Build Brand Buzz Through Contest Marketing

June 17, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

Contests are sexy. They give us something we all want. Brand buzz.

Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we want to be talked about. We want our customers to wake up thinking about us. We want to be charming, and alluring, and on the tip of their tongue. We want to get them hot and bothered. Because when you’ve teased someone to the point of explosion, you’re going to get them thinking and dreaming about you.  And then they’re going to go buzz to all their friends about it.

That’s the power of contest marketing. You get to grab their attention and keep it until you’re ready to let go.

One reason companies are so fond of contests is because it puts them in control of the terms. You get to decide when it starts, you decide what’s being offered up and you get to command their attention until you give them what they ultimately want – the prize. Make the prize juicy enough and they’ll stick around and wait for it all day. And while they’re waiting, you get a chance to make them fall madly in love with you. It’s genius. It’s marketing through contests.

But, of course, you can’t just throw up any old contest and expect it to work. A good contest takes some planning. Here are a few suggestions of things you’ll want to think about.

Coming up with the concept

The more time you spend planning your contest, the stronger it’s going to be. If you just launch the thing overnight with no thought involved, you’re gonna have no way to wrangle it in, take control and promote the living daylights out of it.   Before you do anything, you need to figure out what you want to get from your contest:

  • Increased brand awareness?
  • Email addresses?
  • RSS subscribers?
  • UGC content for your site?
  • More media content like photos, video and sound?

You know what I didn’t put on that list? Go ahead and read it again.

Links! Yes. I know you want links. However, links should NOT be the end goal of your contest. If that’s all your worried about, then you may start veering off into skuzzy areas. Focus on all the other things you can get from running a contest and let the links be the nice bow at the end. You’ll appreciate them more that way. So will Google.

brainstorm contest marketing ideasOnce you know what you want, start brainstorming ideas for fun things you can do to capture people’s attention and get them talking. Think crazy, but manageable. You want to be reasonably innovative here, so do give it some thought. You’re not going to get any attention creating a “me too” contest replicating something your competitors have already done. What’s going to work best for your target market? Are they tech savvy? Creative? If so, maybe a video contest. If not, maybe they have to write something an essay or share an experience they had with your brand? Perhaps they can create a mashup for you to put on your site? Caption a funny photo? You get to tell them.

You want to think long term, but don’t limit yourself. Just because you sell wedding dresses, doesn’t mean you can’t create a contest asking people to send you their most compelling reasons NOT to get married or the most outrageous “why I called off the wedding” story they’ve heard or a video of someone destroying their couture wedding dress. The idea is to associate your brand with something fun, engaging and creative.  It’s not to see how well you can fit inside your box.

Getting sponsors to donate prizes

Don’t skimp on prizes. You don’t have to spend thousands, but do make it something people actually want. The sexier the prize, the more teasing people will put up with to win it. I mean, it’s Dating 101.

If you’re a small business, you may not have the budget to offer up something really dreamy. If you can’t afford an exciting prize on your own, try and find sponsors to help you obtain it. If your contest has any type of charity or humanitarian angle, they may offer up something for free.  If not, try and work out another arrangement.  Barter services or come up with other ways for the sponsor to receive some publicity and attention.  Perhaps you’ll mention the sponsor each time you mention the contest (with a Google-approved nofollow’d link) or the winner will be encouraged to work in the sponsor’s name in the mashup they’re set to create.  A lot of times companies will simply donate merchandise to spread some goodwill and awareness for the brand.

Another great thing about getting sponsors is that you also start building your free promotional army.  This is key for turning your contest viral. The more people you can include in your contest, the more people who will naturally help you pimp it out.  By making themselves look good, they may you look good, as well. Marketing, win!

How Long Will It Run

time your contestHow long are you going to give yourself to create, maintain and take advantage of the buzz, keeping in mind that you’ll have to promote your contest for the entire length its running? How long can you handle it? How long will people put up with it?

Obviously, if you’re asking people to recall a past experience or to write a quick blog post, they won’t need as much time as if you’re asking them to create a video or some type of brand mashup. Consider all the elements involved with participating and then time accordingly. The best contests give people just enough time to do what you’re asking, without annoying them when the thing refuses to end. Remember when Rae was in the running for Startup Nation’s Leading Moms in Business contest? We love Startup Nation and we love Rae, but the voting for that thing stretched out over months. I’m just saying. I almost unfollowed Rae on Twitter. Then I’d remember she’d cut me in my sleep.

Creating Buzz

Creating a contest is great. Creating a contest that no one hears about because you failed to promote it, is not great.

Which outlets will you use to promote your contest and get people excited about it? Are you going to write a press release and then stick on your site? Maybe a single blog post?  That’s cute. What else are you going to do?

You’re going to elect a panel of judges for your contest. Judges that are well known in your industry and whose involvement will (a) get you more exposure and (b) ensure that you add to your free promotional army. If you get a bunch of bloggers to act as judges, you can bet your butt they’re going to blog and whore out their involvement on their own sites and in social media. They’re going to want to get something out of the association too.

You also want to take the promotion to Twitter. You want to talk about it on Facebook. You want to pass it around the relevant LinkedIn groups. You want to mention in local IRL groups. You want to create a high energy video on your site that announces the contest and is so full of excitement that people are practically tripping over themselves by the time it ends. Even if you can’t get them to enter, you at least want them to pass it around to their friends and talk about it.  You want to make the contest as enticing as you possibly can. The sexier it is, the more engaged people are going to be and the more they’re going to spread it FOR you. Getting people to do your head patting is what marketing is all about.

Using the attention

The contest is nice and your community will probably enjoy it. However, that’s really only half of what you’re after.

Right now you have everyone’s attention. You’re attracting a whole new audience and a different set of eyeballs as you create buzz around your contest. People who didn’t know you existed yesterday, are now suddenly interested. They’re clicking through the rest of your site to see what you’re about. They’re looking around, trying to get a feel for you. Use this time to be the sexiest you’ve ever been. This is where you make them fall in love with you and capture their hearts forever.  Huzzah!

While you’re in heavy promotion mode for your contests, you also want to be unleashing your best content. You want to be the best version of yourself you can be. You want to release your smartest posts, your greatest theories, and the stuff that makes you stand out in a positive light. Yes, chances are some of these people still won’t care and are just waiting for the prize, but a lot of them will. Now that you’re on their radar, they may subscribe to your blog (especially if that’s part of the contest rules…), they may start getting your email newsletter, etc. Think beyond just the contest and use the attention you’re getting right now to build your brand in the future. Harness it and bring people over to your camp.  This is something people DON’T do when they’re overly focused on links.

Announcing the winner


People have buzzed, they’ve participated, and they’ve fallen in love with you. How are you going to end this thing and finish it off? Are the judges picking the winner? Or maybe they’re narrowing it down to a small group of finalists and then you’ll let your audience pick? Will you use something like to pick a random number or maybe do it via Twiveaway? Your options are endless. And the questions never stop.

Once your winner is selected, how will your community be notified?

  • Via blog post?
  • Secret RSS message in your RSS feed?
  • Video post?
  • Twitter message?
  • Hot air balloon?
  • Sky writing?

I’ve always secretly admired the contests that Andy Beal does. Andy’s pretty  much the King of contest marketing in the SEO world. He’s been able to drive hoards of people to sign up to his RSS feed with nothing more than free Zunes and iPods. Right now he’s in the middle of this SEM Scholarship Contest. If you want to see some pro contest marketing in action, take a look at what he’s doing.

A properly run contest that is NOT based soley on links can offer huge results for your brand. You can create buzz, build RSS subscribers, and bring a whole lot of attention to what you’re doing. When it comes to contest marketing, use it wisely and white hat-ly.

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