Sweeps Can Cut Through Clutter

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To say that consumers are overwhelmed with advertising is a huge understatement.


The average consumer is bombarded with thousands of advertisements each day from television, radio, newspapers, billboards and Web sites. Logo cars drive by while you read billboard ads at the bus stop before you see more ads in public restrooms.


The big question plaguing advertisers is, "How in the world can I get my message heard over the nonstop marketing noise that exists today?"


What's in it for you? Face it, people don't care about your logo, your brand, your management team or your business model. They care about themselves. Unless consumers think that your offer has a perceived value of substantially more than their attention, you get lost in the shuffle.


One technique many advertisers find successful is offering sweepstakes or other contests where people can win big. Statistics show an increase in direct response rates of 50 percent to 500 percent by offering the chance to win. Sweepstakes, instant-win games and free lotteries are some of the hottest trends in attracting attention. They represent a growing marketing trend of low-cost, tactical solutions that combat difficult economic conditions. Human nature is that people want something for nothing. Getting the chance to win a car, trip or cash can grab consumers' attention.


According to Jupiter Research, New York, 49 percent of consumers log on to the Internet at least once per month to enter sweepstakes. Nearly one-third of all users state that they made their first transaction with a company in response to a promotion.


Digital gold. Grabbing attention is one thing, but the real opportunity is to build your own user database. Pounding consumers with ads is losing effectiveness while direct, permission-based marketing is the new holy grail. Your own list can become a gold mine compared to renting a list from a broker. The objective is to build a long-term relationship with your customers via one-to-one marketing. Companies ranging from Payless Shoe Source to Hewlett Packard are using sweepstakes promotions to boost their registrations, both online and offline.


Success vs. failure. Sweepstakes and other incentive-marketing techniques are extremely powerful, but equally complicated. Keep in mind these tips when running a promotion:


• Choose the right prize. Make sure the prize is targeted to your exact demographic. For example, do not offer jet skis to a senior citizen target.


• Cover your legal. Specific laws govern promotions. Make sure you are in compliance to avoid disaster.


• Ask good questions. You have a tremendous opportunity to learn about your customers on the registration form. Keep it short, but ask relevant questions that can help you separate the hot leads from the cold fish.


• Target your media buy. The best promotions have good media tie-in. Make sure you are targeting the right audience and include your promotional offer on all advertising.


• Clear next step. Once you capture the users' attention with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" excitement, direct them to a specific next step such as making a purchase, telling three friends or viewing a new product.


• Get permission. Capturing user information is priceless. Without permission to continue to engage the customer, it becomes useless.


Sweepstakes are not necessarily a silver bullet. Many clients have been plagued by sweepstakes junkies who enter the promotion only to win a prize with no interest whatsoever in doing business with the sponsor. Just getting more registered users does not always equate to more sales. There are several sweepstakes portal sites that link avid junkies to hundreds of online contests, most of whom couldn't care less about the marketers' offerings. The importance of targeting the prize and the related media buy are critical.


Sweepstakes are also a pain in the neck to manage. Many firms are overwhelmed with the amount of work and coordination required to pull off a legal promotion. And unless integrated into other marketing efforts, sweepstakes often can result in more headaches than profits. Make sure you plan and coordinate your program in advance for maximum results.


Extended excitement. Many advertisers are maximizing their investments by extending the lives of their sweepstakes. For example, First USA Bank has a sweepstakes on its Web site with a chance to win a new Porsche. To encourage repeat traffic, users may return each day to answer up to five trivia questions. Each correct answer earns more chances to win. Rather than a one-time pop, First USA created a daily opportunity to reinforce key marketing messages.


Excite recently enjoyed success using an online lotto ticket for a chance to win $1 million as its hook. Besides the initial online experience, Excite extended the promotion through follow-up e-mails. Users received notices of the winning numbers each week along with relevant marketing messages. The online lotto game provided a reason to keep in touch with customers and remind them about Excite.


The bottom line. Each day, more advertisers fight for less consumer attention. Marketers must continue to develop innovative strategies to help their clients stand out. Incentive marketing is not a silver bullet, and must be properly promoted and managed to ensure success.


In today's tough market conditions, however, sweepstakes and prize giveaways can be a highly effective tool to attract users and build a loyal following.


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