We see a surge of contests and sweepstakes at certain times of year as small businesses get creative with their promotions for different holidays or seasons.
Are contests or sweepstakes a good idea? Yes, they can be great!
Are they easy and problem-free? Unfortunately, no, not always.
But you can get some pro tips here. One of our team members worked for a sweepstakes company that ran promotions for brands like Tyson Foods, Entenmann’s, Wendy’s and others. She offered some insight on how to run a successful promotion and mistakes to avoid.
How to run a successful contest or sweepstakes
Here are top tips from someone who’s worked for a professional sweepstakes company.
1. Set a goal
Seems obvious, right? But it’s THE #1 step that many forget or do half-heartedly.
We all want to get attention and increase sales, but how? Are you going to collect participant emails and add them to your list for lead nurturing? Do you want to build excitement on social media and increase your fan base? Do you want them to answer a question about their need for your service? All of these things are possible, but you want to focus on ONE goal for a better chance at success.
2. Choose a prize
This is the fun part – choosing something fun and/or valuable to give away.
But choose wisely. The trendy product of the moment isn’t always the best choice. Apple iPads used to be a prize favorite, but it often had nothing to do with the business and its goals.
Choose a prize that aligns with your business and the needs of your customers instead.
Some prize ideas:
- Your product or an item that complements your product.
- A year’s worth of your product or 12 monthly vouchers for service.
- An experience that features your product or service (IKEA offered an overnight sleepover party with movies at one of its stores, for example).
- A gift certificate for your product or service.
- Meeting a local celebrity to receive their prize of your product/service.
There are many, many options. Just think of your product/service and how it aligns with what your ideal customer likes to have or do.
3. Contest or sweepstakes?
Believe it or not, the two terms aren’t interchangeable. They’re very different.
A contest is a game of skill. Entries are judged and the winning entry is chosen based on skill or merit. Examples include a photo or essay contest where the best entry wins.
A sweepstakes is a game of chance. Participants submit their information to enter and the winner is chosen randomly. An example is an auto dealer’s sweepstakes during a car show, where a random winner is chosen to win a car.
Decide which one will work best for your goals, your audience and even your platform. Sweepstakes are easier to run in-store or at events, for instance, and both do well on social media.
4. Plan it out
Give yourself up to 6 weeks for pre-planning, receiving entries and post-promotion wrap-up. Here are a few things to consider:
- Decide how you’ll collect entries and if you’ll need software to help. Apps like Woobox, Wishpond, ShortStack and Heyo can make it easier.
- What kind of graphic artwork and writing will you need to promote this? Build in the time needed to get these creative pieces together.
- How long will you accept entries? A few days is too short and doesn’t bring the best results. We suggest 1 to 2 weeks for a small business sweepstakes and 2 or more weeks for a contest, depending on how much work the entries will need.
- If running a contest, how will you judge it? While fan voting sounds fun, it’s open to fraud and vote farming. Instead, use voting to choose semi-finalists, then judge for the final winner.
5. Create Official Rules
Yes, you DO need Official Rules, even for a small business promotion. You really want to protect your company since sweeps and contests are regulated at both state and federal levels. Not to mention potential issues with a participant.
Think nothing will happen? Imagine choosing a winner and finding out they’re only 13 years old. Or finding that the winner lives in another country. Or what if someone thinks they should have won your contest, but didn’t, and accuse you (loudly and falsely) of rigging the contest?
These things have happened and being able to point to your rules can protect you.
6. It’s “go” time
This is when the excitement builds. Once the promotion starts, react to your fans and monitor entries closely. If you feel like you’re not getting enough entries, promote a little more than you had planned. During the holidays it can be especially hard to get attention.
7. And the winner is…
Have you chosen a winner? Before you announce them, make sure they fully qualify! This involves contacting them privately to ensure they’re of legal age, live in the US (or locally), and satisfy any other requirements you have. Professional sweepstakes companies even get a liability release and tax documents signed (if the prize is over $600) before announcing the winner.
Once you’re sure, announce the winner in all media channels. This assures fans you fulfilled your promise to award the prize and also gives you a chance for a last promotional push.
8. Fulfill the prize and assess results
Your work isn’t over once the prize goes out. Every type of promotion should end with an assessment and this one’s no different. It’s the only way to see if your business won its own prize – reaching its goal. Did you grow your email list, boost your fan base or increase awareness or sales the way you’d hoped? Take note now to decide if this promotion is worth running again in the future or if it needs some adjustments.
The Don’ts or Mistakes to avoid
Now that we’ve mentioned what you should do, here are a few things to avoid.
- Not having Official Rules – This is the biggest mistake that can hurt you in the end. As sweepstakes attorney Sarah Hawkins says, “Official Rules aren’t really there for when things go right, they’re there for when things go wrong.” Some contest apps offer a basic template, but we suggest hiring an attorney like Sarah to look over your Official Rules.
- Not sending the prize, or changing the prize/rules after a promotion started – If you only get 1 entry, do you still need to award the prize? YES! Consider it a lesson learned and see how you can do better next time, but you must fulfill your public promise to award a prize. Also, no changing the prize or rules once you start collecting entries.
- Not following rules for promotions on social media sites – Did you know Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and others each have their own rules? Most involve making a statement releasing them of responsibility or liability. See Facebooks’s guidelines here.
Sweepstakes and contests are always fun to host. We hope these tips will help you avoid any missteps while you shoot for the best results.
If you need help running your next promotion, get in touch.