Many of the advantages of digital marketing are tied to its instant nature. Without the restriction of limited printed space, or the cost of air time, or the labour-intensive nature and expense of direct marketing, it’s possible to not only reach more consumers, but to reach them in different and more impactful ways. For example, social media offers a unique opportunity for consumers to interact directly with company representatives and discuss a specific aspect of the product or service they offer. Imagine trying to ‘discuss’ a particular product feature via newspaper classifieds, and having respondents mail in – it just wouldn’t work!
However, some digital marketers have not moved beyond creating that one-way stream of communication; they’ve simply replicated it in a digital form. Display advertising is a good example of this; unsolicited and (relatively, although this is changing) untargeted advertisements on blogs, news sites, portfolios, information sites and online stores. Large-scale email marketing is another example, although email clients generally now have an advanced ability to filter out unsolicited advertisements.
This type of marketing is called ‘push marketing’. The term was first coined in the ‘70s and, quite literally, describes the process of pushing the message onto the consumer. To develop a push marketing strategy, the marketer would have to rank variables in order of importance when deciding what to focus on; because one can only say so many things in a print advertisement or a broadcast commercial, they would have to decide what to include (which USPs to highlight, whether to focus on price, whether to include availability information, which branding elements to incorporate, etc.), and a large volume of interesting and/or important persuasive information would fall by the wayside. This isn’t to say that the consumer never gets something personally useful from a push marketing front; for example, limited time sales offers or coupons can be incorporated into a push.
In a contemporary digital marketing context, push marketing can be described as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. In other words, the aim is to create an offer that appeals to as much of the target audience as possible, and hope it sticks. This is where organisations such as Groupon have been successful; by pushing email marketing messages onto a market already interested in discounts and savings (but – and here’s the critical difference – not actively seeking them out), they’ve had a significant impact.
On the other end of the scale, ‘pull marketing’ describes the process of pulling the consumer in and, to some extent, allowing them to define the marketing experience for themselves. For example, a website can have a wealth of organised information on a product, and the consumer can seek out as much or as little information as they need in order to make a decision. There is no need to limit the variables, although given the nature of site architecture they will need to be prioritised.
For a pull marketing campaign to be successful, the marketer really has to put themselves in the shoes of the consumer and think about what might draw them in, what information they will want or need to make a decision, and how that information is delivered. This usually takes extensive market research and/or working knowledge of user experience factors. For example, a site showcasing a novelty product where the target market is exclusively young tech-savvy people will look and feel a lot different to a site showcasing, say, a medication for elderly people, seeking to pull in patients, their caregivers and physicians.
The best way to define the difference between push and pull marketing is to highlight the difference between the once-off, unilateral nature of the push, and the interactive, bilateral nature of the pull. In push marketing, the marketer sends a message that is not actively sought out by the recipient. In pull marketing, the marketer provides a wealth of information in different forms, and encourages or entices the user to seek out the specific information they’re already interested in.
Bringing the techniques together
Of course, the lines are slightly blurred when it comes to determining what actually makes a user seek out information or a message in the first place. In many situations, marketers will attempt to strike a balance between push and pull marketing. For example, they may develop a strategic push campaign designed to get consumers to seek out further information. Together, this is known as a ‘push-pull’ strategy. In some contexts, it is described as ‘creating a need’, and then offering users a way to satisfy that need.
The idea with a push-pull campaign is to build an interest and begin to build demand through push marketing, perhaps even before the product or service is available, and then providing the content on the platform of choice to form the basis of the pull component of the campaign. The classic rule of seven theory dictates that a consumer may need to see a message up to seven times before they take action on it. This gives the marketer creative freedom to develop up to seven different forms of push building up to the pull. They may even decide to hybridise their campaign, combining print, broadcast, seeding, sponsorship, experiential and digital initiatives such as email and PPC advertising – then creating the brochure site or online store.
Search engine optimisation is an important factor in a successful digital push-pull campaign, because search engines have become a primary source of information in a commercial context. Once the user knows or realises they want to seek out a product or service, they should be able to find it relatively quickly without having to know the URL of the site in question. Optimisation should be initiated at the same time as the push component of the campaign, in order to build rankings in an ethical and sustainable manner, in time for the pull component of the campaign.
Push marketing and pull marketing are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the dynamic between the marketer and the consumer. However, this doesn’t mean they work against each other. With the right coordination and planning, they can work in a cyclical fashion, driving growth over time.