The end of Push PR/Marketing

I’ve been a little slow in making this mental leap but it occurred to me today that we have (or at least should) now finally seen the end of push-based marketing activities.  For years people in PR, advertising, direct mail etc have created marketing campaigns designed to push information at consumers as a way of engaging with them.  While brands may well have done research on their customer base they had limited contact with them outside of the sales and customer support processes.  All that has changed with social media.  Brands no longer ‘control’ what messages get put out OR when those messages are communicated.  While brands do still push messages out, consumers create their own messages and communicate them when they want.  Messages like: “the PlayBook from BlackBerry/RIM is a me too product.”  Indeed, managing this aspect of the conversation around a brand or product is now at least as important than managing the company created content.  Yet I wonder how many brands really do manage the conversations consumers are having?  I meet quite a few senior communications people in my work and many talk about the importance of this but it still seems that 90% of the effort is directed towards the content they as businesses create.  Listening and shaping the conversations already taking place?  Well they may do the former but rarely the latter.  I believe this is largely because they don’t know how to, or have never really tried.

Why wouldn’t brands try and shape existing conversations about them?  In large part brands seem to feel that it’s much harder to try and change someone’s argument than it is to start a new one.  That may be true but in reality, shifting the debate is a way of shaping a conversation.  It just needs some careful thought, planning and action.  It’s my belief that brands should be sitting down every week (at least) and discussing the conversations taking place on-line about them.  These online conversations are really a digital version of what their customers believe be it good or bad.  By understanding these conversations they are getting a valuable pulse check on their customer-base which in turn should enable them to join in discussions with real integrity.  Again though, I don’t see enough brands doing this.  All too often brands will monitor the conversations but then review them long after the debate has moved on or take little action when they do see a rising topic.  This isn’t true of all brands of course.  Some have jumped in to the social marketing world feet first and are learning some great lessons in the process.

In closing I want to talk briefly about the worst way to tackle social marketing.  This is where brands simply replace their current marketing tools with social tools.  This largely means they carry on trying to push messages at consumers, they just use Facebook, Twitter etc to do it.  Ironically some brands believe that by doing this they have really embraced digital/social marketing and are being progressive.  In my mind all they’ve really done is swapped one bad habit for another.  In short, I’d urge brands to give some thought to how much of their marketing is them joining in the conversation versus starting it.  If you are always the one starting a dialog, it isn’t really a dialog, it’s a speech.  So unless you are Martin Luther King or Winston Churchill you’re better of using those things on either side of your head that Apple designed the iPod for.  RIP Push.

10 Comments on “The end of Push PR/Marketing”

  1. Steve says:

    Well stated, Tim. Until corporate behavior evolves, we simply risk doing what you said in the last paragraph, simply changing the distribution from old school media to new school social media. Arguably, these new tools become a HOW over time. The change in behavior, as evidenced by practices such as listening to and helping shape conversations, is the WHAT. I’m optimistic. We will evolve. It will take time.

  2. Darryl Siry says:

    But someone has to start the conversation sometimes, no?

  3. timdyson says:

    Someone does have to start them. My issue is that brands often feel that’s all they can do. They need to learn to listen and take part in other people’s conversations also.

  4. Matt Ravden says:

    Your point’s well made, but as ever with ‘social’ arguments, it’s not black and white. There’s an argument that we still push, but the ‘push’ message is embedded in a ‘viewpoint’, which allows us to engage in a conversation. In other words, the conversation is pointless unless we’re hoping to steer it in a certain direction. Sometimes, social media zealots think the conversation is good enough. It isn’t. We still need to see ROI.

    I do agree that there’s too much focus on conversation starting – as with original ideas, there’s rarely such a thing. However, it can be productive to pick up a conversation and try to get a different audience engaged with it ….

    • timdyson says:

      Good point Matt. We can tend to get audience centric to the point where we pursue conversations within audience segments and forget that they can be picked up and moved to another group.

  5. I think you make a valid point here Tim – particularly around brands thinking they are engaged but never really sitting down to try and adapt or shift the conversations about them.

    I think this is in part due to the way that many brands are still so campaign driven, which they see as brand building exercises, but they are the ones that define them, rather than trying to redefine a longer tail conversation that is going on ABOUT them, not WITH them. We are so often trying to just get consumers to talk WITH our brands that we forget we can actually shift perceptions of the brand by listening to what conversations are going on about our brands and take those learnings in house to optimise other disciplines like sales or customer service.

    it’s interesting to see this being the end of ‘push’ – personally I don’t think we are there yet, although TV and Print as formats are changing, and people are adopting social, no brand has quit cold turkey on traditional outlets and I don’t think they will for some time yet. But you are right to make the point that we in PR, Comms, Chat, Buzz, Discussion marketing – call it what you will could do with slowing down and listening before diving in head long.

  6. csalomonlee says:

    Beth Harte just wrote a very similar post titled “Dear Marketing & PR Pros: You’re Still Pushing” at

    Many of the comments discuss the ideas of targeting, engagement and conversation. Your post brings in an additional point of how engagement can help shift the conversation in a direction that is more reflective of the brand’s.

  7. timdyson says:

    Thanks for pointing this post out. Looks like we both tackled the same issue from slightly different angles.

  8. […] week, I read two very good blogs posts from Tim Dyson (The end of Push PR/Marketing) and Beth Harte (Dear Marketing & PR Pros: You’re still pushing) regarding the […]

  9. […] all are challenged marketing our wines in this new and rapidly evolving digital environment. Consumers now determine how and where our brand messages are accessed and received. Search has become primarily local and […]

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