Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pushin' and pullin' - getting services to patrons

In the never-ending challenge of getting products and services to the end consumer (in our case, getting services to patrons), marketers rely on two distribution strategies: push and pull.

Pushing products involves persuading other people in your distribution channel to make a product available (no end-customers involved). Example: Widgets Inc. marketers give Retail Store Inc. a portion of profits if it stocks its shelf full of New Widget Thing.

A pull strategy means appealing to consumers directly so that their demand persuades retail outlets carry a product. Example: Customers get coupon for a tube of Revolutionary New Toothpaste and go to Grocery Store Inc. to find it (they'd be pretty disappointed if it weren't there!).

You get the idea. So why should we care?

It may be important to think about whether or not to use a push or pull strategy depending on who you're trying to reach. As an example from here in a university setting, my target group is undergraduates and I spend a lot of time reaching out to them directly. I go to fairs, attend events, and design new services for them. But, after a while of doing this, I started thinking, why do students use our services? Answer: To complete homework assignments (yes, for other things too but this is a biggie). Who gives them these assignments? Answer: Their instructors. Therefore, to get more students to use our services, I should appeal to instructors (middlemen) to create more library research assignments (a push strategy). Make sense? It does to me, which is why I hope to focus more of my efforts on targeting faculty who work closely with undergraduates, but you can also see how this might work in other contexts. In public libraries, the most obvious example I can think of would be appealing to parents to reach their children.

Sometimes, the best way to get to your target patrons is through their middlemen.

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