Tuesday, July 14

Blowing Air: Why Push Falls Short


In 1982, I had a friend whose uncle sold Electrolux vacuums at a time when they didn't retail for $299 or less. He described it as an easy job, despite the skill sets being part of a dying art.

Nonetheless, every day, he would hit the streets, knocking on door after door in order to provide a demonstration. During a demonstration, the vacuums would practically sell themselves as he walked them through their various tricks: sucking up ball bearings; pulling dirt out of the carpet after the homeowners' vacuum had cleaned the area; and vacuuming a bed to illustrate just how much dirt, microscopic mites, and other mysterious creatures people go to sleep with every night.

The latter example, if the vacuum hadn't sold by then, almost always sealed the deal. After all, who wouldn't feel guilty for making their family sleep on an assortment of alien life forms? It worked so well, he often cut off work after the third sale, which was usually around noon. The company didn't care. Accountability was tied to sales and not time cards.

Why Door-To-Door Push Marketing Died

While he never really knew it, my friend's uncle was employing a combination of demand creation, classic marketing, and a direct call to action. And, it was relatively easy because once he engaged in a conversation and moved it toward a presentation, the only voice that could be heard over the buzz of the machine and swirling dirt was his own: push marketing at the core.

It also relied on a business model that seldom works anymore. It relied on a captive audience and solo sales pitch. Nowadays, that almost never happens. Nowadays, the problem presented by my friend's uncle would more likely prompt homeowners to dash upstairs to the computer and pull down as much information as possible on dust mites, vacuum cleaners, price points, and ball bearings (for good measure).

The end result would not be the same. My friend's uncle would very likely succeed in selling more competitive models than the Electrolux models even it was for no other reason than people feeling empowered into making their own decision. In sum, push marketing stands a near equal chance at pushing people away. At yet, so many companies persist in this endeavor.

What Is Holding Organizations To This Old Model?

Or, as one of Valeria Maltoni's readers recently asked, what is holding organizations back from doing it right? Why don't more organizations shift their marketing strategy in line with social media and pull marketing? Why is everyone ignoring the obvious?

Why? While there are many reasons, the most obvious seems to be the rapid adoption of social media by people who know very little about the composite of communication skills required to develop a successful program.

The two most common culprits, it seems, are internal marketing people who have limited experience in anything but push marketing, and an increasing number of public relations firms that are still trying to hold onto the diminishing return of media relations (less newspaper pages inevitably means less column inches to count).

Unfortunately, both look at social media as a demand fulfillment tool, despite that model being easily likened to pointing an Electrolux toward the ceiling and declaring that sucking air is a return. It isn't. In fact, there is a very good chance such efforts do little more than move dust around.

On the contrary, social media might be a communication tool but the implementation and execution requires something better than sucking air. Not everyone can do it. If they could, then every Facebook page, Twitter account, and company blog would be a success.

So is it any wonder so many organizations are being held back? Not really. I imagine it to be rather difficult for executives to get excited about social media when the only return they hear is the sound of sucking air. Give them a little more time. Sooner or later they will realize that the problem isn't in the tool as much as the operator.

The first step is usually the hardest to take. It's the one that requires them to realize that it's not about them, their product, or their company anymore. Or, like the one mentioned in regard to vacuums, it's less about vacuums and more about clean.

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