Peter Fitzgerald

There’s plenty of terminology in the world of marketing, even more so once you get into the specifics of digital. Often, there are multiple terms that can refer to the same thing.

Good examples of this are ‘push marketing’ strategies and ‘pull marketing’ strategies. You may also know these concepts by the terms ‘outbound’ and ‘inbound’ marketing.

In this article, we’ll do a quick exploration of what these terms mean and then we’ll dig into the specifics of how we translate this into digital marketing – specifically which channels are push marketing and which channels are pull marketing.

What are push and pull marketing strategies?

In the simplest terms, push marketing is about taking your message to your target audience, while pull marketing is about creating the right assets so that your target audience comes to you.

That’s why it’s also known as outbound and inbound marketing.

In the push marketing, or outbound model, you’re using types of marketing techniques that go out and find your potential customers and put your assets in front of them wherever they are at that time. Comparatively, with pull marketing, or the inbound model, you’re looking to use tactics, build resources and create assets that will draw your audience in.

So, what does this all mean when we look at it through the lens of digital marketing?

Push marketing through digital channels

Any time you’re paying to put a message in front of someone, you’re choosing a push marketing strategy. The following digital marketing channels are all examples that fall into that category:

Programmatic display is perhaps one of the best digital examples of push marketing. Finding users that have similar attributes to your existing customers and putting your brand in front of them, potentially introducing them to your product or service for the very first time… It doesn’t get much more outbound than that.

Digital answers to pull marketing

On the other hand, we have a pull marketing strategy. As you might expect, while push marketing is all about paid, pull marketing in the digital space is all about organic. The kinds of channels we would look to achieve pull marketing through include:

Pull marketing is at the heart of search engine optimisation (SEO). When it comes to organic rankings, Google increasingly prioritises content that gives users what they want. As we focus on answering users’ questions and providing them with a good experience, it’s now second nature for organic search strategies to take a pull approach. If you’re creating the content that your target audience needs then the expectation is that organic search will draw consumers to your products and services.

Choosing between a push or pull marketing strategy

When it comes to choosing the right approach, there are a number of factors that should impact on your thinking. Before we go too far down this line of thinking, it’s worth noting that the question itself is a little problematic. You don’t necessarily need to choose a push strategy or a pull strategy, but we’ll dig into that shortly.

With that in mind, the most important factors to consider include:

  • Capability – Which digital channels can you execute in-house? Where you can’t execute, do you have partners that could do the delivery for you?
  • Audience – Where do your target audience spend their time online? How do your users currently interact with your digital presence?
  • Budget – How much are you looking to spend? What other costs are there – e.g. hours from your team or external partners?

Often, when people run through these factors, the pull strategy starts to seem more appealing. Push marketing focuses on investment into paid media channels and the ability to activate campaigns on those channels. This is falling into the age-old trap of seeing pull tactics, like SEO or content marketing, as ‘free’.

While it’s true that they might be free from a media spend perspective, the cost comes in the form of resources and capability. Additionally, there’s a marked difference in the timeline.

When you activate a push marketing campaign, say on paid search, you’ll see results rapidly. When you initiate a pull marketing campaign through SEO, it’ll be a few weeks before the results start to show and even then, those results will be incremental, rather than instantaneous.

Why “push or pull” is the wrong question

Firstly, deciding between a push marketing strategy and a pull marketing strategy, or an inbound model or an outbound model, means putting yourself into a box and limiting the channels and tactics available to you in line with that label.

In the world of digital marketing, where we have the ability to be agile, flexible, test, learn and pivot towards what’s delivering the results we need, deciding to follow either a push or pull strategy can leave you cut off from the channels that might actually deliver better outcomes for you.

Secondly, it’s a false dichotomy. When we look at the way digital operates now, drawing a clean line between inbound and outbound is increasingly difficult.

Let’s take our earlier example of push marketing channels. If we’re running a paid social campaign, looking to acquire new prospects and building the audience engaged with the brand, we might see some users converting directly off the back of those ads. However, we’re likely to see even more users returning through other channels – like organic search – as they go through their journey and come to choose our offering based on the brand awareness built up by earlier touchpoints.

The common adage is that it takes eight touchpoints to close a sale, but even more striking is that Google have found that the average customer journey now involves anywhere between 20 and 500+ touchpoints.

So, what does it mean for our question, when a user might start their journey with a channel that is part of a push marketing strategy and end their journey with one that sits in the pull marketing strategy? It means we’re looking at a nuanced, real-world view of how the digital marketing landscape operates.

Or, to look at it another way, we’ve answered the question. We don’t want to push or pull. We want them both to work together in a way that facilitates the user journey of our target audience and gives us the outcome we need.

Let’s talk about your digital marketing strategy

If you’re thinking about your digital marketing mix – which channels you should be active on and how they work together – then we’d love to help.

Get in touch today and talk to one of our friendly experts about your digital marketing strategy.

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