Competitions – How to design an effective promotion

A well-designed competition can be a powerful way to get noticed and build buzz for your new venture. And you might be surprised how inexpensive it can be.

What makes a good competition or promotion?

  • "Unobtainium" prize
  • Demonstrates your brand values
  • Achieves business outcomes
  • Simple, friendly and easy to enter

 By "unobtainium" I mean something that entrants desperately want, is normally out of reach, and is different to the zillion other promotions out there.  Forget the cash prize – it’s the lazy option and doesn’t show any special understanding of your target audience. Go for something that shows you "get it", that you understand what makes your audience tick.

E.g. In launching online art gallery RedBubble, we thought about what emerging artists most desperately wanted. The answer: to be exhibited in a physical gallery. This is a major milestone for any new artist and, importantly, not something that is easy to get.

So the main prize for RedBubble’s "Unleashed" competition was to have the 15 winning artists exhibited in a gallery for two weeks. They also got a large framed print, gallery launch party, and were featured on the RedBubble website and newsletter. 

A promotion is also a great chance to show what you stand for. Actions speak louder than words, so let your brand values shine through. If you’re a travel company, then do something that celebrates your genuine love of travel. If you sell eco-friendly detergent, demonstrate your concern for the environment. Or if you’re an art gallery, show how you’re creating new opportunities for emerging artists.

Structure the competition to help your business. What are your objectives? Are you looking to build brand awareness or understanding? Or to get people trialling your product?  Do you want them being active in your online community? Referring new customers? Opting in for your newsletter?  Or something else again?

In the RedBubble example, we wanted to attract new artists to the site and encourage them to upload their artwork. We also wanted to build a strong sense of community, so the judging process enabled members to have their say on which artworks should be exhibited (in addition to expert judges) and there was a gallery launch event to celebrate the winners’ success.

That said, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. A promotion that offers false hope, is one-sided in its benefits, or has tricky and misleading conditions is worse than doing nothing. See Stephen Sammartino’s blog for a good example: "Jetstar – Conditions Apply"

So make your competition simple, friendly and easy to enter. Use plain language, not legalese. Be upfront about what is required to enter, and keep these hurdles as low as possible. In short, make it the sort of competition you’d be happy to enter yourself.


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