Tips & Hints

Customer acquisition and retention tips: analysing top brands to draw inspiration from their success

Published on 30 September, 2021

What makes a company successful? What causes businesses to survive and thrive is usually not dependent on a single person, decision or particular direction but rather on a complex combination of product development, intelligent marketing and exceptional relationship building.

Here, we look through case studies of some of the world’s biggest and best household names. While these success stories vary greatly, they demonstrate a common theme: no matter how large or well-known your company is, the way you treat your customers is key. Each of these successful brands has a unique mix of elements that we will study in an attempt to create a blueprint for successful customer acquisition and retention.

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The difference between customer acquisition and customer retention

Customer acquisition is the process of attracting a customer and persuading them to make a purchase. Once this has happened, the individual or party can be considered a customer.

Customer retention is the practice of maintaining a relationship with that customer so that they repeat purchase from you rather than choosing a competitor.

Put simply: customer acquisition is getting them and customer retention is keeping them!

Which department holds the responsibility for customer acquisition and customer retention?

Traditionally, customer acquisition has been considered the domain of sales and marketing staff, and retention of customer service. Now, however, it is widely understood that both customer acquisition and retention is the responsibility of everyone within a business. All departments and teams have their part to play in conveying a positive and consistent brand message, no matter how close they are to the end user/customer.

Everyone within a business contributes to the combination of factors that result in the successful acquisition and maintenance of a loyal customer base; hence, ‘ownership’ must be held collectively.

As we work through the below examples of how big-name brands acquire and retain their customers, it will become apparent that each company has its own slightly different recipe for success, and these recipes including a number of elements and professional disciplines

Dell_Logo.svg  Dell: Personalisation

Part of computer giants Dell’s success is that it creates products that can be customised in ways that appeal to its customer base. Their laptops are known for their affordability but also their versatility and good quality. Dell’s products are pitched mid-range — not the most expensive in designer computers but equally not a budget brand that you can’t rely upon for usability.

Initially, Dell sold only directly and built its products to order, ensuring each laptop was specific to user requirements. Using just-in-time (JIT) strategies to forecast sales data and market trends, Dell could ensure demand was met without holding excess and unnecessary inventory, permitting operation with the lowest inventory level in the industry. This provided a sufficient cost advantage over competitors. And updating its suppliers online with the latest sales trends through its internet-based ordering system saw the company pass on its navigation of supply and demand balance in a way the market hadn’t seen before. Moreover, customers were drawn to the ability to customise their computer in a way they’d never been offered before and flocked to buy something they felt unique to them and bespoke to their needs.

Retention and acquisition tips from Dell:

  • Cut waste and don’t operate beyond your means
  • Allow any opportunity possible for customisation
  • Make products customer-centric for optimum sales and service

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Apple  Apple: Consistency and connection

Apple, now one of the most famous companies in the world, underwent a serious business pivot in order to gain the market domination they have today. While Apple’s products have always provided exceptional user experience and functionality, their aesthetics needed improving — and once a clear-cut and instantly recognisable brand ‘look’ was created, consumers were able to identify Apple products even across types of device.

What’s more, Apple built emotional connections into its products’ marketing and services, connecting consumers to them in ways previously unseen in technology. It took the concept of a mobile electrical device and built campaigns around it linking to human connection, for example, aligning a music player with exercise, or connecting imagination and dreams with a computer to create the association of grand designs, great ideas and inspiration. Through this, Apple made people perceive their products as essential for wellbeing and personal development. This worked to create the loyal customer base we see today — millions of people worldwide who would never use a competitor’s product and who are whipped up into a frenzy at the launch of new products.

The continued stream of product innovations that feel ‘Apple’ no matter how different they look has sought to create a consumer base that are more fans than customers. Through the repeated annual/bi-annual release of new products, Apple customers have their positive perceptions of the brand reinforced regularly. Today, Apple customers expect technological innovation with every new product development. These high expectations combined with fantastic brand perception has seen the company sit at the top of Forbes’ annual rankings for valuable brands for eight years straight!

Retention and acquisition tips from Apple:

  • Keep branding consistent through everything the business does and creates for instant recognition and remembrance
  • Connect with customers through marketing and campaigns on an emotional level
  • Curate a brand experience through service

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ikea-logo-new-sq-1  IKEA: Providing value and experience

At the heart of IKEA’s success is value. Consumers have a clear-cut idea of what they’re going to get with a purchase from the Swedish furniture maker, and they know it’ll be affordable. What most don’t know, however, is that this perceived value is exactly what IKEA works toward — by first calculating the price customers would be willing to pay and then reverse engineering the product to fit that price point (with a healthy margin included in there, of course).

And that’s not the end of IKEA neuromarketing behind either. Anyone who has been in an IKEA store knows that the layout of the shop leads you through department by department in a way that transforms your shopping from transactional to experiential, and increases the likelihood of a purchase being made, or increases your levels of purchase.

It speaks volumes that products bought from IKEA usually aren’t even an ‘easy’ option as they often require tricky self-assembly. Yet for many, the brand is still the ‘go to’ for furniture. It is a testament to IKEA’s reputation for value and quality that people purchase from them even though they’ll need to perhaps put in more effort than if they had purchased from a competitor. This customer commitment has been built over time and is the culmination of all of the above techniques.

Retention and acquisition tips from IKEA:

  • Get in their head! Use neuromarketing techniques to deliver a memorable experience rather than just a standard transaction
  • Price for perceived value and work around what a customer is willing to pay, rather than taking a set approach to pricing.

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mcdonalds-logo  McDonalds: Keep it convenient

McDonalds is the byword for fast food — but there’s a lot more to cooking up a burger and fries than many may expect. McDonalds has developed strong, efficient processes and procedures to streamline everything, optimising on speed while not losing product consistency. The finished product handed over to a customer is subject to a carefully curated service that is constantly being improved and updated, delivering a service that is second to none. The foundation of consistent processes allows for a solid base from which the business can develop and innovate, but still maintains customer confidence throughout.

The reputation that McDonalds holds as a result of service standards being repeated time and time again no matter the location of purchase has enabled the brand to establish a good rapport with its customer base. No business is perfect, but with this relationship being maintained, any downtime or errors can be quickly rectified should such difficulties arise.

McDonalds operates through locations in almost every town and city across its destinations, with recent expansions also offering home delivery services. The sheer volume of places in which McDonalds products can be purchased makes it hugely convenient for customers — with purchases often happening unplanned.

New products are often launched and introduced to the McDonalds menu as a result of customer campaigns. Through social media and other communication channels, the product development and marketing teams take onboard suggestions, ideas and opinions and respond to them appropriately. The playful nature of social media comms combined with the reinforcement of allowing customers to see brand changes happen as a result of such interactivity demonstrates to that customers have the opportunity to engage and be heard.

Retention and acquisition tips from McDonalds:

  • Make product purchase as simple and fast as possible for customers
  • Present customers with as many opportunities to purchase as possible
  • Listen to customer feedback and give them what they want.


virgin-1-logo-svg-vector     Virgin: Let brand values shine through

Virgin was incorporated first as a record label before Richard Branson moved to diversify into products he felt could be improved for consumers. Its mission is ‘to change business for good’.

The Virgin Group is known for different products in different regions and incorporates a wide variety of offerings. In Asia, Virgin soft drinks are the most popular product, while in the UK, Virgin Media television and internet. For the US, Virgin Galactic is a household name. So how can one brand cover so many bases?

It has taken Virgin over five decades to establish a strong brand that lends itself to such a variety of products and services with strong consistent themes across all. It stands for offering value for money (at a premium model price point), superior customer service, innovative operation, all under what is sometimes considered a ‘hip’ image. Usually, product diversification of this scale would result in brand dilution, but Virgin defies this and even manages to cross-sell due to its reputation and loyal following. This diversification is reliant on extremely powerful brand image the likes of which still today seems not to have been replicated with such success. The image and reputation that Virgin is now known for has allowed the company to branch out and try new things, all under the initiative of innovation — because what else is to be expected from such a ‘cool’ company?

In keeping brand values and themes apparent in everything it does, Virgin is able to maintain a dependable and trustworthy image. Everything from the brand’s look and feel to the tone of voice for communications are persistent — so when customers try a new product or service they haven’t before, they feel trust in the brand and are assured of the quality they’ll receive. The strength of Virgin’s brand presence and identity is measured in its diversification — and it remains unlike any other.

Virgin’s tone of voice adds value to its brand image by focusing on educating customers and providing them with great service. The company works to position itself as an industry leader in sharing thought pieces and related articles on its blog that work to provide expert social proof rather than simply sell its products and services. This reiterates the brand’s authority status in its markets without betraying its non-traditional roots and personality.

Retention and acquisition tips from Virgin:

  • Ensure that the essence of the company is visible in every aspect of its business operations
  • Showcase a brand personality
  • Build the brand’s values around the customer — in Virgin’s case, this is around exceptional service, which customers are reassured they’ll receive in every dealing with the brand

The single theme found across all examples

There is one strand that can be found in every example of these successful brands, and it is not a single retention or acquisition trick in the traditional sense.

Consistency is key.

With all of the businesses listed above, customers have an expectation and perception of what they expect when dealing with the brand. This foundation is set through brand values, brand imagery, marketing and service, so that every customer touchpoint and interaction is instantly recognisable and feels familiar.

In order to achieve consistency of service like this, everyone working with and for the company must hold a strong sense of the brand values: what the business is, what it does, what it stands for, and how it works. Everyone within a brand should be able to answer ‘what does the business do’ in a short elevator pitch — a ‘for dummies’ simplification spanning no more than a few sentences which lays out the mission, product and/or services in a way everyone can understand.

When layered with consistent branding, consistent aesthetics and consistent service, customers feel comforted that they know who they’re dealing with and understand what they can expect.

Each industry, niche and market will have its own quirks, but so too will varying customer bases. What is appropriate for one audience segment may not be for another, and each business must identify the most relevant approach, process and methods for them.

If there is to be just one focus in the drive for customer acquisition and retention, it should be ‘the customer’. Those businesses who see customers not just as a source of profit but also of intelligence, insight and opportunity will thrive from the growth they seek to create by focusing on them. Working with customers and not just for customers can reap unprecedented benefits — and the bottom line will follow.

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