To build customer loyalty, marketers must merge acquisition and retention tactics

The customer journey as you know it is dead; long live the customer-centric decision journey. No matter how well brands market their products, it’s the customer who decides how that purchase decision will be made. The power has always been in their hands, but the difference is that they have more resources at their disposal to truly own the process. For instance, today’s customer is savvy to brand marketing, and are more likely to purchase based on their own gathered research than just based on the company’s advertising.

Of course, it’s not impossible for brands to influence a customer to purchase and continue to purchase from their brand. In some ways, the opportunities to influence customers have grown: by nature of the consumer journey, shoppers are always keeping an eye out for the better value or deal. The key to accompanying consumers along their decision journey is by rethinking how acquisition and retention tactics factor in.

Acquisition and retention serve the same goal

As a reader of this blog, you are probably one of those enlightened marketers that understand the importance of retention marketing. On the other hand, acquisition marketing is a vital part of marketing too. These two terms have become pretty loaded, with many marketers preferring to focus on one over the other. But marketers who understand that the traditional customer journey has changed will realize that acquisition and retention marketing is constantly overlapping. In fact, it is getting more difficult to say when acquisition ends and retention begins because both feed into the loyalty loop of the new consumer decision journey, and that loyalty is constantly being questioned by the customer.


The consumer decision journey, image credit: McKinsey & Co.

How many times have customers signed up to get a specific promotion, unsubscribed from a newsletter, then signed up again to make another purchase? Specific acquisition tactics that used to be a sure way to get customers buying are being taken over by customers whose only goal is to research the best possible deal. These methods of offering steep discounts for first time buyers don’t always pay off in the long run. After purchasing, they’re off to find the next best deal. Or think about what happens when customers are being sent similar messages over and over, asking them to purchase this or that product. Canned communications from brands that are meant to help retain customers end up doing just the opposite as customers search for products and messaging from other brands that better fit their values and tastes.

Keeping customers loyal to your brand may seem complicated and exhausting, but it’s not impossible. Here are some ways to create actively loyal customers:

Let customers evaluate your products

The Honest Company is getting ready to go public, and it’s no surprise that Jessica Alba and her team are experiencing incredible success; the trial program available to anyone interested in trying The Honest Company’s products speaks to how well Alba knows that product evaluation and consideration go hand in hand.

In fact, The Honest Company understands the consumer decision journey so well that they let customers use their products before even purchasing; the post-purchase experience of the free trial helps fuel the opinion a customer has about the brand before even purchasing products or signing up for a subscription.

The Honest Company’s free trial program is a crucial part of their acquisition strategy. It also feeds a great part of the loyalty loop; exposure to the product helps to acquire the customer, and relevant messaging with relevant products helps to keep the customer engaged.


The Honest Company uses free trials to give customers the opportunity to evaluate their products

Give loyal customers a reason to be active

One of the most obvious ways to kick-start the loyalty loop is to create a comprehensive loyalty program. A great example of a successful loyalty program is the Sephora Beauty Insider program. For each 100 points that a customer accumulates, they can qualify to receive a deluxe product sample from various high-end brands. Customers can redeem their reward online with a purchase, which encourages additional purchases. Customers can also redeem the reward in-store, no purchase needed, which creates less pressure for customers to browse retail locations. When customers spend a certain amount throughout the year, they qualify for other tiers of the loyalty program. This kind of loyalty program is an effective way to retain customers without sacrificing margins through constant sales and promotions, which is key for high-end and luxury retailers.


Sephora’s loyalty program encourages customers to keep spending online and browsing in-store


Constantly re-engage and re-acquire customers

Diamond Candles RINGREVEAL program is a great program that engages existing customers, as well as effectively acquire new customers who might have received candles as gifts. In addition to a ring, inside each candle is a code that customers can enter at the website to see if they won another ring. Customers who don’t win a ring are given coupon codes that can be applied to a purchase of another candle.

This program is a great example of a way to get customer back on the site and browsing for new products to try. It feeds both retention and acquisition, and with regards to the new customer decision making process, is an effective trigger to get customers to consider a purchase again.

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The Diamond Candles RING REVEAL program gets customers to go back on site and browse for more products

Still think it’s about increasing acquisition or retention efforts alone? Think again. Loyalty can’t be fostered by retention alone if acquisition isn’t done with loyalty in mind. It’s time marketers became more about meeting customers alongside every part of the consumer decision journey and less about which department gets more dollars to spend.