What’s the difference between Push and Pull Marketing? The Push, the Pull, and the Gray Zone. And what I think of it all.

Pull Marketing

There are two large groups of marketing strategy. Push and Pull. Lately, synonyms of these concepts have popped up. Push is outbound marketing. Pull is Inbound. But what do these terms mean? And how do we distinguish between the two?


Push Marketing

Push or outbound marketing is often considered the traditional way of doing marketing and sales. You create a campaign that you try to put in front of your target market.

To increase your chances of success, you push your campaigns/efforts at a time and place that is most convenient for your target. Still, this approach is considered seller-centric: “I have a product that I want you to buy. Here it is. Isn’t it pretty?”

Push marketing is the “in your face” approach.

Examples of Push Marketing

  • Emails blasts
  • Direct mail Campaigns
  • Phoning campaigns / Telemarketing
  • Door to door sales
  • Cold calling / Cold emailing
  • Events & Trade shows
  • Negotiation with stores/suppliers to stock your product
  • In-store selling / product placement / point of sales
  • Packaging


Pull Marketing

Pull marketing is often called inbound marketing (caveat: Inbound Marketing is a marketing methodology that uses pull strategy, so though often used as a synonym, it’s actually a synecdoche).

With pull marketing, marketers aim to create content that will attract or inform their target market. Campaigns are done on platforms that their target uses and are available when their target wants it. In this way, pull marketing is target-centric.

The process goes like this: Give content (like advice) out for free, get conversations going with your target, establish yourself as a trustworthy supplier, and be top-of-mind when your target is ready to buy.

Examples of Pull Marketing

  • Blog articles
  • White papers
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Webcasts
  • Visuals (infographics, slide decks)
  • Social media profiles/groups/communities
  • Apps
  • User recommendations (i.e. amazon and specialty sites)
  • Customer case studies / Success stories
  • Newsletters
  • Chat bots


Gray Area

Not every type of marketing campaign or activity falls nicely into one camp or the other. Marketers will have different opinions about what’s considered push and pull. Like with advertising and retargeted ads. The jury is out for those.

Some consider advertising to be pull because they generate brand recognition, which pull the target in. But ads can be invasive (web pop-up ads – cringe!), off market (perfume clips mixed with trailers before a film starts at movie theaters), or just excessive (any fashion magazine). Ads help create a desire/need, but do they really answer one? I have my doubts.

Retargeting is also unclear. Some say it’s pull because the retargeted ads relate to past web searches, so obviously an interest to the target/buyer. But if I search the web for a new pair of boots, buy a pair, and for the following week am inundated with web banners of shoes, that entire campaign is off the mark. It’s a delayed reaction to my need. And let’s face it, all those persistent ads are annoying. I may not buy my shoes at that online shop next time around.


Which is best?

I am a convert of Inbound for several reasons:

  1. It’s how I like to be sold to. I know what I want. I’ll do my own research. Until I reach out to you, leave me be.
  2. I’ve been working in marketing for over 15 years. I have done a lot of push campaigns and, generally, the results are not satisfying. They don’t generate the sort of warm leads sales people expect.
  3. Inbound takes time, but not necessarily a lot of money. It’s ideal for smaller business or those who have limited marketing budget.
  4. I believe in the values of generosity, planning and smarts, which are all aligned with the Inbound way.

But that doesn’t mean that I am averse to push marketing. I think cold calling/emailing will always have its place in the sales process. And events and tradeshows will always be good networking opportunities. And in some industries, like luxury, packaging is part of the experience. I, for one, am a sucker for pretty packaging.

I think that in any marketing strategy, there’s a balance to find between pull and push, with the scale tipping a bit more towards the pull side.


Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

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