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The best thing about talking to many people from different places is that all manner of things find their way into conversation, allowing me to discover what I know…sometimes my opinions have changed and I may not have quite caught up myself.

Case in point: I recently was discussing growth plans with a small manufacturer and taking a look at their structure, I saw they were really pushing their products out in a traditional way, with on the ground reps seeking just the right places to sell merchandise. Yes, they have social media, yes they have other marketing in place. After this examination and conversation I realized that I don’t see a future in ‘pushing’ products—so much points to ‘pulling’ buyers or prospects or clients to an organization. Of note also is that over the last decade I have witnessed the almost complete abandonment of on the ground sales forces, driven by lots of complex factors, but still concluding with the same simple reality.

In marketing, ‘Push’ here means traditional sales from on the ground rep to trade shows to big glossy ads showcasing products or services. ‘Pushing’ means bringing a product or service with an offer in front of a prospect. I define ‘Pull’ as activities that are around building relationships, like social media, corporate social responsibility initiatives, contests and engaged interaction. ‘Pull’ is based on attraction, with prospects seeking a company or service out because they have learned about their product, action or service through a non-sales effort. Call it public relations, call it social media, call it engaged marketing–it is part of the broader shift fueled by technology and information.

Old school push strategy puts the marketer in total control of the message. An evolving pull strategy reflects the shift of control from advertisers to information users and shapers, consumers.

This realization will lead me to read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, but the reality is that this concept is so much in the air around me that my thinking has thoroughly shifted, I just hadn’t taken a moment to recognize the change.

Pull allows each of us to find and access people and resources when we need them, while attracting to us the people and resources that are relevant and valuable, even if we were not even aware before that they existed. —John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison

This may not be as simple as it sounds, since there is a great deal of art to presenting, organizing and orchestrating the elements of pull or atttraction—in other words there is a soft ‘push’ of information that makes ‘pull’ possible, and this will be a topic of a future conversation.