Acquisition Marketing: Then And Now

Customer acquisition has long been cited as one of the very top challenges that marketers face -- more than retaining existing customers, more than measuring ROI, more than integrating efforts across channels, you name it -- and for good reasons: it can be expensive, it requires highly specialized expertise, and the vendor landscape for acquisition marketing has possibly become the most crowded box within the ever-expanding and uber-confusing ad-tech landscape.

Marketers have also historically been faced with lackluster results when it comes to acquisition marketing spends. CPM-based display advertising is a luxury for companies with a “branding” budget that is untenable for the 99% of companies that sit on the side of the bell curve that demand performance from their ad spend. Marketers looking for their digital ad dollars to yield deeper funnel engagement with consumers generally have turned to alternate models for their efforts: cost-per-click, cost-per-lead, cost-per-action, etc., but these too, haven’t been as predictably successful as most marketers would like them to be.



The good news is that the next generation of acquisition marketing solutions are fundamentally different from their predecessors in ways that make the process of acquiring new customers more effective, efficient, scalable, and profitable. Here are some of the fundamental “then” and “now” dynamics at play that are making this possible.

Then: Targeting of acquisition-focused ads was typically done on a contextual basis, for example, a brand like Huggies would advertise on a Web site targeting mothers with babies in the home. The tactic made sense, but ignored the fact that mothers also like music, sports, entertainment, and a host of other interests. That said, the cost of broadly running ads targeting moms on sports, music, news sites, etc. would not make any sense either. The net effect of contextual targeting was vastly limiting scale.

Now: Targeting can now be done on an individual level, regardless of the contextual relevance of a publication. Firms are able to leverage a treasure-trove of first-party data and real-time survey interactions in order to target consumers who meet a marketers’ best customer profile across Web and mobile environments, and serve them with relevant ads no matter what type of site they may happen to be on. By targeting at the individual level as opposed to the contextual level, marketers are able to acquire more ideal customers and at a much larger scale.

Then: Optimization of acquisition ad campaigns used to be done at the source-level. For example, if source A delivered the most volume and quality, a marketer would shift more budget to that source, even though inevitably some portion of acquired customers through source A didn’t meet their ideal customer profile, or didn’t have the intent to make a purchase. Likewise, they would scale down the less well performing source B, potentially throwing out diamonds with the coal.

Now: Optimization, like targeting, can now occur on individual level. With an influx of valuable and actionable data, we are no longer shackled by publishers and sources, and can identify which types of people are performing the best, retarget them across channels, and also use lookalike modeling to find new customers who aren't in our funnels yet but should be. 

Then: The market for customer acquisition was highly fragmented, with agencies and technology platforms designed to support very specific types of acquisition buys (cost-per-lead, cost-per-action, cost-per-app install, co-registration email opt-ins, etc.) as well as firms set up to serve exclusive verticals -- education, finance, health, etc.

Now: With the understanding that marketers in every vertical are looking for effective acquisition platforms, and have a variety of end goals when it comes to the types of engagement and actions they are looking for, “one-stop-shops” are emerging to provide integrated offerings that enable marketers of all stripes and colors to run campaigns of any type -- regardless of whether the end game is getting consumers to opt-in to email lists, join a loyalty program, apply for a loan, or sign up for free trials and samples.   

An acquisition will always be harder than retention, but new technologies make it easier than it has been in the past.








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