The great thing about digital media is that it can be leveraged to produce almost any measurable business result. The horrible thing about digital media… is that it can be leveraged to produce almost any measurable business result.
As a long-time digital agency employee, I have had years of experience working with clients with varied business objectives that come to us to leverage search and digital media to reach those objectives. In this three-part blog series, I’ll discuss which digital tactics can most effectively solve for individual objectives—and which tactics we should avoid.
Leveraging search and digital for new customer acquisition
70% of marketers say customer acquisition is a top priority, a number that continues to grow. But acquisition can mean different things to different marketers. For example, a company with a complex product/service may decide that awareness-building is a core performance indicator, whereas a mid-priced retailer may only count a purchase from a new customer as an acquisition event. Though the traditional media funnel is “dead”— it is now always-on, consumer-dictated, and non-linear— we still need to make sure we’re reaching the desired audience with the right message at the right time to acquire them as customers. This is where choosing the right digital tactics comes in.
Who are your desired customers, how many do you need, and at what cost?
The first matter of business in any digital acquisition program is to have clear goals in mind and to ensure they’re well understood by the brand’s executive and marketing teams as well as the agency partner(s). Understanding what your ideal customer “looks like” is the first step to a successful strategy.
If you are a brand that hasn’t yet undergone customer segmentation, persona development or customer journey work, it’s a good idea to review existing customer data in the CRM database and try to glean insights from it. If you don’t know who your best customers are, what they need and expect, and how they buy, the acquisition program will be focused on numbers by default—how many customers you can get vs. how many desired customers you can get.
Once you know more about the customers you’re trying to acquire, it’s time to set clear and defined targets. Is there a certain volume of customers the brand needs? If so, in what time frame? Is there seasonality to the business? Perhaps most importantly, what is the brand willing to pay for each new customer? All this: customer knowledge, how many are needed, and the maximum cost per acquisition will be core factors in determining what channels, tactics and spend levels are required for the program.
Understanding the channels and tactics for acquisition
Each potential customer will encounter a brand’s message at different points in their journey. Some may have no familiarity with the product or offering, while others may be familiarity via past brand experience or word-of-mouth. That’s why a seamless experience with the brand—regardless of channel—will lend itself to improved acquisition rates. The idea is to remove any friction the user may have with the brand across platforms and to speak consistently in the same brand voice and tone.
With that in mind, it’s time to build a media plan for customer acquisition. A media plan can include:
- SEO (Organic search): though the SEO landscape is constantly changing, I’d still argue that dollar-for-dollar, a robust SEO program has the greatest ability to continually deliver cost-efficient new customers over time by surfacing relevant content in the search engine results page for non-branded queries. For example, let’s imagine a women’s clothing brand unveils two new lines: vegan and organic, and a menswear line. If they write and house compelling, informative and useful content about these products on their site, and ensure that content is crawlable and indexable by the search engine spiders, those pages can draw in new customers who are currently unfamiliar with that brand or its offering for those types of products. Searchers are demonstrating active product and category intent, so be there with optimised, useful and engaging content to capture it, even if customers don’t know your brand name (yet). That said, just because you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come. Ongoing keyword research, new and refreshed content, and ensuring consistent quality in the site’s technical infrastructure are required for SEO rankings to grow over time. A new brand in a highly competitive industry or a brand with a new offering in a highly competitive industry shouldn’t expect to rank organically on their primary terms right away… if ever. For example, an auto and home insurance provider with a new whole and term life insurance product line shouldn’t expect to rank for “life insurance” even if they write optimised content about it. It’s simply too competitive and too new.
- Paid Search: The good news is that what can’t be captured organically can often be paid for. The paid search landscape can be very complex and very expensive, but it is an important weapon in the customer acquisition arsenal due to its flexibility and ability to be leveraged to achieve any end goal. One way this can apply is through automated bidding. This tactic leverages your campaign data and algorithms to set keyword bids in such a manner as to get as many conversions as possible at the goal that you’ve set (in this case, a Cost Per Acquisition or CPA goal).
With that said, a smart marketer will never “set it and forget it.” The human element of observation, insight gathering and manual optimisation is what pushes the campaign to its maximum efficiency. When campaigns are left to automation only, the performance can be drastically worse than those maintained “by hand.” It’s key to test into automated bidding and ensure a human is overseeing and vetting all the decisions the algorithm makes.
Another core element that paid search provides is the ability to segment out existing users. Already have them as a customer, and don’t want to pay to advertise to them in search? Great – upload your CRM list and prevent those users from seeing your search advertising. Already have them as a customer but want to upsell them on your new product or service? Great – upload your CRM list and show certain users your search ads with specific ad copy and landing pages about that new product or service, rather than the general campaign copy.
- Display: This is a vast category that can include everything from direct buys on publisher sites to self-service programmatic, to in-app, in-game and in-email advertising (and more!). Display can often seem overwhelming to brands seeking to use it for new customer acquisition, but it’s worth getting to know. Display actually provides marketers with a heightened ability to buy specific inventory, target specific audiences, and optimise to specific CPA goals. Like paid search, you can also use CRM lists to identify existing customers and either remove them from our advertising cookie pool, or ensure they receive specific ads with specific messaging.In addition to leveraging CRM lists, other methods of audience targeting within display are extremely rich. One of the best is creating “lookalike” models of our best customers. This tactic takes data points from our known customers and seeks out users (individual cookies, not a known/identified person) who meet those same demographic or behavioural criteria. This prospecting tactic allows us to hone our display buy down to an audience that is more likely to be receptive to the brand and perform similarly to our existing customers, reducing inefficient spend against the “wrong” type of user.It’s also important to note that the display inventory available to marketers is immense. Many media partners boast significant amounts of unique reach, meaning we can cast a wide net against a large audience of unique individuals, and quickly optimise out any non-performers. There is no reason a display buy should underperform your goals (assuming your goals have been reviewed and vetted as viable and attainable, of course).
- Paid Social: Social platforms offer a combination of all the best targeting mechanisms the above tactics have to offer and can be extremely cost-efficient. Social users self-select and self-identify what they like, how they spend their time, where they are, and to an extent, who they are. Assuming the brand’s desired audience spends quality time on the chosen social platform, and the brand has a message that will resonate well in that environment, the ways in which audiences can be targeted can be as wide or specific and narrow as you’d like.CRM lists come in to play here again, but we can also segment audiences with numerous combinations of demographic, geographic, behavioural, affinity, and contextual targeting. We can pinpoint a very exact audience type, which reduces the overall audience size and increases costs, or we can hone in on a larger but still targeted group and use it as a way to see what will resonate best for a larger, less specific audience, and optimising accordingly.
Plan for acquisition, optimise for success
This is just a snapshot of what’s possible in a digital acquisition program. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options, I recommend viewing this abundance in a positive light. Marketers have a variety of tools at your disposal, all of which can be artfully leveraged to meet your acquisition objectives! Once you’ve done your customer research, know how many customers you want to get and what you’re willing to pay for them, you’re ready to start making a plan.