Marketing Throwdown – Pull versus Push

Marketing Throwdown - Pull versus PushDescribing push marketing is easy (or at least it should be). Push marketing is the traditional marketing and advertising seen everywhere. Push marketing starts with the product or service, identifies the features or benefits that potential customers will find most compelling, and then utilizes targeting and segmentation to “push” carefully crafted marketing messages out via a variety of advertising, sales, and social media channels to the most likely potential customers.

But, stray into the pull marketing universe and prepare to be inundated by a plethora of widely divergent definitions. Some people would define pull marketing as similar to push, but instead of marketing to potential customers, potential decision makers or consumers (or even influencers) are targeted so that hopefully they will pull customers to the business. Still other people talk about technology push versus market pull in the context of determining which products get developed and sold (or should be developed and sold). Making it even more confusing, some people call the direct advertising to consumers of prescription medications like Viagra a pull marketing strategy. So just what is a pull marketing strategy then anyways? Who’s right?

I would argue that none of them are correct. While the communications produced might to talk to different groups of people than traditional marketing or in a slightly different way, they all are still, at their core, push marketing strategies. Pull marketing is something else entirely (and should be in order to maximize your investment in marketing). While push marketing focuses on the most likely potential customers, pull marketing should be focused on a totally different group of people – non-customers who are not yet ready to become customers at this time.

An effective pull marketing strategy begins with extensive research into what makes a person evolve from someone who is disinterested and unaware of a solution area, to seeing how it might fit into their personal or professional lives and make it better. This usually involves the creation of content that will raise awareness, interest, inspiration, and understanding of the whole solution area, and the need for it, not just the features and benefits of one company’s particular product or service. Pull marketing strategies are very uncomfortable for most marketers, and as a result most companies have no pull to balance their push.

So which is better push marketing or pull marketing?

Any organization that is interested in sustained revenue and profitability growth over time should invest in both, but most companies are seduced by the immediate payback of push marketing and pursue only push marketing strategies. Meanwhile, pull marketing helps grow new potential customers (or accelerates their purchase readiness timeline), so it is equally important in the long run. Smart companies, organizations that intend to succeed in the long run, need to invest in both push and pull marketing strategies in order to keep their sales pipeline full both for now AND for the future. And if your company is focused on innovation, then the more disruptive that you try to be, the more important that having a pull component to your marketing strategy will become. Push or pull? The answer lies in… the balance.


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About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and creates B2B inbound marketing strategies that attract and engage customers, partners, and employees. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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One Response to Marketing Throwdown – Pull versus Push

  1. Greg Verdino says:

    Nice post Braden. People have been talking about “pull marketing” for years but – you’re right – there are as many definition for “pull” as there are for “innovation”. I suppose the growing focus on inbound marketing has led to *some* standardization around the most effective tools at the very least: As you put it, “content that will raise awareness, interest, inspiration, and understanding of the whole solution area, and the need for it, not just the features and benefits of one company’s particular product or service.” But, also to your point, even putting so fine a point on it (make great content to engage and inspire consumers), most marketers find the whole idea pretty uncomfortable. Simply because it’s not the status quo…

    Back in 2008, I also attempted to define pull marketing, in response to general confusion and misuse of the term. I distinguished pull from push as follows: “Pull is not about pulling consumers in; it’s about giving consumers a reason to pull us in.” If you’re interested: http://http://gregverdino.com/lets_define_the. Not sure if my post supports your point or clarifies the difference :-) but I think our thinking is in synch.

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