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As marketers we are drawn to the challenge of finding new and inventive ways of reaching customers. Sometimes unconsciously and often times self-admiringly, we discount tried and true marketing strategies in our quest to be the first to uncover the next great one.

Over the coming months, I would like to engage you on all things Contests, Sweepstakes and Rewards: the compelling reasons why they should be in your marketing tool box; when to best use them and how to navigate the ever-changing digital, legal, PR, and logistical landscape with running a successful promotion in Canada and/or the USA.

I cannot think of a more personal approach of reaching out to say “hello” to prospective new customers; and reinforcing your appreciation by saying “thank you” to existing ones!

…so let the games begin!

Contests, Sweepstakes and Rewards …oh my!

Here are some key terms central to this blog that will help to differentiate the types of marketing promotions being discussed:

  1. Promotion: a holistic term used to describe various types of marketing programs (i.e.: Contests; Sweepstakes; Premiums; Incentives; Rebates; Instant Win; Reward and Loyalty Programs);
  2. Contest: defined as a skills competition in which individuals compete to win and are selected via online voting and/or a committee of judges using a predetermined set of criteria based on their performance (i.e.: recipe submission in a recipe contest);
  3. Sweepstakes: defined as game of chance, in which winners are selected by random draw; Worth Noting: as you can see, contests and sweepstakes are executed quite different; yet Canadians tend to use the term “contests” to refer to both types of promotions and Americans like to use the term “sweepstakes”; regardless, the most popular form of promotion in both countries is the sweepstakes  ….now you know;
  4. Reward Program (or Incentive):  defined as a business activity that stimulates specific actions and/or behaviors based on predetermined benchmarks. Often used by businesses to incentivize employees or trade, whereby defined individuals have the opportunity to earn rewards (i.e.: cash, merchandise) for meeting target objectives.  Often sales related in nature, the higher the benchmark achieved, the greater the rewards awarded.

What Constitutes Success?

Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.

Walter E. Disney

There are many factors in building effective marketing promotions; here are just a few of the topics I will cover in greater detail over the coming months….

1. Plan Your Promotion:

Take the time to consider why you are running your promotion and what you want to achieve! Without sounding too cliché, like any good road map – it is always easier to plan, when you know your destination. Here are just a few reasons why companies utilize contests, sweepstakes and reward programs in their marketing efforts:

  1. Mobilize Audience: empower consumers to market your products and services through social media (i.e.: they tell two friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends and so on and so on – for you baby boomers – can you remember the name of the shampoo used in the commercial that included the viral phrase?);
  2. Data Acquisition: Collection of customer and/or product/service feedback;
  3. Publicity: proven means of maximizing brand exposure for products and/or services;
  4. Target hard to reach Audiences: Unlike traditional media whereby the message attracts audience; it’s all about the PRIZE!!!!!
  5. Customizable and Targeted: by scale, scope, audience, market(s), seasonality, media, etc…; and
  6. Choices: there are many types of promotions, each offering clear-cut benefits in helping you achieve your objectives;

2. Know Your Audience:

Promotions offer a unique means of customer interaction and a greater means of personal approach. Consider the tone of your message – care, passion and sincerity go a long way in reinforcing your company values and building trust!

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

Warren Buffett

3. Privacy laws:

Privacy laws have changed the way we can communicate with customers; contests and sweepstakes offer an important and increasingly rare opportunity to acquire and effectively build legally compliant communications.

4. The Prizes:

The Secret Ingredient to any good marketing promotion! Contests and Sweepstakes have a similar objective to traditional advertising in that they offer a proven means of building awareness for products and services. However, unlike traditional strategies whereby the success of a campaign is solely determined by the approach to creative, copy, images and media strategy; the success of a contest or a sweepstakes promotion is all about the prize (…and OK, the approach to creative, copy, images and media strategy).

The next time you are looking to build a media campaign targeting a hard to reach segment of your intended audience consider including a contest or a sweepstakes in your marketing mix. Focus on selecting prizes that are unique and exciting to your intended audience. If this segment of your audience is not paying attention to your brand message, it will give them something they want – which will go a long way in capturing their attention! To maximize interest, consider the values and types of prize to be included.  1 or 2 large value prizes – will garner interest from those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to own products or services; and offering 10 to 50 smaller value prizes; will increase the chance of winning.  The “Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim To Win” Contest is a wonderful example of this audience building marketing strategy – this years’ program offers a 1 in 6 chance of winning (…Ok; now I need to get an Iced Capp)!

Tim Hortons Roll Up the Rim Website

Source: Tim Hortons

Although cash; trips and automobiles are always popular; challenge yourself to dive deeper into your target audience interests – the more exciting and unique the prizes being offered, the greater the interest will be to participate in the promotion!

…and never forget to reach out to the brands being considered for prize inclusion to ensure you have rights to utilize their products and services in your program. Many Brands (i.e.: Apple) have specific requirements around use of their products, services, trademarks and copyrights.

5. Keep It Simple:

Having managed 100’s of marketing promotions over the years, here are some basic considerations when developing a promotion:

  1. Consider your objectives before finalizing the type of marketing promotion you want to run – Contests offer an amazing means of finding talented individuals, should you be looking to utilize said individuals, as part of a greater corporate initiative (i.e. Brand Ambassador; future baker; etc…); however, if your end goal is simply to build audience, Sweepstakes are the way to go!
  2. No matter what type of marketing promotion you are looking to run, at the very “minimum”, consider the following entry requirements, which are long understood by consumers as basic requirements for promotion entry; and more importantly, from a path of legal compliancy – make it much easier for you to select winners and eliminate entrants/entries that do not meet your eligibility requirements.
    • First/Last Name;
    • Complete Mailing Address;
    • Valid: Phone Number and Email Address
    • Check Box (1): Entrant has read and agrees to bound by the terms and conditions of your official Rules (don’t forget to include a link to the full rules); and
    • Check Box (2): ask if they would like to receive future communications (without which you cannot use entrant information for any purpose outside of your contest/sweepstakes)

6. Official Rules:

There are so many things to consider when writing promotion rules that I will devote a complete blog on the topic, at a later point. Suffice it to say, after years of reviewing ill-advised rules, here are some basics to consider:

  1. The Devil is In The Detail: Contest/Sweepstakes offer an important means of building relations with both existing and prospective customers – ensure your rules are written with care and attention to detail; protecting from unwanted surprises (i.e.: cheating, prize inclusions, entry requirements, etc…), which can turn a well-intended promotion into a legal and/or PR nightmare; and
  2. The laws governing Contests/Sweepstakes vary based on country, province and state involved, ensure to have your rules written and/or reviewed by someone who has the capacity to protect both, you and your customers.

7. The Contest Microsite:

The backbone to any good contest is the contest microsite, which if done properly, provides…

  1. Credibility: The fun factor! There is nothing worse than entering a promotion that is meant to be fun and not being able to do what is being asked due to glitches and errors;
  2. Security: of consumer data, as per the privacy laws in Canada; and the USA, which are governed under both federal (i.e.: FCC; FTC; COPPA; ) and state laws; and
  3. Compliance: ensuring your site is tested, quality assured, usable and accessible before it launches to the public; goes a long way in reducing headaches and potential liability to you and your client.

The Busy Marketer's Guide
to Measuring Sweepstakes ROI


In this FREE guide,
The Busy Marketer’s Guide to Measuring Sweepstakes ROI,
you’ll learn how to:

  • Establish metrics that align with your business goals
  • Improve your sweepstakes and drive a higher return
  • Gain a competitive advantage

Advertising and Marketing Law in Canada (Fourth Edition), Brenda Pritchard & Susan Vogt; published by LexisNexis

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