When to Push and When to Pull: Marketing Strategies

Updated November 6, 2019

All marketing endeavors fall into one of those two broad categories: push marketing or pull marketing.

And just like with the door to your favorite fro-yo place, if you are pulling when you should be pushing, you won’t get access to the goods inside.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the differences between the two and when to use each.

At a glance: How push and pull marketing compare

  • Push marketing sends communication and marketing directly to the consumer. It pushes content out to the public, taking products and services to them.
  • Pull marketing focuses on bringing customers to you. It pulls in a consumer base and directs them to your webpage or social media.
  • There are appropriate times to use both strategies, and they can be used in tandem. The key is knowing when to use each one.

What is push marketing?

Push marketing is, as the name suggests, when you push your content right to the consumer. It’s also known as direct response marketing, or outbound marketing. Push marketing can apply to email offers, printed mailers, broadcast spots, point-of-sale displays, etc. — anything that pushes specific advertising outward.

Push marketing is thoughtful marketing that targets a specific message to a particular audience.

It’s used to target new leads and new customers, reaching an audience who may not have heard of you yet. You should use it when you have something new to promote to consumers who may currently be unaware of your product but are looking to buy.

Examples of a push marketing strategy

Push marketing can be done in a variety of ways across many marketing channels. For example:

  • Targeted emailing: You can use email marketing software to pull together a targeted email list for starting a new exercise class. Spread the word about your class to people who are likely to be interested by sending a direct advertising email out to prospects who meet certain criteria (such as age, interests, location, etc.).
  • Line of sight: When launching a new product or service — for example, a new type of energy bar — you can leverage retailer connections to put displays at checkout lines, which pushes the bar into a customer’s line of sight in an area where they are already likely to be receptive (impulse buys at the register). The visibility of advertising in a frequented area pushes that messaging to them.
  • TV or radio ads: Commercials are also a form of push marketing. If you’re launching a consulting service, for example, securing airtime on certain channels at specific times to promote your service puts your business in front of a targeted consumer base.

What is pull marketing?

Pull marketing, also known as inbound marketing, is the opposite of push marketing. It works by actively “pulling” prospects onto your site or drawing them to your product. Pull marketing uses brand awareness and visibility to pull leads to your site.

A pull strategy is increasingly going to be web-based, as you’re hoping to cast a wide net to pull in consumers who may have a need for your services. You’re convincing customers to seek out your product on their own rather than directly targeting them.

Examples of a pull marketing strategy

With pull marketing, you can pull customers to checking out your offering by using:

  • SEO: Say you’re launching a new app, and you want to raise awareness of it. You can pull people in to your site via keyword searches by following SEO best practices related to your app’s content when blogging and running SEO campaigns.
  • Social media: Social media marketing gives you access to a highly populated arena of potential customers. If you have a new clothing line to promote, strategically paying for ads on Instagram to appear in the news feeds of consumers who are engaged with fashion can be a good strategy. You’re not approaching them directly but rather pulling them in by ensuring they “stumble” upon your product.
  • Cross promotion: Partnering with a related website is a great way to draw customers to you. If you’re selling snow equipment, for example, partnering with a respected winter sports site to cross-promote your product builds immediate brand awareness and trust.

Push vs. pull marketing: What’s the difference?

Push marketing is more focused on sales and getting to a quicker conversion.

You are going to the customers and asking them to raise their hands. Pull marketing, though, is an internal focus on your existing customers (and some new ones) to perfect and maximize awareness of your brand as a whole so leads start seeking you out.

Push marketing focuses on getting product information in front of a consumer (direct mail, email marketing, etc.), while pull marketing is all about awareness and making it easier for customers to find you.

Because of these differences in both concept and strategy, push marketing can be a mix of offline (for example, direct mail postcards) and online (an email offer), while pull marketing is mostly online (SEO blogs that link to landing pages).

With push marketing, you are telling the customer what you’re offering and what they should ask for. With pull marketing, you’re letting brand awareness encourage prospects to seek you out on their own. And, with varying strategies, there are many tools to help you achieve what you need.

Tools used in push marketing:

  • Print-on-demand services: For flyers and mailers targeted around a particular product and to a specific audience, you want to be able to send them out as soon as an opportunity arises. With print-on-demand services, you can order mailers as soon as you put new prospects in the funnel or release a new product.
  • CRM: Your CRM (customer relationship management) software is essential in building and maintaining a database of leads to whom you can send your direct marketing.

Tools used for pull marketing:

  • Facebook ads: Social media marketing is a huge part of pull marketing; telling your brand’s story is important when building awareness. Facebook ads let you target a desired demographic whose awareness you want to pull, and then create ads to achieve that.
  • SEO tools: Since SEO is integral to pull marketing when it comes to raising brand awareness, SEO tools such as the free Google Search Console are helpful. You can research competitive keywords and track your own ranking to adjust and grow visibility.

Should you use push or pull marketing?

There isn't a right answer for which strategy you should use.

Recently, marketers have been trending toward the organic aspect of pull marketing as consumers grow a little resistant to traditional advertising, but there will always be a need for both.

If you have a specialized product or service, push marketing may be your best bet. Directly targeting consumers who would be interested increases the likelihood of them interacting with the advertising as it is relevant and specific enough for them to take action.

Because it is so specific, though, don't use push marketing if your goal is merely engagement or awareness, because those returns will be lower. However, you will most likely see more of the customers who do interact converting to sales.

If you’re a new brand or just starting to grow, pull marketing may be your best answer to increase brand awareness and boost your reputation. You can expect to see a higher level of engagement with pull marketing because it is broader, but fewer conversions to sales.

Most marketers opt to use a combination of the two, and there are some industries where a mix works best. In business-to-business (B2B) marketing, for example, both push and pull strategies are necessary.

You want to make yourself visible and available without limiting your market.

When engaging B2B prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, you may sometimes need to ensure they are generally aware of you (using SEO-boosted pull marketing) and may also want to target a direct need they have (using promotional mailers) at just the right time.

Pushing and pulling to marketing success

Push marketing and pull marketing are two sides of the same coin. With push marketing, you send out targeted promotional material to consumers, and with pull marketing, you build a brand and let consumers come to you.

Both forms can be effective depending on your goal (conversions vs. awareness), and both play an important role in successful marketing campaigns.

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