‘ACRA’ Defined, Part 1: Trawling for Customers

I’ve come up with an acronym that I believe encapsulates and encompasses the full spectrum of our marketing responsibilities: ACRA, which stands for acquisition, conversion, retention, and attrition. You’re probably well versed on acquisition and conversion, but you may be wondering if retention and attrition are, in fact, the same. In the coming weeks, I’ll take you through each one in more detail. First, though, let’s talk about them as a unit. Taken as a whole, ACRA represents all of the aspects of the relationship that marketers have with their customers. At any given point in time, each consumer will each be at his or her own point on the spectrum, so it’s only by looking at the big picture that companies can fully address their entire (and potential) customer base.

This is important first of all because we need to subsegment our efforts (and allocate our budget) against each element in the grouping. Second of all, we need to understand the relationship between each segment — what it’s going to take to move and migrate consumers from prospects to customers for life (however long a time period that is defined as). No campaign should ever be constructed without touching on each phase.

Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer (CMO) of Coca-Cola and author of “The End of Marketing As We Know It” and “Building Brandwidth: Closing the Sale Online,” expresses the aim of marketing as the process by which you get more people to buy more stuff more often at a higher price. “If it were only that simple,” you might say. And he would respond: “It is!” Conveniently enough, by fully delivering against ACRA, it is possible to achieve this objective.

We’re all very familiar with the acquisition component. It was pure acquisition drives from the pure-plays that hallmarked the uber-inflated “get big fast” Internet bubble. If calling our customers “users” wasn’t bad enough, we insisted on reducing them to eyeballs. (Anyone watch “Fear Factor” on TV? Not a wholesome item to digest, is it?)

I used to refer to the process of “casting the widest Net” (pun intended) to reel in the eyeballs. The biggest problem was that these Nets were full of holes, and the inevitable result was the hemorrhaging of these hard-won customers. I recall one game-playing community site bragging to me about its five million registered users. I was quick to inform staffers that I was one of these users, and the last time I had logged on to their site was three years prior. There’s a big difference between subscribers and active subscribers.

Acquisition is temporal at best. It cannot exist in a vacuum and needs to be supplemented by the conversion and retention part of the process, lest the final stage — namely attrition — be reached.

How broadly acquisition is defined is largely dependent on the marketer’s scope and time horizon. Should a visit to your — or your client’s — Web site be defined as an acquisition? Or should there be some kind of “conversion” — be it a registration, application, request for more information, subscription, or purchase?

As in most cases, my answer would have to be, “It depends.” Clearly, E*TRADE’s definition differs greatly from Orbitz’s. Each has its own unique “cost” to acquire a customer, and the involvement and consideration for each product offering is very different.

(Note: Let’s stop calling this a “cost” and use “investment” instead. I will argue to the bitter end that acquiring a customer is an investment and, for the most part, is money well spent.)

Ironically enough, defining acquisition in terms of a purchase is oftentimes the most shortsighted manner of all. Ever heard the saying, “With great marketing, you can get everyone in the world to buy your product once.”? Unfortunately, in the case of Internet marketing, it seems this was possible even with lousy marketing. This situation was compounded by the fact that most purchases were either strongly discounted or driven by promotion, impulse (read “banners”), or novelty. (I’ll definitely expand on this in a separate article as it warrants the real estate.)

Instead of trying to penetrate the entire market in one fell swoop, we might want to move ahead with a fleet of smaller trawlers with smaller Nets. Because when the Nets are smaller, the holes are, too.

I think you’ll see from this article that “acquisition” is perhaps both an art and a science. It requires much planning and strategizing to fully integrate it into a long-term communications plan. The data is key, but perhaps more important is the ability for the marketer behind the data to think in a focused and long-term way and work in meaningful and manageable chunks.

When you do acquire a new customer, pause and pat yourself on the back. You’ve just connected with your consumer — to the point where he or she has placed trust in you and given you a chance to exhilarate and delight him or her. Certainly appreciate every newly acquired customer, but recognize that your work has just begun.

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