Acquiring Customers on a Shoestring Budget

Start-ups don’t tend to have large marketing budgets, and these days, a growing number of organizations—even established marketers—don’t feel they have to spend much money to acquire a customer (or generate a first-time customer).

When you pause and think about it, recent years of technology has changed how we view, and spend money to acquire customers. Here are the primary digital categories:

  1. Email is highly cost-effective. But only after you have a customer list. For prospecting? It’s questionable. So run the numbers (read my column for Target Marketing titled Crack the Email Prospecting Code for guidance about running your numbers.) If the numbers make sense, customer acquisition email is worth a test.
  2. Social Media can scale in ways you can’t imagine. But it’s rare for a breakthrough. And once again, you have to have followers first to expect social media to move your sales needle. : Organic reach on social media is terrible, unless you’re in a narrow niche where someone is actively searching for the type of product or service you offer. To repeat a quote I read recently: “trying to reach people organically on social media is like trying to get someone’s attention at a crowded party, while they are deep in conversation and the music is on at full-blast, as well.”
  3. Content Marketing has great possibility, but is limited when your content is truly unique, hard to find or is something your social media followers want to share. 
  4. SEO works much like content marketing in that it possibly works if you’re the only source for your specific niche market product or service.
  5. Video has tremendous opportunities. When embedded on Facebook, for example, it can go viral (check out this viral video that I had a hand in creating—I’ll write more about this in a few days) To go viral, a video must stir emotion, entertain and deliver value. But for the vast majority of situations, video has the ability to clearly explain a product faster, and with greater comprehension, than when the same message is read. The key is a strong story and tight editing.
  6. Facebook Retargeting: Even though content on Facebook may be more about branding than conversion, I still find that retargeting people who have visited your website, or are on your email list, to be a cost-effective way to get a message out.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, perhaps the best marketing for new customer acquisition is no marketing. We’ve conditioned prospective customers to tune us out. 

So what to do?

Crowdsource your customers. Obviously, you need a few customers to get started, so you’ve got to find (or fund) ways to get some customers started with you, even if it’s family and friends. Then you need to quickly move to create your own crowdsourcing (or a friend-get-a-friend program—for tips, see my last column). Then figure out how to incent your customers to bring you additional customers (rather than you paying for the cost of other channels).

Finally, don’t forget to include your customer service people in the discussion about reaching customers, and offers that would appeal to them. Your customer service staff often knows what the hot buttons are to get and retain customers. 


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.