No Contest, Online Contests Are Valuable

Like most online marketers, I’m always curious to find out how my clients’ target audiences spend their time online. An understanding of Internet users’ daily habits helps media planners determine how and where to reach them through advertising and may provide a good indication of which marketing programs appeal to them most.

While recently researching these statistics, I came across a study released by Jupiter Research (owned by this site’s parent company) identifying the top online activities among Internet users. The report said the top four activities were email, search engine searches, researching products and services, and gathering local information.

Coming in at number five on the list, with a 59 percent share of Internet users’ time, was an activity some may find surprising. According to the stats, participating in online contests and sweepstakes has become a very popular pastime for consumers, particularly women, for whom this activity ranked among the highest overall.

One could speculate the increasing consumer interest in this form of promotion is indicative of an increased number of contests being launched online. They’ve become an attractive method of marketing among advertisers — even consumer packaged goods companies, those behemoths of traditional advertising, have realized the value of this promotional tool.

Why the overwhelming interest? The benefits of running contests online are clear. First, they make amassing targeted consumer information a breeze. They create a positive consumer association with your brand by offering tangible rewards for the data volunteered. They can be incredibly effective at growing customer mailing lists, and they can help increase product sales. In addition to offering a grand prize, smart retailers provide entrants with product coupons and discounts to encourage repeat business and attract new customers to their stores.

Online contests are also a unique way to inform consumers of new products and services and generate interest in them. When a beauty company has a new face cream to launch, developing a contest to showcase it — and providing entrants with a chance to be among the first to try it — is a preferred method for generating excitement and getting the word on the street.

By the same token, contests are one of the best available methods for measuring how “viral” an advertiser’s customer base really is. By including a viral component in a contest (usually a refer-a-friend option), advertisers can determine the social makeup of their audience and ascertain whether other viral marketing techniques would prove useful in bolstering their brands.

The one disadvantage to running an online contest is the Web is already saturated with them. How can you make yours stand out? Offer an irresistible prize. Analyze your target audience and use whatever psychographic data you can get your hands on to come up with a prize your potential customers will truly desire.

If the logistics of offering the ideal prize are incompatible with your timetable or budget, consider one of the techniques currently being employed: Offer your entrants a cash prize while telling them exactly how to spend it.

One advertiser launched a contest for its target audience of busy mothers, for which the prize was a day of relaxation. The offering was to include a host of spa treatments, lunch with friends, a visit from a maid service, and a babysitter for the kids. When it became apparent coordinating so many services in the winner’s home city would be a logistical nightmare, the advertiser revised the contest copy. The winner was provided with $1,500 toward her dream day, allowing the advertiser to sidestep the need for hours of research and dozens of company checks.

When contest planning is complete and promoting it becomes the mandate of the day, it’s time to focus on media buying. The safest approach is to advertise with publishers that have driven qualified traffic for you in the past and those that can deliver your specialized audience. Avoid the temptation to try mass-market and generalized ad network placements — these will attract contest groupies and pollute your database with unqualified registrations.

Above all, make use of the free venues available to you by adding a promotional button to your client’s site and email newsletter. Having loyal consumers spread the word about your contest is one of the best ways to give it validity in the eyes of potential customers. A contest with legitimacy is a contest earmarked for success.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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