[PPMA Pulse] Online Contests — Are They Worth It?

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From simple sweepstakes to elaborate video contests, innovative companies have joined the contest craze by incorporating this tactic into their online marketing campaigns.

September 28, 2012

Everyone enjoys winning something for free. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or a trip to Hawaii — people are clamoring for freebies and bargains and are turning to the Internet to find them. Smart businesses are taking notice of this growing trend and are happily reaching out to new consumers with their own online offerings. From simple sweepstakes to elaborate video contests, innovative companies have joined the contest craze by incorporating this tactic into their online marketing campaigns.

While online contests are not new, they continue to grow in popularity as social media evolves. In fact, entering contests is one of the top five activities performed by Internet users, according to Jupiter Research. Their research shows that 80 percent of all Internet users have entered at least one online contest within the past year and companies that run such promotions have twice as many fans on their branded social network pages than those that don’t.

Contests offer the perfect opportunity for companies to create brand awareness and build a strong customer base in a controlled environment. But, many marketers often question if they are worth the time and effort.

Before jumping on the bandwagon, it’s important to understand that launching a contest is not for everyone, but it can produce tremendous results if executed properly.

Contest Types. There are two basic types: sweepstakes and user-generated contests.

Sweepstakes: This type of contest is a chance-based promotion where prizes are awarded based purely on the luck of the draw. One example of a sweepstakes is having people enter their email address on a webpage for a chance to win a free routine pest control treatment or perhaps a termite inspection.

Stolichnaya vodka recently ran a sweepstakes that resulted in a large boost of Facebook fans. To participate in the sweepstakes, users were required to “like” the brand page and click on the enter button for a chance to win a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Stolichnaya. They exceeded their expectations by gaining more than 4,700 new fans and collected more than 2,500 consumer emails for future communications.

User-Generated Contest (UGC): These contests allow consumers to submit photos, videos or authored content in the hopes of winning a prize based on some element of skill. With a UGC, the sky is the limit in terms of creativity. You could invite your customers to submit photos of household pests or even encourage people to design a new logo for your business.

A great example of a successful UGC is the Coca-Cola “Summer Snapshot Contest.” The Facebook contest encouraged fans to upload a picture of themselves and their friends basking in the summer sun while holding a Coke. The campaign was successful in helping Coca-Cola to gain new Facebook fans and encourage involvement from those who already liked the page. The company also received free product placement during the contest.

Benefits of Online Contests. What are you trying to gain from your contest?

Engages Audience: Regardless of the type of contest you run, this marketing tactic requires consumers to engage with your product/ service.

Glacéau, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company, is known for using Facebook contests to engage consumer audiences. In 2010, the Company even allowed its Facebook fans to develop and name a new product — a genius idea. As a result, more than one million of their fans felt like they had real involvement in creating “Connect,” a black cherry and lime flavored drink.

Drives Traffic: One of the main benefits of running an online contest is that it’s an easy way to drive traffic to your website and increase your social media presence. If you add a voter component to the contest with an additional prize, you may see an even bigger surge in traffic.

Gathers User Data: By offering the chance to win a prize, consumers are more likely to share personal information as part of the entry process. This provides marketers with an opportunity to find out more about the demographic interested in their brand by collecting details like age and gender. During the entry phase, marketers also can encourage participants to join a mailing list or sign up for discounts.

Keys to a Successful Contest.
Running an online contest is a simple and effective way for companies to connect with current and potential customers in an effort to boost sales. However, there are a few key tips to keep in mind to ensure the contest performs well.

Take Time to Plan: One of the main reasons marketing campaigns fail is a lack of planning. Therefore, it’s important to develop a strategy, identify your overall goals and establish a target audience before launching the contest. Then, you can decide if it would be more effective to run a short and simple sweepstakes or a more in-depth user-generated contest. If the contest requires too much effort, people may not enter.

Set Reasonable Expectations: When it comes to running a contest, there are no guarantees that it will be a huge success. It’s best to keep things in perspective and set reasonable expectations for what you hope to accomplish when the contest ends. Although every marketer’s dream is to see thousands upon thousands of submissions, it may not be realistic. Rather, you should identify feasible goals that will help you to quantify the success of your contest such as reaching a new audience, gathering research, increasing your social media fan base or creating buzz about a product or service.

Understand the Platform’s Guidelines: Once you choose a hosting platform, you need to make sure you fully understand its guidelines for running a contest because they can often be strict. For example, Facebook requires users to run promotions through a third party application on its site, while Flickr asks users to seek contest approval prior to launching. When done right, contests can be extremely successful for promoting your brand or service. However, if you don’t adhere to the guidelines, the contest may never even get off the ground.

Choose the Right Vendor: If you decide to run a contest on Facebook, you can either create your own application or partner with a vendor. Although using a vendor can sometimes come with a hefty price tag, there are advantages to taking this route including custom design options, easy contest implementation and user-friendly reporting tools. Here are a few things to consider when evaluating potential partners:

  • Do they support photo, video and text?
  • Can they handle the legal aspects of a contest including the creation of rules and regulations?
  • Can they customize the look and feel of the contest site to reflect your brand?
  • Do you own the rights to the data obtained?
  • What sort of metrics do they provide to evaluate the success of the contest?

A Strong Incentive:
The success of a contest is directly determined by the user incentive, so you need to offer a worthwhile prize for consumers. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a prize, but it does need to be something your target audience will actually want so they take the time to enter. Consider offering a free home pest inspection or a gift card to a local business.

Promote: In order to gain multiple entries, you need to spread the word. The first step is to make sure the contest is publicized on your company website. You can call it out in a sidebar, run a banner across the top of each web page or feature the details in a blog post. Another way to promote the contest is by advertising it on social networks. You also can include details of the contest in an e-newsletter or e-mail blast to current customers.

Use Results: Often times, marketers fail to capitalize on promoting the success of a contest once it concludes. In an effort to gain more traction, consider distributing a press release about the winner or highlighting the top entries on a company blog. You also can feature the entries in a gallery on your website, promote them through viral sharing on social networks or create a case study about the contest.

Do Your Homework. Whether you are looking to increase your site traffic, engage a new audience or boost your brand’s reputation, online contests could be your new, secret business weapon. The beauty of launching an online contest is that if you do your homework in the beginning, you will ensure that your contest runs smoothly and is a big success.


The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. E-mail her at mhenriksen@giemedia.com.