Marketers, let's get one thing straight: You do not have a right to your customer’s iPhone notifications. 

You don’t have a right to their email inbox. 

Not to their smart appliances, smart TVs or smart cars.

So even though you have the ability to send out highly personalized interactions directly to your individual customers — to a screen they look at 85 times a day — doesn't mean it's your birthright.

Because push-based marketing can't exist, unless there's first a pull.

Let me explain.

Bartering for Attention

The right to “push” interactions to your customer is bestowed, not innate. First, you have to earn the customer’s permission. Then you have to work every day to maintain that permission.

Seth Godin said it best, "... permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there's no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted."

Every interaction with your customer is an exchange of currency. You provide value, and so do they. The customer may give you attention, social shares or even cash. You provide them information, entertainment, products, services or maybe something else.

The exchange is never one-sided.

Someone’s attention is one of the most valuable things they can offer you. Taking that for granted is certainly rude, but it’s also bad business. The supply (of attention) is severely outweighed by the demand for it.

It is your customer’s choice to allow you into their lives. Not yours.

Earning 'Push' with 'Pull'

I’m excited when ESPN pushes breaking news about the Cleveland Browns notification to my phone. (Actually, I’m usually disappointed, but that’s a different issue.)

I’m delighted when Spotify pushes music from a band I’d never heard of, but now I love.

I’m thankful when, before I get on the road, the Google app pushes a warning to me that it’s going to take an extra 15 minutes to get home.

I opted in. I gave each of those brands permission, because they earned it.

To earn permission to push, you first need to pull. You need to attract attention to your brand by being generous — by providing more value than you receive. The economics of attention give the customers all the power. You have to be so generous that you tilt the scale the other way.

It’s really easy to push messages to someone. It’s much harder to pull them into your messaging.

Making Pull Work

We all already know how to make “pull” marketing work. We have proven practices, even if we often choose not use them.

Search engine optimization is pulling. You find keywords that enough people are searching with. Then you create content that serves (not sells to) that audience. This is “pull” because it’s on the searcher’s terms. You just try to understand their needs, then serve them.

Content marketing is pulling. You tell a story or provide an experience. You elicit an emotional response or inform or entertain. The content’s purpose is not necessarily that of the brand — to sell its wares. But it pulls in an audience that might also want to buy those wares.

Pull-based marketing is about empathy. It’s about using whatever data you have available — keyword data, social interactions, customer feedback — to understand what your customers need. It’s about being there for them just for the sake of being there.

It makes your brand attractive. It builds trust. It creates a relationship. And, when done effectively, it earns you permission to push more of what the customer now sees as valuable to them.

Our ability to push marketing, messaging and interactions to our customers is an incredibly powerful asset. We can use it to create deeper relationships than we’ve ever had with customers. But, with great power comes great responsibility.

Don’t abuse that power.