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Do contests work?

If you’re looking for a new way to get people to try your product or generate some buzz for your brand, a contest could be the ticket. But, before you jump in, here are some things to keep in mind.

Is there a connection?

Sure, people enjoy playing contests. But for a contest to pay off, it has to have a clear tie to your brand.

An excellent example of this is the Duck® brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest. This annual contest encourages teens to craft prom attire from Duck® brand duct tape. It started more than a decade ago to generate awareness for color and printed duct tape. The result? Millions of media impressions, ongoing social engagement, excellent user-generated content and hundreds of students buying and using Duck brand duct tape.

So, as you’re deciding whether to run a contest, think first about which specific goals you’d like to achieve.   

Start with goals

Let’s get a little more specific about establishing goals. This is always the most important part of any marketing initiative. What makes it tricky is that in a world where you can measure just about anything, how do you decide what’s important to measure? Again, it gets back to what you want to achieve.

Are you primarily after product trial? Then you’re going to want to set up a way to measure how many people in your contest buy or interact with your product—in the real world, or online. Or, maybe you’re more interested in broadening awareness for your brand. In which case, measures such as social engagement, media pickup, website visits or content downloads would make sense. The main lesson here is to make sure your contest is set up in a way that allows you to measure whether it’s effective at producing an outcome you’re interested in achieving.

Define your audience

Knowing your audience is key when developing the parameters of a contest. For example, if you’re trying to reach millennial consumers, a social media contest that involves uploading photos, sharing and using brand hashtags could be a hit. Conversely, if you’re trying to reach middle-aged contractors, your strategy may vary, since they’re likely using different mediums or technology. With contractors, a contest promoted through a top retailer or wholesaler may resonate more. The key is to play to your targets’ strengths and interests to ensure contest engagement.

Rules. Rules. Rules.

Working with your legal department is critical with any contest, as many states and countries differ in their contest laws. Plus, once your contest is up and running, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to adjust. (And you don’t want to deal with unhappy entrants!)

Inclusion = engagement

In some instances, your contest may not target consumer participation. And even if it does, not everyone will put forth the effort to enter, especially if it entails a lot of work. However, just because they can’t or won’t enter, doesn’t mean you can’t get consumers involved and engaged in your contest.

Here’s an example: FrogTape® brand painter’s tape hosts an annual Paintover Challenge contest that tasks social media influencers to make over a room using the company’s tape product and incorporating one of the top design trends. While the contest is only open to this small group of design bloggers, the brand drives consumer participation through voting.

Voting is an excellent way to increase engagement – especially via social media. Providing consumers with a simple way to get involved – and to have a say in the outcome – generates new interest to spread your message.

If you promote it, they will come

For your contest to be a success, your audiences need to know about it. This is especially important for a brand-new contest since you’re starting from scratch with both your target audience of entrants and the media who may promote it.

Build out a communications plan to support the full timeline of your contest, (i.e. announcement, entry period, voting period, winner’s announcement) to broaden your story’s reach and lengthen the contest’s relevancy.

Don’t be afraid to look beyond traditional media relations and advertising. Depending on your audience, you may partner with a social media influencer to target a larger potential fan base, use your own social media channels, or it may it may require some paid social or retailer support to gain traction. Planning for how you’ll promote the contest each step of the way will help ensure overall success.

The power of the prize

When determining your contest prize(s), it should be substantial or unique enough to catch someone’s attention and get them to act. Whether you’re trying to get more people involved in your contest or looking for wide media coverage, the prize may affect the outcome.

Measure, measure, measure

When the contest is complete, review your goals for the campaign. If your KPI was to increase web traffic, check Google Analytics. If you wanted 2,000 votes or 100 entrants, tally them up to see if you hit your mark. Having established these KPIs up front will determine what worked, what didn’t and if a contest should remain in your marketing toolbox.

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Jenny Bahun

Account Manager

Jenny is an award-winning public relations professional with more than 10 years of experience. She started her career at Falls as an intern, left for the sunnier skies of Miami but eagerly returned to the agency to work on and lead multiple accounts across a variety of industries.