Big Love in Retail Land: Why finding the right partner(s) for customer acquisition matters more than ever

Brad CerenziaI spent time at Web 2.0 SF recently, listening to presentations by industry leaders discussing the future of ecommerce. Several of the presentations were rehashed speeches from years past, but updated with this year’s buzzwords: “friending,” “Groupon” and “alien hand syndrome” (okay, I made that last one up, but I’d love to see that topic at a conference!)

My favorite session was presented by Alex Rampell, co-founder and CEO of TrialPay. Alex posed this interesting question to his audience: “What should you do when your customers aren’t searching for your keywords, and haven’t heard of your brand?”

Basically, what if you couldn’t depend on Google to drive customer acquisition? (And really, can you?) What if, like Apple and AT&T, Fandango and AMC, tiger blood and Charlie Sheen—you could define your own “acquisition ecosystem,” selecting the best symbiotic partners to help you grow your customer base?


I love this concept, and I think you will, too.

Generally, ad buyers have operated by Google’s terms these last several years: relying on one gigantic ecosystem of “search” bidding, because with 70% of the market cornered, they had to be doing something right for us, right?

But, see … Google has its own ecosystem comprising millions of little ponds (including the one you’re in). It’s nearly impossible for customers to distinguish your pond among the millions of other ponds out there. You may have the right message, but you have the wrong place and the wrong time.

So what if you took your business out of the Google ecosystem and tried something different? What if you redefined your “acquisition ecosystem” to encompass only that which you have control over?

Perfect example: Gogo provides Internet service on 3,500 flights daily. provides transportation service from 5,000 airports worldwide. What if … advertised on Gogo, and paid Gogo $25 per booking. And what if … Gogo gave free Internet access to potential LimoRes’ customers in order to book while in the air? and Gogo realized their ecosystems are a natural fit, and teamed up in a brilliant, symbiotic relationship.

An enlarged heart is only good if it's a heart made of money.

Or, check out NutriSystem. In 2008, they partnered with Schwan’s, a leading provider of home-delivered frozen foods, to create the NutriSystem Select line of gourmet, calorie-conscious eats. The partnership is brilliant; it adds more healthy food options for dieters like me (full disclosure: I’m a Select dieter!), increases revenue for NutriSystem, and introduces Schwan’s to an audience open to home delivery of frozen foods. One could point out that Schwan’s is the clear winner in the partnership deal: if I stay on the diet wagon, I’ll keep buying NutriSystem Select; if I fall fall off the diet wagon, I’ll probably start buying breaded chicken breasts and ice cream sandwiches. This is a natural part of the ecosystem, as symbiotic relationships aren’t meant to last forever. Like peanut butter and jelly, NutriSystem and Schwan’s pair beautifully in the food ecosystem.

If it worked for Marie Osmond ...

Another fun example is the Facebook app Sorority Life (basically World of Warcraft, but in skirts, and way scarier). In order to “play,” girls form packs, fight, and socialize to increase ranking. In-game events, like socializing and visiting the spa, are required to increase rank and cost “brownie points” in-game credits earned by completing events or purchasing goods. The perfect ecosystem in search of a symbiotic buddy!

Money does grow on trees ... if you water them with Lancome.

To acquire new customers, companies are usually willing to offer discounts to the right audience. But while brands like Lancome and Nordstrom are a perfect fit for the Sorority Life audience, discounts and coupons are traditionally anathema to luxury brands. In a world where virtual goods and Facebook credits are increasingly accepted as online currency, luxury brands now have the opportunity to redefine their acquisition ecosystem. Lancome, for example, can offer 75 brownie points on a purchase, acquiring thousands of new orders while still preserving its brand status.

Lesson learned: when the ecosystem that makes the most sense for you doesn’t exist, build it. By cultivating and executing on your own terms for customer acquisition, you and your partners get to reap the sole rewards that creativity fosters.

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This post was written by Brad Cerenzia

ABOUT Brad Cerenzia
Brad Cerenzia is an e-commerce industry veteran with more than 15 years' experience as an innovator, designer and engineer. His portfolio includes hands-on work with companies such as, where for 5 years he led an engineering group that launched dozens of new stores and features (Video Games, Wireless, Toys R Us,, Home & Garden, WebStore, branded sweepstakes) with a focus on impeccable customer experience.
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