How to Get a Real World Effect From Your Online Contest

I’m incredibly lucky.

I have a great job, wonderful friends, I live in one the most liveable cities in the world and I have a knack for winning contests.

To date, I’ve won a video camera, a bicycle, sunglasses, a little BBQ and tons of gift cards.

Out of all of the prizes I’ve won, which businesses do you think I still spend money with?

I’ll give you a hint, it’s not just one…

Did you guess the sunglasses, barbeque and gift cards? If so ‘ding, ding, ding’, you are correct!

Why do I consistently purchase from the businesses that have gifted me these prizes and less so from the other ones? It’s not as if the prizes weren’t great (they were pretty rad) but, as I’ll explain later on in my article, they aren’t actually relevant to the business.

At the risk of rambling on for too long, I’m just going to get into it and explain along the way the “whys” and “why-nots” of getting the results you want from your online contest.

Ready to ‘win’ those new customers?

Let’s spin!

Define the goals to measure your contest’s success

First things first, I implore you to take a good hard look at how you’re defining the success of your contest. Too often businesses are hung up on metrics that shouldn’t be defining their success.

One person who actually wants to buy your product is better than 100 entries that won’t remember you next week.

Let’s say that you ran a photo vote contest and only 20 people submitted their pictures. You could be upset that more people weren’t enticed to enter or you could look at the bigger picture (no pun intended).

Those 20 entrants are going to share your contest with their social networks so that they can win. Suddenly, 20 people have turned into hundreds viewing your brand logo. Brand awareness much? Schwing!

Not to mention, if you’ve picked the right prize (see the next section) then the people who have entered your contest are going to be far more likely to purchase from you.

Ultimately you need to set realistic expectations for what you want to get out of your contest.

Typical contest goals we see all the time
  • Building an email list
  • Increasing your following on social media
  • Engaging with an existing community
  • Driving website traffic
  • Driving in store sales
  • Building brand awareness
Key Takeaway:

A contest will help you achieve many of these goals. The thing is, when you’re able to hone in on one main goal, the rest will often happen as a by-product.

Pick a prize that’s relevant

The biggest thing you need to take a look at when running a contest is choosing the right prize. The right prize is one that balances between awesome and relevant.

I’m going to show you what I mean based on the prizes I’ve won:

Prize #1: Video Camera from a bank (Awesome prize not at all relevant)

The only reason I remember what bank it was for is because I just happen to bank there (and I did before I entered). Otherwise the bank in question was not memorable at all.

Instead of a video camera a good prize would have been cash. (That is perhaps the only time you’ll hear any of us from Wishpond say that). It’s a bank, all they do is money.

In context of my life at that time, I was a third year university student paying for everything on my own. A grant towards my education would’ve been awesome. On top of that, the bank now knows that I’m a student meaning I might need student loans. Once I graduate I’ll need a mortgage, and of course RSPs (it’s never too early to start investing in your future).

Prize #2: Bicycle from a wine brand (Kind of awesome, not at all relevant)

In terms of promotion, it had stickers of the wine brand plastered all over the bike but I just took them off. I ended up giving the bike away and for the life of me, I can’t possibly remember the company that sponsored this contest.

Alternatively they could’ve offered a wine set that included a decanter, corkscrew and maybe a knife set to cut cheese. This would be a great way to keep the winery top of mind because it would be super easy to put labels on this gift set (ones that wouldn’t’ come off so easily). Plus, chances are pretty high that only people who drink wine would enter this contest.

Prize #3: Sunglasses and BBQ from a grocery store (Awesome and relevant)

I won these prizes on two separate occasions from the same grocery store but I definitely use them together. There’s nothing better (in terms of food creation) than frying up food on the barbeque in the middle of summer. Who do I go to for the majority of my shopping needs? This grocery store.

And if that’s occasionally to see if they have more contests I could win, why not?

Prize #4: Gift cards from multiple venues (Totally awesome and 100% relevant)

Gift cards are an obvious go to for a number of reasons:

  • They’re super easy for you to create.
  • The numbers are easy to share with the winner online.
  • The person will be interested in the products you sell.
  • Likely the person may spend more than the gift card amount.
  • Gives people the chance to choose their own prize. You might turn people off when you get specific (maybe they like the dress but don’t want it in red, or they have no need for an xbox game because they have a playstation). A gift card will attract more people than a specific prize.
Key Takeaway:

Your giveaway doesn’t need to be something extravagant to attract the right entrants. Think about who your customers are and what they would want.

Follow up before, during and after your contest

I am the number one perpetrator when it comes to having tons of grand ideas with absolutely no follow up. This is probably why I’m not in charge of running contests.

The value of planning is paramount to the success of your contest.

Once you’ve defined your goals, picked your prize and chosen the type of contest that will work best for you, you’re about 80% of the way there.

Here are 5-steps you need to take to get your contest in 100% working order

Pre-launch: Send out an email to your email list so that they know a contest is coming soon. Place a click popup on your website so that people can be notified of your upcoming contest.

Launch: 24-hours before your contest is about to launch send an email with a countdown timer letting them know that the next big contest is happening

Contest ending soon: 24-hours before the close of the contest let people know it’s ending. You can do this across your social networks and by email

Contest closed: Thank people for participating but give a consolation prize. This prize could be in the form of a discount.

Contact the winners: Congratulate the person for winning and offer them the same discount. Allow them to share it with their friends and family members. Since they’re the winner they’re going to be the most excited about sharing their love for you around.

Key Takeaway:

Giving a little forethought to your contest will ensure that it runs smoothly or at the very least, a little wiggle room if anything unexpected comes up.

Follow up with Contest Participants through an automated email campaign

Everything you’ve done up until now has led to this point – the point where you turn your participants or fans into customers.

Dispel any hope of customers simply saying “Woo hoo, I didn’t win, now I should spend hundreds of dollars with this company,” it’s not going to happen that easily.

That said, there is a vital piece of information you have now that you (likely) didn’t have before: the email address of a prospective customer.

Stay top of mind with your customers by setting up an automated email campaign.

Email #1 – Discount

I’ve already hinted in the last section that you should send your participants a discount email. Here’s an example of what it might look like (and feel free to copy and paste these templates into your own email automation tool):

Subject line: There’s more than one way to win

Thanks for entering the [name of your contest].

I’m sorry you didn’t win the [name of prize] but all is not lost! You still get something! No, it’s not a [basket full of puppies/unicorn/one-way trip to Mars/something else really awesome your customers would like] but we think it’s just as good.

For a limited time only, use the exclusive discount code [discount code] and receive [percentage off] on all [regular/sale] items.

Happy [day of the week]

[Your company name]

Email #2 – Sale

Send out a highly targeted email regarding a sale that is exclusive to your contest participants.

Subject line: You entered the [name of contest], we thought you’d like this…

Has it already been [x number of days/weeks] since [name of contest] closed?

We hope you’ve been making good use of your discount code and we’re really excited to share this exclusive sale with you.

Now until [when your sale ends] enjoy items at up to [X%] off their regular retail value.

But shh, don’t tell anyone! This sale is exclusive to our contest participants only.

Happy hunting,

[Your company name]

Email #3 – New products

Depending on the prize of your contest you would target this email in one of two ways.

If your prize was a gift card, send out some of your hottest and most popular items

Subject line: You deserve only the best

Over the past few weeks some of our brand new items have been flying off of the shelves. We wanted to let you know before they’re all scooped up.

These items include: [Insert a listing of 3 or 4 products including descriptions and pictures if you can]

See you soon

[Your company name]

If your prize was for a specific item then send out related products

Subject line: What’s better than a/an [name of prize]?

You were gonna say ‘nothing’ right? Well, in this case the customer isn’t always right (we promise this is the only time we’ll say this).

We just got in three new items that are similar to [name of prize] but 100% better, trust us, we’ve been doing this for years.

[list of three items that are related]

Happy shopping

[Your company name]

Key Takeaway:

The end is never the end. Although your contest has come to a close you now have an extremely valuable list you can continue to market to. Make the best of it by sending highly targeted emails to this list of participants.


Online contests can have phenomenal real-world effects for your business, so long as they’re executed correctly. At the heart of it, we’ve found that a “correctly-run” contest focuses on an intelligently-chosen prize and planned follow-up.

Have you run a contest recently? What were your results?

– Written by Samantha Mykyte

When Samantha isn’t crushing content and social media at Wishpond she performs with her burlesque troupe, casts spells in dungeons and dragons and enjoys hitting the slopes on her skis. You can follow her on Twitter @SamanthaMykyte


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *