5 Demand Generation Examples—With Ideas From Startups

Portrait of Vanessa King
by Vanessa King
Nov 9, 2017

At its core, demand generation has three steps: create demand for a product, generate leads that are very qualified, and pass them off to sales to become customers. But how companies navigate this process takes many shapes depending on target audiences and products being offered.

For startups, nothing is more important than demand generation. Getting the most qualified people from unknown to customer is vital to survival. That’s why they’re the origin of some of the most clever demand generation examples marketing has ever seen.

Keep reading for 5 creative tactics that startups use to create demand.

  1. Give something away
  2. Schedule a webinar
  3. Build a tool
  4. Create a referral bonus
  5. Borrow similar audiences

1. Give something away

Never underestimate how much people love free stuff—even if it has your company’s logo on it.

Branded products can create demand when they’re used strategically. These low-cost, functional items are worth their weight in gold if you can get them on the right people.

New Relic and IFTTT are two companies that successfully leaned on corporate swag to generate product demand in their early days.

New Relic t-shirts

After raising a Series B, New Relic set aggressive growth goals to double free trial numbers each month. But the digital intelligence company had a problem: their product only worked if people installed code on their server and reset it. That’s a lofty ask for a free trial.

So, the company sweetened the deal by sending a free t-shirt once users had successfully deployed the product. This point is key—don’t give anything away without some sort of commitment from users. These weren’t just boring shirts with the New Relic logo on them. Instead, the company designed custom t-shirts that their audience would proudly wear in public.

The campaign was a success. The company gave out 100,000 shirts in 2013, meeting lead goals and building community around the product.

Example of demand generation from New Relic. Source:

IFTTT socks

Events are a common demand generation example. They give companies a great opportunity to talk to leads, get instant feedback on products, and collect information all in one place.

IFTTT found a way to foster brand loyalty and create demand with their event swag. Instead of the standard pen or sticker, the company handed out socks with a custom neon argyle print.


A post shared by IFTTT (@todayatifttt) on

The socks worked because they were original and immediately useful for developers, who often work at offices with a casual dresscode. Anyone who picked up a pair of the conversation-starting socks was instantly a walking, talking advertisement for the company.

2. Schedule a webinar

Webinars are one of the best demand generation examples. Often used to generate product demand, these videos are normally gated, requiring an email address to reserve a spot or access the content afterwards.

Webinars can be how-tos on products or Q&As on issues facing your target audience. Either format works as long as people learn something new and you can easily repurpose the content for other campaigns and platforms.

Another pro tip? Partner with a happy customer to do a deep dive into how they use your product or co-host with a relevant company so you can tap into their marketing list, too.


Shopify uses webinars to transform anonymous blog readers into leads. Its strategy is sneaky but effective: a sidebar on its blog promotes a webinar that’s always beginning within minutes. A countdown clock creates a sense of urgency, driving people to sign up immediately or risk missing out.

Example of demand generation from Shopify.

The trick is that the webinar isn’t live, and the countdown resets itself to 15 minutes once the timer hits zero. The video is also on an evergreen issue that many e-commerce entrepreneurs struggle with, so the content is never stale.

Once they collect webinar leads, it would be easy to segment and serve them more content that relates to dropshipping to further nurture them along the path to conversion.

3. Build a tool

Demand generation obviously begins by creating demand for a product, meaning your audience might not even know that they have the problem that your product solves.

Free tools make it easy to start relationships with these audiences so you can begin nurturing them towards a sale. These tools work best when they solve a common pain point that’s related in some way to your product.

Let’s dive into three tools that serve as shining examples of demand generation.


Clearbit refers to free tools as “engineering as marketing.” Its products include Clearbit Connect, a Gmail extension that provides additional information about contacts and makes it easy to find contact information for people at any company. Their Autocomplete API uses data to shorten user onboarding, and their Logo API pulls company logos into websites and apps.

Through these tools, the company shows non-technical users how valuable APIs can be while also hinting at their extensive power to automate tedious parts of information gathering.

Example of demand generation from Clearbit.

The company has driven more than 100,000 leads through these free tools. These contacts are strongly qualified because they understand Clearbit’s value and the need that its products fill.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer

CoSchedule provides a marketing calendar aimed at content marketers. With the rise of social media and search engine marketing, headlines are the golden ticket to a successful piece of content. But creating the perfect headline is easier said than done.

That’s where CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer comes in. Marketers simply type in a headline to see results for word balance, length, keywords, sentiment, and more. Of course, the tool also features several calls to action to sign up for CoSchedule’s paid product.

Example of demand generation from Coschedule.

BuySellAds CPM calculator

This might feel like self-promotion, but bear with me. This one is on the list to show that tools don’t need to be advanced engineering marvels to generate demand.

CPM is easy to calculate when it’s just cost/impressions*1000. But many marketers tap out when they have to start manipulating the formula. This simple calculator takes away that pain point by letting marketers add any two components to solve for the third. It’s a quick, easy solution that has generated a lot of brand awareness and leads over the years.

Example of demand generation from BuySellAds

4. Create a referral bonus

Who are the most qualified people to refer new customers? Your current customers, of course.

Referral marketing is a great way to nurture leads who successfully made it through the demand generation funnel. In exchange for a small kickback, your current customers become a source of strong inbound leads who start with a higher level of trust for your product or service.

Many tech companies have skyrocketed because of referral programs, Dropbox included.


Dropbox launched its referral program as a way to harvest demand instead of creating it through advertising. Their structure has always been simple: refer friends and get free storage space.

Example of demand generation from Dropbox.

Its simplicity is likely why it exploded. The referral program has led to millions of new users, permanently increasing signups by 60% without any spend.

5. Borrow similar audiences

Not all of the best demand generation examples can be launched independently. For example, partnerships are an underutilized tactic in today's demand gen strategies.

Brands spend a lot of time, money, and resources building audiences. Why not borrow a few minutes of their time while introducing them to your product?

Guest blogging lets companies tap into other brands’ audiences while still providing value. The key is picking a non-competing brand with an overlapping target audience, then pitching a topic that hits on their product, your product, and solves an issue facing your shared audience.


The Moz blog is filled with insights, advice, and research that demystify search engine marketing. Its articles and videos are produced by staff writers and guest posters.

Example of demand generation

Let’s consider this article on failed link building campaigns. The author explains 11 failures she has faced and how she overcame each of them. It’s an informative article helpful for any marketer looking to have high-quality websites link to a piece of content.

Once a reader makes it to the end, they realize that the author runs a content marketing and SEO agency. By publishing an amazing piece of content on Moz, she misses the traffic coming to her own website but extends her reach to brand marketers through Moz’s website traffic, email lists, and social profiles.

Thousands of members of her targeted audience are now familiar with her agency, and a domain with a powerful authority is now linking to her agency’s website.


Whether guest content is paid or free, it should always be useful to the audience that will consume it.

That’s exactly what Hotjar did with a sponsored post on the David Walsh Blog, which is popular among web developers. In the article, David Walsh walks readers through how he installed Hotjar on his website and the feedback it gave him. It doesn’t read as a promotional article at all (in fact, it even says that that product doesn’t try to do dozens of things).

By being useful and honest, the content comes across as trustworthy and valuable to Hotjar’s target audience of web developers. Plus, users are linked to a landing page reiterating the product’s features and benefits with an offer to sign up for a free trial.

Don’t be afraid to get creative

Demand generation covers every touchpoint that a contact has with your company. As a result, there are tons of creative demand generation examples that can be used to create a strategy that fits perfectly with your target audience and product.

Once you discover which tactics give you the best customers and leads, you’ll be able to create a strategy that can be used over and over again to generate sustainable demand.