One significant marketing trend in recent years has been the growing use of "pull" marketing techniques and channels.  Outsell, Inc., a media research firm, recently estimated that U.S. marketers will spend $65 billion in 2009 on their Websites (a pull marketing channel).  MediaPost recently reported that U.S. spending on search engine marketing (another pull marketing technique) will grow from $12.2 billion in 2008 to $22.4 billion in 2013.

Strictly speaking, pull marketing refers to marketing communications that are initiated by the prospective customer.  In a broader sense, though, pull marketing is a distinct approach to marketing that relies heavily on using entertaining or informational communications to engage with potential customers.  The defining characteristic of good pull marketing communications is that the content is not overtly promotional.  The primary focus of most pull marketing efforts in B2B companies is on providing information that prospective customers will consider to be valuable.  So, for example, a marketing services firm might develop a series of white papers or recorded Webinars that address a variety of important marketing issues and make those resources available to potential clients at the firm's Website.

The basic objective of pull marketing is to demonstrate your expertise and thereby establish your company as a credible and trusted source of information about a particular subject matter area.  When potential customers go looking for solutions that fall within your area of expertise (when they are ready to actively consider making a purchase), your company is more likely to receive favorable consideration because you have already established your "bona fides."

The use of pull marketing is growing because traditional push marketing is losing effectiveness.  One reason is that the number of marketing messages has exploded.  Various marketing gurus have estimated that the average U.S. consumer is exposed to between 500 and 3,000 marketing messages every day.  And the more we are bombarded by marketing messages, the less attention we pay to any of them.  At best, they become part of the "noise" that surrounds us, and we will often take active steps to avoid them (think spam filters, TiVo, and Do-Not-Call).

The Internet has also contributed to the diminished effectiveness of traditional push marketing.  We have become confident that we can use the Web to find information about almost any product or service.  More importantly, we are confident that we can obtain that information whenever we want or need it.  Therefore, we rarely pay attention to marketing messages that aren't relevant to our immediate interests or priorities.

Pull marketing is growing because marketers have recognized that potential customers are determined to control when and how they will access marketing information.  Rather than fighting this mindset, savvy marketers are using pull marketing techniques to build credibility and trust and then to enable potential customers to obtain the information they want when they want it.  Pull marketing will never completely replace push marketing, but it has become an essential marketing tactic for many companies.  Today's most effective marketing programs are often a combination of push and pull.  For example, I frequently receive e-mails (push) that invite me to attend a Webinar (pull) or download a white paper (pull).

If you are a marketing service provider, you should be thinking about how you can incorporate pull marketing into you own marketing efforts and about how you can help your clients leverage the benefits of pull marketing.