Decoding CAC: An introduction to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Decoding CAC: An introduction to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

One of the key metrics that captures the attention of marketers and entrepreneurs alike is customer acquisition cost (CAC). It's a metric that plays a pivotal role in determining the effectiveness and sustainability of a company's growth strategy. In this blog, we'll understand the complexity of CAC, exploring its definition, importance, calculation, and strategies to optimize it.

Table of Contents:

  • What is Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)?
  • How to calculate CAC
  • Why is CAC important?
  • Factors affecting CAC
  • Improving Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) with real-life examples
  • CAC cheat sheet for startups and SMBs  
  • Conclusion

What is Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)?

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is a metric that measures the average cost of acquiring a new customer. It's essentially the total spend on sales and marketing efforts divided by the number of new customers acquired during a specific period.

How to calculate Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

The basic formula for calculating CAC is:

CAC = Total Sales & Marketing Costs / Number of New Customers Acquired

This includes costs such as:

  • Marketing expenses: Advertising, content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, etc.

  • Sales expenses: Salaries and commissions for salespeople, sales tools and technology, training, etc.

  • Other costs: Referral programs, public relations, events, etc.

Let's look at an example to illustrate Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Imagine an SMB sells workout equipment online. During a recent sales campaign, they invested the following:

  • Marketing expenses:

    • $10,000 on social media ads
    • $4,000 on search engine ads
    • $2,000 on influencer partnerships
  • Sales expenses:

    • $6,000 on salaries for sales representatives
    • $2,000 on sales software

Through this campaign, they acquired 300 new customers. To calculate their CAC, they would use the formula:

CAC = Total Sales and Marketing Costs / Total New Customers Acquired

CAC = ($10,000 + $4,000 + $2,000 + $6,000 + $2,000) / 300

CAC = $24,000 / 300

CAC = $80

Therefore, their customer acquisition cost for this campaign was $80 per customer.

This means they spent an average of $80 to acquire each new customer. Whether this cost is good depends on factors like industry benchmarks, customer lifetime value, profit margin, campaign specifics, and growth metrics. Achieving a low customer acquisition cost (CAC) isn't necessarily the primary goal. Instead, our focus should be on obtaining high-quality customers to ensure sustainable growth.

Why is Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) Important?

CAC is a crucial metric for businesses of all sizes because it helps them understand:

  • The efficiency of their customer acquisition efforts: A low CAC indicates that you're effectively bringing in new customers at a reasonable cost. Conversely, a high CAC suggests that your acquisition strategies need refinement. High CAC relative to the customer's lifetime value can lead to unsustainable business models.

  • The profitability of customer relationships: By comparing CAC to customer lifetime value (LTV), you can gauge whether your customers are generating enough revenue to cover the cost of acquiring them. Your LTV should be several times higher than your CAC.

  • The effectiveness of different marketing channels: Tracking CAC by channel can help you identify which marketing efforts bring in the most customers at the lowest cost.

Related content: A complete guide to customer acquisition strategies

Factors affecting Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Factors affecting Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Several factors can affect a company's CAC, including:

  • Industry: Different industries have different average CACs. For example, acquiring customers in the B2B space is typically more expensive than in the B2C space.

  • Business model: Subscription-based businesses often have lower CACs than businesses that sell one-time purchases.

  • Customer acquisition channels: Some channels, such as PPC advertising, can be more expensive than others, such as organic SEO.

  • Target audience: Your target audience's demographics and online behavior can impact the cost of reaching them.

Improving Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) with real-life examples

There are many ways to improve your CAC, such as:

  • Optimizing your marketing campaigns: Focus on targeting the right audience with the right message and using the most effective channels.

Case Study: Fashion retailer ASOS partnered with an AI platform to target Facebook ads based on real-time purchase behavior and interests. This resulted in a 25% increase in click-through rates and a 10% decrease in CAC compared to traditional demographic targeting. 

(Source: Retail TouchPoints, "ASOS Leverages AI for Hyper-Personalized Facebook Ads")

  • Improving your sales funnel: Make sure your website and sales process are optimized for conversion.

Case Study: Insurance company Lemonade implemented AI-powered chatbots to answer customer questions and guide them through the quote process. This reduced the average sales cycle by 20% and lowered CAC by 15% due to increased online conversions.

 (Source: Forbes, "Lemonade Insurance: How AI Chatbots Are Transforming Customer Service")

  • Offering customer referrals and incentives: Encourage existing customers to refer new customers.

Case Study: Fitness brand Peloton partnered with TikTok to launch a campaign featuring user-generated content and influencer collaborations. This resulted in a 30% increase in website traffic and a 5% decrease in CAC from new customer segments attracted through the platform. 

(Source: Digital Commerce 360, "Peloton Partners with TikTok for First Brand Campaign")

  • Building strong brand loyalty: Create a positive customer experience that will keep customers coming back for more.

Case Study: Gaming platform Roblox created a thriving virtual world where users can interact and create content. This fostered a strong brand community, leading to a 40% increase in user engagement and a 12% decrease in CAC due to viral word-of-mouth marketing. 

(Source: VentureBeat, "Roblox's User-Generated Content Strategy Fuels Growth and Engagement")

  • Leveraging multi-channel marketing: Diversify marketing channels to reach a broader audience, potentially reducing dependency on one expensive channel.

Case Study: Home improvement retailer Lowe's integrated its online and offline channels, allowing customers to seamlessly research products online and purchase them in-store or vice versa. This improved customer experience, leading to a 15% increase in repeat purchases and a 7% decrease in CAC due to higher customer lifetime value. 

(Source: Retailbrew, "Lowe's Omnichannel Strategy Drives Customer Satisfaction and Growth")

  • Focus on customer retention: Focus on customer retention can indirectly impact CAC by increasing the customer lifetime value, making acquisition costs more justified.

Case Study: Ecommerce platform Zalando revamped its loyalty program with tiered rewards and personalized recommendations based on purchase history. This resulted in a 20% increase in customer retention and a 8% decrease in CAC due to reduced churn and increased customer spend. 

(Source: Ecommerce News Europe, "Zalando Revamps Loyalty Program with Personalized Rewards and Recommendations")

CAC cheat sheet for startups and SMBs

Step 1: Define your goals

  • Target customer: Who are you trying to reach? Understand their needs and behavior.

  • Acquisition channels: Which channels will you use to reach them? (Social media, content marketing, SEO, etc.)

  • Cost tracking: Decide how you'll track costs across each channel (e.g., ad spend, content creation costs).

Step 2: Calculate your current CAC

  • Total Sales & Marketing Costs (period) / # New Customers Acquired (period)

Step 3: Analyze & improve

  • Channel breakdown: Calculate CAC for each acquisition channel. Identify high-performing and low-performing ones.

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV): Estimate the average revenue each customer generates over their lifetime.

  • Profit margin: Analyze your profit per customer. Ensure CAC is sustainable within your margins.

  • Optimize Spending: Allocate budget towards high-performing channels and adjust spending based on learnings.

Step 4: Continuously monitor and refine

  • Regularly track and update CAC for ongoing campaigns.

  • Experiment with new channels and tactics to find cost-effective acquisition strategies.

  • Use A/B testing to optimize ad copy, landing pages, and conversion funnels.

  • Benchmark your CAC against industry competitors to identify areas for improvement.

Bonus tips:

  • Focus on acquiring high-quality customers with long-term potential.

  • Leverage content marketing and referral programs for organic acquisition.

  • Automate lead generation and nurturing processes to reduce costs.

  • Use analytics tools to track key metrics and measure campaign performance.

  • Remember, CAC is a dynamic metric—it should evolve as your business grows.


Mastering the art of customer acquisition is a continuous challenge. CAC stands as a compass, guiding companies through the intricate landscape of growth. By understanding, calculating, and optimizing Customer Acquisition Cost, businesses can not only survive but thrive in an increasingly competitive market. It's a continuous journey of refinement, adaptation, and strategic decision-making that ultimately paves the way for sustained success.

Here are some additional insights on CAC:

  • CAC isn't a one-size-fits-all metric: What's considered a good CAC for one company might be too high or too low for another. It's important to benchmark your CAC against your industry and competitors.

  • CAC should be tracked over time: This will help you identify trends and see how your customer acquisition efforts are improving.

  • CAC can be used to make more informed investment decisions: For example, if you know that your CAC is high, you might decide to invest in marketing automation tools to improve efficiency.


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