From push to pull

Jessica DeVlieger, Global CEO

How do you move your brand from push to pull?
You communicate at eye-level.
You speak to people’s souls.
You act more human.
You become more relevant.

Push marketing has been stuck in controversy for some time. Consumers’ rising concerns about data privacy and ethics have led to a swathe of new regulation around digital advertising, most notably, GDPR in Europe.

Google upped the ante when it announced it would phase out third-party cookies on Chrome browsers (following Safari and Firefox’s lead). A move that stands to create real headaches for marketers who are reliant on push tactics as a part of their marketing mix. No more retargeting, no more pop-ups, much less tracking.

But, regulation aside, perhaps it was time for companies to reconsider the balance of their marketing mix? Things had begun to get a little off kilter…

Back in 2019 Adidas, announced publicly that an over-reliance on push tactics had actually undermined its sales.

According to Marketing Week, execs had built their strategies on the belief that only performance marketing drove ecommerce sales, when attribution modelling showed that brand activity was driving 65% of sales across wholesale, retail and ecommerce.

The sportswear company said it was correcting its marketing efficiency to marketing effectiveness, admitting that its focus on ROI had caused it to over-invest in push marketing at the expense of brand building, and had ultimately slowed its growth.

What do you do when push won’t work? Well, in the case of Adidas, the company corrected by launching a new marketing playbook which focused on generating desire with emotional, brand-driving activity at the center. In other words, Adidas moved from push to pull.

How do you move your brand from push to pull?

You communicate at eye-level.
You speak to people’s souls.
You act more human.
You become more relevant.

Years ago, when asked in a workshop to name a brand she loved, my colleague named Mailchimp – software for sending automated newsletters. I was taken aback – how could anyone (even a marketer!) really feel passionately about a newsletter tool? Turns out, just before you send a newsletter in Mailchimp, you see an image of a nervous looking chimp, sweating with its finger hovering over a big red “Send” button. Any marketer can tell you about the fear that strikes moments before communicating with tens of thousands of customers. And, in that sweet, comical moment of truth, my colleague felt less alone. She clearly wasn’t the only marketer who felt the fear, and Mailchimp had her back.

In our numbers orientated, data-driven world, anecdotes like these can feel ‘soft’ somehow. But on closer examination, they evidence a bigger opportunity for brands, one with clearly quantifiable commercial implications. Data from our sister agency, Interbrand, shows that the strongest brands outperform others on their ability to combine 3 key factors: customer empathy, customer affinity and organizational agility.  In other words, the ability to act relevant. (As a sidenote: Interbrand’s analysis doesn’t make any mention of the organization’s ability to target, track, nor otherwise push marketing at a customer!).

Back to my colleague. The reason she loved Mailchimp was because it met her functional needs as a marketer, and it spoke to her as a human. Choice is a powerful force but it isn’t entirely rational. It’s as much about what the customer brings to the equation and what the company does with that understanding. It’s about understanding combined with action; the ability to act relevant.

If you’re a marketing software company, you recognize B2B customers as people, understand how lonely work can feel and stand with them in the moment of truth.

If you’re one of the world’s largest tech companies, you figure out why a group of your next billion users is using your platform less after relaunching in their native language and then you redesign around their deep, unspoken needs (and insecurities), increasing usage and busting a few taboos on the way.

If you’re big pharma, you figure out all of the reasons why people living with HIV are risking their lives by not taking their medication, and then you work in partnership to co-create ways to ensure they really want to (busting a few taboos along the way, funnily enough).

If you’re the world’s biggest out of town home retailer, you figure out what “Life at Home” means to customers of all ages, all across the world, so that your designers can make products that fit into the reality of their lives and your marketers can produce a catalogue that creates desire by reflecting people’s truths.

And if you’re the world’s number two consumer tech company, you figure out how to create a customer inspired culture so that your engineers start designing products customers love, and tap into new audiences as a result.

As all of these examples show, relevance is complicated because it exists in the eyes of the beholder. It requires you to empathize with your customers and then change what you do in light of that understanding. Systematically. And at speed. And if you’ve got different kinds of customers, with intersecting life experiences, your business strategy alone might not be enough to deliver. You need a customer strategy. But here’s the good news:

Firstly, as the world’s leading customer agency, we have strategized, designed and delivered all of the above programs and many, many more.

Our own analysis, which dives deeper into the ‘how’ of relevance, shows that it is fundamentally systematic. It’s made up of consistent factors, which we can name and quantify. It’s possible to compare your own performance against your competitors and peers. It’s possible to see where you lag and where you lead (vs the competition).

We also see that relevance changes over time in understandable ways. So, it’s possible to create a strategy that understands where your customers see you today, and where you need them to see you tomorrow, as a way to create new growth opportunities. To help you act more human. To create pull and drive growth.

As for push marketing, our over reliance was ill-conceived from the start. There’s nothing more alienating than being aimlessly followed around the internet by a product you don’t really care about. And it’s always the product you don’t care about.

Really, we knew it all along. The best brands don’t make people want things, they make things people want.