Make Sure That the Prize Is Right

Imagine that you are a marketer for a major automotive brand — Buick, for instance — who needs to create a hit promotion. Your natural inclination might be to give away a Buick. The chance to win a new car virtually guarantees a high volume of entries, but the likely result is less appealing: a database filled with prospects who would not necessarily consider buying a Buick.

Every year, companies waste thousands of dollars on promotions that generate lots of entrants, but few targeted prospects. Sweepstakes and contests are extremely effective marketing tactics, but only when the prize is right. And bigger is almost always not better.

Large, general-interest prizes are great for consumers, but can actually work against marketers’ goals, precisely because such prizes deliver a large, general-interest audience. The real objective is to reach a much more narrow audience: one that consists of consumers most likely to become loyal customers.

So how do you as a marketer determine the right prize?

You need to offer a unique prize with a value so specific that the promotion could only be for your brand and your customers.

That means a phone company should not give away a trip to Hawaii and a travel agent should not offer long-distance minutes. In many cases this may seem simple, but a prize that may seem right at first often turns out to be wrong.

I have seen fishing equipment retailers give away a bass boat and a pickup to pull it. Sure, the prize was fishing-related, but it was so valuable that hundreds of thousands of people entered the promotion, and you can bet many of them did not fish.

To reach the real anglers who are most likely to buy fishing equipment, a retailer could offer a top-of-the-line rod and reel, then entice entrants even further by letting them choose which rod and reel they prefer — the fly-fishing or the deep-sea version. The result will be responses from a smaller, but far more valuable database of profiled consumers who will be dramatically more responsive to future target marketing.

In some cases, the difference between the right prize and the wrong one is much more subtle. Minor adjustments that address these subtleties can have a major effect on promotion results and enable customers to profile themselves in the most effective way imaginable.

Revisit the Buick example. What would happen if instead of giving away the car, Buick gave away the use of a new Buick for a year? With that prize, the proposition for both the consumer and the marketer changes. Now, only people who can see themselves behind the wheel of a Buick are likely to enter.

By making the prize so specific to the interests of its sales prospects, Buick will generate a list of self-profiled consumers who have identified themselves as viable, long-term sales prospects just by choosing to enter.

Choosing the right prize has benefits beyond developing a targeted database. As the examples above make clear, cost savings is another benefit. It is not uncommon for consumers to pass up a chance to win a multimillion-dollar prize from well-known, trustworthy corporations, and opt instead to enter a sweepstakes with a grand prize valued at only $1,000. Why? Because that prize is relevant to their interests. In fact, the best prize a company can offer sometimes costs nothing at all.

For example, if ESPN wanted to identify and build a database of loyal “SportsCenter” fans, there would be no end to the sports-themed prizes it could give away. But to make it unique, why not make the grand prize a role in one of the network’s popular “SportsCenter” television commercials?

If you are a “SportsCenter” nut, playing opposite Dan Patrick or Chris Berman in a television spot to be seen by millions is about as good as it gets.

The right prize also primes consumers for buying. For instance, I love golf, and a sweepstakes offering the latest barely legal driver will get me thinking about reaching those par fives in two. It even gets me thinking that I just might have to have one right now.

This aspect of promotions is even more powerful online because you are intersecting with consumers at their moment of interest and a sale is just a few clicks away.

Build your brand by making your prizes unique to you. Profile your prospects by keeping the prize on target and give those prospects the chance to become customers at the moment of interest. Your results will prove that choosing the right prize is the key to promotion success.

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