Customer Acquisition Channels, Compared and Ranked

Customer acquisition takes place across multiple channels, with each channel bringing strategic value based on a prospect’s stage in the marketing funnel. These conduits to customers can be divided into two categories:

  • Primary Customer Acquisition Channels: Primary channels are the centerpiece of customer acquisition, offering leads both conversion-oriented and educational content meant to “nurture.”
  • Supplemental Channels: Supplemental channels are used in conjunction with one or more primary channels, but aren’t effective at generating leads from scratch.

Below, we provide a ranking & brief analysis of every available customer acquisition channel in 2023. We distinguish them by function (primary vs. supplemental, lead generation vs. lead nurturing); pros and cons; and average ROI.

Customer Acquisition Channels, Compared

Rank Channel Function Lead Generation Lead Nurturing Pros and Cons Average ROI 
1 Thought Leadership SEO  Primary ✔️ ✔️ High ROI and versatility. Provides content for other channels.
Campaigns take time and require intensive content production
2 Speaking Engagements Primary ✔️ ✔️ High ROI & direct contact with key decision makers in your industry.
Requires a talented speaker who is also an expert and a great deal of legwork.
3 Webinars Primary ✔️ ✔️ Good way to build trust
Requires high-quality webinars.
4 Email Supplemental ✔️ Low cost & works off repurposed content
Quality mailing lists take time to build.
5 PPC Supplemental ✔️ High short-term returns with immediate results.
Expensive long-term with diminishing ROI over time.
6 ABM Supplemental ✔️ ✔️ Precisely targets high-value, excellent-fit clients
Limited application, high-risk
Highly Variable
7 Podcasts Supplemental ✔️ Opportunity for entertaining long-form content.
Requires a charismatic expert.
8 Organic Social Supplemental ✔️ Relatively low CAC. Can repurpose content to reduce cost.
Campaigns take time to build an audience.
9 Paid Social Supplemental ✔️ Precision audience targeting
High CAC
10 Trade Shows Supplemental ✔️ Direct contact with target audience
Expensive & highly competitive.

Next, we’ll discuss how to combine these channels to achieve the most effective use for varying budgets and companies.

Customer Acquisition Channel Budget Breakdowns

In this section, we offer ideal budget breakdowns for your customer acquisition program by company type.

Small B2C
Channel Function Budget %
Thought Leadership SEO Lead Generation – Primary 50%
Email Lead Nurturing – Primary 20%
Organic Social Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 20%
Paid Social Lead Generation – Supplemental 10%

Smaller B2C companies should begin their customer acquisition strategy by investing in SEO to begin building the framework for sustainable long-term customer acquisition. To supplement the SEO campaign at minimal additional cost, content should be repurposed for email and organic social marketing. Paid social campaigns should be used sparingly to drive new sales while waiting for organic campaigns to begin producing results.

Midsize B2C
Channel Function Budget %
Thought Leadership SEO Lead Generation – Primary 40%
Email Lead Nurturing – Primary 20%
Organic Social Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 15%
Paid Social Lead Generation – Supplemental 15%
PPC Lead Generation – Supplemental 10%

As with lower budget B2C companies, most midsized B2C businesses will see the best long-term returns from investing in organic channels for their customer acquisition. With a higher budget, however, these companies can choose to invest more in paid lead generation, both PPC and social.

Startup B2B
Channel Function Budget %
Thought Leadership SEO Lead Generation – Primary 60%
PPC Lead Generation – Supplemental 20%
Email Lead Nurturing – Primary 15%
Organic Social Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 5%

Due to the longer sales cycles of B2B transactions, filling the sales pipeline as early as possible is important. As a result, these companies should devote some customer acquisition budget to PPC despite its lower long-term ROI. The best long term investment for B2B customer acquisition is Thought Leadership-based SEO, so a larger portion of the budget should go to it.

Midsize B2B
Channel Function Budget %
Thought Leadership SEO Lead Generation – Primary 40%
Public Speaking Lead Nurturing – Primary 15%
PPC Lead Generation – Supplemental 15%
Paid Social Lead Generation – Supplemental 10%
ABM Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 10%
Email Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 5%
Organic Social Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 5%

For midsized B2B companies, public speaking becomes a valuable customer acquisition channel that provides exceptionally high returns if you have a skilled speaker. Paid social can be used in addition to PPC for short-term lead generation that reaches a different audience segment. ABM is often a worthwhile investment as well for many industries, despite its inherent risks. Thought Leadership SEO, Email, and Organic Social require less of the overall customer acquisition budget due to increased efficiencies in content creation.

Channel Function Budget %
Thought Leadership SEO  Lead Generation – Primary 25%
Webinars Lead Nurturing – Primary 20%
PPC Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 16%
Speaking Engagements Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 10%
ABM Lead Generation – Supplemental 8%
Email Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 5%
Podcasts Lead Generation – Supplemental 5%
Paid Social Lead Generation – Supplemental 5%
Organic Social Lead Nurturing – Supplemental 3%
Trade Shows Lead Generation – Supplemental 3%

At the enterprise level, businesses have more choice, as larger budgets support investments into all of the above customer acquisition channels. Putting a little budget into each channel allows for experimentation as well as efficiency of spend, as content can be repackaged across each channel (for example, a white paper can be the subject of a keynote speech, a webinar series, several blog articles, and a podcast).

Choosing the Right Customer Acquisition Channels

Choosing the correct mix of marketing channels and executing well on each one is a challenge for even the most experienced marketing teams. While many companies attempt to do everything in-house to save money, doing so often costs more in mistakes and missed opportunities.

For this reason, many companies choose to work with an experienced partner. Our agency takes a thought leadership-centered approach to customer acquisition, creating unique content that’s useful to your audience for both lead generation and lead nurturing. We also provide consulting services to advise you on the best customer acquisition channels for your particular company. Feel free to contact us to discuss a partnership.

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