Somehow wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and consumers need to be informed—via marketing communications—that an offering exists and that there’s a good reason to buy it. Sometimes, a push strategy is used to help marketing channels accomplish this. A push strategy (which is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 12 "Public Relations and Sales Promotions") is one in which a manufacturer convinces wholesalers, distributors, or retailers to sell its products. Consumers are informed via advertising and other promotions that the product is available for sale, but the main focus is to sell to intermediaries.
The problem with a push strategy is that it doesn’t focus on the needs of the actual users of the products. Coca-Cola used a push strategy for years before realizing that instead of focusing on moving beverages through a retailer’s back door, it needed to help them sell to shoppers through the retailer’s front door. 1College textbook publishers are in a similar position today. Traditionally, they have concentrated their selling efforts on professors and bookstore managers. (Has a textbook company ever asked you what you want out of a textbook?) It’s no secret that the price of textbooks is climbing and students are purchasing fewer of them. Like Coca-Cola, textbook publishers are probably going to have to rethink their sales and marketing channel strategies. 2
By contrast, a pull strategy focuses on creating demand for a product among consumers so that businesses agree to sell the product. A good example of an industry that utilizes both pull and push strategies is the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies promote their drugs to pharmacies and doctors, but they now also run ads designed to persuade individual consumers to ask their physicians about drugs that might benefit them.
In many cases, two or more organizations in a channel jointly promote a product to retailers, purchasing agents, and consumers and work out which organization is responsible for what type of communication to whom. The actual forms and styles of communication will be discussed more in the promotions and sales section of the book.