Have you ever tried to push your way through a door that said “pull”?
First comes confusion. What just happened? Why does my face hurt? And then embarrassment: No one looks good walking into a door.
But once we get past the shock and awkwardness, there’s a great lesson to be learned here.
Pushing and pulling are two different ways of doing very similar things. But in most situations, only one works — and the other has a negative effect that could leave you looking foolish.
Push marketing and pull marketing exist in the same tension. Both are good, but things can get messy if you push when you should pull (or vice versa).
Let’s break down the differences.
What is push marketing?
Push marketing is any effort to reach potential customers directly (by pushing your message out to them). You’ll also hear the terms “direct marketing” and “outbound marketing” used in similar contexts because these all have a very similar concept: pushing a message outward, directly to an audience.
Printed advertising/mailers and broadcast advertising are the classic examples. Flyers and commercials push a brand’s message out to a large audience full of people who may or may not know or care about the brand to reach those who do (or will) care.
Push marketing can be narrower and more targeted, too, such as with account-based marketing, targeted email campaigns, or in-store ads.
Pros and cons of push marketing
Push marketing delivers meaningful results in the right situations, but there are drawbacks as well.
Generates new leads by reaching audiences that don’t know about a brand or product
Reaches larger audiences quickly
Allows you to measure impact relatively easily
Can be expensive
Uses resources (effort, money, time) pushing to unreachable and uninterested audiences
Little long-term impact (without repeated costs)
Push marketing examples
Push marketing is easier to understand in context, so let’s walk through several examples of push marketing to see how several marketing tactics fit into this category.
Display ads (including Google ads and social media ads) push a message out to people who aren’t necessarily looking for that message.
That Instagram ad for a new jacket or that sidebar ad for software on your favorite industry news site? They’re both getting pushed into your digital life because you fit into a certain target audience or demographic, not necessarily because anyone knows you need a specific jacket or new software.
(There’s some nuance here, though. Retargeting might serve you a jacket ad because you’ve already been searching for jackets, and this starts to veer into pull territory.)
That sign at the grocery store letting you know (always in bright colors and big letters) that cereal is on sale is another form of push marketing. You went to the grocery store for kale and avocados, not Cheerios. But somehow, you come home with two boxes of the latest flavor anyway.
Why? Because you got pushed into it with a catchy sale promotion.
One of the pushiest of the push marketing techniques, cold-calling reaches directly into a person’s ear to spread the brand’s message. And while this approach is much maligned, it still generates results ranging from 2–10% in B2B contexts.
Email marketing, where a brand announces new products or sales, is another form of push marketing. The more targeted and sales-oriented the email, the stronger it fits into the push category.
This category also rides the bubble a bit. Depending on the approach used to build an email list, a brand might also use email marketing in pull-like ways, developing brand loyalty and building relationships that aren’t just built on the sale of the hour.
What is pull marketing?
Pull marketing takes the opposite approach. Instead of pushing a message into people’s lives, pull marketing seeks to pull those people into a brand’s sphere of influence. Pull marketing is an inbound marketing approach that seeks to pull in warm leads by providing value in some form.
Brands that use pull marketing do so because they want to build longer-term relationships with customers or because making the sale means convincing the customer of value, authenticity, and authority.
Pros and cons of pull marketing
Just like push marketing, pull marketing works wonderfully in the right situations, but it also has potential weaknesses.
Marketing pieces are easier and faster to generate
Creates stronger brand loyalty
Results take time
Pinpointing results to specific marketing pieces is difficult
Requires precise audience targeting
Pull marketing examples
If pushing isn’t generating the results your client needs, then it could be you’re standing in front of a door that says “pull.”
Here are a few examples of pull marketing strategies to get your creative juices flowing.
Content marketing is a much more indirect form of marketing that creates actionable, valuable information (like this blog post!) that draws in readers who are a good fit for your client’s products or services.
With content marketing, you’re putting a message out there and using it to pull people into a brand relationship that eventually leads to a sale. It’s a very different feel compared to pushing that sale directly at people.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO goes hand in glove with content marketing. With SEO, you’re working to get your clients’ web presence to rank higher on the major search engines (Google and Bing) for relevant keywords. You’ll usually use content marketing resources to make this happen.
By providing useful, helpful answers to searchers’ questions, brands can draw those searchers in and start building rapport and brand authority.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing attracts social media users to a brand with the goal of having those users like or follow that brand. With an established audience of people already primed to like the brand and its products, brands nurture those relationships through regular social media posts.
Note that for our purposes here, we’re distinguishing between social media marketing and social media advertising. The former reaches an “already in” audience, pulling those users into a brand’s ecosystem. The latter pushes a brand’s message out to audiences that aren’t “in” yet.
Customer reviews and testimonials
Customer reviews and testimonials are another form of pull marketing. These are resources that, generally, shoppers go looking for as they deliberate a purchase or seek to distinguish between competitors.
By featuring positive customer reviews prominently, brands can increase their trustworthiness and desirability — with or without pushier marketing and sales tactics.
Key differences between push and pull marketing
Even though push and pull marketing sound like polar opposites, there are times where the line between the two gets blurry. These are the key differences that can help differentiate between the two.
Direction of communication
Push marketing relies on outbound communication, pushing messages to the audience.
But in contrast, pull marketing mainly encourages inbound communication and interaction, attracting customers who seek information. The brand puts that information out there (such as in the form of SEO-focused content marketing), and it’s the customer who initiates communication after finding the information.
This communication could look like signing up, opting in, adding to a cart, or making a purchase.
Focus and engagement
Push marketing is putting things in front of viewers that those viewers want now — right now. It’s a good fit for short-term sales, quick sales cycles, short customer journeys, and immediate conversions.
You see the jacket, you want the jacket, you buy the jacket, and (if the brand gets really lucky) you tell others about the brand and the jacket.
Pull marketing, on the other hand, focuses on building long-term customer engagement and brand loyalty. It’s a good fit when you want to keep selling jackets (and shirts and pants and so on) to a customer for the next 20 years.
It’s also a good fit when your client’s product is more complicated than something that can get impulse-bought. Plenty of people impulse-buy a jacket or a box of cereal. But cars or enterprise software or consulting contracts? Those are slower, more complicated sales relationships.
The target audience can be a big point of departure as well. Push marketing almost always casts a wider net, getting a message out to more people faster. But this approach risks targeting uninterested or unqualified leads, no matter how targeted the push. And given the usually immense cost of traditional push marketing, those bad targets are expensive.
Pull marketing allows for a more precise and targeted approach, reaching a (much smaller) audience that’s genuinely interested in the product or service.
Methods and channels
Not every method and channel falls exclusively in one category or the other, but several have very strong leanings.
Traditional advertising (including print, radio, television, and video ads) is push-heavy. Telemarketing, email blasts, and direct mail are as well.
These approaches don’t generally invite audiences into a conversation or build a long-term relationship (though there’s a case to be made about long-standing TV commercial series like beer-delivering Clydesdales, insurance-selling geckos with their own Fandom wiki pages, or cola-drinking polar bears).
Instead, they push a message to audiences that usually has a strong call to action.
Pull marketing relies heavily on newer marketing channels that include content marketing, SEO, and social media. These methods aren’t as well suited for blasting a message out to a Super-Bowl-sized audience, but they are perfect for pulling right-fit readers into a relationship or conversation.
Customer engagement (both desired and incidental) tends to be very different as well. With push marketing, customer engagement is all over the place. Some viewers will resonate with the message, and some of those will convert.
But others will be passive or disinterested no matter how well-made the advertisement is. Even worse, the wrong piece of marketing in the wrong context can even cause annoyance or active dislike!
In contrast, pull marketing tends to have a much higher level of engagement by its very design. The people who don’t care won’t find the pull marketing in the first place. But those who actively seek out the information actively want to find it. When the results meet their needs and exceed their expectations, you usually end up with a highly engaged, very satisfied reader-turned-customer.
Choosing the right strategy for your agency
As an agency, how do you determine when a push marketing strategy is right for your client and when a pull marketing approach is a stronger choice?
There’s no single right answer. The right approach depends on the clients you support, their products and services, and even the norms within their respective industries.
For example, there are certain types of marketing that retailers almost always employ. Think of your favorite grocery store chain. Its marketing teams build strong sales-oriented ads that show up at point-of-sale, in direct mail flyers, on web pages, and maybe even billboards. Offering discounts or incentives for purchasing a particular product is a direct way to spur on higher sales.
For other companies (such as consultancies and software and SaaS companies), billboards and coupons are ludicrous. Their marketing plans and promotional strategies are all about building quality, long-term customer relationships with a smaller and more targeted audience.
In other words, pull marketing.
And, of course, many businesses benefit from both. A local HVAC or home services firm may know its older clientele will only discover them via local TV commercials, but a younger audience will almost certainly turn to Google (or even TikTok) when looking for a repair company. With clients like these, both push (TV) and pull (content marketing, SEO, local search) are vital.
Leverage Teamwork.com to reinforce your marketing strategy
Both push and pull marketing have a place in the modern digital marketing agency’s arsenal of tools and strategies. Depending on the clients you support and the business models they use, your agency might find itself pulling more than it pushes, vice versa, or freely mixing the two approaches.
No matter your approach, digital marketing always involves countless moving parts and pieces. That’s where digital agency project management can help.
Teamwork.com is the only platform custom-built for agencies and client work. With it, you can manage multiple complex client projects with ease, maximize team capacity and utilization, and collaborate with clients and external contributors – all in one place.