At agencies like Frankel/Arc Worldwide, 141 Worldwide. Momentum and TRG, I've been focused on sweepstakes as a cornerstone tool of sales promotion for 20+ years. But sweepstakes were probably the original marketing engagement tool, drawing audiences into proactive interaction with sponsors and marketers a long time before digital media, user-generated content, or any of the other techniques used in modern promotion.
The Evolution of Sweepstakes, One Entry At A Time
Sweeps and lotteries, in one form or another, have probably been around as long as people have gathered in groups or communities, though the first historical evidence of one are keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty, dated 205 to 187 B.C., which might have raised money for major government projects like the Great Wall of China.
Walls and other public works have always been a big reason to hold a sweeps: a lottery held in L’Ecluse in Burgundy in 1446 raised money for the city’s fortifications. It was a hit, so other towns started emulating it.
So while sweepstakes have been around for millennia, so has the idea of knocking off someone else’s successful marketing tactic.
- That basic model of sweepstakes – let’s call it Sweepstakes 1.0 – has endured from ancient times through medieval church raffles, up to the famous Irish Sweepstakes and state lottos, and it’s been a hardy tool for engaging people’s attention – and pocketbooks.
- Sweepstakes 2.0? You could make the argument it’s when brands and advertisers took the sweepstakes in another direction: the free-to-enter sweeps didn’t ask for anything more than the consumer’s attention, and it was a favorite of newspapers during the great wave of urbanization (and circulation wars) of the 1800s, and publishers are still doing it, even without Ed McMahon along for the ride.
- Sweepstakes 3.0 happened once the Internet arrived, allowing entry via computer, fostering explosive innovation in terms of reach, creative engagement and multi-channel integration, as email and integration with offline were part of the mix.
- You might argue that what we’re calling Sweepstakes 4.0, the integration of social media and mobile into the tactical mix, is more of a 3.1 iteration, but adding those components created opportunities for engagement and evangelism that go far beyond anywhere sweepstakes and contests have gone before.
Engagement On a Whole New Level
The new capabilities of digital sweepstakes marketers to deliver a range of strategies and interactions that simply weren’t feasible, maybe even unimaginable, just a few years ago, expanding a brands’ horizons for…
Targeting: Integrating consumer insights, whether sourced through Big Data integration or other methods, allows an agency or consultant to target specific consumers based on the specific social media and digital channels where they’re going to be most available and receptive, or where a particular tactic makes the most sense. Reaching a decor-loving 24-44-year-old woman through Pinterest with a sweeps where a photo upload with hashtag earns them entry is just one example of how to minutely target a particular audience.
Analytics: Big Data personalization is driving digital marketing, and being able to capture, parse and segment data on individuals’ behaviors, preferences, needs and wants is crucial, and a state-of-the-art sweepstakes platform (like TRG’s own proprietary system) lets you capture that data in detail, for use in both targeting consumers with your sweepstakes program and for downstream application in CRM and more.
Creative Innovation: I tell clients “if you dream it, we can build it,” and it’s unvarnished truth in the digital era. For Animal Planet, at TRG we created a “fantasy football game” around the Puppy Bowl, complete with a player draft and real-time score tracking, delivering a second-screen experience for viewers that helped drive ratings; for Discovery Channel, we made sweepstakes entry a physical experience, as they could literally “pan for prizes” using their tablets or smartphones, imitating the miners on the network’s Gold Rush reality show.
Adjustable Engagement: We can fine-tune the threshold of involvement we’re asking from our target, too; requiring them to upload a photo or provide a written entry, as just two examples, may narrow the total number of entrants, but it often means those who do enter are more invested in engaging with a brand, which can mean they’re higher-value customers over the long haul.
Gamification: Adding gameplay elements to a sweepstakes makes the contest more interesting for the consumer, and keeps them coming back to re-engage time and again; in a mobile milieu, it’s an especially important method for keeping them entertained and involved. “Gamification” covers a wide spectrum, too, ranging from simple Q&As like the five decades of pop history my team covered in our Villa Fresh 50th birthday sweepstakes to a “virtual Cedar Cove” online experience/collect-and-win immersive experience we delivered for the Hallmark Channel. How big is gamification? Research firm M2 Research projects marketers will spend $2.8 billion on gamified programs in 2016!
Socializing Entry: Mounting a sweepstakes on Facebook, Pinterest or other social channels and giving people a chance to viralize their involvement has been a huge boon to brands, but there are terrific results in driving peer-to-peer levels of social engagement as a means of participation, too. Recruiting Facebook friends to “board your Venetian gondola” and co-enter the sweepstakes made the Passport To Italy promotion my team created into the biggest performer in client Villa Fresh’s history; a “threshold” sweepstakes in support of the launch of Assassin’s Creed III unlocked ascending levels of game preview content as more people entered the sweeps, a godsend to ardent gamers that really drove program buzz.
The Rules Of Sweepstakes 4.0
The broad guidelines for success in the new-and-improved sweepstakes universe aren’t that different from what they’ve always been. It’s the particulars that have really changed as new technologies and opportunities have presented themselves.
Here are the guardrails a marketer should bear in mind if they want to leverage the full potential of sweepstakes, which may be more valuable a tool than ever before:
- Keep it on-brand: Take pains to make sure the prizes, the interactions, the channels and any partnerships make good sense for your brand, because a sweepstakes can be a great way to drive stronger positioning, differentiation and brand loyalty, not just immediate traffic and virality.
- Target your prizing: The size and particulars of your prize pool depend on your marketing goals. Making the “grand prize grand,” as the old promotional saying goes, creates buzz and interest, and that may be your focus if you’re selling big-ticket or infrequently-bought products; McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, on the other hand, give away thousands upon thousands of lesser prizes for to drive repeat purchase. In either case, make sure the prizes have real appeal to your consumers!
- Choose your channels: There are more of them than ever, from web to mobile to traditional in-store or even mail-ins, each with their own particular dynamics, legalities and effectiveness. One channel may be enough, or integrating across multiple touch-points might make more sense, so you’ll have to decide if entry via a website, a hashtag (or both!) or another method make the most sense.
- Set your threshold: How hard should people have to work to engage with your sweepstakes? Most of the time, setting a lower threshold makes the most sense, but there may be a reason to make consumers more elbow grease to participation. If you do want to have a higher threshold for participation, make sure you’ve got very good reasons for asking them to make the effort, and remember that the richer or more exclusive the prize, the more likely you’ll get them to jump through hoops.
- Design the experience: Whether it’s because you want to adopt a gamified approach or just create more brand immersion, think about consumers’ experience at the point of entry, because that’s a unique and valuable opportunity to make a brand impression. Putting some simple entry fields in front of them may seem enough, but why not have let them view a video or be rewarded with “exclusive” content just for entering? More than ever before, consumers want and expect more value and return on their engagement with brands, and this is a great place to deliver it.
- Scale your sweepstakes: Make it as big (or small) as it needs to be, and pay strict attention to the legalities and fulfillment costs involved, too. You may want to geo-target to a very specific market because having entrants from outside that area doesn’t fit your objectives, or you may want the whole world to know about your program, but get those decisions squared away early!
- Consider all the costs: There can be hidden costs in running a sweepstakes, depending on the type, what channels/vendors you’re using, and so on. Using a simple automated sweepstakes vendor may reduce implementation costs, but lack of branding/customization can make the sweeps less effective or viral than it might have been, and many of those vendors don’t handle fulfillment or other back-end requirements.
- Support it: Sweepstakes and promotions that are supported with advertising, P.R. and other outreach are typically up to ten times more effective than those that are unsupported. Simply launching a sweepstakes isn’t any guarantee of awareness or participation, no matter how inventive; a big national program will need technical, logistical, legal, marketing and staffing support, but even a small, local sweepstakes deserves some level of support to optimize R.O.I.
Still One Of the Best Tools In The Business
Like I said at the start: I've been doing sweepstakes for over two decades, and we’re convinced that right now is one of the best moments in history to utilize sweepstakes and contests as tools for driving trial, promoting market or retail penetration, creating evangelism or any of the other golden goals of marketing.
Rewarding consumers for brand engagement is their new baseline expectation across every segment, and that expectation is only going to grow as we move into the future.
The tool that’s essential in meeting those future challenges? It’s the sweepstakes…a strategy that’s as old as marketing itself.