Former US President and General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, used to place a piece of string on a table and proclaim, “Pull the string and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.” 

While proving a point about leadership, Eisenhower could just as well have been making a prediction about marketing in the 21 century. While traditional, or push, marketing was king for decades, it’s pull marketing that rules in the digital age, despite the predictions in recent years that push is poised for a comeback.

Stay True to Your Values

The Mad Men era is long gone. That’s true no matter how many marketing experts, business leaders and CMOs yearn for its return. 

And why shouldn't they long for those days? After all, push is predictable and controllable, even as it is ineffectual and costlier. Today's thriving companies aren’t the ones that attempt to convince people how great their product or service is with slick ad campaigns, shiny TV commercials or even professionally-produced YouTube videos. They’re the ones that, as Steve Jobs once said, stand up for their core values.

Building a brand today is all about managing the customer experience. But the Internet era has made developing those important relationships more difficult than ever. More than two-thirds of US adults trust brand or product recommendations from peers, while nearly half have faith in user-generated content such as online ratings and reviews. 

The news isn’t nearly as rosy for advocates of traditional marketing — fewer than 10 percent trust push techniques, such as online banner ads and mobile text messages. With a full 93 percent of online experiences starting as a search engine query, push hardly seems ready for its much-touted resurgence.

Let Me Search vs. Show Me

And while it's likely that we will see a lot more push marketing in the coming years — especially on mobile devices — most people don’t crave a passive concierge-type online experience. A recent Harris Poll found that now, more than ever, consumers are “doing their homework” with regards to the brands they do business with. Far from simply wanting to “tune in,” as some experts have predicted, customers are willing to work for the best brand experience.

And people will continue to desire what they’ve always desired: a "let me search" experience over "show me" web. What the push advocates tend to ignore is that what people really want — what they’ve always wanted — is agency. They want choice. They want to curate. They want to interact with each other, with technology and with the brands they do business with.

Redefining Push

All of this means that push itself is in need of a major rebranding. The definition of push marketing will evolve as savvy organizations provide more relevant, personalized messages — either through opt-in or carefully-pushed messages based on a consumer’s browsing history. Regardless, the push of the future will bear little resemblance to the “spray and pray” advertising of yore. Push is poised to be yet-another tool in the marketer’s kit to make the customer’s buying experience easier.

Eventually, push will have more context based on an individual's browsing history or activity in a community or website. But first, companies need to figure out how to get contextual marketing right. If they don’t, it can end up backfiring in a spectacular — and sometimes creepy — fashion. Eventually, combining new push technologies with pull marketing will be a winning strategy — and a big shift in 2016 and beyond.

A More Dynamic Experience

Brands are taking a new approach to their presence. They're moving away from static sites toward more interactive sites. These dynamic communities will be full of valuable content including user forums, self-service support, images, video and more. The more engagement you weave into your presence, the better positioned you’ll be to connect with current and future prospects and customers.

The most successful brands will be the ones with more pull marketing along the customer journey, not less. To quote President Eisenhower again, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That's assault, not leadership.” And consumers have long since tired of being assaulted by advertising. 

Besides, wouldn’t you rather have a relationship in which your customers are advocates rather than “victims”? Not only will pull marketing continue to rule for the foreseeable (and conceivable) future, it’s more rewarding as well.

Title image "DO NOT PUSH" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  redjar