Pull marketing strategies for small businesses

Traditional push marketing is slowly dying.  What used to attract attention is falling on deaf ears and people are embracing pull marketing to get their message to the people that want to listen.

With small businesses – the web has levelled the playing field.  Gone are the days when huge marketing budgets are required to reach an audience.  Now all you need is a little imagination, and/or social media to get on the radar and win. Best of all many of the larger organisations, caught up in the bubble of traditional thinking that they have used for years, can be easily out manoevered on the web. They have been slow to adapt to change and embrace the technologies that are going to matter in the years to come.

Before I go on to describe how you can get in on the action, its probably worth quantifying what qualifies as pull and push marketing.

What is push marketing?

Push marketing is the practise of ‘pushing’ your product (or indeed your content) towards an audience that may or may not know about it. Traditional advertising leaflets that drop through your letterbox. Sales letters, advertising banners or cold calls. All of these are examples of push marketing – and each one of them are inherently negative. Think about the last time you received a leaflet in the post. If it wasn’t relevant to you at the time, you throw it out. If you receive a cold call from a sales person – you put them on hold for 5 minutes and hope they hang up.  The key thing here is timing,  and audience relevance.

Push marketing only gets results if the timing is right, and if the product or service caters for a recipients needs. This is why response rates are low. For a traditional marketing campaign you can only expect  1% to 2% percent response from non-clients, and a 5% to 7% response from clients. This means that you have to increase your print runs by some margin to get results – and thus wipes out the budget of many small business owners.


What is pull marketing?

Forget about “YOU” marketing. Repeat after me. No one cares about you. Start adding value for your customers and they will come.  Lead with the clients goals, concerns and values. Pull marketing is all about building brand authority, influence and visibility to achieve business goals. This method gets people to seek you out, and find you simply because you have demonstrated experience in the field that you operate within and added additional value.

As a result, people in turn get a feel for your brand vision, believe or identify with it and in turn subscribe to the essence of it. Make no mistake – Pull marketing is the hard slog. It takes time to build a sense of trust, but if done right, it can be the single greatest source of new business.

The beauty of this strategy is that online – there are many different ways to use pull marketing to your advantage. A couple of examples of pull marketing would be e-newsletters, blog commenting and Twittering. These are just a few – so how can you use these to your advantage?

Is push marketing dying?

As time goes on, people will become more and more disenchanted with the barrage of what you will call marketing, and they will call SPAM. Unless you are tapping into their needs and desires, and have good market research done, you are going to piss off the majority of your audience. Think about how many adblocker programs there are on the web. We are constantly being bombarded with marketing messages, so its no wonder that so many people are now banner blind, and ad aware – particularly in younger generations. Whilst my mother doesn’t know the difference between a paid ad on Google – my younger sister of 14 does. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

My own perception of generation Y consumers is that they are even less tolerant of push marketing tactics, and these are the people with the most buying power. The internet is changing the landscape of commerce, and with it – marketing is having to evolve.  Crowdsourcing is changing how consumers act, and how they purchase.  If you are going to fish – you have to fish where the fish are.


Implementing pull strategies for small businesses.

So how are you going to implement a strategy that works for your business? If correctly executed you can expect people to talk more about you or your products, and consider purchasing. You can also expect more subscribers to your blog – (you do have a blog don’t you?), more visitors to your website, brand loyalty and exponential growth. But its not a magic wand. Do it wrong and you could at best appear uninterested and at worst damage your brand.

You are going to have to weigh up whether you have more money or time. Many people forget that if you are going to market yourself online, at least a couple of hours need set aside per day to achieve growth.

So what are the tactics you can employ to achieve this?

  • Blogging – In my opinion blogging is one of the greatest guerilla marketing techniques at your disposal. Not only does it provide you with a way of increasing your brand exposure and trust but it also allows you to connect more deeply with your audience. If you aren’t doing it – you should be. RSS subscription to your blog is a great example of pull marketing. Readers interested in your content and your products choose to listen.  It’s just up to you to provide them with what they want.
  • Social Media Marketing – Simply put – social media is the act of engaging with others online. It is the sharing of content, opinion and insight with the folks within your online following and friends. If you can get out there and join the conversation, there is an opportunity to make connections, and increase your brand value. Every time you leave a comment on a blog post, every time you save an article to delicious – every small interaction you make with content online – that is building up a profile of your brand values. As such this is a great way to attract people, and become someone that others seek out. My guide on social media marketing can take you through it if you are a newb.
  • Twitter – Twitter is an example of another service that relies on pull marketing extensively. People follow the conversations that interest them – and for that reason it fits perfectly with the model of pull marketing. Its no surprise then that many corporate users are using it to connect more deeply with their customers and potential customers – or that the service has increased in popularity. I want brands I care about to listen to my needs as a customer – Twitter for brands is the suggestion box that enables deeper interaction. It also provides a mechanism to encorporate live user feedback into the future of a product or service.
  • Building Community – Build a sense of community around your site, and people will return. Birds of a feather – flock together. Give people the opportunity to communicate with other like minded individuals and they will return to your site to do so – and indeed identify you as a social maven that connected them.
  • Email Newsletters – offering additional information by way of an email newsletter is another great way to provide value to customers. You could go down the commercial route and put special offers in every newsletter you send out – but that won’t gain traction. Much better to provide additional valuable content, then make your special offer a much more subtle, added extra. Think about which newsletters you have forwarded to your friends in the past – was it the massive 20% off at {INSERT STORE HERE} – or the one which provided fashion or DIY tips.  If you are looking to build trust you are going to have to earn it.
  • Public Speaking – being seen to be seen is a great way to increase your authority. I’ve yet to get on the stand this year, but plan to soon. If you aren’t opposed to the idea, speaking at user conferences and other events increases the likelihood that people will associate you (and your business) with knowledge. This is where you want to be, as having knowledge initiates questions from the less knowledgeable – and this leads to business.

Whatever your business is the approach you should take to pull marketing online is the same: know the industry, know the people in it, and be someone worth talking to about it.


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