touchscreen ecommerce
PHOTO: Timothy Muza

What’s your top business goal for 2020? If you’re like most retailers, acquiring more customers faster is a priority. Growth validates your business proposition and secures your future. It also allows you to exert influence in your sector (for instance, Amazon’s 2-Day Free shipping set a new bar for the industry, forcing many other e-tailers to match it in order to remain competitive).

But growth for growth’s sake can lead to unintended consequences, such as acquiring customers who ultimately have undesirable lifetime value or attrition rates, or who just aren’t that profitable. Without a solid customer acquisition strategy, growth efforts will be futile. True, you’ll get some customers, but you’ll expend a lot of resources to reap disappointing rewards. That’s why I offer up these best practices to help guide your 2020 (and beyond) customer acquisition strategies.

Agree on Who Your Best Customer Is

The value of a customer can be calculated based on a number of criteria: price point, lifetime value, cost of acquisition, ongoing service costs, bragging rights, brand advocacy, to name a few. Which criteria do you value most?

Gut instinct won’t help you here. Whenever I speak to a client I always ask: Would you rather have a single $1 million customer, 10 customers worth $199K, or 1,000 customers worth $1,000? I’m amazed at how many people are stumped by that question. Most companies don’t have a clear understanding of the costs of acquiring and maintaining customers. Any answer may be appropriate given the nature of your business, but not having an answer is a recipe for disaster.

Let’s say you and your finance team do some profitability and market analysis and decide who your best customer actually is ... now what? Chances are you won’t find widespread agreement within your organization, and you will compete against institutional bias. The VP of sales may want clients with high LTV to drive higher commissions, while telemarketing may want quick-hitting sales to meet their quotas. Marketing may simply want prospects that engage with promotions, and are eager to optimize their efforts based on those metrics. These biases work against one another, and can thwart your goals for growth. Acquisition needs to be optimized for something, whether that’s short term vs. long term or quality vs. quantity. Pick a strategy and stick with it.

Related Article: Don't Forget Your Customers After They Become Your Customer

Ride the Coattails of Larger Media Spends and Events

As this 614 Group report on the delicate relationship between brands and agencies notes, there is an inherent tension between emerging customer experience teams and the traditional content, marketing and advertising teams, with the latter often working in their own silos. This is a shame, because there are immeasurable benefits to drafting behind larger media spends. A smaller budget, such as that of the email marketing team, can stretch its dollars by leveraging the themes or strategies of the group who buys a brand's TV spot. And, it has the added benefit of not diffusing or confusing the brand story.

And by the way, drafting includes what your competitors are doing. Competitive advertising benefits you because it increases overall category awareness and consideration among consumers. As they say, a rising tide floats all boats. A little information sharing across internal departments and external agencies and partners can make all the difference in timing, approach, and ultimately, results.

Related Article: The Art and Science of Planning a Marketing Budget

Test Your Testing

All marketers and ecommerce managers know they need to conduct tests, and many A/B test everything, from product descriptions to page layouts to fonts. Most ecommerce platforms even automate A/B testing for you. But too many of the ecommerce managers I speak with don’t update their testing on a regular basis and lose many opportunities as a result. You’ll need to test your tests themselves to ensure your testing hasn’t gone stale.

How do you go about testing your testing? First, be very clear about what you want your testing to measure. Is it even measuring what you intend? What is the value of the results to your business? Are they allowing you to drive incremental value?

Other questions to consider: Has your audience evolved and in which ways? Who is the influencer and who’s the buyer? Can your tests detect these subtle and micro evolutions? You’ll need continuous optimization of your tests to hone your customer acquisition strategy.

Related Article: Where Testing Fits in Your Omnichannel Experiences

Target the Right Person

Who is the right person to target: the end buyer or the influencer? Are they the same person? Knowing who to target, and with which message is essential. Take for example, household purchases. Research shows that most purchasing decisions are made by women, even if they are not the actual buyers. For instance, women are responsible for making the purchasing decisions for 91% of new homes; 65% of new cars; 80% of healthcare; and 92% of all vacations.

Your goal may be to sell more boats or RVs that appeal to men, but if you’re not marketing to women, you’re missing a vital audience in the decision making process.

Sell Experiences, Not Products

Recently, as part of a presentation, a colleague showed an image of a light bulb, an example of one of the world’s most commoditized objects. Next, he showed that same light bulb in an attractive context, as part of a string of lights on a patio where a summer’s evening party was underway. This begs the question: Are you selling a light bulb, or are you selling an experience?

Consumers want to buy experiences. Will buying your product create a perfect Instagram moment? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have mastered this tactic. Away doesn’t just sell luggage, it sells a travel lifestyle; Everlane doesn’t just sell apparel, it sells eco-conscious, body positive garments. Infusing your brand story with the customer experience is one of the most effective ways to boost customer acquisition.