise, I don't know if it had effect or not. 

So it's over-reliance on things that are trackable as opposed to things that have impact. This is really hard. Because you have to rely on common sense and your ability as a marketing leader to tell a narrative and convince people to buy into your world.

Because the dominant way to do marketing at least in the last 10 years is everything quantifiable due to the rise of AdWords and Facebook.  Put a pixel on this page, track all the events and therefore you can know exactly which channels and which campaigns have the most impact.

But I think the reality is the buying journey is really complex. And getting even more complicated as we talked about the fragmentation and decentralization of all these channels. So this can be a trap that a lot of people can fill into. 

And this is a challenge that I think will be with us for a while. Because even if you buy into what I'm saying, other teams around have to buy into it as well. The CFO, your sales leader, the executive team.  And as a marketing leader, you need to have the conviction of doing things that are not trackable, but you know qualitatively have an impact. And making sure you stay out of that rabbit hole.


How do you try and continue to get better at marketing? What’s your process? 

I think the best way for a marketer to get better at marketing is to start their own side hustle or use their own personal brand as a way to experiment new ways of marketing.

So I think, you know, let's call it five, seven years, it is going to be very weird if you're a Head of Marketing, VP of Marketing, CMO and you don't have a personal brand. I feel like that's just going to really work against you because the best marketers are trying to practice what they preach.

Like it's easy for us to talk about marketing should be doing this. This is how marketing should work. But if you don't have any evidence of your theories playing out in the real world, then you are just going to have less credibility. So my advice is for people who want to continually to stay sharp in marketing and learn new things is think of yourself as the CEO of your own. And maybe the company is your own personal brand. And try to increase the number of followers you have, increases your audience size, start a side hustle.  Start a Shopify store and try to grow that because doing is the fastest way for you to keep learning.

I'm really hesitant to like recommend books and stuff like that. Because I think there's enough information out there and what's lacking is just more people doing stuff because everybody knows what they should be doing. I feel like my push for anyone trying to get better marketing is do more things, ship more things, publish more things and create.

I think resources should be tuned to the problem you're trying to solve. And so that's why I'm hesitant to give you resources. Imagine that you need to increase your LinkedIn following 2x in the next six months, use that as the north star to look for what resources you're going to find. Instead of me just giving you general resources that may or may not be applicable to your situation, find a problem that you're trying to solve.


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