Marketing is undergoing a revolution – and it’s one many marketing teams are plugging their ears and shutting their eyes in the hope it will go away. These ostrich brands appear oblivious to the marketing change looming on the horizon, casually dismissing the distant shouts and muffled gunfire of approaching insurgents as mere nuisance. But it is a revolution, and one that pitches two marketing philosophies in a future-of-marketing face-off: pull marketing and push marketing.

On one side is ‘push’ marketing, with its tried-and-tested ROI and volume-driven approach to converting consumers into customers. The other is ‘pull’ marketing, with its insurgent enthusiasm for brand engagement with consumers. And the word from the front is that pull marketing is increasingly finding its feet, its effectiveness and its voice.

Why is push marketing bad for customers and business?

Some marketing approaches are overly focused on ‘push’ marketing, prodding and directing customers to buy. It’s a ‘more money in, more customers out’ approach that has peaked with an onslaught of direct mail, direct response media and email campaigns. It’s shouty, clicky, hustling marketing that has a simple premise: if you contact enough people enough times with fairly blunt-edged marketing messages, they’ll ultimately buy from you. Possibly by wearing them out. It’s a world of offers, product features, upgrades, early bird discounts, and relentless calls to action that demand you buy. Now. Immediately.

Hammer, meet customer.

Little wonder customers hate it. Push marketing is transactional. It’s all about the product, the service, the offer, or whatever a company is trying to sell. It’s a one-way conversation. What it definitely, absolutely is not about is the customer. Customers are relegated to passive receivers in this unwanted onslaught, and they play second fiddle to the navel gazing that some marketing teams obsessed with push marketing subscribe to.

Customers can smell it too – and if marketing content looks like sales, customers switch off. According to Economist Group’s Missing The Mark report, 71% of customers are turned off by content that is little more than a dress-up sales pitch.

The bad news is push marketing doesn’t serve brands or customers in the long term. I’ve heard from consumers who are literally despairing at the amount of physical direct mail post, marketing email and – frankly – marketing spam they get. There’s a risk with push that customers are so fatigued at the constant pushing and shoving that they turned their back and voted with their wallet and seek out less needy brands.

So, why all the pushing and shoving?

Push marketing is, however, far easier to measure and predict. Conversion funnels, ROI, CPA and other paid measures aren’t difficult: they are the realm of spreadsheets rather than creative execution. Simpler to test, quicker to deliver. It is marketing that can be optimised, but not originated. Not surprising, then, that marketing teams feel push is more effective when your eye is on the bottom line.

But a brand’s long-term health requires keeping an eye on the customer. Not as a number but as a person who is part of the overall brand story.

Find out how to improve brand trust and improve your brand’s health.

Why pull marketing is different

Marketing that invites people into your brand on their terms and allows them to discover how it fits contextually into their life is pull marketing. It means creating content that is about the customer, not the product. It’s marketing that solves problems, delivering value to customers beyond the singular value of the product or service itself.

Fundamentally, pull marketing is sought out. Customers find their way to it. They want to read it, watch it, share it and, hopefully, contribute to it. It’s additive marketing. It allows brands to pivot from selling to becoming an integral part of their customers’ lives. It demands focus on building brand trust – and that involves providing content, help and advice that doesn’t always end with a ‘buy our product’ punchline.

It may all be moot, anyway. The introduction of GDPR and explicit customer consent changes the game – and gives pull marketing its time in the sun. One-way mass mailings and email campaigns now need permission from the customers. Unsurprisingly, they find marketing that delivers value to them rather than information about a product far more compelling.

Find out more about the impact of GDPR on marketing.

Five ways pull marketing works

Pull marketing has some distinct advantages over push marketing. It is multi-layered, combining information that has value along with an emotional connection because of its relevancy to people’s lives.

1.    Pull marketing answers questions

At its most basic, it offers answers to questions – hence the rapid rise of SEO and focus on organic keywords in an attempt to win free organic traffic from people clicking on Google links. While there are cost benefits (such as lowered spend on PPC), it’s highly competitive but at least it is providing some information in response to a customer ask. It’s also information that might not result in a sale. However, it does allow your brand to positively help a customer – and that’s something they can share, remember and come back to as a warmed-up lead with relatively little CPA.

2.    Pull marketing is information in context

Whereas push marketing operates to maximise acquisition and conversion by volume, pull marketing works by creating layers of content that draw people closer to a brand, and ultimately a sale. The secret is to provide content in context – from influencer marketing on social (primarily fashion, fitness and beauty) to guides and information that helps the overall buying decision.

Content marketing in this context is about information earlier in the consideration cycle. If you were a motoring brand, don’t just limit your content marketing to telling me about your car. Tell me what type of car best suits me, such as a growing family or mid-life crisis, and start talking with me when I’m just mulling over the idea of buying a new car, rather than choosing which car to actually buy.

Find out how Submerge uses content marketing to help brands grow.

3.    Pull marketing is always on – even when spend isn’t

When brands buy keywords – in fact, when they buy any form of paid advertising – it’s effective as long as spend is shovelled into the activity. Keep pumping in the budget, refining and testing all the way, and you’ll see a measurable ROI and hopefully increasingly lowered CPA. Good news. Turn off the spend, however, and you switch off the customer pipeline. As push is transactional, it only works when a brand is paying. No money, no dice.

Pull marketing – especially intelligent, high-quality content marketing – keeps working long after the initial spend. Helpful advice that attracts traffic over the long term is incredibly cost-effective. A great customer magazine is often destined for the coffee table or magazine rack rather than the recycling bin and referenced long after.

Find out how Submerge can help your business create a customer magazine.

4.    Pull marketing uses each channel effectively

Brands can effectively use pull marketing across multiple channels. Social provides a brilliant way to surface great content and conversation with customers – from helpful, just-in-time customer support to brilliant stories where brands used social to really solve a customer problem. With a suite of content, brands can repurpose and bridge across channels – using print to prompt digital journeys, and digital to encourage social engagement, for example.

5.    Pull marketing is about quality, not just quantity

Pull marketing demands researched, deep content compared to thin ‘content marketing’ that simply disappoints customers and increases bounce rate. When people are pulled into your world, deliver something that exceeds their expectations. Thinly veiled product features (‘5 reasons why you should choose brand X’) is not pull marketing. Instead, create content that offers logical information journeys, helping people navigate complex choices and helping them arrive at your brand if it’s genuinely the best solution for them.

Thin content is harmful. Adobe has joined the chorus of voices reporting consumers are rejecting push marketing and thin content. Adobe’s 2017 Consumer Email Survey found that 40% of people want brand emails to be less promotional and more informational.

The power of pull marketing

Clearly, there are different marketing strokes for different clients. I’ve used direct response and DRTV highly effectively across a range of businesses. All brands should have a carefully planned, strategic marketing mix.

But, marketing approaches are evolving with a rapid pace that will leave the less sure-footed and agile marketing team suddenly on the wrong side of marketing history. By putting customers at the centre of your marketing strategy and thinking over the longer term with an eye to improving your brand health, push marketing is a philosophy that is increasingly looking like a revolution worth signing up to.