Sweepstakes: Marketers have to be in to win

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Everybody likes to win, especially prizes like exotic vacations, flashy electronics or a new car. People like this so much that they'll give up all kinds of personal information to be a contender for free stuff.

According to Quiris, 41 percent of respondents say that "a sweepstakes or a chance to win" is the leading factor that motivates them to sign up for an e-mail program. And sweepstakes can give e-mail marketers the perfect chance to gather opt-in psychographic and demographic data about respondents, which can help in segmentation and cross- and upselling.

But running an e-mail sweepstakes campaign is both art and science. You can't just gather a list of names and start hawking a trip to Hawaii. And getting consumers to opt in is just the beginning. Many other factors are involved in the long-term success of an e-mail sweepstakes program. First, you need to develop the right strategy and the right offer to attract qualified prospects and convert them, and you need to know how to re-market to respondents effectively.

All kinds of sweepstakes are possible. It's not just a generic, turnkey offering. They can include single-entry or multi-entry sweepstakes, instant win, match and win, collect and win, not to mention trivia sweepstakes, educational sweepstakes and even evaluation contests (where written essays or other skills are required). Not as plug and play as one might hope.

E-mail service providers with the right experience not only can offer tactical help - i.e., deliver the e-mails and report on their performance - but also can help you professionally execute your e-mail sweepstakes campaign. Here's some advice and best practices that our e-mail sweepstakes clients have found useful:

• Use a branded sub-domain or register a branded domain specific to the

sweepstakes.

• Spend time upfront developing a strategy that lets you collect the key data for follow-up marketing.

• Ensure prizes are tied closely to your product or service offering.

• Use all customer touch points to promote sweepstakes. Also, consider using free resources such as Internet bulletin boards (shopping boards, sweepstakes boards, interest boards, etc.).

• Track referring sources of entrants to determine the best sources of referrals or best places/channels to advertise.

• Consider offering additional entries for completing a short survey (to collect data for follow-up marketing) and referring friends to enter (while complying with the CAN-SPAM Act).

• Feature key products or offers on the sweepstakes "thank you" page for consumers for instant conversions.

• Follow-up and market intelligently to these new prospects.

Now that you have new insights into administering e-mail sweepstakes ... you're still not ready. Even more factors are involved with e-mail sweepstakes than enthusiastic marketers realize: legal and compliance considerations; bonding and registration concerns; the winner selection and notification process as well as prize procurement and fulfillment.

Consider this: By law, sweepstakes registration with the state is required in New York and Florida for sweepstakes with prize values exceeding $5,000. Bonding (similar to insurance) also is required for this level of prize. Registration is required in Rhode Island regardless of prize value. And at the end of a promotion, each state that requires registration must be provided with a winners list.

In many states you must state clearly the timeframe of the promotion, provide the odds of winning, state clearly that no purchase is required and make a winners list available to the public.

Most of this sounds logical, but marketers need to be aware of all the rules and regulations, even the most esoteric. For example, even in this digital age, many states still require that postcard entries be accepted, and that all records of the sweepstakes be kept on file for one year in case of an audit.

Finally, be prepared to secure the double opt in from respondents, or the sweepstakes may end up being for naught. In other words, once the hopeful candidate registers for the contest (the first opt in), you should have your ESP automatically generate another e-mail message saying something like, "Thank you for playing; best of luck! Please click here to sign up for additional communications from XYZ marketer" (the double opt in).

Forgetting this step translates into throwing away all those valuable names and e-mail addresses after the grand prize is awarded.

These tidbits are not meant to scare you off from launching an e-mail sweepstakes. Overall, the marketing benefits are high in terms of brand awareness, brand engagement, customer acquisition and customer loyalty, not to mention what you'll gain in invaluable consumer data.

Remember, expert help is out there. Just like all those hopeful plasma screen TV winners, marketers have to be in it to win it.

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