Marketing: The Move from Push to Pull

Andy Lark, from the BrandShift blog, posted a quote from AG Lafley (from P&G) stating that consumers “have the power in the consumption and media and message chain… and so the world is shifting from a push to a pull” giving the consumer a lot more choices.

This is quite a significant statement from the man at the helm of the company responsible for some of the biggest brands in the world, the company that practically invented the concept of “brand management” who lived and died by campaigns and taglines and mass marketing for so long.

This is not news, I know… not even for my blog. But I think that a change this big is so significant that it may need to be repeated a few times before it truly sinks in. Here are some examples from the world around of just how serious this change is, in fact, it’s not just a change in how to market to people. It’s a change in how to deliver any content to people, whether you’re trying to sell laundry detergent or a movie you’ve made.

  • By 2007, 42.5% of the households in the US will have a Digital Video Recorder (such as TiVo), by the end of the decade, this number will easily reach 50% – meaning more than half the country will have the ability to skip 30 second TV ads
  • Over 500 Television titles were made available for release on DVD in 2003 (I need some updated numbers, send them to me if you have them) so people that don’t TiVo will have a version of “Lost” without commercials altogether
  • iTunes and the iTunes music store is a success story for the music industry and their struggles with online content
  • A recent issue of Fast Company Magazine talked about the movie industry’s plans to begin investigating internet releases of feature films, on the same day as the theatrical release, because people have created home entertainment systems through their computers and don’t like to leave their house
  • Television content, such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” is now available for download on iTunes, and as a result, Google’s video service will begin exploring pay-per-view models on their site

People can almost completely control the content they are exposed to throughout their entire day, so how do you get through to them? Exactly as AG Lafley suggests, through “pull” strategies not “push” strategies.

A “push” strategy is designed for you to push information out to someone. Typically the person you are “pushing” information to hasn’t asked for the information, so what you have to do is to think about the story you are trying to tell, determine what will be most appealing to the people you are “pushing” it to and then find a way to intercept them with your message. But if they are in complete control of what does or doesn’t get in front of their eyes, then you’ll have a pretty difficult time making a push strategy work.

In a pull strategy, you basically put your story together but rather than just dumping your whole message on someone you devise ways to get them to come to you. An example of a pull strategy would be to include a feature on your Web site that would allow people to spread the word about you to their friends. You didn’t push your information out to the friends, you used good information as the reason to pull them in and you relied on people that already knew about you to do the pulling.

Some companies have recognized that this shift from push to pull is a challenge for everyone, not just the marketing department. As Seth Godin implied in his book “the purple cow” we should be focused on creating remarkable products that fill a need in society (not just the market) and then letting the “marketing” happen on its own (well, ok perhaps with a little “push”) but look at products like the iPod… It is so cool, so well designed, and so well suited to how people live their lives today that it needs almost no marketing. People know they need an iPod and just naturally flock to them.

Things to consider if you want to create a “pull” strategy for your product or service…

  1. How are people currently finding out about our product? Is advertising the only way people find out about us? What could we do to get people talking about us?
  2. Do the people that do business with us or use our products feel “proud” to do so? Would they tell their friends about it? Is there some incentive we can give them that would help them spread the word without being an obvious scheme (we’ll give you $100 to tell people)
  3. Does our Web site feel like a brochure? Does it put things into the perspective of the audience or does it talk all about us? (We’ve been in business for 500 years… our product was the first, is the best, is the biggest, etc…)
  4. Would someone that’s not necessarily a potential customer still find our product or service intriguing?
  5. Do people have the ability to maintain a relationship with us on their own terms, to choose how to communicate with us, what content they want to receive (and in what format) and so on, and in a way that does not compromise what we want to get across?
  6. Have we sought out and created connections with complimentary services or made sure that we are linked to from the appropriate places on the Web? Do we have a good search engine strategy?

I have made some posts about Pandora’s music service. It is very cool and has all of the key elements for a good pull strategy.

  1. It’s based on a very cool idea. Exposing people to new music, based on their individual tastes.
  2. It’s very simple to try and very simple to tell your friends about
  3. It remembers you the next time you return and anything you told it about yourself
  4. They have a blog, which means they can communicate with their audience, link to/from other related sites and offer content as RSS to people that want to pull their news into another location
  5. Even if you aren’t someone that listens to music online, the idea of a service that will help you find other artists/songs that you may like is a great idea… and the fact that it’s connected to and iTunes gives it the potential to go mainstream since that’s already how people that are online are getting music – which means it fits into their lives.

Without ever running an ad or a radio spot, Pandora can execute their idea… and keep pulling in new potential customers just by doing what they’re best at… sharing music.

If you want to look at a company that’s had to make a major shift in their strategy, just look at Blockbuster video vs. Netflix. Netflix keeps adding ways to make their service easier and more accessible to people, offering incentives such as 3-free months of video rentals, no late fees, a chance to share your recent rentals with your friends, and an endless queue of movies that you actually want to see. They took all of the ways in which someone traditionally rented a movie to watch at home and simplified them… so much so that you don’t even have to leave your house to be a customer… and how has Blockbuster responded? By emulating the service… eliminating late fees, adding the ability to have movies mailed to your home and so on. No more coupons in the “valu-pak” mailers… now it’s email referrals.

Times they are a changin’

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