A big part of delivering a great digital experience can be boiled down to two words: reduce friction. By meeting your customers where they are with what they want, you can clear the path between their moment of decision and your brand. 

The idea is to understand your ideal customer so well that you attract them to take action with your brand as a result of compelling contextually-relevant information and promotions. 

But does that strategy really work? Where is the line between pulling your customers into taking action by showing them what you believe they will need or pushing them to explore to discover for themselves what they need to know? 

Tensions in the Push-Me, Pull-Me World

Some of the issues that surface when considering these questions include:


If people search and find information on their own, they perceive the outcome has having more integrity and validity. But good marketing helps make what they want easy to find.

Social Proof

If people follow the discussion threads and recommendations of their friends, colleagues and peers, they bond over a common conversation. The journey becomes an extension of your brand journey — IF they discover your brand in the course of their search. Good marketing positions your brand to be where they are already looking and, ideally, top of mind in conversations with their social circles.

Wearable Tech and the Internet of Things

At a time when people can access anything they want via any device at any time from anywhere, these people come to believe that instantaneous information is the norm. Good marketing makes the appearance of your brand in that landscape to be a naturally organic process.

While those are some interesting considerations, it did not get us to a definitive answer yet. Let’s consider some current business best practices of household-name brands to see how they are handling this tension.

The Best of Both Worlds

Amazon: Already the giant of e-commerce search online, Amazon is now aiming for two-hour delivery on orders. The idea is that faster delivery will promote more orders, as well as set an unbeatable pace for the industry. On top of that, Amazon also offers "deals of the day" via a side brand. This is a combined pull (“let me search”) / push (“show me what I might miss on my own”) strategy.

Best Buy: Known for technology products, Best Buy now offers four hour flash sales to registered customers. By offering even greater discounts on a limited number of items, Best Buy is indoctrinating its customers to watch for these sales in a combined pull / push strategy.

Nike: The behemoth of sports apparel has launched a movement to inspire its audience called Find Your Greatness. Creating an emotional connection with its brand will inspire a pull strategy; once into ‘Nike-world,’ push strategies initiate for that customer.

Under Armour: Competing with Nike requires a dual strategy as well, with a pull campaign based on the universal ‘underdog / hero’ story. Called "I Will What I Want," a young ballerina shares her personal story of success. Once the audience is moved, they likely translate that connection into action via a push marketing strategy.

While there are exponential other examples we could explore, it seems obvious that the big box brands are using a combination of the pull me / push me strategies. Is this a which comes first — chicken or — question, never to be solved?

There's Another Way

Interestingly enough, the answer to the bigger question came through a conversation with a friend. I was sharing the dilemma that we online marketers face — meeting the customer with a pull or push strategy based on what we think they want — and her response was stunningly clear (and, incidentally, aligned with my company's core values).

She said, "Let the customer control the strategy."

She went on to say that she loves going on to Amazon and discovering a few specific, targeted recommendations based on her previous search behavior. Too many recommendations would turn that push strategy into a pushy strategy. 

Irrelevant recommendations would show that Amazon didn’t know her. Daily email blasts would be irritating. But a few recommendations that invited further exploration based on contextual insights when she logged on were interesting to her. And then she could take matters into her own hands, searching to see what she could discover for herself.

To further her point, my friend mentioned she had bought earrings two years ago on eBay. Since then, she has received daily emails with specials on jewelry that she just cannot seem to turn off. This is a pull strategy gone wrong, to say the least. 

If eBay had emailed her with monthly specials, or had she given her permission for them to continue to market to her, it would have been OK. As it is, she has an inbox rule in place to automatically delete all emails from eBay — which is any marketer's nightmare.

The Bottom Line

By creating the conditions to engage your customer in feeling an emotional response to your brand and allowing your customer to set the terms of engagement based on their preferences, sets a natural foundation to use both strategies — push and pull — effectively. 

Show your customers interesting, helpful information when and how they want to see it to gently push the edges of what they might not know — and then let human curiosity pull them from there.

Title image "Tug of War" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  toffehoff