The key to building a healthy brand is to balance marketing’s push with its pull. Push strategies drive immediate financial benefit by pressing messages, offers, and products at customers. Customer experience pull strategies build satisfaction, loyalty and word of mouth that draw customers to the brand. Wells Fargo’s recent headlines offer yet another cautionary tale of what happens when push and pull are imbalanced.

Recently, Wells Fargo was in the news because the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fined Wells Fargo Bank $100 million for the “widespread illegal practice of secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.” Employees opened more than two million accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers.

The costs to the bank went beyond the CFPB fine; it must pay full restitution to all victims, an additional $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and another $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles. In addition, Wells Fargo must now invest in communication and other strategies to convince disappointed customers that it is “committed to putting our customers’ interests first 100 percent of the time.” The fines and negative publicity also impacted Wells Fargo’s stock price, which has fallen almost ten percent in recent weeks. 

What went wrong can be seen through the lens of push versus pull. Former Well Fargo employees–some of the 5,300 that were fired as a result of these practices–tell stories of a company that prioritized short-term results. Its “Gr-eight initiative,” which sought to sell at least eight financial products per customer, created a “pressure cooker environment” that pushed employees to deliver. The bank suffered from “pervasive inappropriate practices,” such as “pinning,” issuing ATM cards and assigning PIN numbers without customer authorization, and allowing employees to input false generic email addresses like to ensure transactions were completed.

Of course, Wells Fargo is far from the only organization to be tripped because its push and pull strategies were unequal. Two years ago, the former head of Engadget attempted to cancel his Comcast service and found it nearly impossible. The last eight minutes of the roughly 20-minute call went viral, with the customer determining “the only sufficient answer was ‘Okay, please don’t disconnect our service after all.’” Former Comcast employees recounted that what “started out as a carrot — bonuses for frontline employees who made sales — turned into a stick, as employees who failed to pitch hard enough or meet their quotas were chastised, or worse.”

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Hindsight is 20/20, but the problem here is clear to see. These companies prioritized sales over happy, loyal customers, and both companies acknowledged that their incentives were part of the problem. In the wake of its PR headaches, Comcast’s chief operating officer conceded the company needed to “take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors,” and Wells Fargo eliminated their sales quotas less than a week after the CFPB announcement.

Sales quotas are not the problem, but brands must ensure they reward employees more for improving customer experience as for making immediate sales. For example, one respected financial service organization furnishes bonuses to customer care employees based more on customer satisfaction than on cross-sales or call handle time. As a result, this firm enjoys strong customer relationships (and isn’t in the news with headlines about lawsuits, fines, and angry customers).  That’s the power of balancing push and pull strategies.

The key to brand health is to maintain the right equilibrium between push and pull. To do so, marketing leaders must consider how they prioritize:


  • Push:  Short-term increases in financial outcomes or acquisition.
  • Pull: Long-term improvements in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and brand advocacy.


  • Push: Concurrent indicators such as attributable leads, conversions, and sales.
  • Pull: Leading indicators such as overall satisfaction, net promoter score, customer sentiment, retention rates, positive online ratings, share of positive voice and advocacy behaviors.


  • Push: Inside-out–what the brand wants to achieve.
  • Pull: Outside-in–how the brand helps customers achieve what they want.

Journey stages:

  • Push: Mostly in the Buy stage focused on prospects and ending with new customer acquisition; any efforts in the Own stage are oriented toward share of wallet rather than brand affinity and customer sentiment.
  • Pull: All three stages–Buy, Own, and Advocate–ending with customer love, loyalty and active advocacy for the brand.

Companies may measure success with sales and profit, but their long-term brand health is built with positive customer experiences that deliver loyal advocates. Marketing leaders overly focused on quarterly results run the risk of emphasizing push over pull, but those who take the long view and support customer-centric strategies strike the proper balance between the two.

To prove this to yourself, think about the brands to which you are most loyal. What do you know or can you suppose about their priorities on goals, measures, perspective and journey stages? Do you feel they value you or your spending? Do they sense they care as much about you after you’ve completed a transaction as when you are considering a new product or service? And will you keep doing business with them or will you consider alternatives? Those answers tell you everything you need to know about the ROI of customer experience and what it means when a brand cares as much about pulling you toward the brand as pushing products and services at you.

*This article is reprinted with permission of Gartner


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