The Evolution of Push vs. Pull Marketing

Push vs. Pull Marketing
For long-term success, a mix of both push and pull marketing strategies is essential, because some customers react only to one type or the other.

In this age of anywhere/anytime Internet access, mobile devices, and social media, buyers can actively select and target the products they want to pursue by gathering information and making informed decisions. They often act based on their own wants and needs without the limitation of what an individual supplier pushes towards them.

This dramatic evolution in the buying model is the very definition of pull marketing. Buyers decide how broadly or narrowly they want to shop, they build their own internal demand through research and consideration, they read what other buyers have said, and then they find what they want at a price they’re willing to pay. It’s a great senario for the buyer but not so great for the marketer—unless you understand how to effectively leverage pull marketing techniques.

This rapid buying behavior shift is a radical change for marketing professionals. It is harder to unilaterally push your organization’s agenda when buyers control how they find information, compare features and benefits, analyze value, and then decide if, when, what, and where to purchase. In response, savvy marketers everywhere are working harder than ever to create relevant messaging and compelling content that’s easy to find online.

When Push Comes to Shove

Until fairly recently, push strategies dominated marketing and are undoubtedly what created our field in the first place. The desire to stimulate interest and wring extra dollars out of customers is typified by nostalgic early examples of push marketing that shoved products and services at customers and prospects, such as the slick barker outside P.T. Barnum’s circus tent, the sole-bare guy pacing the streets with the “Eat at Joe’s” sandwich board, and even the ambitious Sears catalog distributed to every home in America. Many sellers still use similar types of push promotion techniques under a simple premise: “If we’ve got it, they must want it!”—or the more popular variation: “Build it, and they will come!”

One of the most memorable examples of push marketing gone awry comes to us from Coca Cola, one of the world’s premier products and brands. Despite a lack of market research to validate consumer desire, in the mid-1980s, Coca Cola inexplicably decided to replace its original soft drink with a reformulated version that came to be known as “New Coke.” This massive re-launch was accompanied with high levels of fanfare and promotion. Despite aggressive marketing efforts and huge advertising campaigns (such as a series of TV commercials featuring Bill Cosby), this push campaign didn’t work, and after a few years, New Coke was abandoned entirely. There are countless other examples of products and companies who counted on ambitious push marketing strategies for success, and unfortunately, most of them did not survive long and are since forgotten.

Pulling It All Together

By contrast, pull marketing strategies have the buyer in mind from the outset. Organizations use interactive research, voice of the customer feedback, industry trends, gap analysis, and other empirical evidence to help ensure success in the marketplace. These predictive indicators are used to develop products and services that show a high level of demand from buyers. These same truths form the basis to build supportive messaging. When potential buyers are part of the process—and their pain points and needs are taken into consideration—your likelihood of success is nearly certain to improve.

In an older, but still relevant article on, Sookie Shuen, an inbound marketing consultant, summarizes the value of pull marketing by stating, “Pull marketing can deliver significantly better results than traditional push marketing. With buyer behavior changing in response to the growth of the web and social media, pull marketing makes it easier and more cost effective to drive leads and sales—but it needs to be done effectively.” Sookie goes on to cite the five key elements of a powerful pull marketing strategy as content, transparency, technology, resources, and a continuous improvement cycle.

Balance is Key

In the current interactive, instant-information landscape, the goal of any marketer should be to develop and make available compelling information designed to persuade the prospect to buy. Successful marketing programs include easily searchable online articles, blogs, white papers, mobile apps, webcasts, videos, and the all-important customer experience support materials, such as success stories, case studies, and satisfaction quotations.

Of course, no one is advocating that you abandon push strategies. There is still an important place for awareness campaigns, cold calling, and other outbound marketing programs. Just keep in mind that when you achieve an optimal blend—where your proactive pull strategies use push strategies as complementary rather than primary tools—your overall success will undoubtedly increase.

A final thought: “For long-term success, a mix of both push and pull marketing strategies is essential, because some customers react only to one type or the other.” ~Fitz Villafuerte