Is pull marketing really viable?

pull mktgPull marketing, we keep hearing about it, but do consumers really have the time to interact with all the content and social media trying to pull them into brands?  My theory, based on two years of qual and quant research is that the answer to that is NO.Greg Satell over at Futurelab says

As audiences continued to fragment and digital technology made it increasingly viable for brands to become publishers, many began to think that maybe it was time to turn the funnel on its head. Rather than pushing consumers with awareness, they would pull them through it using inbound strategies, like helpful websites, events and social media strategies.

Yet the cautionary tale of the Pepsi Refresh project shows why this approach has pitfalls as well. For those who are not familiar, in 2010 Pepsi decided to forego its usual Super Bowl ads and spend $20 million on a social campaign in which consumers would vote to give grants to good causes. It was a miserable failure.

A Harvard Business School case study explains what went wrong. Rather than engaging people interested in Pepsi’s product, the campaign connected with those who were interested in social causes. It was a bad match. There was little connection between the initiative and Pepsi’s brand, its previous marketing activity, demographics or positioning.

UnknownSo rather than showing itself to be an uber-hip marketer, Pepsi became a corporate carpetbagger, trying to buy the love of consumers by doling out bags of money to causes it had no previous involvement with or long-term commitment to. The result: Pepsi actually lost market share and dropped to third in its category for the first time in modern history.


Then there is the belief that brands have to become publishers.  The truth is, people are going to skim and scan all the lovely content you’ve written, looking for something (a keyword, a header perhaps?) that catches their attention or matches the reason they’re visiting your website in the first place.

Eye-tracking studies have also greatly informed what we know about how people read on the Internet. Because the Internet has become such a rich source of information, web visitors can and do make lightning-fast decisions about whether a webpage is worth reading. They sweep their eyes across the page in a pattern that’s roughly shaped like an F, starting in the upper left corner. They take two horizontal swipes across the page, then swipe vertically down the left. These three heatmaps of web users’ eye movements capture this dominant reading pattern.


Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold (meaning, the part of the webpage that’s visible when users first land there). Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

I would argue that inbound or pull marketing has always been there as evidenced by people who visit your site.  Brands need to focus more on ensuring that their websites are relevant to their audiences via usability testing and optimization. However, too many branded websites are eye-candy driven by marketers obsession with advertising and creative over and usability.