Pushing vs. Pulling

Recently I was reading a social thread on Facebook that featured products being sold by a business.  In the comments section below, there was the usual accumulation of enthused complementary remarks followed rather abruptly by a series of photos planted by someone else entirely who was trying to rally support for his own business. 

I must assume that no harm was intended by the interruption.  The scenario got me thinking about one of my favorite business lessons: Push vs. Pull marketing.

Push marketing is rather obvious when you encounter it: ever receive a telemarketing call?  How about the increasingly gargantuan stack of coupons in the mailbox every day?  That’s push.  Every time you find a product you’re not looking for shoved under your nose for closer examination, push marketing is working at its finest.  Many companies are drawn to it because it’s relatively easy to execute: print a zillion mailings and send them across the country.  Keep calling someone with your sales pitch.  Place your product display near people standing in line at the checkout counter.  The entire premise, then, is that you’ve created a product, so now you need to find someone to buy it.  Start shouting.

Pull marketing is far more intriguing.  When pull marketing is working effectively, customers don’t even realize they’re under its influence, for the idea is to so flawlessly engage people that they very much want to be involved with what is being sold.  Such a strategy is the opposite of pushing products; customers, through their feedback, buying trends, and personal style, tell the company what they want, and the company seamlessly creates and returns it to the waiting customers.  Brand promotion occurs because non-customers observe very happy current customers and are drawn in to see why.  Pull marketing creates a space, mental or physical, where peers can come together and share a common bond.  Nobody has to be ‘sold’ in the traditional sense of the word; they want in.

Unfortunately, the concept seems to elude most entrepreneurs-turned-car salesmen.  Backing a passerby into a purchase using mailbox-coupon idioms is not salesmanship and rarely leads to a sustained relationship; the tactic relies heavily on a large number of one-time sales, which is exhausting for the business owner.

I see pull marketing much the same way an engineer envisions a new building; one must create an appealing structure that’s easy to find, features a few different rooms that reveal unique designs within the grander structure, fulfills the need of visitors who step inside, leaves room for expansion (or, in some cases, strategic demolition) and, most importantly, creates a warm space in which a large group of people can comfortably spend time being together.  Whereas an engineer brings the blueprint to life with concrete and rebar, small business owners face the arduous task of constructing it in peoples’ minds.

To assemble your vision in someone else’s imagination requires some basic grip on language skills combined with a healthy dose of whimsy.  Customers need to understand what they are supporting and how they are participating.  It’s important to have a solid foundation that keeps everyone comfortable and a fringe of creativity to hold attention.  In almost all cases, the skills to manage these various avenues are held by different people; it’s difficult for someone with a rock steady personality to flip a switch and be creative. 

At our farm, we’ve discovered an excellent way to import fresh personalities is to provide a space for complementary minds to do their thing.  Mark, Kristen, and the Little Sprouts Produce gang provide some serious pull for our customers; not only are they growing vegetables that go quite well with our beef,  the burgeoning Little Sprouts enterprise is planting young people back in the fields during this era of aging farmers and centralized production.  Each of the kids is learning about responsibility, money management, commitment, and a multitude of other skills.  Additionally, it’s a hoot to have youthful enthusiasm around the farm.  Customers want to be here and experience it all.  That’s pull.

Ty Kepler and his fascination with interesting food and home cooking is a magnetizing combination, so he manages ‘The Kitchen’ on all of our media outlets.  He’s one of those people that, simply, is good to be around.  I’ve never known him to not be well familiarized with concepts that are yet to make it into the mainstream, so his intrigues are helpful insight on what’s next.  Ty’s recipes aren’t some bogus haphazard creation from a foodservice; they’re a portal into better food that can be created at home.  Ty represents an era of wholesome nourishment and repopulated kitchens, which is vital to changing how we grow what we eat.  That’s pull.

Blasting people with one endless sales pitch will weary any entrepreneur, yet too many choose this route in lieu of the more meticulous planning that pulls committed customers in. Nobody wants to be a part of ephemeral business plans that lack any direction beyond the next sale, so if the small business world wants to take a firm grip on the larger market I believe we need to buckle down and do a better job thinking. Pushing something under a customer’s nose may yield a sale, but inviting the customer into your dream creates a lasting relationship. Which do you want?