Critical Factors of a Successful Digital Marketing Contest

You’ve decided to use a contest to promote your brand. Great! Contests have been an effective marketing tool since the dawn of modern advertising over 100 years ago. The Internet, and especially social networks have vastly amplified the potential of contest marketing to help you reach customers, raise awareness, promote brand values and deliver marketing ROI. That being said, a poorly executed contest will cost you time and money with little or no return.

Here are four critical factors that will make or break any digital marketing contest.

Prizing: Win A Free iPad, Or Lose Your Brand Identity?

Unless you’re in the business of selling iPad apps or accessories, please don’t give away an iPad. You can do better than that. “Win A Free iPad” is a tired call to action and it lacks inspiration. True, most people would love to have (another, new) iPad, but the purpose of contest marketing is to generate awareness and buzz. It’s a prime opportunity to express the values of your brand, so don’t waste the opportunity by promoting someone else’s.

Your brand is your company’s identity. It’s a business’ personality, and everything you put into the market should be rooted in these values and express them clearly. Your contest marketing campaign is a way of getting people to experience your brand, even if they’ve never bought from you before. So make use of it as a way for prospects to get to know your organization and what you stand for.

Many companies don’t have to look far. A travel company can give away free tours. Retail businesses can use their own merchandise as prizes. For others, contest prizing can be a real challenge to come up with. Cash and iPads will always work, but putting some extra creative planning into what prizes to use for your next contest marketing campaign can really pay off.

Taken one step further, a marketing contest is an opportunity to get your prospective customers closer to buying. 1-800-GOT-JUNK ran a very effective global sweepstakes in the fall of 2013 that asked people what they would do if they won $500 worth of free junk removal. Entrants to this promotion were asked to submit a picture of what they would have 1-800-GOT-JUNK remove, along with an explanation of why and how it would make them feel.

Not only did the submitted entries gather a lot of attention on social media (where others could see the value of a junk removal service), but after visualizing to themselves how their lives would be improved by hiring 1-800-GOT-JUNK, many entrants became customers as a result (even if they didn’t win the sweepstakes). Technically, cash credit was the prize, but the mechanics of the contest itself were aligned with the company’s values of making people happy by removing mess and clutter.

So, does your prize embody your brand’s values? Does it speak to your audience? Does it allow people to experience your brand? Is it something that your target market actually wants?

Paid Media Effectiveness

Paid media is a critical ingredient in most promotions. Without the ability to leverage other networks and publishing channels beyond the media that a brand owns, it’s very difficult for any brand to gain the awareness necessary to make a contest achieve its objective.

When planning your paid media spend, targeting is definitely key. The right paid media targeting will be a unique combination for each brand, based on the demographics of its target market. The goal is to reach the right person at the right time with the right message.

How do you plan and execute paid media efforts most effectively? Benchmarking. Track and measure your campaigns in a systematic way and over time you will accumulate a war chest of digital marketing data. Analysis of this data will allow you to generate digital marketing intelligence insights that make it possible to plan and budget with incredible accuracy, compared to the ‘gut feel’ approach that most brand agencies employ now.

Effective execution of paid media promotions will amplify your message and get it to those who would care. If the contest is cool enough, and they care enough, you’ll earn media, too.

Share-ability: How Will Your Contest Earn Media?

Everyone wants their marketing campaign to “go viral”, meaning to rapidly and explosively spread through social media (and mainstream media) without having to pay for all that publicity. This is the Holy Grail of marketing. But “going viral” is like catching lightning in a bottle – no one has the exact formula or can predict what the next hit will be.

Earning media attention and social buzz is a fine art, but there are factors that add up to a campaign that has legs as opposed to a campaign that goes nowhere.

One question to ask is if your campaign is exciting, unique, funny, or otherwise worthy of buzz? In order for a marketing campaign to capture the attention of its target market, it must resonate with the core values of that target market.

For example, iconic brand Canadian Tire recently ran a highly-successful campaign called “Shovel It Forward” incorporating video and social sharing (well-timed during Canada’s coldest February in over a century for most of the country). The “Shovel It Forward” campaign speaks to Canadians’ neighborliness and our tendency to feel helpless against the winter weather, as well as the fact that we all band together in times of need.

Also remember that when people share things with their network, the item they are sharing becomes a reflection of themselves. We are represented by what we share, and therefore must identify with it personally.

In addition to evaluating the emotional value, plan for social sharing to be baked into the contest mechanics, not just tacked on after the fact. There are cases when each (or both) are optimal. Choose wisely. If the mechanics of the contest involve social engagement of some kind, you are more likely to succeed than if you simply ask people to share your contest on Facebook with nothing other than hope that they will.

Owned Media

Now that you’ve got your contest planned and strategized properly, how will you execute it?

Typically, marketers will set up a landing page with a sign-up form or survey, or choose from a variety of contest apps that will do this for you. Pick carefully, though, and ensure the tool you select has the functionality you are looking for and that the price point is competitive. Also, test your promotion thoroughly; many contests fail because of user experience problems.

Usability is its own field of expertise but can be roughly boiled down to how easy it is for a first-time visitor to understand what to do and how to do it. Here are a few usability items to consider:

  • Page load time: how long does it take for your contest page to load? The faster the better, especially on mobile.
  • Simplicity: does the contest landing page immediately tell visitors why they should care, or are they faced with a wall of text and forced to scroll below the fold to discover what’s in it for them? The fewer words it takes to explain the value of your contest, the better. If you can’t convey your contest in under 140 characters then it’s too long for social media and a sign that your marketing campaign’s concept can be crystallized further.
  • Responsive design: fully test your contest on every mobile device, tablet, and browser that you have access to. This is what’s going to happen once it’s in market, so take care of any responsiveness issues ahead of time.

Contest marketing is an effective tool in your digital marketing repertoire. This review of paid, earned and owned media and prizing should give you a good outline of how to optimize campaigns. As mentioned above, benchmarking will help you to plan and execute your campaigns more effectively over time, and even allow you to draw useful insights from different types of marketing contests. If executed well, the real winner of your next marketing sweepstakes campaign will be your client and your agency.

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