Do Contests Actually Work?

If you’re in the marketing world, you’ve seen your fair share of contests. Contests can have different end goals: increasing email sign ups, growing brand awareness, gaining an audience. Contests can go viral! And marketers love “viral” things. But contests can go viral in the wrong sort of way.

Contests, sweepstakes, giveaways, and the like are a growing industry unto themselves. There are hundreds of websites, forums, newsletters, and blogs chronicling every contest that happens online. And there are now thousands of people online who spend their days signing up for contests. These “freebie junkies” will sign up for anything that is free no matter if it’s a sample, luxury trip, clothing, food, pet products even if they don’t have a pet.

I know this because I used to be one. I wasn’t as obsessed as some people I have encountered, but I did participate in my fair share of contest and giveaways. And as a marketer it made me realize how poor contests actually work for the brand. I won a few things from different websites, and I cannot remember anything about them. I couldn’t name the website where I won a camping item, even if you gave me $100.

That’s because I, like many other contest addicts, would go onto forums and contest sites and sign up for every single thing that caught my eye. I didn’t bother to see what the website was, what they were selling, who they were, I just cared about winning.

I have a friend that signs up for cigarette and chewing tobacco company contests and coupons….and she doesn’t smoke! Cigarette companies are notorious for hosting contests and they are increasingly being exploited by the online contest community. That is because these tobacco companies offer items that anyone would love to get including headphones, giftcards, cameras, sunglasses, a canoe, a mini-drone. What these tobacco companies should do is offer products only smokers can use such as cigarette cases. One chewing tobacco company recently offered a special vessel made just for spitting.

There are new products out there to help facilitate contests including that give you entries based on completing certain tasks. These tasks include signing up for a newsletter, viewing a YouTube channel, posting on Twitter, visiting a website, etc. Great idea, right? Well I thought so until I started doing contests using Gleam. I realized that you just complete the tasks (follow their Twitter account, view their website, sign up for the newsletter) and get your points, then unsubscribe from everything at the end. This isn’t just me, a lot of people entering contests do this.  It seems great to a marketer to have people viewing their website, following them on social media, tweeting about the contest, but most people entering only care about the contest, not about your company.

So that’s where the contest landscape is at. It is extremely difficult to host a contest online without getting tons of people who are uninterested in your company. What can you do?

My thought is to offer contests only to previous customers. These customers must have a receipt or photo of your product for proof. The problem with this is that you are only reaching people who have already interacted with your company, and you’re not reaching a larger audience. You could do the contest for those people who purchase the item within 30 days of you posting the contest.

Let’s say you sell headphones and you’re offering a contest for a $500 Amazon giftcard. Only those who purchase headphones in the month of May can enter and must show proof. This can get new customers, and even turn people who were looking around at other headphones into your customers because they are incentivized by the chance to win.

Another idea is to do something location specific. Try hosting a virtual scavenger hunt, where people have to actually go out and complete the tasks and take photos. In each photo the person has to hold up a sign with your company’s url or name. This will help embed your company into their mind and they will remember going around town and taking photos. They may even bring friends along to do so, making it that more memorable. Some good challenges could be that the person has to high five a stranger and hold up your company name on a piece of paper, they have to clean up litter on the sidewalk, play a game outside, hold the door open for someone. Just some ideas for fun, socially-good tasks you can come up with.

Contests aren’t surefire ways of gaining an audience anymore. You have to be more creative than ever to target people who can actually become potential customers in the future.

About MARKIT Group

MARKIT Group is a full-service traditional and digital marketing and public relations firm with an emphasis on social media, reputation management and monitoring, as well as brand management. Headquartered in Bonita Springs, Fla., with offices in New York, Pittsburgh and Charleston, S.C.
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