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Push and Pull Marketing in the Omni-Channel Age

As part of a Throwback Thursday series of articles, DirectAvenue will be publishing articles from the archive of the agency’s CMO and SVP Client Services that still have relevance today. The following originally appeared as a “Friday Forecast” on the Electronic Retailing Association blog in May of 2018.

For years, marketers have wondered: which is more effective, push or pull marketing? Push marketing involves taking a product or service directly to the customer, and has been the preferred path of direct marketers. One example of push marketing would be an infomercial that educates consumers about product superiority and makes an appeal for an immediate purchase. A second example of this approach would be an end cap at retail, where a product is showcased, and effectively “pushed” onto the customer who happens to be passing by with their shopping cart. In both cases, the push marketing tactic relies on an interruptive model whereby the consumer is otherwise engaged (e.g., channel surfing or cruising the aisle of their local retailer) and is suddenly and unexpectedly exposed to your product.

Pull marketing, on the other hand, involves getting the customer to come to you. An example of pull marketing would be a national campaign for a car, where the prospect is invited to test drive a vehicle by willingly visiting their local dealership. Another example of pull marketing would be word-of-mouth where, based upon favorable buzz, a prospect voluntarily conducts research on a product or service to learn more about it. In contrast to an interruptive model, pull marketing is largely participative in nature, in that involves the customer actively taking part in discovering more about what it is you have to offer. Another way to think about these two marketing avenues is that push marketing tends to be more transactional in nature and involves shorter sales cycles, while pull marketing is more relationship-based and often requires a more patient, longer length of time to cultivate a sale or commitment. So, which is more effective amid today’s ever-changing Omni-Channel world where the consumer exercises so much control? The answer: you need both. Here’s why:

Push marketing is the key to building awareness. With the consumer confronting so many choices, getting on their radar screen is critical to establishing a sufficient critical mass of sales that will sustain a profitable business over time. In an Omni-Channel distribution model, many products sold direct are also offered at brick and mortar retail. Bear in mind, that according to eMarketer, online sales will still only represent 13% of global sales by 2019. So even though all of the growth in retail is via e-commerce and thousands of domestic storefronts are shuttering, physical retail is still vital. But think about that retail environment. In addition to be dominated by fewer players, consumers are often left to their own devices – literally – to pick and choose which products to buy. If that consumer wandering the aisle is fortified with information or exposed to a push promotion, you’ve just cut through the clutter. This explains why so many e-retailers that began as online plays are now using TV and other forms of mass media to get the word out. They’ve hit a ceiling relying exclusively on digital marketing and need to expand their “tribe.” Furthermore, push marketing such as a TV spot, can effectively ignite pull marketing as consumers armed with smartphones and other devices now exposed to your product and curious about it, go online to learn more about it.

Conversely, pull marketing is just as important, particularly at a time when social proof is so vital to converting a sale. While statics vary, between 6 and 8 out of every 10 consumers is now conducting research online about product, services, and local businesses. That means that marketers are now required to build an entire ecosystem of content marketing, and that they must carefully manage their SEM, SEO and reputation. This is not something that can wait until an advertiser has determined whether they have a success or not. Otherwise, their competition will swoop in and eat their lunch by hijacking their keywords and creating content designed to divert leads over to their competing offer. No, marketers need to rank high on search with several links to meaningful content that can help support claims and push prospects down the sales funnel. Such content can vary from how-to and testimonial videos to reviews to blog posts, to name but a few tactics. And you’d better have a presence on Amazon because, according to a study conducted by PowerReviews, 38% of consumers begin their product research on Amazon – and that’s more than the 35% who visit Google first! However, your Amazon presence has to be managed carefully because if you give them complete control over your pricing, you risk denigrating your sales and margins in all of your other channels.

Sound complicated? It is. But gone are the days of one-off transactions that were the primary mainstay of direct marketing. Today all marketing is arguably direct marketing – whether that be sophisticated brands or start-ups trying to establish continuity and brand loyalty. The need for immediate return on investment has to be balanced with adequate investment and a longer view. The good news is that the public’s penchant for new shiny objects and favorable experiences continues unabated – it’s just that the consumer journey or path to finding and acquiring them has become more diffused and tangled. As marketers, it’s our job to meet them at every point along the way, whether that requires a gentle push or a willing leap of faith.

Rick PetryAuthor: Rick Petry is the CMO/EVP Client Services of DirectAvenue and a seasoned direct marketing professional and thought leader with experience spanning three decades. He has had a hand in campaigns generating over $1 billion in sales and is conversant in all facets of performance-based marketing including off-line and on-line media planning and buying, research, analytics, creative, production, and back-end management, Rick is the author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, and is a past Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and a recipient of ERA’s Volunteer of the Year award, as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’ Member of the Year award as voted by his peers.