Customer Acquisition and Social MediaOur burning love for social media is not just a fad

Social media is sort of like an Elvis impersonator. It creates more ways to connect with a brand, delivers an experience that connects an audience to a brand, and sometimes, the experience is so authentic that you can’t tell the difference between an impersonator and the real thing.

Better than the real thing?

Email marketing is a little bit like Elvis. Forever it will be The King of marketing outreach. Some people think it’s dead. Steadfast believers refuse to accept it. Even naysayers – in the back of their minds – reluctantly admit it’s still relevant (just not very modern), and at the very least, respected. Either way, it’s still making money.

A lot of money, according to Custora’s recent E-Commerce Customer Acquisition Snapshot. Email marketing has seen huge growth as a customer acquisition channel, and the Customer Lifetime Value of a customer acquired via email marketing is 12 percent greater than the average spend, the report says. Customer acquisition via Twitter is flat, and those customers gained via Twitter spend 23 percent less than the average consumer. Organic search and CPC ads still lead as the largest channel for customer acquisition and value (certainly no surprise there).

Isn’t social media the digital communication revolution of the two-thousand-teens? Why isn’t anyone making money through it? I argue that many are, despite the numbers suggesting contrary. And if not, they will be soon.

So what’s going on?

One aspect the report doesn’t specifically address is email marketing efforts targeted to those already in the purchasing path. Cart abandonment campaigns are expected to have a better success rate than more general promotion. Already, social media platforms are creating ways to translate that into the social – and often mobile – realm. It took email nearly a decade to evolve into the sophisticated, targeted and timely channel that it is now. How can email marketing get more sophisticated than it already is? When does it plateau?

The edge

What does email have that social media doesn’t? In the past year, we’ve seen advancements in targeting ads on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and in the mobile space. Those ads specific in ways email can only dream of being. Social media feeds are expertly integrated with series upon series of sponsored stories that appeal to consumers in ways that email just can’t.

The opportunity for social media to evolve is greater than that for email. For example, Twitter’s Amplify ad technology is out of beta (released just last week) and available to all TV advertisers. It synchronizes tweets with advertiser’s TV spots, getting to the root of what makes email so successful. Timely and targeted information to the people who care about it. Meanwhile, email inboxes are getting better at improving user experience, filtering promotional emails like Gmail’s new segmented inbox does. The game is changing.

Social media will keep evolving

Location-based prompts and data-driven business intelligence integrated thorough users’ social networks will allow social media to accomplish the one mainstream feature it’s been missing – actionable, valuable calls to action. Think about how many times you’ve kept a promotional email in your inbox just in case you want to reference it on your smartphone next time you’re at the mall or outlet. Would you continue to do so – or even subscribe to emails in the first place – if you knew you’d receive the same offer or coupon through a social media platform in real time? I wouldn’t.

Social media has the potential to change how we communicate even further.

Messaging features within many of the leading social networks are taking a bite out of traditional email service providers’ market share. Email usage among 12 to 17 year olds decreased 59 percent in 2011. That age group is on the cusp of a disposable income and the major life events that spur spending in most retailers’ key demographics. The ways these consumers prefer to receive promotional details will be much, much different than the boomer generation everyone’s talking about – who still happen to be infatuated with Elvis, for the record.

Sure, now there is a firm barrier between social media personal messages and opt-in email marketing lists. I don’t get any ads in my Facebook messages like I do with Gmail. But any bets on how long it is before in-platform messaging advertising becomes a channel, powered by the most powerful, user-identified preference data and targeting available in the world?

The takeaway

We’re certainly not straying (or recommending our clients stray) away from email as a viable, profitable marketing channel. But we’re not discounting the oncoming tidal wave of social media monetization, and what it can mean to those who understand how their customers like to participate with them through social media.

Get ahead of the trend and run trials to see how your social audiences and segments interact with your brand. They may prefer The King’s gold standard in promotional communications – but it’s only a matter of time before they embrace the newer, more accessible social option; and e-commerce and advertisers follow suit. A white, sequin jumpsuit.