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Marketing 101: What’s Push versus Pull?

By Steven Dupree

Fishing on Ashumet Pond is one of the most relaxing things in the world. But good luck catching anything! Unless you’re Kevin. Kevin loves fish, he wears fish shirts, he puts fish bumper stickers on his car. Kevin once researched whether a surplus of carbon dioxide causes cataracts in fish. And Kevin catches fish when he wants to.

The way I see it, there are two ways I can someday snag fish like Kevin (besides trading in my Brandeis mathematics degree for marine biology, of course):

  1. Improve fishing skill
  2. Add fish to pond

Step One: Pull

Hopefully, your product or service already has an audience out there. They’re looking for you. It’s your responsibility to make customer value as available as possible. Find prospects wherever they are and meet their demand.

When I worked at LogMeIn, we coined the term “active seekers” to describe this population. These are the hungry folk. The old lawnmower broke and they’re searching for “John Deere riding mower” so they don’t have to collect and dump lawn clippings.

Pull marketing starts with search-based advertising (Google Ads) but it doesn’t end there. If you offer a niche consumer product or a B2B product, there may be digital marketplaces or directories where you want to be. Signs for bananas where the monkeys are famished.

Pull marketing (alternatively known as inbound marketing, demand harvesting) has two advantages: it’s relatively cheap and it converts quickly. The primary drawback? You can do a limited amount of pull marketing before you hit some invisible wall.

Ok, let’s suppose I’ve practiced casting my fishing rod. I know how to tie a fly. But the fish still don’t bite! What now?

Step Two: Push

You may need to stock the pond.

If you’re solving a pain point that customers don’t even know they have, then you may not have much of an audience (yet). And even if they know the pain point all too well, your audience may have trouble discovering you if they are not searching.

Push marketing (alternatively known as outbound marketing, demand generation) includes the vast majority of online and offline media: newsletters, display advertising, Facebook ads, most social media, billboards, door hangers, and sides of buses…to name a few.

Why are there so many more channels for push advertising? After all, the unit economics are typically more expensive than pull advertising. It takes longer to convert dollars into customers due to that nuisance of “educating” the customer. Why not invest 100% in paid search? Well, you simply may not be able to.

Push marketing, in contrast to pull, is virtually unlimited. Advertisers desperately need customers, publishers will gladly take your money, and all the while your target audience will do whatever they feel like. Success depends on delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time. Good push marketing does just that.

One year, they stocked Ashumet Pond with extra trout. I’m still a novice fisherman but I managed to catch one or two.

If Pull and Push Don’t Work?

Even if your audience doesn’t know or care about your product or service, you mustn’t lose hope. It may be costly to acquire customers and difficult to demonstrate positive return-on-investment “ROI” in the early days. But it won’t always be this way.

Ask yourself: can an “active seeker” population develop as your early customers share their experiences with your product or service–thus enabling you to add pull marketing to your mix? Rising demand for your product or service generates inbound interest. This enables pull marketing and defrays your acquisition costs. 

Or: will it become prohibitively expensive to rise above the noise–as competitors enter and your target market evolves? Customer education is always an option, but it’s expensive. You can do as much push marketing as you need if only you have an unlimited budget. Success still depends upon how receptive customers are to the value you provide.

Rule of Thumb:

In marketing and fishing, as in skeet shooting: pull first, then push!

Steven Dupree is chair of the MS in Digital Marketing and Design program at Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies. In his day job, Steven is VP, Marketing at Amava, a platform helping active retirees find opportunities to earn, learn, travel and more. He has previously held investing and operating roles including VP, Marketing at SoFi, the first and largest provider of student loan refinancing, and VP, Online Marketing Operations at LogMeIn, an early software-as-a-service provider of remote access and collaboration tools. He mentors entrepreneurs for Endeavor Global and Reforge, and serves on the board of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

1 Comment

  1. Really good post. Congrat

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