8 Steps to Creating an Effective Contest Marketing Strategy

May 9, 2019

How to Create an Effective Contest Marketing Strategy that Drives Growth and Value All Year Around

Are you using sweepstakes, contests, or giveaways to generate leads for your business?

Contest marketing isn’t a new development. From raffles seen inside retail locations to sweepstakes on the bag of a Dorito’s to viral Instagram giveaways, contest marketing has always been an effective tool and will continue to do so as we transition to a higher focus on digital contesting.

The sustained popularity of contests has remained strong for very simple reasons:

  • It’s a great way to generate buzz around your brand and products
  • They help to build a relationship with your customers in a fun, interactive way
  • They create an opportunity to capture contact info for future marketing promotion

Despite the shifted popularity to contests on social and digital, many companies still approach them in the wrong way.

The Wrong Way To Run Contests

You want leads or followers, so you put together a contest haphazardly. Your team picks a prize, sets some rules, and presses go.

Once the contest ends you have a bunch of new leads and followers, but no distinct understanding of what happens next.

Do you have an understanding of the people who entered the contest? Are they qualified to be customers or just people who wanted to win? How did the contest perform on each different promotion channel? How do you measure the sales impact? Did you set up a clear path to conversion beforehand?

A successful contest marketing strategy needs to move past the idea of just building up your list and followers. There needs to be a clear synchronization between your overall marketing strategy and how your contests fit into driving visits, press, social media exposure, SEO, and conversion.

Contest marketing often is isolated from the overall marketing strategy and happens on a whim. To truly maximize success in this arena, it’s important to think about contest marketing over a 12-month phase, rather than one-off events.

Why create a contest marketing strategy?

Creating a contest marketing strategy will help your team understand how this integrates into the bigger picture of your annual marketing strategy rather than one-off events.

It will help you fulfill not just a consistent lead generator, but an opportunity to unlock user-generated content, social media exposure, press, website visitors, sales and valuable consumer insights that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain.

“Your customer is on a journey with your brand and not a one-time event. A contest marketing strategy helps you hit important milestones every step of the way.”

Here are some benefits of creating a contest marketing strategy:

  • It helps your team visualize the entire journey of ways you will interact and reward your customers
  • You can prepare a strategy in advance designed to fulfill a variety of KPIs
  • Your customers can expect consistency and it gives them something to look forward to
  • It ensures proper budget allocations are in place
  • It can be consistently measured so you can improve and adapt from month-to-month

Now that you know it’s important, you may be wondering where do you start?

Step One - Understand your ideal audience


The most common concern we hear from clients is, “how do I know I will be getting potential customers and not just people who want to win free stuff?”

Anyone can create a contest to drive leads, but it’s critical that those leads are your ideal audience and people who can actually become one of your customers if they aren’t already.

You have to know in advance who your customer is. This is not a back-of-the-napkin process. Data is essential. This requires you to build a buyer persona before even thinking about the broader strategy involved.

This includes things like your customer's demographics, interests, problems, goals, and online activity.

Here is an example of Dove’s #InMyOwnSkin campaign. It’s easy to tell exactly what type of demographic they are trying to attract because they understand their buyer persona.

Step 2 - Establish KPIs, Budget, and Resource Allocation

This is one of the biggest hurdles our clients face when we first start to shape their contest marketing strategy. They don’t have a clear understanding of the goals, budget, and the resources required to put this in place.

Without a clear vision of where this leads to, it’s hard to know what to do with it. What are the KPIs that you want to achieve from a contest? This needs to be quantifiable.

Next is the budget. It takes more than just creating the contest. It requires promotion. It requires prizing. What budget are you going to outline for each contest you are running throughout the 12-month period to promote it? KPIs should be in-sync with the budget you have in mind.

Who is involved and what will it take to make this happen? What teams and resources within your organization will need to contribute to making sure this is a success?

By aligning the KPIs, budget, and resources, you’ll have crystal clear understanding of what this will take to run a successful contest marketing strategy through the year.

Step 3 - Planning Frequency and Contest Strategy

Once you have an understanding of your buyer persona, KPIs, budget, and resources required, you can start to think about the frequency and overall contest strategy.

Frequency will depend on the type of contests you are running. People can get burned out from contest overload, so it’s important to understand your cadence in advance.


Above is an example from Fragrance.com. They have a lightbox contest incorporated into their site. Every month, they do a drawing for a $250 gift card for their brand. A contest like this is simple to manage and execute, has a single KPI in mind (gather emails), and can be easily executed once a month without burning out your customers.


On the other hand, contests that are more in-depth may only require a frequency of once per quarter.

For example, Chipotle ran a wildly successful campaign with a Venmo integration. People gave Chipotle their cell phone number and every day they send between $1-$500 to your Venmo, no strings attached.

A contest of this nature requires serious promotion, budget, and resources for successful execution. This is the reason why frequency and strategy need to be strategized at the same time.

An understanding of your strategy will help your team to determine the frequency of the contests that you are going to run throughout the year.

Planning ahead also helps you to think about key events that happen during the course of 12 months. This is where understanding your buyer persona can come in handy. Perhaps your customers are predominantly male fathers. In this case, it would only make sense to coordinate a contest with Father’s Day.

Maybe you have a new product launch in August. In this case, it would make sense to plan a contest to launch in-sync with that to generate additional buzz and sales. This is one of the many benefits of planning your contesting strategy and frequency over the course of a year.

Step 4 - Choose Your Contest Prizing

The next step is to come up with the relevant prizes and offers you are going to give to your customers through your contests.

This may appear simple at first glance, but it requires some forethought to get right and increase your chances of successful contest outcomes.

A few elements to think about when you are considering contest prizing:

  • What is something your customers will perceive as high-value
  • What prizes are aligned with your products and services
  • What will capture the essence of the contest you want them to participate in

It’s important to take your time and make sure you consider the points above. For example, if you are a parenting magazine, it probably wouldn’t make sense to give away front row seats to a professional baseball game.

It’s not required that your product or service is given away during the contest, but make sure it complements or aligns what you are trying to sell.

This example from Practical Parenting, a magazine publication for parents, let their audience pick the prize they wanted to win when entering their contest.

This is a great example of a company that considered all of the above when determining the prize for their contest.

Step 5 - Define the contest type and structure

You understand your buyer, KPIs, budget, resources, high-level strategy, frequency and prizes. Now it’s time to think about the contest types you will be running and how they are going to be structured.

There are a plethora of different types of contests you can run:

  • Share and win - Enter and share with friends
  • UGC (User-Generated Content) - Submit a video or photo with a specific set of parameters
  • Voting/Polls - Vote on something
  • Surveys - Take a survey
  • Challenges - Complete a set of actions or challenges
  • Essay / Story - A text submission, either a story or an essay of some sort
  • Instant Win - Everybody wins a prize of some sort by participating
  • Giveaway - Enter by email, SMS, or FB messenger for a chance to win

These aren’t necessarily standalone contests. For example, a sharing incentive can be placed inside of every contest, and it’s something we always incorporate for our clients regardless of the contest structure that they choose.

These contest structures can be utilized to fulfill different KPIs. Perhaps you want customer insights on certain products, a poll or a survey can be a great contest to run. Maybe you are looking to garner content that you can recycle on your social media and digital assets, a UGC would be a great campaign to run. Perhaps you have a coupon offer you want to get in as many hands as possible, an instant win would be a great avenue.

It’s important to consider the different KPIs you want to achieve during this step. What you want to accomplish will be a motivating factor in the types of contests you choose for your program.

Step 6 - Establish rules & regulations

This is a very important step that can not be overlooked. When running contests, you are required to have certain rules and regulations that outline the structure of how the contest operates.

I won’t go into great detail here as we provide boilerplate rules and regulations that our clients can modify to their liking. If you’re not sure where to start, feel free to use the example here and modify to your liking.

Step 7 - Strategize Media Placement & Distribution

As mentioned previously, running a successful contest is more than just creating it. This is why budget allocation in advance is so important. You can’t just expect a contest to have participants. You need to understand how you are going to promote it.

To keep it simple, we break it down by two forms of media; paid and owned. Below are examples of the different forms of paid and owned media you can leverage to promote your contest.


  • Paid Social - Facebook ads, snapchat, ads, twitter ads, youtube ads, etc
  • Paid Influencers - Social media marketing influencers paid to promote the contest
  • Sponsored Blogs - Paying relevant blogs to write about your contest
  • TV - Television placements
  • OOH - Billboards, bus stops, and any forms of Out-of-Home paid advertising
  • Paid Search - Google ad words, bing ad words, etc.
  • PPC - Pay-per-click online advertising
  • Radio - Channels like spotify, pandora, iheart, and others


  • Social
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Website
  • Any other forms of media you own that directly reach your customers

Look at your current media mix and determine how you will promote the contest between these channels. When it comes to paid media, look at your budget allocation for each contest and properly disperse in the places you believe will create the biggest impact for your brand.

Step 8 - Setting up proper metrics

Last, but arguably the most important step is the ability to understand the outcomes of your contest. This will not only enable you to understand the quantifiable impact the contest is having for your brand and your KPIs, but it will also enable you to modify contests in the future to increase performance outcomes.

Ryplio takes care of these metrics for our clients automatically through our technology suite. Below are some examples of the metrics we utilize to understand the outcomes of each contest to give you an idea of how we set up proper metrics.

The first metric we incorporate is media analysis. In step 7, you are deciding which forms of media to utilize to promote the contest. Inside of our backend, we tag each form of media to understand the impact each channel had based on metrics such as clicks, emails captured, and sales delivered to name a few.

This enables our clients to not only understand where they should be allocating contest budgets, but it also enables them to understand how their different media channels perform as a whole by unlocking data they couldn’t usually harvest otherwise.

We have two ways to analyze this. The first is high-level, which is paid, owned and earned (the boost from social sharing integrated into a contest). Note on the example below, the client didn’t use any paid media so it is only showing owned and earned.


The next way we analyze media is by measuring each specific media channel the contest was placed on. Again, this can be segmented by different metrics such as visitors, contacts captured, and sales to name a few. There is no limit to the number of channels that can be tagged and measured.


Next, we measure the impact of each customer share from inside of the contest. This is the earned media element mentioned above segmented by each individual customer. Again, we can segment by specific results they delivered from sharing such as visitors, contacts, sales, etc.  This enables companies to identify and measure customers who have influence to get their peers to take action towards their brand.


At first, many clients think this is just the first layer of sharing. Meaning if I shared the contest and my friend entered it shows only that. However, we actually measure direct and indirect influence of each individual. What does this mean and why does it matter?

Direct influence: The people I directly influenced to take action on this contest

Indirect Influence: The people I indirectly influenced to take action as a result of my share.

To put it simply, if I shared the contest on Facebook, and one of my friends entered, I directly influenced that one person. If he/she also shares and gets one person to enter, I indirectly influenced that person as a result of my share.

Below is a visual representation of how this looks by emails captured. The center dot is the originator. In this case, Rena. She picked up the contest from a form of paid media and shared, resulting in four of her friends to enter the contest.

Bridget was one of her friends who also shared, and as a result, directly influenced 8 people to enter the contest.

This is important because it enables us to truly understand the influence of brands customers and how they all connect, rather than just the first layer. Had we only measured direct influence, it would have appeared that Rena only influenced 4 people to participate, but in reality, she influenced 13 people to participate.


The next metric we analyze is sharing in and sharing out. What is the difference?

Shares Out: This shows out of the sharing options available, how many people shared on which platform. In the below example, there were 4813 shares between the following platforms listed below.


Shares In: This shows the number of people that saw a share and came into the contest. In the example below, 21,000 visitors came into the contest as a result of social sharing.


Why does this matter? It matters because it helps clients determine which social sharing widgets they should have available inside of their contest. If a lot of shares go out on Facebook, but very few people come in, it tells us that we should turn that option off and direct those shares to a higher performing channel which would increase the reach from shares.

All of these pieces come together to help you understand the performance of your contests based on quantifiable metrics, along with providing insights to optimize for better outcomes for upcoming contests.


There it is. 8 Steps to help you set up a contest marketing strategy that drives growth and value all year around.

If you are thinking about implementing an annual contest marketing strategy, make sure you do it right. Contests tap into the essence of powerful marketing psychology and can serve as one of the biggest growth drivers for your brand when done properly.

Are you interested in chatting about leveraging our technology and services to help put your contest marketing in auto-pilot? If so, please reach out to us through the contact form or feel free to reach out to us directly at info@rypl.io.