Pull or push?

Over recent years, marketing has moved from an approach of ‘push’, to one of ‘pull’. How do these changes affect the way businesses will attract new customers in the months and years to come?


Traditional marketing and advertising is based on “pushing” products towards potential customers: using such methods as direct sales forces and direct mail. Recently, however, there has been a move towards “permission-based” marketing – known as “push” promotion.


A “push” promotional strategy makes use of a company’s sales force and trade promotion activities to create consumer demand for a product.

For example, the producer promotes the product to wholesalers, the wholesalers promote it to retailers, and the retailers promote it to consumers.

A good example of “push” selling is mobile phones, where the major handset manufacturers such as Nokia promote their products via retailers such as Carphone Warehouse. Personal selling and trade promotions are often the most effective promotional tools for companies such as Nokia – for example offering subsidies on the handsets to encourage retailers to sell higher volumes.

A “push” strategy tries to sell directly to the consumer, bypassing other distribution channels (e.g. selling insurance or holidays directly). With this type of strategy, consumer promotions and advertising are the most likely promotional tools.

It involves the marketing “selling” his wares through trying to create a desire – by “pushing” the message onto potential consumers. As a form of marketing, it is direct, and it is aggressively persuasive. 


“Pulling” is a more subtle art-form than “pushing”. The basic premise behind “pulling” is that the job of the marketer is to ensure that, when the customer goes in search of the type of product, it is easier to find yours than it is to find your competitors. It is about brand awareness and positioning.

However, it is also about creating demand and desire. A “pull” selling strategy is one that, traditionally, requires high spending on advertising and consumer promotion to build up consumer demand for a product.

If the strategy is successful, consumers will ask their retailers for the product, the retailers will ask the wholesalers, and the wholesalers will ask the producers.

A good example of a pull is the heavy advertising and promotion of children’s’ toys – mainly on television. Consider the recent BBC promotional campaign for its new pre-school programme – the Fimbles. Aimed at two to four-year-olds, 130 episodes of Fimbles have been made and are featured everyday on digital children’s channel CBeebies and BBC2.

As part of the promotional campaign, the BBC has agreed a deal with toy maker Fisher-Price to market products based on the show, which it hopes will emulate the popularity of the Tweenies. Under the terms of the deal, Fisher-Price will develop, manufacture and distribute a range of Fimbles products including soft, plastic and electronic learning toys for the UK and Ireland.


There are several factors that have driven the move from “push” to “pull”. Firstly, there is increasing consumer resistance to “pushy” sales and marketing, driven largely by increased customer awareness, a natural “pushing back” against some of the excessively pushy techniques employed by sales people desperate for results, and ever-increasing pressures on people’s time which contributes to people becoming defensive against intrusions into their time at both work and home environments. Finally, increasing gaps between the rich and poor – in corporate terms – have led to most sectors being dominated by fewer and fewer companies, with increasingly large marketing budgets, which enables the development of dominant brands.

The advent of the internet has changed how people seek information, resulting in an increase of pace in the move towards “pull” methods, such as internet-based marketing and social networking. A key element of this new style of marketing is that it is “permission-based”, with customers requesting that marketers keep them informed about their products. The internet – which acts as a huge marketplace of information, ideas, products and services, allows consumers to “browse” in their own time.

To say that this represents a sea-change in the arts of marketing is by no means overstating the case. If anybody thinks that they can survive by relying on old methods, then some simple facts and figures may encourage them to think again.


You be successful in ”pulling”, therefore, the marketer must firstly understand how customers search for the product in question. By understand how – and through which media - customers search for products, the marketer can ensure that his product message is placed therein. For example, a marketer promoting the supply and installation of UPVC conservatories will, if he has completed his research effectively, understand that when potential customers decide to install a conservatory, they will look in the following places.

PERSONAL REFERRAL                                 22%
PRINTED DIRECTORY                                   13%
ONLINE SEARCH – DIRECTORY                7%
DIRECT SALES                                                  4%
LEAFLET / FLYER                                            1%
OTHER                                                                 2%

Once one understands where people look, the marketer can tailor his approach to ensuring that this is where his message appears. In this example, the marketer must focus his efforts on marketing through web-based strategies (41% search engine enquiry, plus 7% through online directories), while the need for a direct sales team to generate business is doubtful (4%) Instead, the sales team should be focused on responding to enquiries that are generated by other means – through the internet, referrals and recommendations.

There are barely any industries that have not been affected by the changes in how people buy, search for products and services, and choose one brand over another. However, given the driving forces behind the move from “push” to “pull”, it seems highly unlikely that the old methods will ever achieve the same levels of effectiveness. To succeed in the 21st century market-place, companies must learn how to “pull”, or they are likely to perish.



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