All marketing is driven by one central question: What do you do when you want to get someone’s attention?

Do you walk up to them cold and attempt to calmly break the ice? Do you shout at them Billy Mays-style from across the room (“Hey you! Yeah, you!”)? Do you do something stupid under the preposterous pretense that all press is good press?

Or maybe, you stay exactly where you are and use what you know about whoever’s attention it is you’re trying to get to make them come to you?

All of the above tactics fall into two broad marketing categories: push and pull.

Whether you’re trying to attract businesses or consumers, push and pull marketing both have a place in your marketing strategy. It’s really just a matter of how, when and why to use each.

What is push marketing?

Push marketing is sort of like the guy at the ballpark who yammers on about peanuts. He’s a godsend if you really crave a salty snack but a total nuisance if all you really want is a drink of water and a view unobstructed by a giant crate of nuts.

In more concrete marketings terms, the peanut guy’s method is predominantly extroverted, or more technically, “outbound.” He walks around actively pursuing and engaging (and sometimes annoying) leads.

So for instance, all of the following would be considered push marketing:

  • Advertising: On a billboard, in a radio commercial, on TV, on the train, on the sidebar of a web browser, in between YouTube videos, via paid Facebook ads and so on. The purpose is to very clearly assert your brand.
  • Direct mail: Sending promotional materials related to your products or services directly to a business or consumer’s mailbox.
  • Direct email marketing: Reaching out directly to a lead via email to talk about your products or services, and how they might be of value.
  • Cold calling: Dialing up potential leads to introduce your business and schedule a meeting with a sales rep.

The thing about the push, or outbound, approach to marketing is that it’s assertive, and the intent to sell is very thinly, if at all, veiled.

What is pull marketing?

Pull marketing is like that scene in “Space Jam” when Bugs Bunny uses a magnet to slowly draw Michael Jordan’s golf ball toward the hole with the intent of sucking him into a dimension inhabited by Looney Tunes so No. 23 can help them win a basketball game against aliens with some serious skill.

Only we’ll replace Bugs Bunny with your company, and instead of using a magnetized golf ball, you’re using content as your method to lure Michael Jordan the prospect deeper into Looney World your sales funnel so they can hopefully save the day buy what you’re selling.

Naturally, the web is going to play a big role in this effort because that’s where people spend a lot of time looking for answers to questions or solutions to problems – there are about 40,000 Google search queries per second. Your brand’s goal in this dynamic is to figure out how to answer those questions and help solve those problems with blog posts, how-to-videos, infographics, eBooks, white papers and other content.

In order for other businesses (or consumers if you’re in a B2C market) to discover your insights, you need to make your content more visible to search engines. This is search engine optimization (SEO), and it requires well-written content that satisfies searcher intent.

Of course, there’s more to pull marketing, also referred to as inbound marketing, than SEO and content creation. A solid pull marketing strategy will also leverage:

  • Online magazine contributions: Your business’s experts have a lot of really great, important things to say about their industry. They can say those things as guest contributors on reputable industry magazines that their potential leads might frequent. This brings attention to your brand without the pretext of trying to sell something, and it also creates an opportunity to backlink to your business’s website (Google rewards webpages when a really credible website links back to it).
  • Conferences: Industry gatherings represent a great opportunity to showcase your knowledge and experience for other businesses, as well as your dedication to solving your prospects’ problems with your groundbreaking products and services. A keynotes address, for instance, about the future of cybersecurity will attract a small crowd and maybe just get someone’s attention.
  • (Organic) social media: This loosely falls under the umbrella of “content creation.” And the reason we use the modifier “organic” is that paid ads on, say, Facebook are an example of outbound marketing. Point is, a strong social media presence will attract followers. It’s a chance to promote your content, which will hopefully be of use to those followers and/or to curate interesting, informative and entertaining content from other sources. This is also an opportunity to develop a voice for your business and brand that isn’t strictly, “Hey you! Yeah you! You want some peanuts?”

The important thing to note about the “pull” factor is that it needs to give whomever it is your company is trying to attract a sense of value. Bugs Bunny gave Michael Jordan the gratification of believing he was maybe as good at golf as he was at basketball, and that’s how he hooked him.

Be like Bugs Bunny.

How do pull and push complement one another?

I promise to stop talking about “Space Jam” soon. But note: It was a lot easier for Bugs Bunny to push Michael Jordan into a basketball game after he’d pulled him down the rabbit hole, wasn’t it?

There’s a lesson here. Pull marketing strategies are fantastic for generating top-of-funnel interest in your company. Intent to buy at this stage is minimal, so while a cold lead might not want to sit on the phone with you and hear about how you sell the best peanuts, they will read your informative or entertaining blog content so long as it serves them in some way. And if your content is compelling enough, you may even get them to download a gated asset in exchange for their email address.

Enter your outbound marketers. They use any knowledge they have about the type of content that the lead showed interest in as well as any information they can find about that person or business’s values to then begin a real, face-to-face conversation – or perhaps, email-to-email correspondence.

Oh, and by the way, the relationship between push and pull marketers is more than just a passing of the baton. Your outbound people can learn a lot from your inbound marketers. Case in point: Outbound marketers at Brafton read this blog.

The inverse is also true. Outbound marketers actually spend time engaging leads and hearing them out. In the past, we’ve really harped on the importance of tapping into the knowledge of your sales teams to create better content, and the same applies to your outbound marketers. They gather a lot of intel out on the front lines that inbound marketers can use to fine-tune their reader personas and guide topic ideation.

Ok. But my budget is limited: Which do I choose?

In a perfect world, it would always be push and pull as opposed to push versus pull marketing.

But if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to prioritize one over the other, the numbers seem to sway in pull’s favor.

Leads generated through inbound marketing efforts (which are predominantly in the “pull” category) close, on average, 14.6 percent of the time, while outbound leads have a 1.7 percent close rate, according to Search Engine Journal. The bottom line is that inbound leads search for answers and quite possibly solutions or services, meaning there’s a pretense for their relationship with your brand and often, intent to buy. When your content creation, SEO and other inbound marketing efforts successfully pull the most qualified leads deeper into the funnel, your sales team will generally have an easier time closing deals. That means new customers upon new customers.

But again, the best marketing dynamic will ideally have some pull and some push.

Because at the end of the day, there are some dunks deals that can’t land without a good push.

Dominick Sorrentino, Brafton's Brand & Product Manager, is based in Portland, ME. He likes language, playing guitar, birding, taking his dog on scenic strolls, traveling, and a good conversation over a great cup of coffee. He promises he's not as pretentious as he sounds.