Allow me to let you in on a powerful, little secret: Contests are not just about giving away free swag. Contests provide an effective marketing opportunity and help you build a community of invested and motivated members.

If you’re like most businesses, you haven’t considered contests as a serious part of your marketing strategy, but you should. We’ll discuss why contests are marketing miracles, especially for SaaS. Then, what follows is a guide to getting started with contests, including what you need to know to kill it.

Here’s a list of 7 companies you can use to run your contest with.

What are the Benefits of Contests?

Before we dive into the guide, let’s take a closer look at why contests are so beneficial to your brand.

Contests increase brand awareness – Whether you have a fledgling brand or you’ve been at this for a while, contests help build awareness for your brand. New people, who’ve never heard of your product or services before, will be introduced to you when they come across your sweepstakes or user generated contest.

Contests give you an opportunity to reward your customers – Your customers rock. You want to show your appreciation, but you can’t shower all of your customers with epic gifts– unless you’re Oprah.

As a non-Oprah, you can at least provide some of your customers with a token of your appreciation, and then have them compete for the win Hunger Games style. I’m joking about that last bit.

Contests have the potential to reach viral status – For those of you obsessed with going viral, contests are the easiest way to make it happen. Most contests have a built-in referral aspect, and spread like wildfire on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Contests showcase your product – Have a new product coming out? What better way to launch than with a contest? It allows you to bring awareness to your new product while showing it off. In a contest that promotes a launch, the prize will naturally be the product.

Contests provide customer testimonials – Build up your social proof by collecting customer testimonials as part of your contest. You can then incorporate these testimonials into future marketing campaigns and integrate them into your website.

Contests prompt you to interact with your adoring public – Show that you’re a brand of the people. Contests give you an opportunity to speak directly to your customers whether you’re thanking customers for entering the contest, encouraging them to share the contest with others, or fielding questions.

Contests are cheap to produce – While they’re not free, contests are a cost effective way of marketing your brand. You’re delighting customers (but current and prospective) and you’re building awareness at the same time.

Start With a Goal in Mind

As with all things marketing, you must begin with a goal in mind.

Before you pass “go”, let’s discuss the goal for your contest. The goal of creating a contest is not to just gather fans. Although that’s a nice ego boost, it doesn’t do much for your bottom line.

Repeat after me: I’m not gathering fans, I’m gathering leads.

The shift is subtle but important. Too often, businesses go into contests as a way to get more likes on their Facebook page. Likes don’t equal dollars.

Instead, your focus should be on building relationships– getting prospective customers to actively engage with your brand and not letting go of that connection. The first step may be entering the contest by signing up for your email list. The next step should be you connecting with them consistently via email, and sending resources that help them see the continued value of staying on your email list. Eventually, you can convert that lead into a customer. This relationship building strategy is a lot more powerful than targeting Facebook likes.

That said, the goal of your contest may not be to build your email list. Perhaps you’re targeting people who are already on your email list. Then, the contest isn’t about recruiting email subscribers, it’s about engaging them.

Perhaps you want to collect testimonials or user generated content that you can use for marketing purposes. Or you want to encourage your subscribers or customers to refer others to you. Or you want to build excitement (and get pre-orders) for a new product launch.

It’s still about gathering leads.

Choose the Right Prize

Remember how I said that contests are cheap to produce? Here’s why:

It’s all about the prize.

Believe it or not, the ideal prize for your contest is not a free iPad. It’s not an Xbox, either. Or an all expenses paid trip to Tahiti.

Sure, those prizes will draw a crowd. And sure, that seems like the whole point. But if you give away a universally adored (but hopelessly generic) prize, you’ll reduce the effectiveness of your contest.

Don’t choose a prize based solely on its power to bring in the most people.

Instead, choose your own product or service as the prize. It won’t bring in everybody and their mama, but it will bring in the people who are actually interested in your product. You’ll have a smaller crowd, but the people in this crowd will be more valuable to you because they’ll be easier to convert.

Another benefit of choosing your product for the prize? Cost. It’s probably a lot cheaper to give away your own product or service than it is to buy someone else’s product.

Besides, in a contest, you’re promoting your own company, but someone else’s. IT makes complete sense to choose a prize from your own inventory.

However, there are times when it makes sense to partner up with another SaaS that shares a similar customer base. You can then each donate products/ services to create a prize bundle. This strategy may extend your marketing reach because both you and the other company will advertise the contest to your respective marketing channels. This type of contest partnership works great when you’ve just started building your customer base.

Lower the Barrier for Entry

There are few things more frustrating than a contest that asks for too much information. For a simple contest where the odds are not in my favor, I’m not interested in sharing my private information, such as address, phone number, or blood type.

Don’t force your customers to answer too many questions on your contest entry form. It’s discouraging and will limit the number of entries you receive. Ideally, start with the bare minimum– name and email address. Then, you can offer additional entries for filling out more information.

Incentivize Sharing

You don’t just want to reach one person, you want to reach their spheres of influence, too. In other words, you want to get that person to share your contest with other people.

An effective way to encourage sharing is to give more entries if they share your contest with others. Or, if you’re running a referral contest, make it a numbers game. Announce to your entrant that the more people who sign up through their specific code (that you’ll provide), the greater the chance of winning.

Advertise Your Contest

Contests are a form of marketing, but they don’t market themselves– at least not initially. You’ll need to promote your contest to raise awareness for it. But rest assured that your contest will take on a life of its own, and reach further than your ad dollars could take it.

However, you need to ignite the match. One of the easiest, most effective, and cheapest ways to do this is through social media marketing. Facebook ads, in particular, can reach up to one billion people– but you won’t need to market to nearly that many people. The beauty of Facebook ads is in segmentation. With Facebook, you can target people who are already familiar with your brand (for example, they’ve visited your website within the last 30 days) or people who are similar to your best customers. You can segment your ads by all sorts of demographics to reach the very people you deem as quality leads.

But of course, social media isn’t the only place to advertise. Don’t forget to use your website to announce and push visitors to your contest. You can create banners, pop-ups, and blog posts that spread the message.

The inbox is also a good place to advertise your contest. Announce the contest to your email subscribers, and encourage them to sign up and invite a friend.

Follow Up After the Contest

Last, but certainly not least, make sure that everyone who signs up for your contest gets something out of it. Not everyone will win the prize, but everyone can be a winner. For example, you can provide a time-sensitive coupon code or special offer that’s exclusive to contest entrants. They can then buy the prized product at a discount. It’s a consolation prize that converts leads into customers! It turns out that you’re a winner, too.

Related Posts

Before you go, check out these additional resources:

Don’t forget to download this list of 7 companies you can use to run a contest with.

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