Push vs. Pull Marketing: Key Differences & How to Use Them

Push vs. Pull Marketing: Key Differences & How to Use Them

Si Quan Ong
Content marketer @ Ahrefs. I've been in digital marketing for the past 6 years and have spoken at some of the industry’s largest conferences in Asia (TIECon and Digital Marketing Skill Share.) I also summarise books on my personal blog.
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    Looking to learn the difference between push and pull marketing and when to use them? You’re in right place.

    In this guide, you’ll learn some examples of push and pull marketing, which is more effective, and how you can combine both strategies together for your business.

    What is pull marketing?

    Pull marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on helping your target customers to discover your brand, products, and services.

    Pull marketing examples

    Here are three examples of pull marketing.

    1. Search engine optimization (SEO)

    Customers turn to Google whenever they’re looking for answers to a question or solutions to a problem. While searching, they’ll discover brands, products, and services.

    You can appear for these queries if you optimize your website and its web pages for search engines. This process is known as SEO. 

    Broadly speaking, SEO involves:

    1. Discovering the words and phrases your customers use to describe the problems your product solves and find your brand (or products similar to your brand.)
    2. Optimizing your website and its webpages to stand a higher chance of ranking for these keywords.
    3. Getting people to link to your pages, either by building them or earning them organically.

    2. Word of mouth

    Customers who like your product will tell their friends and family. And research from Nielsen shows that 83% of people trust such recommendations.

    While getting word-of-mouth is mostly out of your control, you can attempt to influence or encourage your customers to spread the word.

    Generally, this means creating a great product, building a likable and well-respected brand, providing amazing customer support, and regularly engaging with your customers.

    3. Social media

    Organic social media is pull marketing. This means:

    • Creating fun, engaging, and helpful content.
    • Building a following.
    • Interacting with your audience.

    What is push marketing?

    Push marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on placing or nudging your products or services in front of your target customers.

    Push marketing examples

    Here are three examples of push marketing.

    1. Cold emailing

    Cold emailing is when you send an email to someone with whom you have no previous relationship. Usually, this is to get something from them, like promoting a new product, acquiring links, and more.

    Generally, this is done by:

    2. Direct mail

    The offline version of cold outreach. Instead of an email, marketers send physical mail to physical addresses in order to introduce a new product or offering.

    While this usually means a simple envelope, other variations like lumpy mails (i.e., mails that are not flat) and mails with actual money have also been sent to grab attention and prevent the mail from being thrown away.

    3. Advertising

    Whether it’s a billboard or an advertisement on Facebook, ads are considered push marketing because they “interrupt” whatever you’re doing to show you a product or service.

    Pull vs. push marketing

    The main difference between push and pull marketing is that push marketing focuses on pushing a product to customers, whereas pull marketing focuses on getting customers to come to you.

    Is push or pull marketing more effective?

    Neither push nor pull marketing is more effective than the other. Both are legitimate marketing strategies.

    Which one you use depends on your customer profile, your goals, and the business stage you’re at.

    However, there are some situations where one might it better than the other:

    Scenario 1. You’re launching a new product/startup

    No one knows who you are. You have no brand, no customers, and no content. So, at this stage, you likely have to do things that don’t scale. You have to go out there and get customers.

    Typically, these involve push marketing tactics such as cold emailing (Intercom, Birchbox), attending events (Pinterest), going door to door (Airbnb, Alibaba Group), and even flyers (Groupon).

    That isn’t to say pull marketing won’t work for a business at this stage. But it takes time for a company to create content and rank high on Google for queries that matter.

    Ideally, you should be executing both strategies—acquiring your first customers via push marketing and building your brand for the future via pull marketing. In fact, research shows that most companies achieve the greatest marketing effectiveness if they invest around 60% into brand-building and 40% into sales-boosting campaigns:

    Line graph showing effects of short- and long-term focused promotion. Line for long-term generally goes up over time. Line for short-term goes up and down repeatedly over time

    Scenario 2. You’re promoting a one-time offer/short-term campaign

    Pull marketing takes time. Your campaign may be over even before its effect kicks in.

    In this scenario, push marketing tactics like ads might be preferable.

    Scenario 3. You’re building for the long term

    Pull marketing tactics tend to compound over time. Take SEO. As long as your articles rank on Google, you’ll receive consistent and passive search traffic.

    Line chart showing spike in traffic followed by passive search traffic

    The reason is that pull marketing works like a flywheel. In the beginning, you won’t see any huge effects as the flywheel is getting “pushed.” But as you go along, it becomes easier to get results.

    Here’s an illustration of how word of mouth works like a flywheel:

    Flywheel cycle: Attract fans, optimize funnel & reward loyal fans, launch media campaigns, build press relationships and get coverage, boost coverage

    Comparatively, if you’re using a push marketing tactic, like advertising, traffic stops when you turn off the campaign.

    Thanks to the compounding effect, pull marketing tactics are often cheaper in the long run. For example, our website gets an estimated 1.6 million monthly search visits.

    Search traffic coming to Ahrefs

    If we had to acquire this traffic via Google Ads, it would cost us $2.8 million per month. Considering that our content marketing team isn’t paid that amount, we can say pull marketing is a better long-term investment. 

    4 tactics to combine push and pull marketing together

    The best businesses use both pull and push marketing. After all, if both strategies work, why would you want to choose one over the other?

    Here are some ways you can combine both pull and push marketing together:

    1. Generate leads with pull marketing and close them with push marketing

    This is a strategy used by many companies. The idea is simple:

    1. Create content that ranks high on search engines for their target queries (pull marketing)
    2. Get these readers to sign up for an email list, usually via a carrot
    3. Later on, the sales team reaches out to these people via email or phone (push marketing)

    For example, HubSpot’s post on writing an effective email gets ~14,000 search visits per month and ranks for over 2,900 organic keywords:

    Search traffic coming to HubSpot's blog post on email writing

    When someone discovers the article and reads it, HubSpot encourages them to sign up for its email list via a “content upgrade”:

    HubSpot's content upgrade

    Once the prospect has handed over their email address, HubSpot can now contact them via its sales team.

    Of course, its sales team doesn’t reach out to everyone. There are too many people, and not everyone is willing and able to buy. What HubSpot does—and many companies do too—is “score” these leads.

    Basically, each prospect is given a score based on the actions they take. Someone who’s downloading a beginner’s guide is likely new to marketing and not an ideal prospect right now. But if they continue to consume HubSpot’s content and download more advanced guides, they may become a good prospect in the future.

    Comparatively, someone who opts in for HubSpot’s free marketing dashboard tool is likelier to be a prospect who makes a purchase:

    HubSpot's Marketing Analytics & Dashboard Software

    2. Run social ads to promote your content

    Nobody’s going to find your content randomly. You need to help people discover it by putting it in front of them. One reliable way to promote your content is via ads.

    This is the reason why we run ads for most of our blog posts. Since we take an average of 10-20 hours to create each piece, it’ll be a waste if no one sees it.

    Here’s one of our Facebook ads promoting our post on the best marketing Facebook groups:

    Ahrefs' ad on Facebook

    If Facebook ads are too competitive for you, remember there are also other ad platforms like Quora ads too.

    3. Target your ads to lookalike audiences built from your “pulled” audience

    If you’re using tactic #2 and want to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your content, you can consider creating a lookalike audience.

    A lookalike audience is one that shares similar characteristics with whichever “source audience” you upload on the ad platform.

    Page to set up lookalike audience

    Since your “pulled” audience is made up of people who are actively seeking out the type of content you’re creating, they’re perfect as your “source audience.”

    4. Send outreach emails to boost awareness of your existing content

    Links are an important ranking factor. And one way to get more of them is to build them. This means reaching out to other websites and persuading them to link to you.

    To start, you need a list of websites to reach out to. One way to find these websites is to find ones that cover the same topics as you. Here’s how:

    1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
    2. Search for a term related to your article
    Ahrefs' Content Explorer

    For example, searching for “home workout” gives us >400,000 pages. But that’s too many pages to look through, so let’s add a few filters to narrow things down:

    • Set Language filter to English (or the language you write in)
    • Set a DR filter to a range of 30-90 (or a range you’re comfortable reaching out to)
    • Set a Website traffic filter to 500+
    • Set a Words filter to 500+
    • Filter explicit results On
    • Check Exclude homepages
    • Check Exclude subdomains
    • Check One page per domain (we don’t need to reach out to each site more than once)
    Ahrefs' Content Explorer with filters

    This brings us down to around 10,000 pages. If you want to narrow the list down even further, play around with the filters.

    Once you’ve done so, find the email address of the website owner. Then reach out to them to see if they can link to you.

    We have a video that covers the link building process from start to finish, so I recommend watching it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ddo63kHHI

    Final thoughts

    Neither strategy is better than the other. Depending on the scenario and your goals, one can be more suitable than the other.

    But the best businesses don’t discriminate between the two strategies. Instead, they combine the strategies for greater effectiveness.

    Did I miss out on anything about pull marketing? Let me know on Twitter.

    Article Performance
    • Organic traffic
      317
    • Linking websites
      35

    The number of websites linking to this post.

    This post's estimated monthly organic search traffic.