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A pull strategy is a type of marketing and advertising. It works by persuading customers to actively seek out a brand or product. It contrasts with a push strategy where the aim is to get the product into places where it will be seen by shoppers and bought as an impulse buy. The two terms originate in supply chain management.
The main difference between the two strategies is the sequence of events that leads to a sale. With a push strategy, the product is normally shipped to stores with the intention that consumers will see it and decide to buy it. With a pull strategy, there is more emphasis on advertising and similar techniques to create demand among consumers. This demand then prompts retailers to order stock from suppliers, who in turn order the product from the manufacturer.
A good example of the difference between a push strategy and a pull strategy is the book industry. Traditional book publishing, in which books are printed in bulk and then stocked on bookstore shelves, is largely a push strategy. Print-on-demand, in which books are printed to order as and when a customer wants to buy one, an increasingly common method for books sold mainly online, is largely a pull strategy.
In many cases, the distinction is not quite so clear-cut. For example, a new breakfast cereal may be launched using both strategies. Advertising will prompt consumers to visit a store with the intent of buying the product. At the same time, prominent in-store displays and high stock levels may boost sales among consumers who were not previously aware of the product.
A pull strategy incorporates most traditional advertising such as TV and radio commercials or newspaper advertisements. It also incorporates methods such as boosting word-of-mouth, or building brands online. A push strategy is more about targeting retailers and persuading them that the product will be a success, such that they stock the product and make consumers aware of it at the point of sale.
While most promotion uses both strategies, a pull strategy is more appropriate where there is some doubt over the demand for the product. The response to advertising will give a better idea of the stock levels stores will need. Using a push strategy can be cheaper to operate but involves more of a gamble as the manufacturer needs to supply a certain level of stock even before knowing what the demand will turn out to be.
The two terms were first used in supply chains. In this context, the terms refer to the "force" that propels a product along the chain. A pull system means the consumers generate demand, which prompts production. A push system creates the products in the hope of them generating demand.