4 January 2024

Lead generation vs brand awareness: why winning businesses invest in both


Every business owner that we meet wants to discuss lead generation. This is understandable: growing businesses need a healthy pipeline of good opportunities.

But there’s much more to marketing than lead generation. Building a great brand with high levels of trust and awareness can positively impact everything from close rates to exit values.

In this post, we’ll explore what brand awareness really means for SMEs and why it’s worth investing in.

What do we really mean by brand awareness?

Your brand is much more than your logo, strapline or colour scheme. Your brand is your reputation. It’s the culmination of everything your target market thinks and feels about your business - whether good or bad.

Brand building is about shaping and amplifying the public perception of your business in a way that benefits your business. And ultimately, impacts your bottom line.

If sales is about who you know, brand is about who knows you and what they think.

What’s the relationship between lead generation and brand awareness?

Marketers sometimes refer to brand building and lead generation as the ‘long’ and ‘short’ of marketing (a reference to an influential study published by the IPA some years ago).

But what do they mean by ‘long’ and ‘short’ in this context?

In the simplest terms, brand building drives long-term growth, lead generation drives short-term revenue. The two activities also impact one another. Over time, investing in brand awareness makes lead generation easier, cheaper and more efficient. The ‘long’ drives down the cost of the ‘short’.

The reason for this is surprisingly common sense. When we decide to buy something, we tend to prioritise brands we’ve heard of before. We also treat brands we’ve never heard of with a degree of suspicion. After all, if they were that good, surely we’d have heard of them?

This is just as true for B2B as it is for B2C. 

For instance, imagine you were going to buy a CRM for your business. Chances are you’re going to gravitate initially towards the big names like Hubspot or Salesforce. In much the same way as you’d gravitate towards Adidas or Nike if you were going to buy trainers.

Over the past decade or so, brand building has often been deprioritised by SMEs in favour of lead generation. This is often because lead generation is easier to measure and, in theory, promises a more reliable short-term return on investment.

The pressure to deliver measure and metricise all aspects of marketing has pushed marketers towards short-term tactics that are easy to measure such as outbound email and Google ads. But these channels offer very little brand awareness, which means these companies remain almost entirely unknown in their space, making their lead generation efforts that much harder.

Brand awareness may be harder to measure and require long-term commitment, but it is a key determinant of business growth and strong brand awareness has been proven to help large and small businesses in all kinds of ways.

How does brand awareness benefit SMEs?

Brand awareness isn’t just for global B2C brands. It can make a big difference for B2B SMEs as well. Here are just some of the key ways that brand awareness can help your business.

Increased lead generation and sales efficiency

As we mentioned above, people are more likely to respond to emails, cold calls and marketing campaigns from brands they already know. These leads also tend to have higher close rates and shorter sales cycles, because they have a greater level of trust than someone who has never heard of you.

More inbound enquiries

Having a well-known brand means that more customers will seek you out. Companies with great brand awareness tend to receive higher volumes of branded search and inbound enquiries.

Higher business valuation

Every business owner will be familiar with equity. But what about ‘brand equity’? Powerful brands carry enormous value and can have a big impact on exit values. After all, when someone buys a company, they’re also buying the brand. 

And if that brand is well-known and has a great reputation, that brand is worth a lot.

A more competitive and differentiated offering

Once you’ve established a positive brand image and reputation, no one can take it from you. And any attempts by competitors to tarnish your brand will usually end up tarnishing theirs. When you invest in your brand you’re investing in a unique competitive advantage that no one can take away.

How should you split your budget between lead generation and brand awareness?

Hopefully, we’ve made the case that brand is worth investing in. But how much should you invest?

The general consensus in marketing circles is that you should invest 60% of your marketing budget on brand and 40% on lead generation. This helps ensure long-term growth and short-term pipeline. 

In reality, very few SMEs invest anything even close to 60% of their budget on brand building. Usually, because they can’t justify that level of investment on activity that’s both long-term and harder to measure. 

As we’ve explained above, if they were committed to brand awareness as a strategic priority they’d see the benefits in terms of increased inbound and more cost-effective lead generation.

What tactics build brand awareness?

Enough theory. Let’s talk practice. What can your business do to build awareness?

We’ll be covering these in much more depth in an upcoming post. But here are a few proven ways that SMEs can build brand awareness.

LinkedIn ads

LinkedIn ads are a great way to reach your target market at scale. The ad platform has more granular targeting than other platforms, which makes it ideal for B2B SMEs.

Historically, LinkedIn ads have been seen as a lead generation channel. But there’s a growing recognition that LinkedIn can work just as well to build your brand as well as generate leads.


Ranking for terms that people are likely to use when researching your sector can help you reach potential customers and build awareness. 

Organic social media

Organic social media is a great way to tell your story and build relationships. Although you have to be ready to invest in building an audience over the long-term.


Written and video content targeting pain points and goals that matter to your target market helps educate your audience and build trust as well as drive website traffic.

Events/speaking engagements

Speaking at events is still a great way to build awareness and establish yourself as a thought leader in your space. 

Don’t overlook the importance of brand

Many business owners deprioritise brand awareness in favour of lead generation. Every business needs a healthy pipeline, after all.

But brand has a massive impact across marketing and sales. Brands that underspend on brand usually have to overspend on lead generation to hit their targets. 

So play the long game and balance your investments between the two. 

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