Demand Ladder: A HockeyStack Framework For Accelerating Demand
The truth: great content doesn’t always equal great marketing.
You can produce content that people love but that doesn’t create associations between your brand and what you sell, doesn’t get remembered long term, doesn’t address prevailing worldviews that oppose your product, or doesn’t help potential buyers diagnose problems you solve.
It happens all the time.
Content consumption metrics go up, but pipeline, sales, and revenue don’t follow.
Great content, maybe. Just not great marketing.
At the center of the problems sits “content pillars.”
While content pillars can help you ideate topics related to your category, they don’t ensure your content also performs great marketing.
Content pillars aren’t instructive or directional.
They don’t tell us what our content needs to do; they tell us what topical categories to talk about.
One problem: content needs to accomplish very specific objectives for it to catalyze behavior and influence our bottom line, and categorizing content into topic clusters isn’t one of them.
Enter: The Demand Ladder.
The Demand Ladder is a framework for producing good marketing through good content.
More specifically, it helps you plan content around eight mission-critical marketing objectives that all great content needs to achieve:
- Information gaps
- Demand bridges
- Points of worldview
- Allies of influence
- Category entry points
- Emotional seeds
Instead of organizing content around topics, the Demand Ladder organizes content around fundamental marketing principles.
More direction for your content. Better results for your marketing. Content that “works.”
Why the Demand Ladder?
I have a theory: most marketers don’t actually know why their content performs even when it does.
Because of this, we grade content performance superficially.
We rely on content consumption metrics like views and engagement or LinkedIn DMs and anecdotal feedback to determine whether or not our content “worked.”
But while content consumption metrics and anecdotal feedback can tell us whether or not people “liked” our content, it can’t tell us whether or not that content will impact our bottom line.
Creating content that buyers “like” shouldn’t be our benchmark for success. Likable content doesn’t necessarily mean effective marketing.
Sure- it’s a requisite. Hard to imagine unengaging content working on the marketing front.
But content consumption metrics are incredibly misleading.
How many blog posts have you consumed in your career? How many brand publishers of those blog posts do you actually remember?
How many podcast episodes have you consumed in your career? How many guests can you actually name? And of those guests, do you remember what they said?
How many LinkedIn posts have you consumed in the last three months? How many can you remember? And of the brands you remember, do you know what they sell?
How many products have you ignored because you fundamentally disagreed with their worldview, only to find out later that you were wrong and they were right?
The list goes on but the facts remain: we consume great content from great brands every day without ever connecting the author to the brand, without ever learning what the brand does, without ever changing our behavior in a way that’s favorable to the publisher, and without ever remembering it in the first place.
And that’s a problem.
So we created the Demand Ladder- our response to the vapid frameworks littering the internet that do little to imbue content with actual marketing.
The Demand Ladder is:
- Fundamental: We know what makes good marketing. The Demand Ladder leverages eight core fundamentals of sound communications. Fundamentals first. Content second.
- Channel agnostic: You can use the Demand Ladder exclusively for paid media campaigns or your blog. Or you can use it for all your media. We recommended the “ladder” 😉
- Non-linear: Potential buyers discover you at all different stages, which means different buyers will need different rungs of the ladder. Some will need all. Others will need one. This isn’t a funnel!
- Multi-segment: While some segments will certainly overlap, depending on your stage and product maturity, each core target segment may need its own version of the Demand Ladder.
- Just a framework: Lasty, like any framework, the Demand Ladder is not meant to replace common sense or real thinking. It’s meant to guide your content planning in a more effective direction. Use it. Bend it. Evolve it. Add to it. Or don’t.
Finally, the Demand Ladder will ensure your content solves fundamental marketing objectives, like credibility, trust, association, salience, behavioral change, and demand acceleration.
First up: information gaps.
Marketing needs to do the hard job of teaching people how to want what you sell. And that starts by helping buyers better understand the problems you solve.
In a word: diagnosis.
The truth: we don’t all sell toilet paper or gum balls. Many of us sell complex solutions to unsophisticated buyers who have latent needs or wants that need to be awakened.
That means certain buyers don’t fully understand the complexity of their problems, the degree of their pain, or the opportunity cost of not acting.
Therefore, a colossal amount of demand sits in every market, unexpressed.
It’s not until potential customers learn to diagnose their problems that they can even begin to think about buying your solution.
Like a doctor diagnoses viral infections, B2B marketers need to help buyers diagnose business infections.
By creating information gaps: gaps in knowledge that people are driven to eliminate.
It’s called epistemic curiosity: a desire to obtain new knowledge so you can stimulate intellectual interest or eliminate intellectual information gaps.
Ever traveled down a rabbit hole?
Then you’ve experienced epistemic curiosity.
Bottom line: we need to give buyers the tools to diagnose problems we solve, and there’s no better way to make the problems we solve more interesting to the people who experience them than by leveraging curiosity.
Create information gaps.
Make buyers aware of their lack of knowledge.
Appeal to their desire for novelty.
Draw them into your rabbit hole so they understand the full value of your solution.
Gong Revenue IQ Maturity Assessment
Gong’s assessment scores your maturity based on three criteria: how you manage deals, how you coach your team, and how you understand the market. All things their tool helps you do better.
Why do buyers use diagnostic tools like this? Because we’re dying to know what we’re missing (see: epistemic curiosity). And the title “What’s your revenue IQ” plays into our need for information.
After answering a series of questions, you get an overall score and maturity stage:
From there, you can drill down into each category and discover where you need improvement.
Diagnostic tools aren’t the only way to help buyers identify symptoms and better understand their problems.
For example, Gong uses Gong Labs to curate data from actual customers and report on sales best practices.
Not only does Gong use Gong Labs to spotlight symptoms of poor sales practices that customers may be suffering from (and that they can help fix), but they trojan horse their product inside every lab experiment: Gong pulls data directly from their software in the same way customers can for their teams.
Take action: How can you make the problem you solve more visible to the people who experience it? What knowledge do buyers lack that will set them on the path toward investigating your solution once they find out? Make a list of the core symptoms ailing your ideal buyers, then create content that helps them self-diagnose.
Sometimes buyers don’t know a new solution exists, so they don’t search for it. Instead, they search for the old way of solving the problem.
Other times, buyers may know a solution exists, but they’d rather solve their problems on their own first.
In both cases, there’s a pool of demand teaming with potential buyers motivated to solve their problems. Brands just need to tap into it.
Enter: Demand bridges.
A demand bridge is a bridge between problem-aware, highly-motivated buyers and your solution.
How do you build one?
By teaching people how to solve problems on their own- without needing to buy your solution.
Helping people solve the same problems you solve but in all the other ways you can solve them does three things every marketing program needs:
First, it puts you in front of motivated buyers. After all, people who try to solve problems on their own understand their problems, realize their pain, and have taken action to eliminate it.
Second, in our competitive world, meeting buyers earlier in their journey gives you a chance to establish your brand as a trusted anchor of expertise before they even know your competitors exist.
And third, by helping potential buyers eliminate steps in the solution process, you can accelerate their path toward investigating your solution. In other words, you can build a bridge from the old world to the new world.
Therefore, it’s critical that brands use content to build bridges between the way people solve problems now and the way you solve it for them.
Most of the time, sound marketing has more to do with bridging existing demand than it does with creating new demand.
For example, Peep Laja and the Wynter team have built a bridge between marketers and their message testing platform by teaching their target market how to become better product marketers and market researchers.
There’s a pool of marketers actively seeking ways to improve messaging, product marketing, and demand generation- all things Wynter helps improve faster.
Wynter meets them on their journey, accelerates their education, establishes their brand as an the anchor of expertise, and builds a bridge between the old way and their new way.
How does ClickUp build a demand bridge for buyers looking to solve the problems they solve?
By ranking blog posts for queries like “project management templates,” then using free templates within their platform as results.
ClickUp successfully drives thousands of monthly visitors looking to solve problems they solve, all while creating a demand bridge from Google to their website.
Take action: How do buyers currently solve the problems you solve? Where do they look for this information? How can you give them the tools to solve those problems on their own- without your solution? Build a bridge.
Points of Worldview
Point of view is the cornerstone of marketing communications.
But not just any POV; your POV relative to your competitors’ and buyers’ points of view.
Hence the phrase, points of worldview.
“Point of view” puts the emphasis on what you want to say; “point of worldview” reminds us that we need to craft a compelling POV relative to the dominant POVs racing through our competitors’ and buyers’ minds.
Buyers have preconceived belief systems that don’t change easily.
If you sell a product that opposes that belief system, then you better be prepared to confront it.
Otherwise, you’ll never catalyze behavioral change.
Which makes crafting and communicating your POV relative to your buyers dominant POVs a non-negotiable pillar of an effective messaging program.
To do that, no matter how contrarian your POV, it has to be true.
I call these contrarian truths: a point of view that challenges a prevailing worldview with an alternative but evidence-based case.
Perhaps no better example of POV exists than Chris Walker and the Refine Labs demand generation narrative.
Chris has pioneered an entire marketing motion by confronting outdated worldviews that no longer work.
The Refine Labs narrative sits in stark opposition to the shortcomings of lead generation. They developed their POV relative to a few dominant worldviews standing between them and category adoption.
Safe to say Chris Walker and team have done a masterful job catalyzing behavioral change from lead gen to demand gen.
Take action: Which critical worldviews or “status quo” behaviors are holding business back? How can you get people to open up about how change in your market affects them?
Allies of Influence
How do you bring credibility to your message and brand fast?
Allies are influential voices, partners, customers, or brands in your category who your buyers listen to.
Think of allies as force multipliers.
The bigger you build your network of allies, the more network effects you experience.
For example, as your network of allies gets bigger, and your allies become friends with each other, a tidal wave of advocacy starts to blanket your brand and message.
Allies help you punch above your weight class in three main ways:
First, they attach your brand to established pillars of your community. Instant credibility.
Second, allies serve as the gasoline to your message’s fire: get voices of influence to evangelize your message, method, or POV and watch your inbound inquiries skyrocket.
Third, allies make you category famous- and everyone wants to be friends with the popular kid.
How do you partner with allies?
Create content with them. It’s never been easier.
The more allies of influence you can co-create content with or get to champion your message, the more credible reach your message receives, the bigger return your media will produce.
One rule: give your allies something valuable in return; don’t just take.
And no, you can’t do it without them.
For example, early on when Johnathan Dane and KlientBoost needed to establish credibility within the performance marketing community, they partnered with the biggest names in martech on a gifographic educational series. Still one of my favorite campaigns to date.
KlientBoost + UserTesting Gifographic
KlientBoost + Ahrefs Gifographic
KlientBoost partnered with established brands like HubSpot, Ahrefs, SemRush, Marketo, VWO, Shopify, CXL, and Autopilot to create short, animated gifographics (infographics, but made with GIFs)
KlientBoost attached their name to some of the most reputable brands in marketing and used their allies to make them famous overnight. So famous they grew into a $20M ARR agency in five years.
We did the same thing at HockeyStack. But instead of gifograhics, we partnered with some of the most prominent B2B marketing voices on LinkedIn, gave them their own show on The Flow (our B2B streaming network), and leveraged their credibility to accelerate ours.
Take action: Make a list of prominent influencers, connectors, customers, and brands in your broader category. Find ways to infiltrate the “inner circle” of your market. Give allies value in return for their advocacy. And co-create content both parties can benefit from.
Category Entry Points
Not all awareness is created equal.
In fact, awareness without association is like McCartney without Lennon: a waste of time.
If your content doesn’t associate you with relevant buying situations or buying triggers, then buyers won’t recall you when they move in-market, and all that “awareness” will have slipped into the ether.
Awareness without association looks great in a dashboard, but it doesn’t influence your bottom line.
Enter: category entry points.
Category entry points, first established by Jenni Romoniuk and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science, represent the events that trigger a buying decision.
For example, when you think to yourself, “Wow- it’s awfully hot today. I need something cold and refreshing to cool me down” The “hot summer day” part is a category entry point- it’s the hot summer day that prompted you to move in-market for a cold refreshment. And if you’re Coca Cola, you hope buyers associate you with “hot summer days” more than your competitors.
Whereas most B2B brands do a decent job associating themselves with their category by producing tons of broad media about it, they often fail to bridge the association gap between category and category entry point.
What’s more important?
That buyers remember you belong to the marketing analytics category? Or that buyers remember you during annual planning meetings when they’re talking about bringing on an analytics partner?
Both matter. But the latter matters far more.
If category association is the start, then category entry point association is the promised land.
Every brand needs to produce content that associates their brand with category entry points (buying occasions or situations), so more buyers think of them when it’s time to buy.
Standard positioning asks: How do we want buyers to think of us in relation to our competitors?
Positioning yourself for CEPs asks: At what moments and on what occasions do we want buyers to think of us? How can we get them to think of us when it matters?
People don’t spend their waking hours thinking and comparing brands or organizing their attributes like rungs on a ladder (no matter how much we marketers want to believe it).
Instead of categorizing brands and their attributes in our heads, what we actually do with our waking hours is ask questions like:
- “What will I eat for dinner- it’s so damn hot?”
- “What can help me stay awake?”
- “How can I meet my deadline on time?”
- “What will help me get promoted?”
- “What can I bring to my company party?”
- “What can I do to treat myself?”
- “How can I integrate more of my tech stack?”
Bottom line: it’s less important that buyers think of you as the right category, and more important that they think of you at the right time.
For example, Upwork displays a masterclass in brand building and category entry points with their campaign “This is how we work now.”
Watch the full ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfTRdaplDtE
Upwork wanted to associate themselves with the “new way of working,” which includes freelancers, remote workers, young teams, agility, flexible work hours, and meritocracy.
So they launched the “This is how we work now” campaign, poking fun at old, outdated ways of working, like nepotism, shady handshake agreements, and slow hiring processes- all relevant buying triggers they want to associate themselves with.
- Unaided awareness growth of 37% quarter over quarter with business decisions makers in their target market
- 70% increase in top of mind awareness with their target segment, quarter over quarter since start of campaign
- Nominated for Cleo Awards, Webby Awards, and Cannes Lions Awards
View quarterly shareholder letter from Upwork here.
Take action: How can you build a wider network of associations linked to your brand? What associations can you own in the market that your competitors don’t already own? What cues do buyers use to retrieve brands in their minds?
Do you remember your first kiss? Your first broken limb? Your first public embarrassment? The first time you found out someone close to you passed away?
You likely remember all of it.
Just like you probably don’t remember what your favorite B2B marketer posted on LinkedIn last week, what you ate for lunch two days ago, or what SaaS product ad you saw this morning.
Am I right?
That’s because emotion and memory go together like red beans and rice.
Emotion makes our memory work harder and more effectively.
Like, literally, emotional events activate our amygdala (emotional processing) and hippocampus (episodic memory) at almost the exact same time, which results in your amygdala enhancing attention and perception, which helps your hippocampus store memories more effectively.
The result? Stronger memories.
And stronger memories build stronger brands.
When events don’t elicit strong feelings like fear, embarrassment, elation, arousal, amusement, love, or curiosity, those rational experiences fall through the cracks of our memory like sand through a sieve. Then we forget them.
This is where most B2B marketing lives: on a rational, unmemorable, forgettable plane that decays quickly in the mind.
In other words, forgettable marketing.
It could be great messaging.
It could be great creative.
It could be great product marketing.
It could be all the things.
But one thing rational messaging rarely ever is: memorable in the long term.
To be clear: It’s not that rational or logical messaging doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t have its place. It does- of course.
It’s that you can’t rely on rational, emotionless content to create long-term memories. So you shouldn’t.
Instead, to create lasting memories that won’t decay quickly, sow the seeds of emotion.
That doesn’t mean moving people to tears.
It means doing things that make people feel something while they experience your message and/or brand.
This is why B2C brands put puppies, kittens, and furry animals in their commercials- because it spikes happiness within viewers and creates memorable ads (actual research on this btw).
Bottom line: blog posts, podcast episodes, ebooks, website messaging, sales enablement, POV marketing, LinkedIn posts- they all have their place. But they operate on a rational plane that decays quickly in the mind.
So next time you sit down to strategize content, ask yourself how you’re going to create strong memories by introducing emotion.
Enter: emotional seeds.
Emotional seeds are core messages you want to communicate to the market, seeded inside an emotional, memorable vessel.
For example, Obaid Durrani has pioneered the world of edu-tainment for us at HockeyStack.
The Flow doesn’t beat people over the head with rational education (we’ll do that in another place); it wraps our message in levity and emotion so people remember it. And it pulls our buyers emotionally closer to us in the process.
Distinct content that makes people feel good, gets remembered, and spreads far and wide with its universally relevant messages. Oh- and our primary source of new booked demos 😉
But serial, edu-taining content isn’t the only way to bring emotion to an otherwise rational message.
Storytellers have been nesting emotion inside narratives since the beginning of time to create memorable experiences that don’t decay quickly.
Storytelling has become so fashionable in marketing that it’s nearly lost its meaning.
So when I say storytelling, I don’t mean the quasi-storytelling we read about online. I mean real storytelling: protagonist, beginning-middle-end, change, climax, villain, etc.
For example, when HockeyStack wanted to share a message about gated ebooks and stalking buyers with cold outreach, we didn’t just write a LinkedIn post about it; we produced a 1:30 minute short so viewers could empathize with the characters, relate to the experience, and remember our POV.
I give you, The Stalker.
Take action: What core messages does your market need to know about you? How can you seed them in an emotional vessel so buyers actually remember it? It doesn’t need to “make sense” as much as it needs to make people feel something positive about your brand. Do something remarkable that no one will ever forget.
Ever watched one of those videos on YouTube that reels through common household items and how to use them the correct way?
Like how you’re supposed to use the hole in the pot handle to hold your wooden cooking spoon.
Or how you’re supposed to store peanut butter upside down so the oils distribute evenly?
Or how you’re supposed to push the tabs in on the ends of your aluminum foil box to prevent the roll from falling out?
It’s remarkable how many products we use the wrong way in our daily lives. And because of it, we never realize the full potential of the product.
The same goes for B2B.
Buyers don’t know what’s possible with your product. So don’t make them guess.
If you don’t tell them what’s possible- if you don’t demonstrate the use cases– you risk them never knowing.
To be clear: we’re not talking about abstract benefits like “double revenue in two quarters” or “increase productivity by 15%.”
They have their place.
But before a buyer can assess the value of those statements, first they need to understand the use cases that will make those benefits achievable.
What can it do?
Put your product marketing hat on and show them what’s possible.
By making their product highly visible through template libraries.
Asana template library
Miro template library
Webflow template library
Take action: How can you build your category’s version of a template library? What product/service use cases do you need to make highly visible? And how can you take those use cases and distribute them across every medium?
In marketing, we obsess over social proof. And for good reason: it’s an effective way to build trust in our products and their possibilities.
Heck, social proof is one of the oldest tactics in marketing:
- Back in 1760, Josiah Wedgewood used royal endorsements to promote his high-quality pottery and chinaware.
- In the early 1900s, cigarette brands featured entertainers like Harry Bulger in ads.
- In the 1940s, Red Rock Cola signed Babe Ruth as their official drinking partner.
But while social proof helps build trust in our products and their possibilities, what about building trust in our points of view? Our approach to solving a problem? Our leaders’ thoughts and ideas?
Evidence isn’t just something you slap on your website for prospective buyers; it’s a cornerstone of effective communication.
You’re marketing to highly-skeptical buyers- not just skeptical of your product, but skeptical of your promises (all of them).
And there’s no better way to overcome skepticism than by peppering everything you say with evidence.
For example, how does LinkedIn’s B2B Institute build trust in their marketing philosophy?
With data and research.
LinkedIn makes strong claims about how marketing works, but they back those claims up with empirical evidence.
Contrarian philosophies that have been proven true with rigorous research from real and reputable marketing scientists. And a whole lot of potential advertisers who would have otherwise distrusted their claims and called them “bias.”
Take action: Social proof goes without saying. But how can you bring proof to everything you say? How can you use data and research to defeat opinions?
Good content doesn’t mean good marketing.
While content pillars are a great way to develop topics related to your category, they do little to ensure your content creates good marketing.
The Demand Ladder offers an alternative method for planning content- one grounded in the fundamental principles of how marketing works, and one that provides direction on what to create and why.
To make every conversation about content a conversation about marketing so your content actually influences business outcomes.
Now go forth and create good marketing.