The primary key to using a contest or giveaway to bring visitors to your site is a prize that appeals to your market. At my site, UnitedBands.com, musicians and artists looking to grow their careers are my market niche. I wanted to give something to the users of my site and increase excitement. I thought about what would get a response from working musicians and then reflected on the resources I had available.
I had just finished recording a single with my producer, David Ivory, in Philadelphia. He has been nominated for a Grammy among other things and so has the high-powered appeal that would be necessary to elicit interest from a pool of bands scattered across the country. I talked with him about the idea of having a contest where a band from the site would win a week in the studio with him. To my surprise, not only was he into the idea, but he had several suggestions that I had not even thought of that would add to the appeal of the contest. He suggested broadcasting the winners in the studio through the web site using web cams so that the contestants could watch the process and bring added value to entering the contest. From this example you can see that working with someone who cares about the contest as much (or possibly more) than you can add a major boost to the success of the contest before it even gets off the ground.
We soon ironed out the details. Voila! A contest with direct market appeal emerged and found itself on the site. Making this happen had numerous benefits. The existing credibility of my producer lended extra credibility to the web site. In addition, the association of the contest with the web site’s name created a longer imprint in visitor’s minds. It’s much easier to remember a place or web site where you had a feeling of excitement.
Creating the contest is only one part of the process. The journey of contest sponsorship and promotion just began at that point. However, having a real prize to offer a market of tens of thousands made it a lot easier to gain sponsorship. I approached businesses that weren’t direct competitors who also market to bands and artists and found that there existed a gigantic pool of opportunities. Just by sending an email or making a phone call, the doors opened to many avenues where I could market the contest, not to contestants, but to contest sponsors.
I contacted the Dewey Beach Music Conference and Festival where thousands of musicians perform and attend industry meet-and-greets. We both have a market of bands in our resource pool but offer different services. By cross-promoting each other we were able to double our reach. I promoted the festival to my bands and they promoted my contest to their bands. Everybody wins.
Usually gaining sponsors will have a snowball effect. When you approach other potential sponsors and they see that you have already enlisted other businesses in your venture, they will have a tendency to see more value in your contest. By gaining extra sponsors this leads to more publicity and attention than if you just try to run the contest on your own.
Don’t limit yourself to just marketing your contest to Internet users. Even on a low budget there is a lot you can do to increase the success of your venture. For my contest I had to think of where I could find my market audience off-line. I wanted to think of central locations where groups of my market audience could be found. There were really only two places that I could think of: music venues and music stores. I knew that hanging flyers in music venues may not be the best place since many times they are dark and the inhabitants aren’t necessarily going to remember the URL of my site in a dimly lit room after a few cocktails. I realized quickly that if I made flyers about the contest and mailed them as many music retailers around the country as possible, I could reach thousands and thousands of my offline market and bring them to the site using the contest as the means of creating enough excitement to draw them online. In exchange for hanging my flyers, I offered the music stores a listing in my database of national music retailers for my users to search for a music retailer near them.
So now the main pieces are in place. There’s a market niche, a prize, sponsors and offline marketing. Now the key is to publicize the contest with press releases. For more information about that, read Wayne Hurlbert’s Promote With Press Releases.
Now the most important part of the contest begins, the follow-through. Remember, your contest is only a means of attracting people to your site. You still have to have something that will make visitors keep coming to your site. You need to follow-up with questions about your contest and continue to work toward making the contest as successful as possible. Keep in touch with your sponsors and anyone else involved through the very end. You want to make sure that you get feedback from everyone and hopefully have them around again next year for your next go at it.
So to summarize the process for creating a successful contest:
- Define your market niche
- Examine your existing resources for possibilities of contest prizes
- Define the contest rules and detail the specifics of the contest
- Gain sponsorship
- Promote offline
- Publicize the contest
- Follow through
In addition to contests, you may find that other forms of excitement generators work better for your market. You may find that a sweepstakes or raffle work better for what your web site provides.
You need to determine what category your idea falls under: contest, sweepstakes or raffle. But before deciding on the type of event you want to undertake, you should look into state and federal laws concerning the type of promotion you are setting up. The laws regarding each of those are different and vary from state to state and country to country. In some states, raffles are essentially the same as gambling and may require a permit or registration with the state before undertaking. The best advice is that if you have legal questions about your contest, sweepstakes or raffle, consult a lawyer who specializes in business law before starting.
A contest is a game of skill where the winner wins based on some level of performance. I’m running a contest on United Bands. That means that people submit something and a certain skill level is determined by experts in that field. The winner is picked based upon merit. There is nothing random about it. So if you have a site relating to software or web development, you could run a programming contest. A food-related web site could have a recipe contest. Remember if your contest will cost money to operate, you should charge an entry fee to offset that cost. If you don’t, you may find that you spend more money running the contest than what you earn in profits from the extra sales on your web site.
A sweepstakes is a random give-away from a pool of entrants. The Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes is a prime example. Everyone who sends in an entry form and possibly purchases some magazines has their entry placed into a pool. The winner is chosen randomly. There is no level of skill involved. Entries aren’t judged according to how well they can read or any other measurable skill. This is a sweepstakes. With a sweepstakes, you either need to have an excess of something that you stock or you need sponsors to donate a prize in exchange for the publicity. Since you cannot charge a fee to enter a sweepstakes, you must make certain that you can afford the cost of what you are giving away or have secured the proper sponsors.
A raffle has elements of both a contest and a sweepstakes but is unique in its own respect. Almost everyone has entered a community raffle where you purchase one or more tickets and a winner is picked from those entrants. Purchasing the ticket gives you a chance to win and the more tickets you buy the better your chances. It is similar to a contest in the sense that there is typically a fee to enter, but more like a sweepstakes since the winner is random.
With this in mind, it’s time to start your contest. Who knows, with this knowlede, you might just end up earning those million dollars after all!