Approximately 42.5 million people enter online sweepstakes every year and millions more participate in SMS and social media contests. In fact, contests and games are the most popular brand tactic used to grow followers and fans in the social media space. Twenty-four percent of the U.S. online audience play branded social games at least once a month with 68.7 million U.S. consumers expected to regularly play branded games of chance by 2012. (ComScore)
Contests, games, and sweepstakes are a key component of the social media marketing movement because they target specific demographic segments, cross diverse brand categories easily, and — most importantly — provide a measurable return on investment while creating meaningful engagement with consumers.
Here are the top five tips for success in online promotions.
#1 CLEAR OBJECTIVES
When developing an online promotion make sure your promotional objectives are clear. A promotion designed to generate trial of a new product, for instance, is not necessarily the right promotion for long-term loyalty, while a program to drive opt-in email registrations may require a different set of parameters. Baseline metrics should be established at the outset so that the right type of promotion is employed and performance can be quantified.
#2 ENGAGING EXPERIENCE THAT IS PRIZE APPROPRIATE
Online promotions should engage participants with immersive branded experiences that resonate and should be more than just a blatant prize pitch. While prizes are an important component of any online promotion, they should support the overarching brand objective while appealing to the target demographic and involving visitors. Whether it is user generated content, an interactive game mechanic, or even just the ability to select from among available prizes, always make visitors part of the experience when structuring your program.
You also want to make sure the prize fits both your target audience and your brand. You may want to consider multiple prizes and even discounts, giving participants the feeling they have a real chance of winning something. For instance, Woman Within – a leading online retailer- recently launched a “Tee Time” advergame on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/womanwithin?v=app_4949752878 that utilized an escalating discount feature. The higher your score, the greater your discount for Woman Within apparel. Simple, yet effective.
Don’t forget to make it fun! Don’t just put out a sweepstakes, give-a-way or contest. Consider your target audience. What do they like. How do they behave online? What would they be likely to participate in? This is true for the type of promotion as well as the prizes.
#3 TIMING AND BUZZ-BUILDING
Your contest or sweepstakes should have a clear beginning and end. The internet is the land of instant gratification so making the promotional event too long could have diminishing returns and lessen buzz around the promotion. On the other hand, you want to allow enough time to effectively promote the contest or sweepstakes and allow for others to share and respond.
Regarding buzz, you can make your interactive promotion viral by leveraging the power of the internet to exponentially grow the reach of your promotion. Tell-a-friend components, plug-ins such as Facebook Connect, integrated Twitter feeds, and more turn online promotions into natural lead generators.
Don’t forget to leverage the PR opportunities! Once winner affidavits of eligibility and liability releases secured, award prizes publicly and turn it into an event. This will not only continue the buzz around the promotion, but people want to know who won, what they won and why they won. Depending on the prize, you may be able to leverage the winner’s enthusiasm in social media sites by encouraging them to talk about their experience and win. This also reassures participants that prizes were awarded. Dairy Queen, for example, recently wrapped up a video contest in which six lucky winners won a MINI Cooper http://www.dairyqueen.com/us-en/mini/ . Instead of just giving the cars away, the vehicles will be awarded to the winners at local restaurants to engage local media and leverage the promotional “after-effect”.
# 4 KNOW THE TYPES OF PROMOTIONS AND SELECT WISELY
There are very subtle and very important differences between online “sweepstakes,” “games” and “contests.” Brands must ensure they choose the best option to fit their marketing goals, audience behaviors, desired engagement, and that their online promotion is structured to comply with the various laws surrounding games of chance.
Online Sweepstakes generally have two principal components: (1) a registration component and (2) a drawing element for prizes (daily, weekly, monthly or at the end of the program). Interactive elements can be incorporated into the Sweepstakes to create rich user experiences with branded elements but no skill is required by the entrant.
Online Games are generally a variation of a sweepstakes; however, they require a perceived element of skill to engage participants at a deeper level. Share-it features are often integrated to spread the reach of the promotion. They are sometimes referred to as “Instant Win Games”.
Online Contests are not generally games of chance. Unlike a Sweepstakes or a Game, they require entrants to exhibit a degree of skill (make a video, submit a photo, write an essay, etc.) that must be graded by a panel of judges using an established criteria set forth in the Official Rules. Contests typically require the deepest level of brand engagement.
#5 LEGAL, LIABILITY AND LOGISTICS/PLATFORMS
Pay close attention to the development to official rules, privacy policies, prize sourcing/fulfillment, consumer affairs, winner handling/notification, and more because there are a host of issues that must be carefully managed. There are also a number of legal considerations to consider so it’s best to engage a professional firm with proven experience in online games, contests, and sweepstakes to help you structure an online promotion that is in compliance with federal and state regulations.
In fact, on March 8, 2011, the FTC released its list of Top Consumer Complaints areas for 2010. The category of “Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries” had 64,085 complaints, accounting for five percent of all complaints the FTC received, most having to do with brands not following or understanding their outlined rules and regulations. Some areas to be mindful of include:
• Laws surrounding Games of Chance
• State requirements for bonding and registration of Games of Chance
• Judging criteria for contests
• Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) -for Under 13’s
• Intellectual property rights and patents
• Regulated industries
• International laws for programs that cross national borders
Brand promotions are increasingly consumed on-the-go, so you want to consider the most relevant platforms for your core audience. Designing and building promotional campaigns that are three-screen friendly and are ideally platform agnostic will deliver the widest audience. In terms of mobile, for example, programs should provide a full experience regardless of the underlying operating system to increase reach and drive conversions.
In summary, here are several key points about interactive and online promotions to keep in mind as you move forward:
• Online promotions are flexible. They can exist as stand alone programs or as bolt-on features to wider integrated campaigns.
• They accomplish a wide variety of marketing objectives.
• When compared to other marketing solutions, they are cost effective, can typically be launched at a fraction of other programs, and are natural lead generators.
• Make sure your promotional objectives are clear when considering an online promotion and that metrics for measuring the success of a program are considered prior to execution.
• Engage a promotion firm with proven experience developing online games, contests, and sweepstakes to ensure that all technical, logistical, and legal considerations are addressed.