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Back before the existence of computers and technology – I know, it’s hard to imagine such a time! – companies had to find a way to promote themselves in the offline world. One of the most popular ways of doing this was with printed adverts; so fliers or ads placed in local newspapers. This form of marketing was basically putting businesses right in front of their potential customers. They couldn’t afford to sit back and hope their clients would just magically find them. They had to be more pro-active. And that’s how push marketing was born.

Push vs Pull in the age of Digital Marketing

As we entered the digital age, we were introduced to a more subtle form of marketing. Search engines made it possible for people to go looking for what they were after from the very comfort of their own chairs and, at last, businesses could relax a little in the knowledge that now there was a method for them to be found without necessarily needing to put in huge amounts of effort to make people aware of their existence.

For many years, this practice continued, but now it would seem the tides are changing slightly. Ok, so not everyone’s going to the lengths of printing out leaflets left, right and centre, but developments in technology and digital marketing have meant that push marketing is making somewhat of a comeback.

But first, precisely what is push marketing and how does it differ to pull marketing?

What is push and pull marketing?

The best way to think about it is by using this analogy; imagine you’re on a desert island and you need to catch some fish. You could either lure the fish to you by attracting them with bait and a net. Or, you could take a more pro-active approach and use a spear to catch your dinner.

In essence, the net represents pull marketing – using methods and practices that help to naturally attract people towards your business – and the spear represents push marketing – making a conscious effort to proactively put your business in front of people.

So which should you use; push or pull marketing?

Going back to our analogy, you may find you’re more likely to catch more fish using the net – this may also be the case with digital marketing; naturally attracting visits, particularly using methods such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can result in a steady, regular stream of traffic to your website.

If you’re using the spear, on the other hand, realistically you’re only likely catch one fish at a time and again, the same could be applied to your online marketing; you may find the push technique attracts fewer people. As we adapted more to the pull marketing strategy, over the years, people became less accustomed to outward promotion – just take unsolicited PPI phone calls as a prime example.

That’s not to say, however, that push marketing isn’t still effective. Yes, you may attract fewer people but the chances are those people will turn into qualified customers as they already know – and are interested in – what you have to offer. Ask yourself, how many times have you had an email from one of your favourite vendors alerting you to their latest offer? Then how many times have you clicked through from that email to find out more about – and maybe even purchased – said offer; something you may not necessarily have even known about had it not been for their original email?

Not only that, the spear in our analogy will enable you to go after a specific type of fish. Granted, the net will catch more for you, but some of those fish may be poisonous, whereas the spear can be more specific and keep you safe from harm. Again, pull marketing may attract more visits to your website, but push marketing is better for targeting specific customers that fit the profile you’re after. Email marketing can allow you to do this if you segment lists by customer profile, for example. Whereas SEO is more broad and won’t necessarily allow you to be as specific.

Push marketing is a great way to promote your business, products or services, but sometimes it has to be subtle in order to be effective.

So what form does push marketing take? Well we’ve already mentioned email marketing, but other methods include:

  • Display advertising (image or ads appearing on external websites that, when clicked on, take the user to the advertiser’s website)
  • Mobile app notifications
  • Cold telephone calling – although, obviously, this is an offline example

You could argue that social media should appear in this list too and, in some respects you’d be right; certainly when it comes to advertisements on those platforms, such as boosted Facebook posts or promoted tweets, for instance.

But you wouldn’t be wrong arguing that social media could be classed as pull marketing either. It really depends on how you, as a business, choose to use the platform. Let’s say you’re on Twitter endorsing your products on a daily basis, promoting tweets to reach a larger audience and messaging new followers encouraging them to visit your website. Then, yes, that would be classed as push marketing.

But if, on the other hand, your aim is to develop relationships on Twitter, you could argue that social media is more on the pull marketing side of the spectrum. Do you follow relevant hashtags that relate to your business then join in, not to promote, but just to get involved in the conversation? Then yep, that’s pull marketing. People that don’t know you may be interested to find out who you are, resulting in a click through to your Twitter page or even your website; they’ve developed a natural interest in your brand as a result of your interaction.

Although you may not realise it, if you’re actively trying to promote your business, chances are you’re probably already using push marketing in one way or another, even if it’s just the occasional newsletter here and there. But it’s vital to assess exactly how you’re using it and, more importantly, whether you think it’s working for you. Try to take a step back for a second, or even ask for someone else’s unbiased opinion; does your approach seem like it’s coming on too strong? Is it a little too regular? If so, maybe it’s time to tone it down a little.

No one really likes to be told what to do; after all, aren’t the best marketing campaigns the subtle ones? Look at John Lewis’ Christmas ads, for example – it’s extremely rare that they specifically tell you to buy something – the message is hinted at, but it’s very subtle.

The same can be applied to your digital marketing campaigns. Our advice would be to find a happy balance between push and pull marketing, maybe leaning slightly more towards pull marketing with a hint of subtle push.

At the end of the day, you want real, loyal customers who made the effort to find your brand, purchased a product or service from you and loved your service. Obtaining customers by push marketing isn’t to be sniffed at by any means, but remember the analogy; you’re probably more likely to catch a few more fish with the net than you will with the spear.

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