Acquisition marketing has evolved significantly as digital marketing has become the predominate form of communications. There are more channels than most people could ever had imagined. A question that I often hear is “with all the changes in marketing, do proven practices work as well today as they did in the past”?
The following chronicles a case study, dissecting techniques used to drive significant growth. This particular case study focuses on the utility industry, and how proven practices drove about a half million acquired customers over 24 months. Acquisition marketing in a highly-competitive or newly-competitive market is often plagued with noise. Customers often find it difficult to make competitive comparisons in these markets.
Wireless carriers are a great example of an industry with so much noise that the brands blend together. Confusion can increase inertia and become an added barrier to meeting acquisition goals.
This case study highlights one of the most successful acquisition efforts I’ve been fortunate enough to experience firsthand. FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), an alternate electric retail supplier, entered several markets with varying geographic pricing plans. Complexities in this program were driven by geographically-driven pricing plans and local regulations. I was responsible for the agency team that partnered with the client to architect the go-to-market strategy and overseeing the agency team that managed the day-to-day program implementation.
FES had approximately 15,000 customers when marketing was initiated. The customer base was comprised primarily of employees and enrollments from friends + family efforts. The acquisition engine used proven practices to drive significant growth. The acquisition marketing program captured approximately a half million customers within 18 months of program launch – astounding!
1. Education is a user expectation today
Education is a user expectation today. Education is essential in markets where product are considered a commodity or competitive differences aren’t intuitive. Education is also a proven technique in low-involvement industries. Today’s users are empowered, researching before buying. An extreme example of education empowering users is Expedia reporting that travelers visit 38 websites prior to booking. Education is most effective when it’s based on customer insights. Understanding the customer insight is the key to determining the questions that are most critical to incorporate into educational messaging. Insights were developed using a combination of research and in-market testing.
Utility pricing is a topic many don’t understand. Educational messaging was used to explain different pricing plans/offers and help prospects understand how to compare their options. Communications used comparative rates and simplified the sophisticated economic principles behind pricing.
2. Marry education and response triggers
Marry education and response triggers. This program had defined enrollment goals and limited budget for awareness-oriented communications. Every touch point had to achieve multiple objectives. This required balancing educational messages and response triggers. Clear call-to-actions and response triggers were incorporated throughout all marketing channels.
3. The customer journey can’t be accomplished in a single communications touch point
The customer journey can’t be accomplished in one touch point. Many organizations focus on quantifying their marketing investment and assigning channel attribution. The reality is most users interact with multiple channels in decision-making. Multi-channel attribution isn’t as clean as attributing sales to one marketing interaction. This particular program used a mix of vehicles. Landing pages provided additional information that complemented the first contact. Additionally, direct mail provided multiple ways for prospects to respond, recognizing certain audiences preferred to talk with someone about their options, rather than enrolling online.
4. Don’t be afraid to use words
Don’t be afraid to use words. Many marketers have become skeptical of using too many words on web pages. Testing demonstrates that it’s more important to have copy that’s easy to consume, versus digital communications with short copy. Historically, the direct marketing proven practice was “provide prospects with all information necessary to make a decision”. This proven practice is a pretty tough sell in a world where the average attention span is 8-seconds. The new rule of thumb is quickly becoming ensure copy is easy to skim, versus just creating copy that is brief. The creative for this acquisition effort included copy presented in both long-form and short-form. This enabled prospects to self-select which copy they individually preferred. This design was responsive, but would likely be a one column format if designed in 2017. The mobile first adaption would still incorporate the bulleted-checklist items below the body copy.
5. Repeating is not just ok, it’s good
Repeating is not just ok, it’s good. It often feels that digital marketing has made users impatient. The counter argument to users have 8 second attention spans, is repeating messages within any one communication ensures the skimmers will see the message before exiting. The application for repeating messages within a communication has been a proven practice for years. Imagine watching a commercial on tv or hearing a radio while driving and having the 800 number only mentioned once. It’s hard to imagine anyone capturing the 800 number, let alone retaining it. The direct marketing proven practice has always been to include similar information in both the letter and brochure. Incorporating messaging in multiple elements appeals to customers who consume information differently. That particular practice was employed in this campaign. Furthermore, a proven practice to ensure message integration across the entire customer journey.
6. Compelling offers
Compelling offers. Successful acquisition programs typically feature a product that delivers quantifiable value and an incentive to act now. Electric pricing inherently has volatility, providing a key reason for prospects to act now (before pricing changes). This particular campaign also tested a number of incentives overlaid on pricing discounts. Offers are a proven marketing practice and continue to remain one of the most critical components in driving your customer base.
7. Apply cross-channel learnings
Cross-channel learnings are under-utilized. Not all channels provide the same ease and speed in testing. For example, paid search can provide tremendous insight into keywords. Keyword analysis can then be applied to email subject lines. This particular acquisition effort cross-pollinated tests results across different segments (residential versus small businesses) and various channels to ensure continuous improvement.
7. Versioning drives relevancy, relevancy drives response
Versioning drives relevancy, relevancy drives response. We’re all inundated with messages, breaking through the clutter is becoming more and difficult. Tailoring messaging improves the chance of your messaging being relevant and is a proven marketing practice to increase response. This proven practice ensured prospects felt the communications were speaking directly to them. Acquisition marketing is often faced with less data than customer marketing. Companies tend to know about their own customers than they can possibly know about prospects. Available data poses significant challenges in versioning communications. The key however is to use the available information and even consider aggregating information for similar customers. For example, using analytics estimated savings can be modeled and then presented as estimated savings for customers in your area, within X miles of your home/business, or other attributes. This program leveraged versioned savings messaging, and extensive training was done with the call centers to ensure a cohesive customer experience.
These 8 proven marketing practices in combination with analytically driven targeting and a consistent cadence contributed to driving more than 500,000 enrollments for FirstEnergy Solutions.
Sheera Eby oversaw the agency team that developed the strategy and program architecture as well as handled all the program implementation.