Sweepstakes and Contests are Web Winners

As more new shoppers enter the online marketplace each day, Web marketers are finding that many traditional direct marketing strategies and tactics translate well into the online realm. Some, including the use of contests and sweepstakes, are made even more effective because of the unique capabilities of the Web itself.

Sweepstakes remain popular with customers, despite recent negative publicity surrounding well-known sweepstakes offers. Most people want the opportunity to win something for nothing — it's basic human nature. The Web makes it easy for customers to enter contests and sweepstakes. Instead of having to fill out and mail a card or place stickers on a return form, Web surfers can enter by filling out a simple form online. We Web marketers can easily and quickly change creative and offers to test effectiveness without waiting weeks for the results and at a much lower cost than print testing.

Because these contests and sweepstakes are run in Internet time, it's possible to speed up the contest time significantly, enabling an entire sweepstakes to be completed in a month or less. Marketers can post winners on their Web sites and even add customers' comments or photos. If marketers conduct ongoing sweepstakes offers, this is a good way to build repeat traffic.

The immediacy of the Web experience also has enabled creative marketers to add new dimensions to giveaway offers. The Web has even made promotions feasible that would not have been possible offline. In a recent sports-themed sweepstakes, for example, contestants vied for a cash prize that was awarded at the end of a playoff series that lasted several weeks. Because of the functionality, the Web brought to the process, these entries could be tabulated and updated quickly, with updates — and the opportunity for promotional messages — communicated to players as each round progressed. Without the Web, this contest couldn't have happened.

Synergistic alliances for sweepstakes giveaway promotions also make sense. By partnering with suppliers and affiliates, marketers can offer prizes specially selected to appeal to their target market and promote the sweepstakes in online and offline communications to drive entries by key audiences. If the sweepstakes prize involves travel, for example, marketers might partner with an airline that would advertise the Sweepstakes offer to its frequent flyer customers as part of the promotion.

Web-based contests also can facilitate the data-gathering process. Companies are increasing the value of consumer information by offering computers and Internet access in exchange for permission to market to prospects. If in the process of entering your contest, your prospect has elected to provide you with information on his or her purchasing preferences, chances are good that you've reached a qualified prospect rather than just a random contest entrant.

Contests and sweepstakes are an effective way to offer value to customers while gathering the information needed to build ongoing customer relationships. It's our responsibility as Web marketers to build trust and set the proper expectations about the use of the data we gather using sweepstakes promotions. We should communicate the message that if consumers control what they receive by telling trusted e-merchants they do business with what interests them, they are using the Web to make their lives easier. Marketers should let Web shoppers know what types of advertising they can expect to receive as a result of entering an online contest. Responsible sites will offer the opportunity for customers to decline to receive ads. Sites intent on delighting their customers will give them the opportunity to choose what types of information they want to receive, then provide it to them as promised.

The mass media seems far less intent on alerting consumers to the many benefits of online shopping, preferring instead to dwell on its perceived dangers. This makes it more important than ever for online direct marketers to delight the customers who shop the Web and make responsible use of the data we gather. Administered properly, online sweepstakes and contests are great ways to introduce your company to new prospects and gather the information needed to delight them enough to turn them into repeat customers.

Susan F. Heywood is e-marketing manager at Insight Enterprises Inc., Tempe, AZ, a direct marketer of brand-name computers and computer products. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

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