How Marketing Is Caught Between a Constant Push and Pull

But there's a way to streamline processes

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Whether you’re a Fortune 50 or a startup, marketers have to think about how and where to invest to grow the business and the brand. The marketing world is full of opportunities to overinvest in shorter-term results, which can feel like the promotional “Dark Side.”

At MailChimp, we try to model a level of communication in our own marketing that helps inspire other businesses to connect with their audience in an authentic way, because we believe it’s the best way to drive results. However, before you can even get into the art of communication with a specific customer segment or stakeholder, there are some important marketing planning issues to tackle. Namely, how are you going to allocate your time, people and money to customers, value chain partners and distribution points to deliver on business results and build your brand at the same time?

That’s our tale of two directions: push and pull. Whichever direction you take, allocating resources effectively—time, people, dollars—across everything that marketing does is key.

Kill the zombies

Before you jump in and start thinking about where you’re going to invest in marketing, I like to say that you need to kill the zombies—those marketing investments that don’t ever seem to die and take on a life of their own—so you can start fresh with unallocated time and money, as much or as little as you might have.

Next, you need a model for considering where your marketing resources go. This is not the existing chart of accounts where you separate it by this much in media, this much in events, this much in production. This model is based on your business objectives and ties directly to what you want to accomplish.

Allocating resources effectively—time, people, dollars—across everything that marketing does is key.

I’ve always appreciated push and pull marketing strategies, but over the years I’ve adapted this to what I refer to as the three Ps: push, pull, pricing. There’s no voodoo involved. It’s a straightforward approach, almost like an equation, that explains how marketing generates business results and can help you think about where your resources might go. Here are the key elements.

Push investments

There are two types of push investments to keep in mind: building your sales channel and increasing or optimizing distribution. Sales channels can often be splintered-off into a separate organization, but it’s still marketing. The distribution tradeoff is often overlooked by more communications-oriented marketing teams but presents an opportunity. With push investments, think about how you can most effectively be disruptive.

Pull investments

With pull investments, think about how you can most effectively add value. The primary focus here is on acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones: acquiring new customers tends to be the lion’s share of marketing effort and money. Retaining existing customers is usually a tremendous opportunity, but tends to be underinvested in and poorly understood.


Think strategically about how you might optimize and use pricing variations to achieve your objective.

Pretty much everything should fit into one of these buckets. As with all models like this, it requires some art and science to get it to work. It must consider the specifics of your business and brand. It will definitely make you think, while also setting you up to optimize marketing investments over time. Once you start making resource allocation decisions this way, it gets easier to weigh some tradeoffs that are inevitable: If I had an incremental $X, would it make more sense to spend it on acquiring new customers or increasing distribution?

Without following a model like this at a growing and evolving business, it’s easy to leave important stuff out. Life will still throw some curves your way and the process might be messy (and, by the way, you’ll eventually need that accounting-based view of things), but it will force you to flex that muscle and build strength. No matter where your tale of two directions leads you, it’s super helpful and clarifying to have a framework in place that reminds you of how marketing connects to business and brand results.

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