Top Traps to Avoid In Online Sweepstakes

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One recent fall afternoon, a dot-com CEO was sitting at his desk pondering why so few consumers were visiting his Web site and coming back. Hundreds of banner ads, millions of mailings and countless sidewalk handouts were not producing the results he was looking for.


"How can I get consumers to visit my site and then come back for more?" the CEO asked himself. "Other companies using the same marketing tactics have gone out of business recently. If I do the same, will I go under, too?" The answer to the CEO's question, and problems, is to use online sweepstakes and promotions.


As a recent study by Jupiter Research, New York, points out, more than 80 percent of consumer Web businesses use online promotional content on a regular basis, but few recognize its power and influence on consumer activity, both online and offline.


It is common knowledge that running an online sweepstakes is a powerful tool to attract users. But what elements are critical to the success of the campaign? With all the marketing noise online, let's look at the five areas that can mean the difference between lackluster and blockbuster results.


Poorly targeted prize.


Sounds intuitive, but many sites offer prizes that don't create enough emotional excitement. Remember, the chance to win big is an emotional experience. The prize must be targeted to your audience and be big enough to invoke passion. If you want your users to perform a specific online behavior, you need to give them a really exciting incentive.


No clear next step.


Once your users have a "who wants to be a millionaire" experience, hit them with an offer. There is no better time to solidify your marketing message than at their highest point of excitement. Many sites take users to that point without following up with a strong call-to-action.


Privacy invasion.


With privacy being a hot topic on the Web and in the courtroom, it is critical to ask your users for permission to continue to engage them in an online dialogue. Pre-checked opt-out questions are not enough these days. Make sure your users feel comfortable. Remember, the objective is to begin a long-term online relationship. Overstepping personal boundaries is the quickest way to dismantle the trust you are working so hard to establish.


No measurement/refinement.


The beauty of our interactive world is the ability to generate instant feedback about your campaign. Many sites fail to adapt their promotions over time to maximize effectiveness. Even within a current promotion, you can make adjustments based on user feedback and solid reporting that can increase the impact over time.


Legal, legal, legal.


Calls from new customers are great. Calls from the attorney general of Florida are not. There are specific sweepstakes laws in each state and country that must be adhered to, or you will be in hot water fast. Certain states require bonding and registration of the promotion. Make sure your bases are covered. In addition to a public relations nightmare, illegal promotions that cross the line into gaming regulations can command criminal penalties.


The bottom line is that few tools are as effective for customer acquisition and retention as a well-executed online sweepstakes. The implementation of a strong promotion, however, is tricky business. It is worth the time and planning upfront to avoid the myriad of pitfalls that can occur. A proactive approach can help build long-term online relationships, while a reactive approach could make you slam on the brakes faster than Regis asking, "Is that your final answer?"


• Josh Linkner is CEO of ePrize, Detroit, an online sweepstakes and promotions firm that helps corporate clients with customer acquisition and retention. Reach him at josh@eprize.net
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