Balancing push and pull marketing

Effective marketing is combining awareness of products or services with engaging potential customers through value-added content to become brand advocates


For decades, marketers plied their craft according to a simple formula: TV advertising creates awareness which in turn produces sales. This was not, as many would argue, a mistaken belief. Virtually all the great brands of the 20th century were built that way and many still prosper by it today.

However, it has become incomplete. A variety of trends, including community marketing, digital technology, social media and mass personalisation, to name a few, have conspired against the traditional view that message and media are sufficient to create sales.

So today’s marketers have a serious challenge. If the old model is broken, what should replace it? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Media budgets continue to play an important role in successful marketing programmes, just as many of the trendy new tactics often fall short. What we need is not a new model, but a more strategic way of thinking.

Push marketing, although until recently nobody ever called it that, has prospered for decades because it is based on a premise that is both simple and true: if you want to sell something, you have to tell people about your product. That, in essence, is what the big ad agencies get paid to do – craft messages and get them in front of the right audience.

How much do you trust these types of advertising

Yet push strategies ran into two problems. The first was that cable TV and the internet fragmented audiences significantly, narrowing them and raising costs. So many marketers found themselves priced out of the market, unable to reach significant numbers of viable prospects for a reasonable outlay.

The second problem is, if anything, even more challenging. The idea of push marketing has always been to provoke a response, such as a phone call or a trip to a store. But in a digital world, prospects will often engage in searching behaviour on the internet. That activity can be tracked by competitors, who will retarget those customers with competing offers.

Clearly, marketing has changed forever. Even when push marketing achieves its core objective of awareness it generates leads for competitors. That’s no way to create a sustainable advantage. So many marketers have started to look for another way.

As marketers recognised that simply pushing messages at customers was losing its effectiveness, many started to think in terms of pulling people in through engaging them with a value-exchange strategy.

Often, pull strategies are content focused. L’Oréal’s Destination Beauty channel on YouTube, for example, offers videos that help customers use its products more effectively. Marketo, a company that sells marketing automation software, has created Marketo University to train and certify its users on the latest digital marketing techniques.

Rather than focusing on one set of tactics to the exclusion of another, marketers should be applying suitable strategies to address a measurable set of objectives

Zappos has turned its call centre into an effective marketing platform. Rather than using it to cold-call prospects or pushing its customer service representatives to speed through calls, the company recognised that the staff could win customers over with superior service.

Yet pull-marketing techniques are not a panacea. In fact, they can sometime backfire wildly. One famous case is Pepsi’s Refresh Project, which replaced the company’s traditional TV ads on the Super Bowl with a $20-million social initiative. The results were a disaster, as the company lost market share and fell to third place in its category, behind Coke and Diet Coke.

While there are strong and passionate advocates on both sides of the push-pull marketing divide, the choice between them is a false one. Rather than focusing on one set of tactics to the exclusion of another, marketers should be applying suitable strategies to address a measurable set of objectives.

Marketers have three core challenges: to make consumers aware of their products and services, to generate sales, and to inspire consumers to become brand advocates. Clearly, tactics will vary according to the particular challenges each brand faces.

Digital Tonto

The chart above shows the three core objectives of awareness, sales and advocacy, each of which is measurable by standard surveys, paired with strategies to address those needs.

A brand that needs to build awareness would want to focus on push strategies to promote consumers’ attention and evaluation of their products. Promotions that are close to the point of purchase can help to drives sales. Pull strategies that encourage value exchange and help build a community around the brand helps to win advocates.

Clearly, as competitive as the marketplace has become, no marketer can afford to take a “one size fits all” approach.

All too often, push and pull-marketing strategies are seen as on opposite sides of a great divide, with advocates of each lining up to defend their champion. In actuality, the best marketers are the ones who are able to integrate them successfully.

Tesco regularly uses push-marketing tactics to announce promotions, yet its virtual stores targeting commuters in South Korea is a great example of pull marketing at its best. Both support its mission of offering high-quality merchandise at competitive prices.

In a similar vein, L’Oréal’s Destination Beauty YouTube channel succeeded because it supported the company’s longstanding dedication to helping women to look and feel beautiful. Pepsi Refresh failed, in part, because it conflicted with its longstanding positioning as a young, carefree brand.

In the final analysis, it is the mission that must drive the strategy, not a preference for one set of tactics over another. Smart marketing integrates push and pull strategies into a coherent whole.