Marketers must make critical decisions regarding the tactical components of their promotional plans. They must decide which promotional tools to employ and to what extent. The vagaries of marketing are such that no single promotional tool offers a guarantee of marketplace success. Each promotional tool has strengths and weaknesses and marketing budgets are limited. However, an experienced marketer is aware of the best theoretical and experiential practices, which helps him to better select among the array of promotional mix options.
All promotional marketing activities fall into one of two broad promotional theories. These are known as the theories of "push" or "pull." All marketing promotion activities, including advertising, sales promotion, public relations and personal selling, fall into one of these categories.
The “push” strategy concentrates promotional activity on distribution channels. In other words, the sales force pushes the product to wholesalers, who promote it to their retailer network, which then puts the product in a retail store for consumers to see and purchase (e.g., end-aisle displays of unknown products). The "pull" strategy, on the other hand, relies heavily on marketing communications to create awareness and desire, thus pulling consumers into a store to purchase products. Both of these theories have strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, a combination of the two approaches is used to both pull and push demand.
The billions of dollars spent annually on advertising are dwarfed by the amount of money that marketers expend on sales promotion. Sales promotion is a more surefire way to guarantee sales because a financial incentive, such as discount coupons, is involved. However, consumer sales promotion has its limitations. It can only be used periodically or the incentive loses its luster. Brands that are always on sale risk eroding their brand value. On the other hand, advertising provides no guarantee of a sale. However, it is necessary to create awareness that can lead to trial, establish a brand personality and foster long-term loyalty. Each marketer must decide how much of one or another of these promotional powerhouses is best for the product's marketing needs at a given time.
Advertising and public relations are another promotional mix that marketers perennially encounter. A marketer may decide to use one or both methods as part of a promotional plan, recognizing that one has strengths that may be needed for the brand at a given time. Advertising is hardcore selling and consumers know that advertisers sometimes exaggerate or mislead the consuming public. It is also very expensive. Public relations (PR), on the other hand, is free and is a gentler means of interacting with consumers. Through press releases, feature stories, etc., PR paves the way for marketers to get in the public's good graces. PR is the preferred method for non-profits, but even for-profit entities know that it helps to utilize PR to let the public know of their corporate goodwill and good deeds.
Another promotion mix decision includes whether to utilize PR or event marketing. Whereas PR uses the media to get its message out, event marketing advocates having a tactile presence in communities that are important to a brand's sales. Event marketers plan or act as sponsors of local events like concerts or health fairs. Their presence puts a human face on a product for local consumers. Event marketing has associated manpower and implementation costs, though. PR, on the other hand, interacts with consumers but does so at arm's length via local newspapers or magazines at no cost. Again, depending on need, the marketer selects one or the other, or perhaps uses one to support or augment an initiative that takes place within the other.