What Works in Online Promotions

As the Web becomes a more important tool for corporate marketers, online promotions are popping up just about everywhere. The interactivity of the medium is perfectly suited to help advertisers connect with consumers. However, successful campaigns are relatively few compared with the number of promotions on the Web. Let’s explore what works and what doesn’t.

Online promotions have evolved in the past few years. The most basic is a “Promotion 1.0,” which I define as a fill-in-the-form sweepstakes. It is the digital equivalent of dropping your business card in a fish bowl and waiting to see whether you win a free lunch.

Sweepstakes can be compelling to motivate specific consumer behavior such as visiting a Web site, referring a friend or making a purchase. The chance to get something for nothing is a powerful motivation in today’s “what’s in it for me” society. But there is so much marketing clutter that a Promotion 1.0 will not stand out unless executed flawlessly and with breakthrough creativity.

We’re seeing a performance boost when clients opt for a Promotion 2.0. These more sophisticated programs include an instant-win element, along with an interactive game experience. Examples include privately branded online scratch-off games, spin-to-win or slot-style games. A study of 100 recent ePrize promotions showed that Promotion 2.0s delivered a 249 percent boost in performance from Promotion 1.0. Further, the cost per action dropped 64 percent.

As we move beyond standard games, a truly immersive brand experience becomes a Promotion 3.0. For example, Domino’s Pizza recently launched its Domino’s Dots product. Rather than a basic instant-win game, we created an interactive instant-win experience where consumers eat a virtual plate of Domino’s Dots on their screen to reveal whether they are an instant winner. Promotion 3.0s use the product or brand in a custom game to educate and immerse the consumer with core marketing messages.

Viral marketing is another trend that online promotions often miss. Almost every promotion we run includes a tell-a-friend program that rewards consumers for helping spread the word. Back to the basic philosophy of incentive marketing, consumers need a compelling reason to take action.

Once we have users at “edge-of-their-seat” excitement, we ask them to spread the word for additional chances to win. Our clients often enjoy more than a 90 percent rise in total registration numbers simply by implementing an incentive-based tell-a-friend program.

As marketing channels continue to converge between offline and online, a similar trend is growing with respect to interactive promotions. Many of the most successful campaigns include touch points that reach consumers offline as well as online.

A recent example is from ConAgra Food’s Act II Popcorn. Millions of popcorn bags included an on-package Web site address that let consumers “Pop, Peek, and Win.” Previously anonymous customers went online and registered for the promotion, thereby opening a direct line of communication with the brand.

The user then clicks on a kernel of popcorn and watches a bag of Act II expand until it explodes. As popcorn flies across the screen, the user is notified if he is an instant winner. To complete the loop, consumers then are prompted to print a coupon toward future Act II purchases. This promotion shows how a major brand can take consumers from offline to online, then back offline to make future purchases.

Though online promotions can drive immediate, measurable results, marketers face many potential pitfalls. The challenges fall into three major categories: strategic, technical and administrative.

Strategic issues include prize selection, creative design, promoting the promotion and establishing an ongoing communication plan. Many marketing executives’ high hopes have been put quickly to rest by promotions that missed the mark.

Technical concerns such as security, database structure, high-availability hosting and integration often stall even the most seasoned advertisers. Many traditional promotion agencies are not equipped to support the myriad technical issues and fully take advantage of the interactivity the Web can provide.

Flawless administrative execution is critical. Official rules, bonding and registration with the appropriate governmental agencies, winner communication, affidavits, 1099s and judging are less sexy, but necessary. Make sure you understand not only the laws for traditional promotion, but also how to handle the nuances of the online world. A misstep here could be the difference between marketing glory and a PR nightmare.

Major brands are embracing online promotions as an important, ongoing component of their marketing mix. When properly developed, they can initiate direct relationships with consumers and motivate specific action. When handled poorly, results can range from lost investment to missed opportunity to alienating customers. n

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