Whether you’re part of a small business or a large corporation, it’s nearly impossible to talk about marketing, strategy, or growth without talking about customer acquisition. There are hundreds of how-tos out there on how to leverage marketing tools to convert customers, and how to do it in a way that is cost effective. But before you can start thinking critically about customer acquisition and strategy to find these customers, there are a handful of terms to define. We’ve broken a few of the most important elements of customer acquisition into a marketing crash course for you (because we care).

Current customers

This one’s not as simple as it sounds. Yes, these are your existing customers, whether they’ve only purchased from you once, or they’re repeat customers. But it’s important to think about what you’re counting as a current customer—is it anyone who’s ever purchased from you? Anyone who’s purchased within a certain time frame? Every company and industry has their own definition of a current customer, based on things like use-up rates and the purchase cycle. At what point is a lapsed customer no longer considered a current customer? Defining this group is an important step in your customer acquisition process.

New customer

New customers (acquired customers) are the goal of any customer acquisition process. An expanded customer base = more revenue. But this one comes with nuance, too—your definition of a “new” customer may be different from another company’s. Is it someone who’s never purchased? Someone who hasn’t purchased in a period of months or years? At what point do lapsed customers (people who haven’t purchased in an extended period of time) count as new customers for you?

Customer acquisition

Customer acquisition is, well, getting new customers. It’s the process of looking beyond your usual loyal customers and figuring out who else you might be able to bring on board. At its core, customer acquisition is a growth strategy—a way to increase revenue without changing your product. Customer acquisition requires you to identify your loyal customers, then ask “who are my potential customers?


A customer you are targeting with your marketing. A potential customer whose unmet needs may match your product or service’s value proposition.

Target audience

Audiences you want to reach with marketing efforts. Target audiences can be your current customers or potential customers (aka prospective customers).

Customer acquisition strategy

A good customer acquisition strategy is just that—a strategy for acquiring customers. It’s a plan that takes into account all aspects of the customer journey, from brand awareness to sales conversion. And it’s super important. A good customer acquisition strategy needs to be planned, tested, and optimized; it can’t just rely on hunches. 

Customer acquisition cost

The marketing spend it takes to acquire one customer. You can calculate customer acquisition cost with this formula: Customer Acquisition Cost = Cost of Sales and Marketing divided by the Number of New Customers Acquired. Note: your customer acquisition cost can be a big marketing expense, so calculating it is an integral step of determining your profit margin.

Acquisition channel

The marketing venues you use to find new  customers. Note: finding the acquisition channels that yield your best customers takes testing. For one brand, the most compelling customer acquisition cost could be found using paid  social media marketing on a social media platform like Instagram.For another it may be search or display instead of social media. For yet another? Direct mail. It’s all about testing to find your most efficient marketing costs.

Customer Acquisition Funnel

Your customer acquisition funnel is a framework to map the stages your customer goes through before making a purchase. Many versions of this funnel exist, but the most basic is divided into three stages of awareness, consideration, and decision. The goal of your acquisition strategy is to move customers down the funnel following these steps: prospecting, lead generation, conversion, activation and retention. At Spark, we begin testing at the top of the funnel, optimizing to lower cost early on before refining our strategy further down the funnel. The result? An attractive customer acquisition cost for your first, best customers. Many validated strategies can be implemented as  marketing automations to create a low-lift and seamless process that reduces cost.

Digital marketing

One of the most powerful forms of marketing for customer acquisition. Digital marketing is what it sounds like: marketing that happens digitally. Here’s a (not entirely exhaustive) list of potential digital marketing efforts for finding customers:

  • Email marketing
  • Content marketing (blogs, newsletters, etc.)
  • Search engine optimization
  • Organic social media
  • Paid advertising (Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google ads, etc.)
  • Influencer marketing
  • Google analytics

…and a note on retention

If you’re thinking about customers, you should also be thinking about  retention. Customer retention is the ability to get customer loyalty and keep them coming back long-term—not just for one conversion. Why is retention so important? The value of one conversion pales in comparison to customer lifetime value (the sum of all the conversion over the life of that customer). How do you maximize customer lifetime value? Ensure customer success with a good product that delivers on the promises you make in marketing.

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