Warning: Are You Making These 11 Mistakes With Your Giveaways, Sweepstakes and Contests?


When exploring new opportunities, marketers tend to land on sweepstakes, giveaways, or contests as tactics to quickly help grow their audience. In doing so, many set their expectations too high assuming that giving something away for free will generate amazing results for their company.

This isn’t always the case though. Many businesses run sweepstakes and contests with high hopes, but their promotions end up falling short of the expected outcome. In turn, this leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth and they avoid running them again.

Here are 11 ways your marketing campaign may fail, and what you can do to increase your chances of running a successful promotion.

1. Requiring signup

The dreaded sign up form -- something people hate to fill out, especially because they may not be familiar with your business yet and you’re already asking them to sign up for your site. This can work if done correctly and the right incentives are in place, but if you make people jump through too many hoops, they will bounce from the page.

If you’re going to require people to sign up to enter your giveaway, I suggest running an A/B test to see how it performs. Send 50% of your traffic to version A where people sign up and then are able to enter the giveaway, and send 50% of your traffic to Version B where people can enter the giveaway and then are prompted to sign up.

If you want, you can test a Version C where you just send people directly to the giveaway and they are not asked to sign up for your site at all. Compare the results from all 3 to see which variation works best for your business.

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2. People don’t know how to enter

A confusing entry process is one of the main reasons why your promotion may fail, and you might not even know it! Keep in mind, if you put your promotion together, then you’ll understand how to enter. However, if it isn’t a straightforward entry process, people might not understand what they have to do to participate, which will cause a drop in entries.

To avoid any confusion, send your promotion out to a few people to test it before it goes live. If everyone is able to enter without having any questions about what they need to do, then you’ve set it up correctly. If people are coming back to you asking questions about the entry process, that should be a huge red flag that needs to be addressed before the promotion goes live.

Here’s a great example of a promotion where people may be confused on what they need to do to enter. While the creative looks great, it provides 4 steps that people need to complete in order to enter. However, it doesn’t provide information such as the official rules, or even how the winners will be picked. In addition, there are several tasks to complete just to enter, but even if those tasks are completed, how are you supposed to know you’ve been entered?

2) People Don’t Know How to Enter

A few things can be tweaked with this promotion to make it much more effective. First, they could collect entrants information by hosting this promotion off of Pinterest. For example, they could place this graphic on their site, and below it include fields to ask for a name, email address, and the Pinterest board link. On that page they would also include their official rules. These few small tweaks would help to increase the entry rate, while minimizing any confusion that people may have about how the promotion is to be conducted.

Remember, the landing page for your promotion should be as clear as possible to make it easy for the end user to complete the action that you want them to take. If there is no clear call-to-action that you want the user to take, they make get lost or frustrated and close the page.

Receiving feedback before your promotion goes live is essential. If people review your promotion and they don’t immediately understand the action that they need to take in order to enter, then you need to make adjustments.

3. The barrier to entry is too high

This is one of the biggest reasons why a promotion fails to meet expectations. If the barrier to entry is too high, it means that either your entry process is too long and requires too much information or the requirements necessary to enter take too much time to complete.

For example: If you’re running a sweepstakes giving away a $100 Amazon gift card, and you ask the entrants to provide their name, address, phone number, and email address…that might be a bit much. Keep it simple. Ask for just an email address and you’ll see the number of entries skyrocket.

If you’re running a video contest, keep in mind that the number of entries will be very small compared to the number of entries you will get with a sweepstakes. A video takes time and effort to plan and shoot, but if the prize is good enough (and you have a loyal community) you can end up with some really amazing results with a video contest.

Facebook login is also another common barrier. Some people don’t use Facebook or, more likely, they don’t want to allow access to all of their information through Facebook login. If you are using Facebook login with your promotion, be sure to provide an alternative entry method.

If people will be required to enter a lot of information, try testing a few different variations to see which works best for your business. If you break up the promotion into smaller steps, it will make it less scary for the end user. Here is a great example of this being done correctly:

3) The Barrier to Entry is Too High

After entering your email address, you are asked to complete the form to enter.

3) The Barrier to Entry is Too High

The great thing about this is, if people bounce from the second page, an email address was still collected so they can contact people again and encourage them to enter. If this entire form was put in front of someone without asking for an email address up front, the conversion rate would be much lower, and the bounce rate would be higher.

A large majority of the time though, you really only need a name and email address. If you need a shipping address, you can contact the winner at the end of the promotion to get that information.

4. The prize isn’t right

The prize that you give away can have a huge impact on the performance of your promotion. If the prize does not align properly with the audience that you’re targeting, your promotion will under perform. Do you think an athlete would prefer to win some new athletic shoes or a free large pizza?

When choosing a prize, ask yourself if the prize is a strong value proposition. If the prize is of extremely low value, or it is not attractive enough to your target audience, then people won’t be interested and they won’t take their time to enter.

In order to create a strong value proposition, the prize needs to relate to your business and it has to be something customers will care about. If it is too specific to your business or pandering too much to the customer’s desires, your promotion will not perform as well as you may be hoping.

Here’s a great post on how to come up with a strong value proposition.

5. Poor marketing

Marketing your sweepstakes or contest is just as important as building it and adding all the bells and whistles. One of the main reasons why promotions fail is because the marketing was poorly planned or executed. Posting on your Facebook and Twitter page one time is not enough; you should be sending out emails, encouraging people to share, and communicating the message multiple times to your target audience.

You need to have a target market that you are trying to reach with your promotion; otherwise you can end up getting sucked into the shotgun approach—trying to get anyone and everyone to enter. This is another reason why your promotion can fail: you marketed it to the wrong audience.

The last thing you want to do is build up a list of 1,000 leads where those leads are all freebie seekers who don’t care about your business or what it is that you sell. Set up your marketing plan before your promotion goes live, so you know exactly where you’ll be promoting it when you flip the switch. It’s easier to set a goal and work backwards from that goal to determine how to market the promotion. You can learn how to set goals and market your promotion using The Advanced Guide To Sweepstakes.

6. Poor timing

Before launching your giveaway, check the calendar. Are there any major events or holidays coming up that will conflict with your promotion?

Avoid scheduling the launch of your promotion on the days of major events (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Super Bowl weekend, etc) where people may be away from the computer or on vacation.

7. Incompatibility across different platforms

The number one thing you should do before you flip the switch and start driving traffic to your promotion is TEST, TEST, TEST!

This means test the promotion on all the major web browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and even Opera) and on mobile and tablet devices. Don’t just test to see if the page looks good - you need to go through the entire entry process and make sure it works. Sometimes a promotion will fail because people simply cannot enter!

Also, do not neglect your promotion when it comes to mobile. Over 1.2 billion people access the web from their mobile devices and global mobile traffic now accounts for 15% of all Internet traffic. Mobile is big, and it is only going to get bigger, so don’t ignore it!

8. Poor follow-up

While your actual promotion may have received many entries, it can still fail in the long-run if you do not properly follow up with the people who entered. You want to form a relationship with the people who entered your promotion, so the last thing you should do in your first email is try and go for the hard sell. Doing this can result in many un-subscribes and spam complaints.

A much better approach with your first email is to thank people for entering, announce the winners, and provide a consolation prize (like a coupon or discount) for those who didn’t win. The goal with the first email is to start building a relationship, and once that relationship is formed over time, you can slowly turn those people into customers.

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9. Unrealistic goals

While your promotion may not have failed in hindsight, it still could have been a failure in your mind if the goals you initially set for it were unrealistic.

If you run a small business, thinking that a single sweepstakes can bring you 50,000 entries and 10,000 Facebook likes is pushing the boundaries of realistic expectations. Sure, it can happen if your value proposition and marketing is on point, but it’s very unlikely. While it never hurts to aim for the stars, set goals that are realistic which you know can achieve. It’s much better to set realistic goals and surpass them, than to set unrealistic goals and become bummed out when things don’t go as planned. You can always take the experience from your first giveaway and raise expectations the second and third time around.

Here’s a great story on how HubSpot set unrealistic goals for one of their promotions and had to pull the plug.

10. Hosted on the wrong platform

If your goals are to get more traffic to your website and increase your email subscribers, then it isn’t a good idea to host your promotion on a platform like Facebook. If you don’t take your goals into consideration when choosing the hosting location for your promotion, it can have a negative effect on the outcome.

When you decide to run a sweepstakes or contest, choose the platform which meshes best with your goals. Usually, hosting the promotion on your website is the best choice, as you can grow all of your social channels from your own website using the right app.

11. The duration wasn’t right

Choosing the right start and end dates can have a major impact on how many people enter your promotion. If you don’t run it for long enough, not enough people will get a chance to enter and if you run it for too long it can start to drag on.

The sweet spot is usually around 2-4 weeks for the length of a promotion. This is just enough time to have all of your marketing kick in, but not too long that it starts to drag on and people begin to complain. Feel free to experiment with this; we have seen some companies execute well with daily giveaways. 2-4 weeks is a solid staple to start with.

About the author: Giancarlo Massaro is the Co-Founder of ViralSweep, the easiest way to build and run a sweepstakes right on your website.

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