Acquisition Marketing: Then & Now

What the hell is “acquisition marketing?” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that, I’d be able to buy myself a few pairs of these (since one is clearly not enough). When we say “acquisition” what do we mean? Do we mean acquisition and mergers? Do we mean partners? Do we mean acquiring traffic? leads? conversions? Do we mean only performance marketing? Do we mean inbound marketing?

The short answer is – yes.

If you had asked me this question a few years ago I might have corrected you and called it “customer acquisition” because that’s where its roots lie. Years ago if you were in customer acquisition you used marketing channels to acquire customers. Often “paid” marketing channels were your weapons of choice, but you worked also on partnerships that would help strengthen your customer counts.

Today, however, I think the dropping of the “customer” was an intentional one. For me “acquisition marketing” truly envelops the acquiring of many things — traffic, engagement, leads, customers, attention, partners, and possibly even companies that may eventually buy you. An acquisition marketer can no longer just be versed in channels, but we much challenge ourselves to redefine that of which we are building. “What is growth?” for your company? Where can you move the needle? Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

I think this expansion in discipline brings with it some unique challenges.

  1. People like boundaries. If you are the one that starts shifting those boundaries, people will inherently fear that change.
  2. Too many goals can lead to very few gains. It’s a constant challenge to want to affect many things and then actually affect them.
  3. It’s hard to stay a specialist if you become a generalist. It can be a serious challenge to keep on top of everything, as quickly as all of this moves.
  4. Today’s acquisition marketing can not be successful unless the person in charge learns to trust others and delegate effectively. I find the more years I spend in acquisition marketing, the more I learn about seeking out other’s passions and talents and enabling them to run with things I once “owned.”

Just one of those challenges, if not overcome, can throw you off course. So what can we do? A lot actually.

Acquisition marketing, at its core, is simply driving growth. To be successful you must align your efforts with the growth goals of your company. From there research, and resourcing is key. You need to know where you stand, and what bottlenecks are currently in your way. The last piece is really all about testing, and allocation. If you can make baby steps on a variety of your channels, and track effectively. You will know where your optimization hours should go. You will know where to allocate your budget. You will know where your time is needed.

I personally believe that any performance marketer out there should think long and hard about their career as it relates to “growth marketing.” The marketing team at Facebook is actually called “the growth team.” I love that. I love the idea that it is indifferent to a channel, or a discipline, but instead all team members come to work with a common goal — to grow the company.

It’s a scary concept to commit to, mainly because you need to acquire more knowledge. I recently read a great post by Ian Lurie over at ConvesationMarketing. It talked about the difference between “information” and “knowledge.” Trust me…read it. This concept is at the heart of what I am suggesting — today’s marketer needs to move beyond information in a discipline but instead seek to have knowledge about how to successfully grow a company. It’s a slight difference in theory, but a really big difference in practice.

I find these days I spend more time outside of my industry, trying to learn from other industries about how they “grow.” I seek new ways to build numbers. I seek new numbers to build. Less of my conversations at work are about our CPAs and far more are about our growth margins and momentum. I love this. This is what I signed up for years ago. It has no ceiling. As new sites get introduced, new philosophies of communication and persuasion come into play, and as people find new ways to discover what they are seeking — acquisition marketers will have the tools to draw them in and grow their companies.

For me it’s like a light switch was flipped, and suddenly the silos of performance marketing have been beaten down. Now we are allowed to simply work toward a more broad definition of growth and try our hands at different channels, combining their powers…its really awesome.

I’ll leave with you something that crossed my mind the other day– what will the marketer, who does not understand how to grow a conversation, a community, or a sentiment, do in another year? What will they do in two years? or three? I suspect they will be standing right where they are– with very little position growth in company. Hell, they may even be let go simply because– today’s marketer knows how to grow more than a conversion count.

When I look back into my bag of tricks from 8 years ago I literally turn red in the face from embarrassment. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with companies and clients that supported me growing in other disciplines — organic marketing, community development, social marketing, brand awareness, content marketing. Couple that with an obsession of analytics, and optimization (landing page, conversion, message, etc.) and you have one dangerous marketer. I have so much more to learn, but I am finally seeing the dots connect and I finally feel comfortable letting go with the old titles of — paid marketer, performance marketer, customer acquisition marketer, etc.

Today’s marketer needs to understand that growing across the board is required to succeed. There are too many passionate people driving companies founded on brilliant ideas. Second place and third place these days simply sucks. I think it’s our time to push ourselves to learn new things and let go of our old identities. Acquisition marketing isn’t some fleeting concept. It’s has a big role to play in future successful businesses, the question is…do you?

  • Raj

    I totally dig that you included ‘partners’ in the bigger picture. I feel like the word ‘partnership’ gets used too much, but not nearly applied enough. I think at the core, a partnership, of any kind, has to envelop a common set of values/beliefs – kind of like SEOmoz and the many agencies/individual specialists have. Do you have any actionable tips on how to open doors to welcome new partnerships? I know this is bit of a vague question, but do you have any quick suggestions that come to mind?

  • Andreas

    I like the way you think, although it’s hard to offer that kind of variety in reality. As Online Marketing Agency it actually often makes sense to look for partners in specific fields as every channel’s demand is constantly growing. A good example is Adwords. Back in the day you had the Search and “Content-Network” to manage. Nowadays it’s Search, Display-Network, Remarketing, ProductAds, etc..

    So the first step to define yourself as Growth Marketing Agency is that you need to find strong and furthermore trustable partners, which is not easy. Additionally you will have a harder time to get new customers as many customers trust several different agencies for the channels SEO, SEM, Social, etc. Trying to step through the door here can yield many problems, especially if you start to work with a foreign agency and they become afraid of you taking away their piece of cake. I think the basic concept is somehow aligned to “Multi-Channel-Marketing” where you have a Lead-Agency coordinating all the experts beneath them, it’s just a broader view instead of focusing on the lead.

    Nonetheless overall growth is a great term to define success – in terms of traffic, sales, visibility, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts, it made me thinking 8). Actually the book “Marketing Agency Blueprint” fits into this topic, too.


  • Iskybiz

    Great… tks! Forgive me, I have just translate to Vietnamese: