Marketers Are Obsessed With Acquisition. But What About Retention?

It's time to stop taking your existing customers for granted

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Marketers are obsessed with acquisition. So much so that they synonymously refer to it as performance, indicating that to add more is to perform better.

We know acquisition is an expensive business, with a cost that’s multiple times higher than retaining existing customers. So if acquisition is more costly than retention, why do we glorify acquisition as performance?

Because we treat new as better. We see new as growth. Channels are flooded with ads featuring splashy incentives wooing prospective customers to try a product or service with an offer that makes it nearly too good to turn down. It’s all about getting someone in the door.

But what of the existing customer who sees those offers and thinks, “Why am I penalized for having already committed? Should I change brands to secure a better deal on a similar product or service?”

Retention is minimized because there is an assumption that a business can always bring in someone new. We fill up the funnel as fast as we can to show growth, and when customers tap out, suddenly the question becomes, “How do we get more?” Instead, the question should be, “How do we keep our current customers happy so they don’t leave?”

Enter a much-needed reframe around performance. More for the sake of more isn’t more at all if you can’t hold on to what you’ve acquired.

Build and define the relationship

Like any human-centric marketing approach, you need to understand the person beyond the data point.

At a human level, what are their motivations and behaviors? What are they looking for? By actively understanding that, how can you solve their problem or match their needs and wants? Whether it’s a one-off transaction or a lifetime of loyalty, it all starts and ends with people.

Not all customer relationships are the same. In fact, they’re all different and should be treated as such. Identify the nature of the relationship, and from there you can better tailor everything you do. Personalization stems from getting personal.

Establish expectations and deliver

The fact that you only get one chance to make a first impression can be a double-edged sword. It puts all the weight on the initial interaction and takes the pressure off maintaining that same shine in the future. How you show up in that first interaction should be the level of enthusiasm and effort your brand brings to every interaction.

Product and experience excellence are at the heart of proving value to customers, so keep your product or service quality consistently excellent.

Trust is a core component of any relationship. Honesty, integrity, and clear messaging and representation of what you can deliver are paramount.

Keep it interesting

New customers may require more education and awareness upfront, but existing customers may also be in need. Don’t assume what a customer has is enough.

They may be interested in upgrading to a new or higher level of service or purchasing another product within a collection of offerings. Invest in keeping customers curious to stoke their excitement about your brand in ways big and small along the way.

Don’t take anything for granted

The barriers for customers to change from one brand to another are nearly nonexistent compared to the headwinds required for a brand to acquire or reacquire a new customer. Make it so that in a world where there is every option available, they choose to stay.

Lead with premium customer service at every touch point, and make every interaction a positive, memorable one. Every time your brand engages with a customer, remind them why they should choose to spend their discretionary income with you. Earning a share of their wallet is a privilege, not a right.

Show appreciation by rewarding loyalty

With any relationship, it’s important for people to know they are valued, and that starts with expressing appreciation. Pricing and special offers, bonus content, early access and exclusives are just the tip of the iceberg, with a vast assortment of options to ensure your current customer base knows you value their business and want to reward that loyalty.

Prioritize customer relationship building

Brands that see the big picture will prioritize customer value and the value of customers. It is as easy for a customer to disengage as it is for them to engage. Customer relationship building is how you foster connection, affinity and long-term loyalty.

And the plot twist? With happy, loyal customers comes positive word-of-mouth and recommendations, leading to the acquisition of new customers. Retention is performance.

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This story first appeared in the Oct. 24, 2022, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.