Over the years you’ve probably encountered your fair share of branded contests (I know we have). There’s a reason for this. When properly executed, contests can be one of the most effective marketing strategies.
Marketers have known this for years, and branded contests, sweepstakes and giveaways have been working wonders for decades as a result.
You might remember some of these old-school contests, like the Coca-Cola MagiCan sweepstakes (excuse the VHS quality):
Or this Frito Lay “Money Giveaway.”
Contests have been so historically effective that the United States government even uses one – the Green Card lottery – to determine who gets to live there.
You may be wondering, if they’re so effective, why isn’t everyone using contests to market?
Well, the answer is actually pretty straightforward. Successful contests used to take millions of dollars to plan, promote, track and execute. This means that as recently as 10 years ago, you had to be a huge multinational brand or a government organization to run a successful contest.
The alternative option was running small-scale, localized competitions. While these were also effective, they weren’t nearly as impactful as larger contests, resulting in them never becoming a go-to marketing strategy.
So while large-scale contests were once the domain of powerhouse companies and organizations, things are wildly different nowadays.
The internet has given birth to tools that allow your organization – no matter how large or small – to run nationwide contests. Platforms like Gleam can help you leverage contest marketing to improve your brand recognition, collect user-generated content, generate fresh leads and create better engagement with existing prospects.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that there’s never been a better time to run a contest. Below is a quick example of what to expect from an embedded contest on a page or in a blog post.
Due to the former inaccessibility of large-scale contests, there is a lot the average organization doesn’t know about running them.
Fortunately for you, Gleam’s business is helping other businesses run and market their contests effectively. In our line of work, we’ve seen our fair share of successful contests as well as many that have failed to get traction – and in this guide we’re going to reveal 10 common mistakes that can ruin an otherwise effective competition. (As well as some smart alternatives that will help you avoid them).
1. Prizes That are Hidden or Unappealing
When you’re a marketer, manager, or business owner, you have a deep understanding of how valuable your contest’s prize is. Not only are you the one paying for it, but you’ve also done the research, so it’s only natural that you have an inside out understanding of the product’s features and benefits.
What you need to remember is that this isn’t necessarily the case for your audience
A lot of people may simply not know what your prize is, what it does, and exactly how much it’s worth.
This is a problem. According to a recent Microsoft-backed study, the average human has an attention span of just 8 seconds. This means that you only have 8 seconds to draw in your audience and make users recognize your prize as something they want. If you can’t quickly capture attention, your contest could easily fade into obscurity.
Just take a look at this giveaway announcement.
Yes please! $100+ beauty giveaway is on the blog now! To enter:
+ Follow LoveandMimosas on Instagram!
+ Comment on the latest photo as to why you would like to win!
+ Extra entry for a comment on the blog post as to what you would like to see on the blog!
The image is purely focused on the lipstick, and the text does nothing to clue you into what you stand to win. This lack of clarity surrounding the prize could easily be enough of a reason for this otherwise fine giveaway to fail to grab people’s attention, and as a result, only drove 2 comments on the blog post.
Other ways contests fail to capture attention due to unappealing or hidden prizes are by…
- Using prizes that are irrelevant to their audience
- Using prices that are cheap or undesirable (e.g. an old model of something)
- Failing to draw attention to the product’s value
- Using unappealing visuals and headline copy
When you make some or all of these mistakes, potential entrants don’t get sold on the idea of your prize. This means they either don’t participate at all, or participate without feeling thoroughly motivated.
Neither option is desirable.
Instead, you want to market your competition’s prize like Melea Johnson did with her latest Back to School giveaway:
The prize is highly desirable, audience-relevant and also timely (the campaign ends just before school starts again).
Melea has created not only a desirable video that describes what you can win but also has attractive imagery that shows the entire prize in full view.
Or take this Jane example which shows the pure breadth of winners and what they can win, a great way to make users feel like they have more than 1 chance to win something.
Another common mistake that dooms contests to failure from their very inception is…
2. Making Registration Difficult
People hate filling out forms. We don’t need to tell you that. Longer forms, especially ones that ask more personal information tend to see lower conversion rates.
Many marketers are still asking users to go through complex registration processes to get in on their contests.
This is obviously silly. People don’t want complex registration forms on a landing page, and they certainly don’t want complex registration forms for a contest.
And furthermore, you don’t need that much information to run a contest. I mean, unless you’re giving away homes or cars, do you really need people’s phone numbers and passport info?
But just how badly can it impact a giveaway?
The average conversion rate for a default Gleam form is 34% (across a dataset of 50k campaigns). Here’s the signup form that drives that conversion rate:
Adding just 1 extra field to your giveaway can decrease your overall conversion rate by 12% or more.
The same goes for home addresses. You can always get those after you know who the winners are. Why make life difficult for yourself and your customers?
Another point to note is that the harder it is to register, the more people you’ll end up confusing.
Your audience isn’t necessarily tech-savvy. They may not be able to properly navigate a registration process that has more than 1 or 2 steps.
So here’s a rule of thumb for you: If you don’t need a particular data point then try not to ask for it.
The very best thing you can do is ask for nothing, but that’s not really practical. Instead, give people the option to enter the contest with basic name and email or 1 click login using Facebook, Google, or some other type of authentication. This eliminates registration entirely and maximizes the number of entries you get if you’re promoting via a specific source.
Let’s say for example you’re running a contest on Facebook, then users are happy to expect that you require Facebook login. The same can apply if say you’re an Amazon store running a contest for Amazon users, they’d be happy to expect you to ask for login via Amazon.
To assist with the varying login methods that exist in the world, Gleam offers you the ability to choose per campaign how easy or difficult you make it for a user. We support social login from 13+ providers or just plain vanilla email signup:
That’s a lot of options – and offering a few of them as easy one-click contest entry options will greatly help you avoid missing out on potential entrants because of a needlessly complex registration process.
Another pitfall you need to avoid is…
3. Poor Prize to Effort Ratio
The point of a contest is to put in a little bit of effort for a chance to win a massive prize. Otherwise, you may as well go make the money and buy the item yourself.
This is true in a regular contest – and doubly true when you’re trying to get user-generated content in the form of essays, photos, videos and more.
For example a 2-page essay on James Jones Literary Society can net a whopping $10,000 for the #1 finisher, and $1,000 apiece for the runners-up.
Even at this prize though they only had a total of 634 entries, which may seem low in the grand scheme of things but these are high quality targeted submissions that relate completely to the goal of the contest.
That’s how it should be when a contest is done right. If you want people to do great work, give them a real incentive. Don’t skimp on the prizes.
A small payoff can be fine if you’re not asking people to do much. GoPro has found great success with their photo of the day contests where the prize is simply being featured on their Instagram page, but chances are this wouldn’t be nearly as effective if people were asked to do something more specific more than just submit a photo from their travels.
Unfortunately, too many contests make this mistake and ask people to do a lot of work for a relatively small payoff. Which means you can end up getting a very low amount of entries even though you spent a large amount of time an money executing the campaign.
Here are some common ways to know you’re asking your audience for too much:
- High barriers to entry: If users need specific equipment, like a microphone or a camera, to make submissions, they won’t settle for low-grade prizes like cheap gift cards.
- Too time and/or labor-intensive: If you’re asking people to put in hours of their time, you need to make it worth their while.
- Prize is too niche: Let’s say you’re selling photo and video equipment. A lens may seem like a good prize – but it’s irrelevant to people who don’t own a compatible camera. Prizes like this are inferior to ones that anyone can use.
- Prize is cheap: Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does buy contest entries. The less expensive the prize, the less interest you’re going to get.
- Who is giving it away: If you get Justin Bieber to giveaway a $100 Amazon Gift Card it’ll probably go crazy. But give that gift card to an unknown singer and the results will be very different. More established brands can get away with smaller prizes than unknown brands.
The caveat here is not to go the other way and offer straight-up cash or Apple gadgets. You want your prizes to be appealing, but not so much so that you start to attract prize hunters en masse. Unlike the James Jones contest above, you’re trying to get leads and customers – and that means you want to offer items that will appeal to people who are at least somewhat likely to become customers.
Here’s an example of a prize that has a perfect effort-to-reward ratio and is neither too niche nor too broad:
The prize is a Shelby GT350: an amazing car that’s worth a lot of money, but is mostly interesting to car enthusiasts. Prizes like this can really drive user-generated content and even encourage users to complete registration forms (which is something they usually dislike).
There’s also the types of contest a that piggyback off current affairs with big prize pools to attract viral attention.
Infowars (a far right new channel) is currently offering $20,000 to the person that can make the best CNN vs Trump Meme.
Or there’s contests that really appeal to people’s emotions and dreams. Hubspot is giving away $100,000 to launch a business to one lucky winner.
Another area in which a contest can go awry is the promotion. This can happen with mistakes like…
4. Over and Under-Promoting
Boy oh boy… We could write an entire encyclopedia on this mistake alone.
The first thing that’ll wreck your contest is giving your audience with an inbox peppered with contest announcements, updates and reminders.
You don’t want to be messaging every minute like a scorned lover three hours into happy hour. It will make any brand look desperate, pushy and annoying.
The one exception to this rule is a high-payoff contest where participants can improve their chances through further action. If you’re running one of these, it’s totally O.K. to send reminders about daily actions, new content that’s relevant to the competition, and other such information.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are contests that do everything right. They pick smart prizes, make wonderful landing pages, and even come up with some clever marketing messages to get the word out…
But they never actually make the effort to really get into promoting their contest.
Just take a look at this contest by McDonalds:
Want to win FREE SOFT SERVE FOR LIFE? Use our app this Sunday, 7/16, to get a FREE Vanilla Cone and from 2-5 pm at participating McDonald’s you might win the GOLDEN ARCHES CONE! 🍦😮 Because we may have finished our 24 hours of complimenting fans on Twitter, we still want everyone to get #SoftServed!🍦😊 Click the link in our bio for rules.
The contest had a great prize, entry was straightforward and it was also very time sensitive to drive results within a specific date. All the pieces were in place for the contest to be a massive success, even with a little bit of promotion. But McDonalds could have done so much more than a few Instagram posts to drive even more action from customers.
There’s a few reasons why some companies tend to under promote their contests:
- There’s a misconception that a contest is a promotional tactic that doesn’t require further marketing spend. This is erroneous, like saying that just because you’ve got TV ads, you don’t need a website.
- Many people simply don’t know how to drive traffic to their contest – or even host it on a landing page. (Which is why Gleam creates automatic landing pages for all the contests we help host).
Need a step by step guide to promote our own contest check, out this one below. How to Promote Your Contest
Take this contest by Adore Me (you can read our recent case study on how to run a holiday giveaway).
They installed this campaign on their own website and sent all promotional traffic to a singular point of entry. This allowed them to see which channels provided the most ROI on spend.
Here’s are a few more basic ideas on how to start driving users to your campaign:
- Send to Your Email List: The people on your list are already brand followers and advocates. This means they’re easy to convert into contest entrants. It also means you’re likely to see higher and more qualified social referrals too.
- Test Paid Ads: Facebook makes it easy to get highly targeted traffic for low cost on the dollar. Run ads there, or on any other platform, to get more people into your contests. Make sure to test retargeting or uploading your existing list and creating a lookalike audience.
- Partner Up: We’ve post many times before on how partnering for your contest can bring huge results. If you’re a new brand then this is one of the best strategies you can undertake.
- Use Print Media: If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, use brochures, stickers, and other physical materials to promote. It’s a great way to reach your local audience.
- Announce on Your Site: Not everyone is on your mailing list, so you need to provide a way for anyone visiting your site to see that you’re running a giveaway. Create banners on the homepage or use a tool like Capture to notify users.
At the end of the day, you want to strike the balance between over and under-promoting. We recommend using a smart mix of visuals and promotional copy to get your message out and make sure you don’t resort to spamming in order to get noticed gets noticed.
Here’s an example of how you can do some last minute announcements on Facebook:
I’m also going to let you in on two of the tactics we use to promote our own contests.
The first is to create a highly engaging Facebook post that asks the user to take action inside the post before going to the contest URL to enter. This helps to spread the word and drive more attention to the post across Facebook:
The second method is to use our other contests to support existing ones. Gleam offers a Promote action which allows you to award entries when a user enters another contest.
You can use this action to send users to other contests, or even work with partners to cross promote each others campaigns. We’ve found this technique increases the visibility of our contests by 37%.
It’s also important to make sure that your marketing messages (and the contest itself) aren’t guilty of…
5. Coming At the Worst Possible Time
There’s nothing like missing a contest you’d love to be a part of because you don’t have the time, money, or energy to enter. Or even worse, because you simply didn’t see it.
This kind of mistake can separate you from the people who would otherwise enter your contest. That’s a big problem.
Some major brands have tried to launch epic contests on days like Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas when everyone’s at home and off the grid, resulting in some pretty disappointing turnouts.
Contests like these could have been a lot more successful if not for their Christmas launch dates:
You want as many people as possible to know about your contest. This means that the run-up to the contest, as well as the contest itself, should be held during a time when people are using their computers.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t make Christmas, New Years, NASCAR or March Madness-themed contests?
It’s just that you have to launch and promote these contests well in advance of these major events.
That way, you can take advantage of the excitement in the air to get as many submissions as possible while still wrapping up the whole thing before the day in question. Take Beardbrand for example who ran a month long campaign during No Shave November with fantastic results.
Alternatively, you could piggyback a major event that requires people to go online. That’s what Hamilton and IMAX did by giving people the chance to win a Hamilton watch when they bought tickets to see Independence Day: Resurgence. (A film that, incidentally, came out on Independence Day).
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of timing, let’s talk a bit about location (and explain what that even means on the internet).
6. Choosing the Wrong “Location” (i.e. Poor Targeting)
Location, location, location. We all know it matters in the real world. You wouldn’t put an underground rock bar on the fancy side of town, or an outdoor swimming pool in Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s just bad business.
The same goes for online contests. You don’t want your contest to attract people you don’t really want involved with your brand. And while there are no “places” in the conventional sense of the word on the internet, there is traffic – and different traffic sources.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say your business is selling beautiful window boxes that display flowers outside our home. You specifically want to target users that enjoy this as a hobby, so you can get high quality entries (and also users that might be interested in your products).
So it makes sense to run a campaign that requires users to submit photos of their own creations for a chance to win, this increases the barrier to the point that it keeps the entrants targeted:
Excited to announce that the winner of this week's #WindowBoxBeauty $100 prize is @rastakathy8 with this gorgeous photo of a Nantucket window box cascading with vines and paired with #succulents …pure perfection! Check out the link in our bio for more contest details and your chance to win each week 🙂 Contest runs through Sept. 30th, only 2 weeks left to win, enter today 🌸🌺🌻🌸😊
On the flip-side, if you run a generic campaign giving away something like an Amazon Gift Card or a popular technology product (i.e. iPhone 7) you might see huge engagement, but for the wrong reasons.
This mistake happens extremely often because a lot of marketers simply think that a lead is a lead, at the end of the day, the more, the better.
Some leads generate cash, promote your brand, and end up becoming loyal customers and advocates. Other leads only join your contest because they wanted the prize and as such end up just being a promotional mechanism rather than something that might drive revenue.
Take this example of a makeup company giving away their entire range of products. A spot on prize selection if you ask us:
Giveaway alert! 🎉 Comment below and tag your bestie for a chance for you both to win the products in this pic! Contestants & besties must follow @thebalm_cosmetics ❤️ Winners will be announced in the comments below on Friday, July 14th at 12pm PST. Good luck! #theBalm #TalcFree #ParabenFree #CrueltyFree #giveaway
Sometimes you need to decide on that tradeoff, do you want hyper-targeted entrants, a mix or are you happy to go crazy and get any person for the sake of making the campaign reach a wider audience.
There’s a number of things you can do to keep things more targeted:
- Exclude advertising to certain segments via Facebook Ads targeting
- Make the prize target a specific demographic
- Driving traffic from websites that actually have your target audience
We’ve selected some examples that do this quite well. Below you can find an Instagram brand that uses Amazon Gift Cards to reward their followers each month based on engagement with their #SRfam hashtag.
The winners of our monthly $100 Amazon hashtag contest are @diamondskylucy for using #SRfam and @dariennecrosby #SweatSquad in May. Congrats! Please DM us with your full name and email address. 📩 Be sure to follow in their footsteps and use both hashtags for your chance to win a $100 gift card this month! #SweetSweat 👍💦💦
Or this group of fashion bloggers that combined forces to giveaway a $1,500 shopping spree in Nordstrom. A prize like this directly correlates with what consumers who read fashion blogs actually want.
Try to put yourself in your users shoes, what prizes do you think would excite them the most?
And while you’re figuring out your targeting, be sure not to make the next mistake.
7. Irrelevant Prizes
A common complaint is that successful competitions don’t lead to improved marketing results.
The ironic thing about this is many of the people complaining run untargeted contests where the prizes are Apple products, Amazon gift cards or fidget spinners.
In short, the kind of stuff that attracts anyone and everyone, including professional contest participants (who later resell their prizes).
Prizes like these are bad because they’re irrelevant to your audience. They do nothing to attract brand advocates, leads, or customers. Sure, some of those things might come about as a result of your contest – but they’re just as likely not to.
Just take a look at this contest run by Pinnacle Vodka.
Get ready for summer in style with a The Beach People Roundie towel! all you have to do is tag a friend in THIS post to enter. Each tag is worth one entry! Enter as many times as you like! be sure you are FOLLOWING us to be in to win a towel for you and a friend xx Winner will be announced 17th Dec #pinnaclevodka #win #competition #giveaway #summer #beachbabe #wanderlust #summerstyle
The prize is a beach towel, which really has nothing to do with the brand or their product. Making matters worse is the fact that the contest requires people share around the contest entry image. This will help spread their message, but due to the irrelevance of the prize, the message being spread around will do nothing to promote the Pinnacle Vodka brand. It follows from this that the contest as a whole will essentially do nothing to attract potential customers and brand advocates.
What you need to do is offer a prize relevant to the audience that you want to attract.
Take a page from SkinnyMe Tea’s book. The detox tea and weight loss program provider ran a giveaway offering a range of products including beauty lotions, stylish runners, watches, bikinis, and some of their own product. All of these prizes were completely in line with the health and beauty focused brand persona SkinnyMe Tea has cultivated, making them highly relevant and desirable to the contest’s target audience.
Notice the clever use of the Instagram’s new Carousel feature to show off multiple prize images from within a single post
Prizes like these are just about perfect, as they help SkinnyMe Tea encourage mass entry, attract a market segment likely to become customers and brand advocates, and even give a few people a taste of the product.
TIME FOR THE @SMTOFFICIAL SUPER $700 GIVEAWAY 🎉🎁💰 TAG YOUR FRIENDS SO THEY DON'T MISS OUT 🙋🏽DETAILS BELOW – We are having our biggest giveaway to date with some of the best brands in on social media @TRIANGL @FRANK_BOD @BALIBODY @DROPBOTTLE @STYLERUNNER @THE5THWATCHES @SKINTOXCO – To win just CLICK THE LINK IN OUR BIO @smtofficial @smtofficial @smtofficial & complete the tasks listed. The more tasks you complete the higher your chances are of winning – Good luck 💕to you all // Winner will be announced on Monday 3rd April 🙌🏽
Alternatively, there is one other thing you can do.
You can make the reward generic (and awesome), but make the contest itself so specific, or so rich in User-Generated Content potential, that this doesn’t even matter.
For example, Tongal recently launched a Best Damn Sweet Tea video contest. The prizes are massive (up to $40,000).
This would usually attract the wrong people, but the barrier to entry was to create a high quality video. Considering how difficult the project is for the average consumer, and how much user-generated content it’s going to generate for Tongal, that’s just fine. As long as the content is valuable enough, it doesn’t matter that the contest participants aren’t necessarily raving fans.
Speaking of raving fans, sontests are a great way to get a lot of those, just be mindful of the next mistake on our list.
8. Being Too Ambitious
An extremely common mistake that we see is businesses thinking that contests will be a silver bullet for their business.
This leads to a few issues:
- Businesses giving away really high value prizes without first understanding their strategy
- Copying other businesses trying to replicate their results
- Not really putting in the time and effort to really make the campaign a success
Take this campaign for example:
A company that makes fidget spinners sent a box of 100 to a well known YouTube celebrity to give them away. The contest drove over 400k entries inside just 24 hours.
Ever since, businesses have been trying to replicate the same type of success, but most are falling flat. The fact that the company that setup this giveaway created the products meant this was just perfect marketing for them.
In short, be realistic. Never assume that fans will inherently want to participate in your contest – and always be mindful of trying to swallow too much in one bite.
— ITB Board Games (@itbboardgames) June 19, 2017
Ultimately, contests are extremely powerful, but they’re still just a part of your ongoing marketing efforts. They do not replace the entirety of your promotional strategy. You will need multiple campaigns, contest-based and otherwise, to get the best possible results.
You can get away with more if your brand is big and respected. For example, the New York Times has a Summer Reading Contest that tens of thousands of people participate in one degree or another.
It works because reading is fun, and because the NYT is so widely circulated, but if this was a small brand, you can bet your left pinky that this wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.
Basically, you need to be realistic and understand that contest marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Incidentally, this means that you should always continue your promotional efforts after the contest is actually over. We’ll explain why in our next point…
9. No Follow-Through
So you’ve run your contest. You’ve avoided all the previous mistakes, and now you have a bunch of sweet, sweet user-generated content and a whole lot of new leads.
What do you do now?
Well, if you’re most marketers, you do nothing. You take months to sit in deep meditation, mulling over what you should do…
And then you finally try to take further action when the contest’s long been forgotten, the leads have lost interest, and the user-generated content has become worthless.
This is exactly what happened to Esurance after running this highly ambitious contest after the Superbowl.
The contest did a great job of garnering the insurance provider a whole lot of awareness, and while they certainly grabbed a lot of peoples attention, this wasn’t enough to make the contest a success.
Once Esurance had everyone’s attention they did nothing to keep it or use it to drive customer growth. They had no follow-up marketing efforts planned and as a result, their contest failed to produce any significant long term benefits.
Not a pretty picture, huh?
The good news is that this situation is very easy to avoid. Following through isn’t difficult, it’s just done poorly by most marketers.
Check out this incredible case study and example from fellow Aussie marketing agency Web Profits. The used contests to drive thousands of qualified leads for an ethical Superannuation company – which isn’t exactly the most exciting of industries.
Pay specific attention to how they followed up and nurtured customers once they got their email address:
Deciding how to follow through with your campaign is a simple as coming up with a plan, but here’s a few of our favourite ideas:
- Send a post entry follow-up with a link to save money right away with your product
- Making sure the contest’s losers get updates – and, where possible, a consolation prize.
- If you’re giving away a product, allow losers to buy it at a discounted prize
- Send entrants into a lead nurturing campaign to sell the benefits of your products
- Using user-generated content as soon as possible, while it’s still “hot off the press”.
- Announcing new contests and opportunities to win more stuff
That’s about it. Following through is really that easy.
You’ve almost made your way through our list of common contest mistakes, but before you go, there is one more mistake we’d like to tell you about. Not all contest marketers make it – and in fact, Gleam protects you from it, so our users don’t deal with it at all.
Having said that, it can happen, and when it does, it ruins contests pretty quickly. We’re talking about…
10. Poor Mobile Compatibility
Nowadays, over 50% of all U.S. traffic is mobile (and growing fast), which means that a contest page that isn’t optimized for mobile devices can instantly lose you half of your potential audience.
And even if you aren’t in a country like South Korea, Canada, or the United States, where mobile internet is ubiquitous, you’ve still got to have mobile-responsive pages and marketing messages.
With platforms like Gleam coming pre-built with mobile versions of landing pages, there’s no reason to make this mistake – but you’d still do well to keep it in mind.
This mistake may be more straightforward than the other 9 on the list, but it’s definitely important!
With these 10 mistakes in mind, you’ll find it easy to make all the right moves before, during and after your contest.
So now all that’s left for you to do is go out and run the best contest you can, with all the confidence in the world that you’re not going to make any of these easily avoidable mistakes.
If you have any questions on how to run a better contest don’t be afraid to shoot us an email!