When prospects research your brand they compare you to your competitors. More specifically, they compare your search results to those of your competition. What they see online can mean the difference between contacting you and not. So step one is to improve what prospective buyers see long before they decide to contact you or not.
If customer acquisition was easy, marketing departments wouldn’t comprise such a large portion of most company structures. Likewise, advertising wouldn’t be a $500 billion per year industry. Obtaining new customers, in order to capture more market share, is the lifeblood of business. It’s a multifaceted and ever-changing discipline, and has grown tremendously in light of new technologies.
The definition of customer acquisition
Customer acquisition is the measured effort of finding, connecting with, and ultimately acquiring new customers. The “acquisition” part of this methodology is commonly called conversion, marking the moment when a potential customer becomes an actual customer through the purchase of a good or service.
Examples of the customer acquisition process
The customer acquisition process takes different forms depending on a company’s size, resources, and needs. Here are a few examples of customer acquisition.
- A farmer wants to expand her business to sell eggs outside of her immediate vicinity. She registers with a farmer’s market in the nearest city and pays for a small booth where she can sell her eggs. The first time she sets up her stand, she displays a mailing list at the front of her booth and sits back while customers shop. She only sells $100 worth of eggs, but now she has a list of email addresses of potential customers. She sends out gift certificates to everyone on her mailing list, and next week, six out of twenty people on the list redeem their certificates. She has acquired six new customers.
- An associate at a retail clothing store greets a shopper. Through conversation, the associate discovers that the shopper wants a particular type of jeans she can’t find -- so the cashier finds these jeans in the company’s online database and orders them online for the shopper. The shopper pays for her jeans in the store and becomes a customer.
- An event planner for a corporation is looking online for the perfect venue. She visits several different websites and subscribes to their mailing lists. Later that week, when she receives an irresistible special offer in her email inbox from one of the venues, she calls the venue to schedule a meeting. She’s thrilled by the location and books the venue.
- A sales representative for a hardware company interacts with a prospect at a trade show and provides an engaging live demonstration of an interactive kiosk. The prospect is “wowed,” and they exchange business cards. Later that week the sales representative follows up with the prospect over the phone. The prospect is eager to purchase, and becomes a customer.
- An author regularly engages with followers on social media, where she shares slices of her life and tips on writing with her readers. Once a week, she Tweets out a link to the landing page for her latest book, and tracks the number of people who visit her page that day. On average, she converts 50 new customers each week from her promotional Tweet.
Now that you can see how varied and complex customer acquisition can be, let’s look at some of the different ways businesses advertise to customers. We’ll also explore how the internet has added new and more targeted marketing techniques for customer acquisition, shaping the field into more of a science than an art.
Techniques of online customer acquisition
Customer acquisition happens through the orchestrated effort of a number of advertising strategies. These strategies fall into three categories: above the line, through the line, and below the line. Any type of advertising you see -- from billboards and bathroom stall flyers to email newsletters - fits into one of these groups.
Above the Line (ATL)
This type of advertising is typically one-sided in its delivery - like someone yelling through a megaphone to a large audience. Broadcast television ads, traditional and digital billboards, flyers, magazine ads, and broadcast radio commercials are all examples of ATL advertising. This type of advertising is meant to pique the interest of a wide variety of people rather than a specific customer persona, and it doesn’t capture data about the people interacting with it. The only way to determine if a customer was acquired through ATL advertising is to ask the customer directly.
Below the Line (BTL)
Below the line advertising is direct to a prospective customer, and it’s usually targeted to reach a specific type of person. A pamphlet for a local business mailed only to people in that geographic area is an example of BTL advertising. Other examples include face-to-face selling at a trade show, an email marketing campaign, social media advertising, in-store sales, or gift cards handed out at events. Paid and organic search engine marketing, which is the main topic of this article, falls into this category. BTL advertising is especially useful because it helps marketers gather data about their customers’ behavior in response to different advertising efforts.
Through the Line (TTL)
This type of advertising is a hybrid of ATL and BTL. It takes a mass-market approach, but provides some kind of “feedback” element that alerts a company to how the customer heard about the business. A television ad with a toll free number or coupon code or a billboard with a URL for a unique landing page are examples of TTL advertising. The ultimate goal of TTL advertising is to use mass advertising efforts to generate a database of prospective customers.
Today, marketers can obtain more insights than ever into consumer behavior through the application of Big Data. Through special applications and free tools online, startups and major corporations alike can gather extensive data about who visits their websites and social media pages.
They can determine where prospective customers live, how old they are, and what they’re interested in. Businesses can also determine how long users linger on their websites (it’s called user dwell time) and which parts of a site are clicked most frequently, indicating which components of a site are the most interesting or useful. Marketers and advertisers can also do A/B testing on various headlines, Tweets, images, and other content with little to no risk, providing essential information about what “clicks” with prospects and what doesn’t.
How search fits into the customer journey
Customers use search at every checkpoint in their buying journey. They use it to research a broad topic, they use it to see what other people are buying, and they use it to discover and compare brands when they’re ready to buy.
Image courtesy hubspot
Here’s an example of how an internet user might discover a new brand through search. Jane has just started rock climbing and she needs to buy shoes. She might search “what type of climbing shoes should I get” or simply “types of rock climbing shoes.” She wants to learn more about what she needs for this stage in her climbing, and may not be ready to look at specific brands yet.
However, after some research, Jane discovers that she needs good bouldering shoes with an aggressive toe and a wide toe box to accommodate her foot type. She might search terms like “bouldering shoes” or “aggressive climbing shoes” or even “best climbing shoe brands.” If she’s hoping to find a good starter shoe for a low price, she might search “inexpensive climbing shoes” or “discount climbing shoes.”
How do you get Jane to buy from you?
If you’re a business hoping to get Jane to buy from you, the best way to acquire new customers like her online is by including the same keywords she’s searching on your website. However, with the complexity of Google’s search algorithms (and the artificial intelligence behind it that personalizes search for individual users) you’ll need to do more than pack your website with keywords related to climbing shoes.
"If your product or service doesn't naturally sell itself, then the best way forward is often to use a combined effort of paid advertising and organic SEO techniques"
The key to customer acquisition through online search is to appeal to buyers at all stages of their discovery process. If your product or service doesn't naturally sell itself, then the best way to do this is often to use a combined effort of paid advertising and organic SEO techniques.
Although best practices for search engine optimization change regularly, one thing seems to be clear: relevant, well-constructed, and memorable content ranks higher in search results no matter the search query. Start by researching what your target customers might be searching for, and check Google AdWords to see what specific search terms are most commonly used (though their Keyword Tool is wildly inaccurate in its volume estimates it should still give you a good idea of other relevant ideas).
Then, develop content that both includes these keywords and meets the actual needs of a person who might be searching that term.
Excellent content will certainly boost your rank among competitors, but it’s only part of the picture of how consumers see you online.
How Search Results Influence Consumer Behavior
Beyond the content of your website (which consumers likely realize is biased toward whatever product or service you’re offering), there are other things that will likely come up in search results that impact whether or not they do business with you. Here’s a few of them.
Search any prominent business online and you’re bound to see Google Reviews as one of the top results. Beyond Google, other review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp can either encourage your potential customer to buy from you or deter him altogether. By monitoring your company’s online reviews and responding to them in a timely manner, you can avoid losing potential new customers.
If the website of a company similar to yours consistently ranks higher in search results, there’s a good chance you’re losing many prospective customers to the competition. The best way to outrank your competition is to study what they’re doing well, and design your website content to be even better.
Whether false information about you appears on scam sites, blogs, or other malicious sites, these can negatively impact your business’s reputation and lead a customer to select one of the many other options available to them online.
For a situation like this, you can hire a reputation management company to help, or you can take it into your own hands. In some cases, you can have false information removed from websites if it violates that site’s terms of service.
Customer acquisition online is a complicated game, but one with unrivaled potential. With over three billion internet users in the world and the sale of goods and services online increasing, pouring your efforts into finding new customers through the web is a strategy worth investing in.